Monthly Archives: May 2012

All You Need Is Love

In the evangelical Christian worldview, we like to have the answers for everything.  We like neatness and order.  We like clarity.  We like black and white truths.  We like boundaries. We like to know what is okay and what is not okay, what is allowed and what is not allowed, who is in and who is out.

Bonhoeffer on Community

I’ve written before about Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s expression of intentional Christian community (see here and here).  Bonhoeffer described the number one characteristic of Christian community as Jesus as mediator.  When we communicate and interact through Jesus, when we view our brothers and sisters through Jesus, we cannot help but act and react, share and respond out of love.  When we know our brothers and sisters view us the same way, we cannot help but trust that their actions and communication are out of love as well.

Bonhoeffer also stressed the importance of confessing our sins to one another and forgiving each other as Christ forgives all of us.  One of my favorite lines in Life Together is when Bonhoeffer notes that it is difficult to interact with members of our community with anything but love and trust when we hear the confessions of our brothers and sisters and grant them absolution, praying together with them for the forgiveness and blessing of Christ.

The Life of Love

In the Critical Journey, the authors call Stage 6 the Life of Love.  (Here’s a great chart reviewing all the stages.) When we reach this stage in our journey, we live, serve, and speak out of our healing, out of the love we have experienced in our encounters with God.

We let go of the questions, the boundaries, the concerns over who’s in and who’s out, who’s right and who’s wrong, and we just love on people.  We love people as Christ loved because our agenda is gone.  Our wall has been dismantled, and we no longer live in our pain and react out of fear and anger.

It’s no longer of principle concern whether we are warning people about hell or condemning their actions and words.  It’s no longer our concern whether people know and love Jesus as we know and love Jesus.  Only God knows a person’s heart, and we are not designed to fill in for God in matters of the heart.  We are designed to be God’s hands and feet in the world, the body of Christ among the people of God—all of them.

When we reach Stage 6, we no longer worry so much about the doubts and questions of Stage 4.  They may still be there, unresolved, unanswered, but they are no longer driving our thoughts and actions.  They are no longer overwhelming us.  They are rather a reminder that we do not have all the answers, that we do not have it all figured out, and that’s okay.  The one thing we are sure of when we reach Stage 6 is what our experience of God is like, that we want to continue moving toward God along with our brothers and sisters, and that we cannot help but share our hope with one another.

Paul’s Theology

Paul’s well-known 1Cor 13 passage is the epitome of the Life of Love.  No matter what wonderful things we have accomplished, what honest and intentional lives we lead, if we are still living in Stage 3 where our words and actions are coming out of our duty and our pain and woundedness are still skewing our efforts to serve God, then we are nothing more than a whole lot of loud and ineffectual noise.

I love what Paul says later on in the chapter about growing up in Christ.  When we are children, we behave like children, which is right and appropriate for our natural development.  Being a child is good—while you are young.

But there comes a time when our natural human development moves us into that wonderful world of responsibility, wisdom, and work called adulthood, and it is in this stage of life that it is no longer right and appropriate to behave like children.  Now it is time to grow up, get a job, move into your own apartment, pay taxes and bills, maybe join with another adult and start a new family.

This is natural and right.  This is good.  Behaving like child is good while you are a child, but behaving like an adult when you have grown up is just as good.

Just as we should not retain our childish interests and behaviors when we are grown, so we should not remain in our childhood or adolescent state of spiritual development.  This is another area where the lack of a holistic body theology is evident.  We too easily remain unaware of the necessity of spiritual growth along with physical growth.  As our bodies grow and change, so should our spiritual lives.

There’s a reason Paul uses the metaphor of a physical human body so often in his letters. The wellbeing of our physical and spiritual selves are intimately related.  Thus, they should both be growing.  We should pursue spiritual health and growth just as fervently as we pursue physical health and growth.

Too easily we are satisfied with life in Stage 3.  We think if we can get people to grow up enough to start giving back, then that’s enough.  We’ve arrived!

Never mind people are giving back out of their woundedness.  Never mind people are giving back out of their fear and lack of understanding.  Never mind people are following blindly after others who are giving out of the same woundedness, fear, and lack of understanding.

It’s no wonder so many Christians leave the Church when they reach Stage 4. In Stage 3 churches, there is no room for questioning and doubting.  There is no room for messy, for in-between, for grey.

It’s no wonder so many people view Christians as intolerant, rigid, ignorant, and hateful.  Stage 3 is a wonderful and necessary part of the Christian journey, but when we get stuck there, when we fool ourselves into believing we’ve “arrived,” then we become intolerant, rigid, ignorant and hateful.  We become everything we say we are against.

We become Pharisees.

But God has called us to more than this.  The Christian life is not about the conversion experience.  It’s not about the active Christian life.

It’s about the Life of Love.  It’s about love—dirty, messy, sacrificial, costly love. It’s about love that humbles itself to take the form of a human being.  It’s about love that humbles itself to become obedient to death by the most violent and painful method of execution ever designed.  It’s about love that follows after Jesus not because it’s what is acceptable or required but because the call to “come follow me” is irresistible and renewed each day.

Much-Afraid Becomes Grace and Glory

The allegory Hinds Feet on High Places ends with Much-Afraid’s arrival at the Mountain of Spices.  She is healed, transformed, and receives her new name, Grace and Glory.

But that’s not the end of the story.

In the sequel Mountain of Spices, Grace and Glory makes her way back down from the Good Shepherd’s home, back down into the Valley of Death where her family lives. She faces the cousins who tortured and taunted her, and she responds to them with love.  Her love confuses them! Her transformation inspires the journey of others in the Valley.

What Much-Afraid, Bonhoeffer, and Paul all have in common with the Critical Journey is Stage 6, the Life of Love.  It is when we are living and acting out of our healing that we are truly interacting with each other through Jesus as mediator. When we are living the Life of Love, we can confess our sins to one another and forgive each other.

When we live the Life of Love, being in community is a joy.  It may not be easy, and it may not be comfortable.  It may not even be “acceptable.”  It certainly won’t be ideal.

But it will be real.  It will be genuine.  It will be full of love that casts out all fear, in which we are rooted and grounded, in whom we live and move and have our being, out of whom we speak and act and are the body of Christ.

Having a holistic body theology is great, but it is nothing without love to drive us toward something fruitful, beautiful, honest, holy—without love to drive us toward God, always toward God.

May love be the foundation of our communities, lovely readers.  Let us be the beloved Bride of Christ, the Church active in the world and actively loving the world, our body theology lived out among the people of God.

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10 Merits of Digital Community

  1. We are available anywhere and everywhere there is internet access.
  2. We meet people we may never have interacted with otherwise and thus expand our horizons.
  3. We can focus less on socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, or custom and more on loving relationship.
  4. We can communicate more readily across language barriers with online translation programs.
  5. We can “see” and speak with people very far away and feel for a moment that our physical distance cannot diminish our emotional connection.
  6. We can more readily and naturally take advantage of social media to interact, encourage, educate, and influence ourselves, each other, and those not directly involved in our community.
  7. We can retain and maintain friendships forged in physical proximity but separated by job, family, or calling.
  8. We can reconnect with those we may have lost contact with.
  9. We can better respect and cater to the needs of introverts who thrive in environments that limit the energy needed for social situations and allow for internal processing.
  10.  We can better respect and cater to the needs of shy and socially anxious people as well as people with physical limitations that make physical interaction more difficult.

Forward Friday: The Mary-Wannabe-Martha-Reality Check

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

Read part 1 and part 2.

You wanna be like Mary, but in reality, you’re like Martha.  Believe me, lovely reader, I know how you feel.  I’ve been there, and I’m back there again.

So if you’re a Martha and wanna be like Mary, what do you DO about it?

Here’s a little exercise to try this weekend:

  1. Recognize your gifts, passions, and personality. Understand and accept who you are.  God made you that way for a reason.  God likes you like this!
  2. Recognize how you are feeling.  Are you worried and upset?  Are you critical and judgmental? Are you jealous of people who seem to have an easier time sitting at the feet of Jesus?
  3. Identify what is motivating you right now. Are you distracted by the preparations?  Are you busy with things that seem necessary but really are not needed?
  4. Take it to God.  Mary and Martha both went straight to Jesus.  They just had different catalysts for their encounters with God.  Maybe being stressed and overwhelmed by the tasks of your day can be used to turn your attention to the one thing that is truly needed.
  5. Allow God to redirect your focus.  Where should your time and attention be right now?  What is truly needed?

Maybe sitting at Jesus’ feet isn’t your natural state of being.  Maybe it takes work.  It was work for Brother Lawrence, St. Ignatius, and the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, too.  That’s why they devoted so much time and effort toward cultivating their focus toward God.

If you’re task-oriented, make time with Jesus one of your “tasks” for the day. Maybe it’s your only task for one whole day, the only and best accomplishment.  If you like lists, put time with Jesus on there along with runs to the grocery store and calls to clients.

And if you’re not like this at all, if you’re naturally a Mary, well then…

YOU ROCK! We all wish we could be more like you.  Don’t let ANYONE take away what you have chosen.  God promised you could stay right where you are at the feet of Jesus, and God will defend you!  You just keep on sitting.

For the rest of us, put sitting on your list.  And then DO it.

And then come back and share your experience in the comment box below.

The Mary-Wannabe-Martha-Reality: Part 2

Read part 1 here.

So let’s say you’re like me.  You are an achiever. You are, as Tom Rath wrote, “utterly dependable.”  You are a DOer.

You are like Martha.

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  (Luke 10:38-42)

Notice how Martha responds to the situation.  She does not burst into the room and drag Mary away to help her with the preparations.  She does not grumble under her breath, building up resentment and anger, and passive-aggressively snub Mary for the next week.

Martha goes straight to Jesus.  She tells him exactly how she feels and asks for exactly what she thinks she needs.

Notice how Jesus responds to Martha.  He does not condemn her.  He does not criticize her work.  He does not tell her to stop doing all the good and productive tasks she is responsible for.  Here’s what he DOES say:

  1. You are worried.
  2. You are upset.
  3. Most of these things aren’t needed (not that they aren’t good or productive or worthy or useful, just that they aren’t NEEDED).  In other words, your energy and effort are misplaced.  In Luke’s words, you are distracted.
  4. Your criticism and judgment of Mary are misplaced.

Martha goes to Jesus with her frustration and anger, and Jesus gently redirects her focus.

This is what mentors and supervisors would call a “teachable moment.”  Instead of punishing Martha for her Achiever and Responsible nature, Jesus uses the situation to show Martha the truth about herself — how she is really feeling and what is really motivating her actions — and to help Martha recognize what really is needed and better, and ultimately, what will resolve her feelings and correct her motivations.

Here’s what I love about this passage: what Mary does naturally, Martha has to learn.

Now here’s what we learn from Jesus’ response.

You do not need to change who you are or how you operate.

If you are like me, if you are an exhausted, inexhaustible achiever who is too responsible to allow yourself to let go of and step back from the tasks you have taken upon yourself, then you can breathe a sigh of relief here.

*Whew!*

You will always be the achiever.  You will always be responsible.

What you need to learn, what we all need to learn here, is that we are easily distracted by the worries and frustrations around us.  We focus on the wrong things.  We get caught up in what we think is necessary when really only one thing is needed.

If you’re like me, you want to be like Mary.  You want to be a BEer.  You want to be satisfied with nothing else than sitting at the feet of Jesus.

You wanna-be-like-Mary, but that is just not naturally who you are.  In reality, you are more like Martha.

You don’t feel settled if you haven’t accomplished something for the day.  You don’t feel comfortable if you backed out of a commitment or let something fall through the cracks.

That’s okay.  God made you with that drive for accomplishment and that dependability.  God loves that about you!

So what do you do when you wanna be Mary but are really a Martha?

Find out tomorrow!

The Mary-Wannabe-Martha-Reality: Part 1

If you’re like me, you have a complex.

You have a desire, nay, a driving need, to DO, to DO WELL, and to HAVE DONE more, concurrently, and better than everyone else you know.

You excel at doing, and you draw your self-worth from how much you have done and how well you have done it.

You are a task-completer, a list-checker-off-er.  Your number one strength on the StrengthsFinder test is Achiever.  (PS. This actually means you have a bigger complex than I do because Achiever is only number three on my StrengthsFinder results. Nany nany boo boo.)

You feel as if every day starts at zero.  By the end of the day you must achieve something tangible in order to feel good about yourself.  And by “every day” you mean every single day — workdays, weekends, vacations.  No matter how much you may feel you deserve a day of rest, if the day passes without some form of achievement, no matter how small, you will feel dissatisfied.  You have an internal fire burning inside you.  It pushes you to do more, to achieve more.  After each accomplishment is reached, the fire dwindles for a moment, but very soon it rekindles itself, forcing you toward the next accomplishment.  – Tom Rath, StrengthsFinder 2.0 (p37)

Okay, maybe not all of you are Achievers, but a lot of you are.  A lot of Christians are, especially Christian women.  We’re taught early and often that we live to serve, and that our value both in our church community and in our homes is based on what, how much, how often, and how well we DO for everyone.

This is not news.

Martha, sister of Lazarus and friend of Jesus, would have scored Achiever as her number one strength, right above Responsibility.

That’s right. This is you, too, and a lot of other Christians.  Your word is your bond.  You always come through.  You never let anything fall through the cracks.

[You] take psychological ownership for anything you commit to, and whether large or small, you feel emotionally bound to follow it through to completion.  Your good name depends on it…. This conscientiousness, this near obsession for doing things right, and your impeccable ethics, combine to create your reputation: utterly dependable…. Your willingness to volunteer may sometimes lead you to take on more than you should. – Tom Rath, StrengthsFinder 2.0 (p149)

Super-DOer.  That’s you.

You have this need to achieve, and whether you want to or not, you find yourself committed to doing more and more.  You are the quintessential soccer mom.  You have it all together.

You are super human.

You are BUSY.

You are TIRED.

You are JEALOUS and CRITICAL of anyone who is not caught up in your whirlwind of activity and responsibility.  You JUDGE.

How do you have time and energy to do and be everything everyone wants and expects you to do and be?

You are a DOer.

So was Martha.

Okay, that’s not news.

Rachel touched on this when she said advertising tries to make us believe we aren’t enough.  Kathy touched on this when she said that well-behaved women won’t change the church.

What you need to know is what to DO about it, right?

To be continued…

Forward Friday: Safe, Healthy Touch

Giving and receiving safe, healthy, non-sexual touch is a basic human need.

This weekend, take steps to be intentional about touch in your life.  Here are some ideas you might try:

  • get a massage, or give one

  • get a hug, or give one (a real one, not the room-for-the-Holy-Spirit-between-you kind)

  • not big on hugs? try handshakes, fist-bumps, or high-fives

  • go dancing (ballroom, anyone?)

  • volunteer in the nursery

  • babysit

  • join a pickup game of touch football, ultimate frisbee, or another light contact team sport

  • have coffee with a close friend and practice touching their hand or arm briefly during conversation

Come back and share your experience in the comment box below.

Death and Life

My friend’s grandmother just died.  In the last few days, I’ve been remembering how I grieved when my grandfather died back when I was in college.

We are marked by the passing of those we love.

Death and grief — painful and necessary as they are — can be catalysts for new awareness, growth, and even hope for the future.

All day I’ve had this verse in my head.

For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. – 2 Cor 5:4

Selah, as it says in the Psalms.  Pause, and quietly think about that.

10 Things Hay Fever Teaches Us

Nothing puts you in touch with your body as much as when your body is not working well.  Sickness and infirmity remind us of our frailty, our mortality, our physicality.

Yesterday, I had an allergy attack, my first one in five years.  It’s quite shocking how quickly I had forgotten the icky-ness of allergies and gotten used to behaving “normally” when outside.

Here are 10 things having allergies has taught me:

  1. Everything I do has a consequence. Whether I choose to sleep with the window open, ride my bike under blooming trees, or stretch out in the grass for a nap — I will pay for it later.
  2. Breathing is precious, vital, and should not be taken for granted.  The inability to breathe out of my mouth and my nose makes me ever aware of this most basic of involuntary activities my body regulates without my conscious choice.
  3. Life does not stop simply because I am unprepared. (Read: I cannot go anywhere without Kleenex.)
  4. Quick fixes are not long-term solutions.
  5. Sometimes there is nothing you can do to fix a problem or change a circumstance.
  6. I am capable of making choices that affect my body’s well-being. It’s up to me whether those are positive or negative effects.
  7. My body deserves my attention and care, even when it is inconvenient.
  8. All things in moderation. Sometimes when we try too hard to fix a problem, we overcompensate and make everything worse.
  9. Being aware of my own infirmity creates the opportunity for more compassion towards others who struggle with chronic physical ailments.
  10. How I react to my situation is a choice.  Having that choice is an opportunity for growth. Having the opportunity for growth is a gift.

How has physical infirmity influenced your body theology?

The Spiritual Practice of Touch

Yesterday my husband and I splurged on a couple of 60-minute massages at a  Chinese foot clinic that just opened up in our town. We pointed out the type of massage we wanted, were led to two red chair/beds in the middle of the room, and settled in for some long-anticipated relaxation.

Since we both have trouble with our backs, we often bribe each other for massages at home, but nothing beats a well-trained, strong-fingered Chinese foot massage.  The last time we had massages, we were still dating, so we were looking forward to the treat we had saved up for.

As I lay under the soft red towel while a quiet Chinese woman worked out my knots with her strong, gentle hands, I thought about my journey with touch over the past few years. I’ve learned to allow myself to be touched in a safe, healthy way. I’ve learned to accept hugs, and then to give them.  I’ve learned to accept romantic touch.  I have always been the one giving massages, but in the last few years I’ve learned to receive them as well–first, free ones from trusted friends, and then paid ones from trained professionals.

All along, God has been teaching me about the healing and restorative power of touch.  We lay hands on one another when we pray. We hold our loved ones close.  We comfort and celebrate each other with safe, healthy touch.

But for a long time I believed the lie that no touch was safe. I felt threatened anytime my 3-feet-of-personal-space was violated by anyone other than a family member.

We westerners are so much more physically isolated from one another.  Single adults are especially lacking in safe, healthy (non-sexual) physical touch. 

Through some beautiful moments, and some long-suffering friends, I have slowly begun to teach my body to receive touch in a positive way.

Yesterday, amidst the cheesy violin solos of My Heart Will Go On, Moon River, and Edelweiss, I closed my eyes, allowed my body to relax under the towel, and told myself to receive this nice woman’s touch in the way it was meant–to provide healing.

Each time I exhaled, I breathed out distrust, anxiety, and infirmity.  Each time I inhaled, I breathed in the safety and healing of the Holy Spirit.  Getting a massage became an exercise in believing the truth about touch and allowing the Spirit of God to work within me for my spiritual and physical benefit.

By the end of the hour, I was so relaxed I almost fell asleep.

As we paid our fee, tipped our massage therapists, and went off to get some dinner, I was reminded of my plan long ago to open a healing center one day that would include massage therapy along with soaking prayer, inner healing prayer, practical and biblical teaching, and music, dance, and other artistic expressions of worship.  Maybe there would even be yoga or Pilates classes available.

What would it look like for a  24-hour House of Prayer to include massage therapy and body movement classes along with healing, teaching, and worship with music?

What better way of incorporating body theology into spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical healing and growth?  What better expression of the holistic nature of body theology?

We are physical beings, and we relate best when our physicality is incorporated into our experience–of ourselves, of each other, and of God.

Next time you get a massage, or give someone a hug, or accept a high-five or fist-bump, recognize the moment as an opportunity to experience and express your body theology in action.

Give and receive touch as an expression of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on our lives.   That’s what we were made for.

Forward Friday: Knowing Your Name

Hi, lovely readers! Thanks for all your encouragement and support over the past couple of weeks as I’ve wrestled with fear and finding my voice.

Now, here’s a little exercise to try to discover the new name God has given you.

1) Sit in a comfortable position in a quiet place.

2) Light a candle (or use a painting or some other focal point to help draw your attention away from distractions).

3) Read Genesis 32:22-32 aloud, slowly.

4) In silence, ask God to reveal to you who you have been created to be.  Ask God to bless you as Jacob once did.  Expect an answer.

5) Wait. Listen.

6) If you find yourself too easily distracted, repeat #3-5 once or twice more.

7) Come back and share your experience in the comment box below.

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