Category Archives: Service

Cameron Russell on the power of images

Today I thought it would be fun to share this TedTalk by Victoria Secret model Cameron Russell on her experience winning the “genetic lottery” and benefiting from a social system that oppresses so many people based on how they look.  It’s a little awkward, very honest, and definitely thought-provoking.

So, what did you think of Russell’s talk? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

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The Spiritual Practice of Cooking

I’m not a cook.  I don’t make food; I just heat it up. Or order it. I’m really good at ordering.  My husband, on the other hand, is a very talented cook.  He enjoys creating something delicious and wonderful out of a whole bunch of unassuming ingredients.

So what can we learn from cooking about the spiritual life?

Cooks are patient. They don’t rush through the process but take their time to make sure everything comes out as it should.

Cooks are creative. They look at seemingly incompatible ingredients and see delicious possibilities.

Cooks are collaborative.  Ever watch the Food Network, or do a web search for a certain recipe or cooking method, or walk down the cooking isle in a bookstore?  Cooks love to share and learn and *ahem* brag.

Cooks practice self-care.  My mother always used to say while cooking, “Don’t muzzle the ox!” That was her blanket permission to eat whatever you want while you’re cooking in the name of taste-testing.

Cooks are diligent.  They do what they do over and over and over again.  They do it day after day, meal after meal.  They are dedicated to their craft.

Cooks are intuitive. They test out new recipes, experiment with new ingredients, and use measurement systems like “dash” and “pinch.”

Cooks are brave. They share what they create, usually quite proudly.  They enter contests, go on competitive reality TV shows, apply to work in restaurants, produce blogs or books or movies that chronicle their craft.

Cooks are caring.  They provide daily sustenance for those they love the most, for themselves, and for the hungry around them.  They bring cookies and cupcakes to the school bake sale. They serve in soup kitchens.  They share their casseroles and pot roasts and pies at pot lucks.

If you’ve ever wanted to be patient or creative or collaborative or practicing self care or diligent or intuitive or brave or caring — well then, you should take your cue from cooks and practice spiritual cooking.

Eve Ensler: Suddenly, my body

Today I’d like to share with you the beautiful, honest story Eve Ensler shares of her journey with her body.  (Fair warning, you’ll hear the words vagina and rape.)

Poet, writer, activist Eve Ensler lived in her head. In this powerful talk from TEDWomen, she talks about her lifelong disconnection from her body — and how two shocking events helped her to connect with the reality, the physicality of being human.

Forward Friday: Seek the Hidden Life

This week we’ve been discussing what Lent is all about in the wise words of Henri Nouwen.  We’ve looked at being ready, returning to God and our true identity, pursuing the hidden life, and being reconciled both to God and to others.

There are so many ways we could use what we learned this week to move forward toward a holistic body theology.  But this weekend, let’s focus on what we need first to get it all started.

Seek the hidden life.

There are all sorts of ways we can pursue the hidden life that Jesus modeled for us. This weekend, look for opportunities to choose the hidden life over the praise of the world.

Here are some ideas:

  • Make an anonymous donation.
  • Get up early or in the middle of the night for some alone time with God, and don’t share your experience with anyone.
  • Put a rubber band around your wrist and take a moment to pray (without anyone noticing) every time you notice it’s there throughout the day.  If anyone asks about the rubber band, just tell them it’s there in case you need it.
  • Perform a random act of kindness when no one is around to see or thank you.  This could be anything from running the dishwasher to picking up trash on the sidewalk.
  • Fast something. Whether it’s for Lent, for the weekend, or for a day, give something up, and make sure no one notices except you and God.

 

Reconciliation and the Hidden Life

 

On Monday, we looked at an excerpt from Henri Nouwen‘s Sabbatical Journey and unpacked some of his reflections about Lent.  We focused more on the beginning and end of the passage, but today I really want to focus on what he says in the middle.

Jesus stressed the hidden life.  Whether we give alms, pray, or fast, we are able to do it in a hidden way, not to be praised by people but to enter into closer communion with God. Lent is a time of returning to God. It is a time to confess how we keep looking for joy, peace, and satisfaction in the many people and things surrounding us, without really finding what we desire.  Only God can give us what we want.  So we must be reconciled with God, as Paul says, and let that reconciliation be the basis of our relationship with others.

I always love how honest Nouwen is about what it’s like to be human.  He acknowledges all our fallen nature, our pride and guilt and selfishness and all the rest, yet he uses his own vulnerability to draw us into closer relationship with the Divine.

How often I fail at living the “hidden life” Jesus modeled for us.  How easily I am distracted and motivated by the praise the world gives.  How quickly I stray from the one thing I want.  The psalmist calls it an undivided heart.  John calls it remaining in God.  Nouwen calls it communion with God.

It is only when we are living this hidden life that we are able to be in right relationship with others.  It is only when we acknowledge our need for and accept God’s forgiveness that we are able to acknowledge our need for and ask for forgiveness from others or give them our forgiveness, even if they do not ask or acknowledge the need.

Lent is a time for reconciling ourselves to God and to others (not to mention to ourselves) so that when Easter morning comes, we are fully able to understand and celebrate the event that forever reconciled the world to God.

This process is big and important. It is difficult. It requires humility and honesty, vulnerability and transparency.  It requires intention and space.

But the good news is, reconciliation starts with God, and with God, it is already finished!

 

What is body theology? another definition

This week we’re exploring the various definitions of body theology out there.  Read HBTB’s definition of body theology. Read James B. Nelson’s definition from Monday.

Now let’s consider an excerpt from Introducing Body Theology by Lisa Isherwood and Elizabeth Stuart. Take some time to read and reflect on the passages below.

[B]ody theology…creates theology through the body and not about the body.  Working through the body is a way of ensuring that theories do not get written on the bodies of “others” who then become marginalized and objects of control. It is also a way of deconstructing the concept of truth that Christianity used to hold so many falsehoods in place.  Once one moves from the notion that there is absolute truth into which the bodies of people have to fit, the way is open to begin questioning and we soon realize that truth is not the issue in relation to prescriptions about the body, but power.  Christian history shows us the extent to which power has been exerted over bodies in the name of divine truth and the crippling results.  If the body is given the space and power to speak what will be the consequences for both the body and theology?

… Body politics have exposed the underlying power games at work in sexuality and society and by so doing have become a source of inspiration and liberation for many.  Christianity is an incarnational religion that claims to set captives free, it tells us it is a religion of liberation.  Yet it underpins many of the restrictive practices that body politics expose.  In some cases Christianity has been the instigator of these practices because of its dualistic vision of the world.

The questions being posed in our time are to do with the body, that of the world as well as the individual.  Can body politics ever become body theology in a truly radical and transforming way?  This might mean for example, that the Christian religion…risk taking the bodies of women seriously as sites of revelation in the creation of theology….That it develop a sexual ethic that takes seriously the desire of all and integrates it into a mutual and freeing celebration of embodiment.

…The Christian faith tells us that redemption is brought through the incarnation of God. A redemption that could not be wished or just thought, even by God herself, she had to be enfleshed.  Therefore, it can be argued that until the body is liberated from the patriarchal ties that bind it, many of which have been set in place by Christianity, creation will never understand the truly liberating power of incarnation.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!  React to and engage with the quotation above in the comment box below.

Holiness and Beauty: A Meditation

Being an amateur philosopher and a lover of the liberal arts, beauty and aesthetics have always fascinated me. The image of God as Creator, the ultimate source of creativity, has inspired unspeakable awe and wonder. The idea that beauty embodies holiness, or that we may find holiness in the experience of beauty (visually or through the beautiful act or the recognition of beautiful character), sends me back to my undergrad days, reading Socrates and Plato and Aristotle, meditating on the character and mind of God.

God’s holiness is reflected in the beauty of the earth God has created—with just a word! What creative power that Word holds! We, in response, can participate in that holiness when we participate in beauty—enjoying it and creating it.

Consider Isaiah 58:11 and Matthew 6:28-33. What do they tell us about God?

The nature imagery grabs my attention: the well-watered garden, the sun-scorched desert, the splendor of Solomon, the lilies of the field. And then the context of these verses strikes me: Isaiah 58:11 comes as a promise in the midst of fasting, observing the Sabbath, and serving the poor and marginalized.  Matthew 6:28 comes in the midst of the sermon on the mount, as Jesus taught his listeners how to live and serve God.

These passages, these promises, require action on our parts. They require response!

Yet they also promise — in the midst of stress, grief, brokenness, doubt, uncertainty about the future — that God will sustain. They promise that whether we bear concerns of finances, employment, community, love, wisdom and discernment, gifts (creative, intellectual, or spiritual), God will provide.

My mind leaps from scripture to scripture.

Psalm 8—what are human beings that God is mindful of us?

Psalm 42—the deer pants for water.

Isaiah 6—the imagery-laden call in God’s throne room.

Revelation 22:17 – all who are thirsty come to the river of life.

1 Kings 10:23-25—an account of Solomon’s glory. Particularly with Solomon, I think it’s interesting that with all we can do and create on our own, with all the glory that Solomon amassed, it cannot hold a candle to the creative word of God that would speak a lily into existence.

God’s creativity and beauty, like God’s holiness, are so wholly other; yet we are made in the image of that creative and beautiful and holy God, and our words contain the power to create as well.

John 15:1-17—the fruit of the vine that results when we abide in the vine that is Jesus. It is from God that we get our creative gifts, but to use them properly and to their full abundance, we must remain attached to the God through whom flows that creative power. That holiness. That holy, holy, holy holiness. Otherwise we are nothing more than Solomon’s glory, amazing for a moment but lost forever after.

Psalm 29 – the beauty of holiness, this is not a new thought! The Israelites understood this deep connection between beauty and holiness, this innate part of God’s glory that must be recognized and responded to. This creativity is what we were created for (Gen 1-2), to bring forth fruit from the earth.

God provides. God sustains. God — by that creative word — speaks life into us, and we in turn are able to speak life into each other, into the world.

What a holy, beautiful truth.

 

10 Concepts of Compassion

If you missed our series on Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life, you can find quick links to the posts below, or scroll down for a brief recap in 10 Concepts.

The Compassionate God
The Voice of Love
The Compassionate Life (Part 1)
The Compassionate Life (Part 2)
The Compassionate Way (Part 1)
Compassion in Everyday Life
The Compassionate Way (Part 2)
 

10 Concepts of Compassion

1. To be compassionate means to be kind and gentle to those who get hurt by competition.

2. We learn compassion by the example of God, who showed us compassion by sending the incarnate Christ to become obedient to the cross on our behalf.

3. We experience God’s compassion through listening to the loving voice of God in our lives.

4. When we listen to the loving voice of God, we discover our unique calling to voluntary displacement.

5. Voluntary displacement — and thus compassionate living — can only happen within the community of God.

6. Voluntary displacement is first an inward shift before it can ever be an authentic shift outwardly.  It is not primarily something to accomplish but something to recognize.

7. We must be disciplined and patient in order to hear the loving voice of God.

8. The first action of compassion is the discipline of patient prayer.

9. The second action of compassion is the participation in the Lord’s Supper.

10. The third action of compassion is the voice of confrontation — both self-confrontation and confrontation of injustice in the world — spoken humbly and gratefully.

The Compassionate Way (Part 2)

It’s our final day with Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison.

Last week in The Compassionate Way (Part 1), we talked about what it looks like to live a life of compassion through voluntary displacement, the individual choice to move ourselves (both inwardly and outwardly) out of what is comfortable and familiar in order to answer the unique call of God in each of our lives.  We established that we cannot act — rightly, timely, compassionately — if we have not first established a lifestyle of prayerful listening to the loving voice of God through the discipline of patience.

More on The Compassionate Way

It is not just the practice of prayer that positions us for compassion.  It is also the celebration of the Lord’s Supper:

When we eat bread and drink wine together in memory of Christ, we become intimately related to his own compassionate life. In fact, we become his life and are thus enabled to re-present Christ’s life in our time and place. (111)

[O]ur praying together becomes working together, and the call to break the same bread becomes a call to action. (113)

This is one reason I am in favor of the open table, which allows everyone (even those who may not fit into our neat categories and labels) to participate together in one of the most sacred and intimate sacraments of the Christian faith.  When we pray together — listening for the loving voice of God — and eat together — with the life, death, and resurrection of Christ in our minds and hearts — we cannot help but be drawn together toward compassionate action as the unified body of Christ.

The authors are adamant that we need both prayer and action to live the Compassionate Way:

Prayer without action grows into powerless pietism, and action without prayer degenerates into questionable manipulation. (114)

But our actions — like our prayers — must be tempered by the discipline of patience that marks the Compassionate Way. It is only through this patient action that we can truly experience the Compassionate Life we have been called to by our Compassionate God.

Patient actions are actions through which the healing, consoling, comforting, reconciling, and unifying love of God can touch the heart of humanity. (115)

Action with and for those who suffer is the concrete expression of the compassionate life and the final criterion of being a Christian….Precisely when we live in an ongoing conversation with Christ and allow the Spirit to guide our lives, we will recognize Christ in the poor, the oppressed, and the down-trodden, and will hear his cry and response to it wherever he is revealed….So worship becomes ministry and ministry becomes worship, and all we say or do, ask for or give, becomes a way to the life in which God’s compassion can manifest itself. (119)

It is important to remember, above all, that when we choose voluntary displacement, guided by the loving voice of God, we are merely joining in with what the Spirit of God is already doing in the world.  The Compassionate Life is really an invitation into the fullness of life that we have been promised.  It is the ushering in — as well as the recognition of — the kingdom of God:

Our action, therefore, must be understood as a discipline by which we make visible what has already been accomplished. (121)

At the end of The Compassionate Way, the authors add that a compassionate act may also require confrontation — both of the sin in ourselves as well as the harmful competition and pursuit of power in the world.  Without this confrontational voice, we would not be able to be defenders of God’s justice.  If compassion is the daily act of kindness toward those individuals hurt by competition, then compassion is also the confrontation of systemic injustice in the world:

Compassion without [humble] confrontation fades quickly into fruitless sentimental commiseration. (123)

Confrontation always includes self-confrontation…each attempt to confront evil in the world calls for the realization that there are always two fronts on which the struggle takes place: an outer front and an inner front. (124)

Only when we voluntarily displace ourselves, listen to the voice of love, and follow that unique calling into patient prayer and patient action will we truly experience the freedom offered to us as children of God because of the compassionate obedience of our incarnate God. The Compassionate Way is the way of grateful, free, and even joyful action:

[T]he compassionate life is a grateful life, and actions born out of gratefulness are not compulsive but free, not somber but joyful, not fanatical but liberating. (125)

This is the deepest meaning of compassionate action. It is the grateful, free, and joyful expression of the great encounter with the compassionate God. (127)

Conclusion

[Compassion] is hard work; it is crying out with those in pain; it is tending the wounds of the poor and caring for their lives; it is defending the weak and indignantly accusing those who violate their humanity; it is joining with the oppressed in their struggle for justice; it is pleading for help, with all possible means, from any person who has ears to hear and eyes to see. In short, it is a willingness to lay down our lives for our friends. (136)

In the conclusion, the authors restate the message of Compassion as the true mark of the Christian life precisely because compassionate action is larger than any one person or organization. Compassion is the collective activity of the body of Christ in the world to bring healing, justice, wholeness, and completion to the broken world our incarnate Christ died to save. Compassion is living into the kingdom of God:

[W]e can only live the compassionate life to the fullest when we know that it points beyond itself…There is a new heaven and a new earth for which we hope with patient expectation.(131)

How are you ushering in the kingdom of God?

What do you think of Nouwen’s perspective on the Compassionate God, the Compassionate Life, and the Compassionate Way? Is he right?

Listen to the loving voice of God in your life. What is God revealing as your unique calling to the Christian life of compassion?

 

Compassion in Everyday Life

I caught a big work project this week and haven’t had the time I planned to get out the last post in our series on Nouwen’s Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life. It’s coming soon, I promise!

In the meantime, my husband has graciously provided below — for your reading pleasure — his unique perspective on what it looks like to live out the Compassionate Way in our daily lives. Enjoy!

Laura has been talking about compassion this week. I’m going to show compassion…by doing her compassion blog for her today.

I work retail. Retail is interesting. By the nature of this job, I run across people of all different flavors. A lot of people are cool – actually most are – but there are also those people who are sarcastic-awesome (in other words, they’re a bit difficult).

I am the type of employee who makes sure every customer who enters my store is welcomed and receives great service. Honestly, I treat my store like my home and I love it when my employees catch onto this and emulate the example I set in their own way.

Anywho, there was an instance at one point in time where I saw a guy looking at men’s casual pants on the wall.

I approached him and said, “Good morning! Are you looking for a certain type of pant or is there anything else I can help you find today?”

He replied angrily, “I don’t need your help, I can read the tags!”

Despite his reply, I still let him know I’d be around if anything came up that I could help with.

There’s a MeWithoutYou song where the lead singer, Aaron Weiss, sings “If your old man did you wrong, maybe his old man did him wrong…” In other words, every reaction is birthed by an action. Chances are that grumpy customer was grumpy because of something that happened before he was in our store and it had nothing to do with me.

And so I preach compassion and understanding.

Maybe that dude was just having a crappy day. Maybe he’d been diagnosed with cancer (as one customer in the last year told me about when they were angry). Maybe he’d just gotten into a car accident. Maybe his cell phone fell into the toilet. Who knows.

But there is one thing I do know: as a Christian, my reaction is called to be grace, understanding, and compassion, demonstrating the love Christ showed to us on the cross… and to let that love do the work.

Whatcha think? Does this resound with you?

 

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