Step by Step Journey: Writings of Richard Dahlstrom - because there's always a next step

Thanksgiving Tips for Civil Conversation: Embrace the Exile

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Nov 18, 2017

The political and theological left and right have become so tired of both shooting each other and being shot at, that there’s little stomach left for honest conversation about ethics, faith, and the relationship of faith to politics.  So when you go over the river and through the woods to enjoy a family gathering at Grandma’s house this coming Thursday, what will you talk about?  Here’s a little guide to help:

  1. Christ followers are exiles.  Accept it.  We always have been, always will be.  When Paul said “maranatha” in I Corinthians 16:22 he was declaring that our deepest and most profound hope is rooted in the return of Christ.  He’d know well, of course, that the state wasn’t ever going to provide some sort of theocratic rule of law.  He never hoped for it, never advocated pursuing it, never even indicated that it was a possibility.  Paul never said, “If we can just get a few more red seats in the halls of congress then we’ll protect life in the womb.” Nor, “If only we had a blue emperor, there’d be health care for all, and housing for the poor.”  It’s not that issues don’t matter.  It’s not that we shouldn’t care.  It’s not even that we can’t have robust discussion about these matters.  It’s just that, in the end, our calling is to create an alternative ethic and kingdom that will thrive right in the midst of Rome, or Babylon, or the European Union of Socialism, or the United States of Shopping.   We have a better hope than the trinkets of any prevailing culture.  We have the assurance of the end of the story, an end where all life is honored:  the unborn, the homeless, the refugee, the sick, the aged…all!   I hope that, no matter your party, or your conviction on particular issues, you can agree with other Christ followers that we’re exiles.  Learning to live as exiles is a great topic for conversation.  Instead of cursing the darkness, how about we light a candle.  We are, after all, the light of the world.
  2. There’s still beauty in the world.  See it and give thanks – There’s beauty in intimacy, in friendship, in creation, in children whose eyes are filled with hope, in generosity, in forgiveness, in music and sport, in good food and good conversation, and in stories of transformation, as people move toward wholeness and joy and hope.  So perhaps we can look for beauty this week, and take seriously the admonition of the scriptures to “give thanks in everything.”  The truth of the matter is that all of us easily become myopic, so fixated on our personal problems, or the global state of things, that we lose sight of the reality that much, much, much, is still beautiful.  My neighbor met a man this summer who had ridden his bicycle around the world twice, both north to south and east to west.  He told my neighbor, people are still beautiful, still generous, still sacrificial, almost always, almost everywhere.  Of course, its not in the news cycle, but it’s true, or at least likely true.  Let’s learn to be people of gratitude in spite of temptations to fixate on the darkness.
  3. You are made for joy, so rejoice.  The apostle Paul never solved the unjust problems of Rome.  It was a culture of peace for the wealthy landowners, all of whom were male.  If you were slave, woman, a renter or someone in debt, a non-citizen, the so called “peace of Rome” wasn’t for you.  Paul knew this, just like we know this.  He also knew, unlike some of us, that no political system, no kingdom of the world, will even last – let alone solve our world’s ailments.  He also knew that Christ would bring joy to each human heart, right here, right now.  Yes, he fought for justice, addressed social issues (though covertly most of the time); but he also rejoiced, in nearly every circumstance, the joy of Christ remained evident.  So he, the one who was beaten, imprisoned, and persecuted as a threat to both Rome and the religious establishment, he was able to write, “Rejoice in the Lord always… again I say, rejoice.”   He didn’t write that from a position of privilege.  He wrote it from a position of privilege lost.  And still, he found joy.  So can we.

 

Here’s hoping you embrace your identity as exile so you can relax and live into the confidence of your citizenship in Christ’s kingdom.  May you find beauty there, and hope, and may the light of your joy and gratitude radiate at your Thanksgiving table, wherever you are.  

Amen 

 

COMING SOON:  Let me help with your Christmas shopping, as I’ll be giving away three copies of The Map is Not the Journey and two copies of The Colors of Hope.   Details next week!

Let the Journey Begin – An invitation to travel to the Alps with me

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Nov 4, 2017

“Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing at all” is how Helen Keller put it.  She’s was onto something, surely.  When Dave Matthews mused about the “Ants Marching” in his masterful music some years ago, it seemed to me he was pondering a sort of inevitable decay into a ritual of breakfast, commute, work, commute, supper, exhaustion, repeat.  There are surely forces at work in the systems that are western civilization contributing to this dismal picture.  However, I’d suggest that Jesus wants to infuse our normal daily existence with Divine Life so that in the midst of whatever it is we’re doing, the source of wisdom, joy, hope, mercy, justice, generosity, compassion, and service that is Christ bubbles up from deep within.  What’s more, this kind of life is available to us every single day, even the mundane ones, the unchosen periods of suffering, the challenges.

I needed to leave my job for three months and trek through the Alps to learn this lesson, and learn I did, and I’m thrilled to share my adventures with you in my new book The Map is not the Journey: Faith Renewed While Hiking the Alps”.  The death of my close friend in a paragliding accident in the Alps came just at a point in my career where I was beginning to question the future.  The convergence of these elements led, a year later, to my wife and I doing a 40 day, 400 kilometer trek through the Alps.  Beginning in Italy, we went on to experience the Alps in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein.  Lessons learned there, along with all the adventure of it (yes, we did walk into our private room one night to find a couple sleeping in our bed!) are found in this new offering, now available at Amazon and fine booksellers.  Each chapter includes a link to photos from the stories of that chapter, in hopes that you’ll experience the trip we took in a small way too.

It’s a book for everyone who’s wondering what’s next, at any age.  

It’s for those whose lives have turned out differently than they’d expected.  

It’s for those who are tired, and looking a fresh infusion of life in their daily routine. 

It’s for those who have set goals that they failed to meet.  

It’s for those who want to learn about hut to hut travel in the Alps, or long range hiking.  

In short – I hope it’s for a lot of people! 

Here’s a little video teaser I made on my iphone.

You can help this book succeed in a few simple ways:

If you think you know people who might like it, share your purchase, or this blog post, on your social media.  Thanks!

Reviews on Amazon are always helpful.  Thanks!

What some have said who’ve read it:

Denny Rydberg – President Emeritus of Young Life . “For those feeling fatigue after years of faithfully doing the same thing, for those looking for new eyes to see what God is doing and has on his mind, and for those who need a jolt of adventure, this is the book to read.” 

Les Parrott, PHD – “If your spirit is weary or your faith is running dry, this book is like a refreshing drink from an alpine spring.  Richard paints incredible word pictures and takes you on a compelling journey of transformation.”  

Jim Zorn (former NFL coach and player) – “Richard’s travels aren’t just good stories of adventures.  They’re also instructive on how unexpected everyday experiences can shape us to become better people.  Those looking to find transformation in the commonplace will benefit from this book.”  

Please share this post if you think others would benefit from the book.  Thanks!

 

#metoo

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Oct 17, 2017

It’s not just that it’s been happening throughout history.  It’s our collective complicity with it, through knowing and not speaking, through seeing and not saying.  It’s the “this is just the way it is” of it that is at the heart of the blight.  Turning a blind eye to sexual abuse, misogyny, and the abuse of power in relationships has been happening for millenia.  These dark sins have, it seems, been so deeply woven into the fabric of our culture that they’ve gone tragically unnoticed.

Thanks be to God, the tide is turning.  Bill Clinton and Anthony Weiner occurred at a time when they were viewed as isolated incidents years and decades ago, and presidential liaisons before that were hushed up completely.  But the rapid recent succession of Donald Trump, Bill O Reily, Roger Ailes, and now the Weinstein situation have brought the issue out onto the mainstage of culture, front and center.   That’s good news, but only if we respond rightly and become part of the healing solution.  So how should we respond?

Reject all objectification of women.  It’s too easy for those who’ve never been guilty of overt abuse to wash their hands in false self righteousness, ready as they are to throw their stones.  But the wise person will see abuse clothed in power as the presenting problem and travel further upstream to find the source of the malady.  When he does, he’ll find that always, before there’s abuse, there’s an objectification – the reduction of a woman made in God’s image to nothing more than a body, a thing that exists solely for the satisfaction of the onlooker, as he uses her to fill some destructive void in his life.   If this is the real problem, perhaps there’s not a man among us who isn’t guilty – and perhaps this is why Jesus took lust so seriously here.

Overcoming habits of objectification will require an active re-training of our senses, our interior thought life, because the reality is that our culture is complicit in the sex abuse problem, reducing women to objectified images in advertising, bait click portraits, movies, sitcoms, and shopping malls – let alone the vast world of porn.  Every time I reduce a woman’s image or her presence to an object existing for my pleasure and satisfaction, I become part of the problem, feeding the purveyors of objectification yet another reason to continue and intensify their offerings.

I get it guys.  You’re lonely, stressed, frustrated, insecure.  You want comfort, intimacy, less stress, or at least a momentary hit of plelasure – and they all seem out of reach, so you reach for what’s so readily available in our culture and presto – problem solved.  You leave satisfied.  Except the problem isn’t solved – at all.   The only thing that’s changed is that you’ve become weaker. You’ve made an offering to the gods of darkness intent on deepening the strongholds of abuse.  O, and one other thing happened.  Another woman was used – another story, another wall, another wound.

There’s a better way, and it starts with walking away from every whiff of objectification.  And the courage to walk away usually begins by believing that I have a life and calling all my own, a completion in Christ that is real.  Because of this, though I might feel lonely and frustrated at times, to the extent that I embrace my deepest and truest identity, I’m freed from letting the false void of inadequacy drive my behavior.  I’ve no need to grab, fondle, or even fantasize about doing so, because I’ve an actual life to live, full of serving and sharing, blessing and building.   Real life trumps fantasies and objectifications every time.

Restore the primacy of character in our voting, employment, and education.   The words of Mr. Trump, caught on “access hollywood” tape should have been a warning:  this is a man driven to conquer people, to use them, to acquire them as objects for his own purposes.  “… and they let you get away with it…”   He’s not the first president with the problem, by any means.  Just the crassest, and most cavalier – on tape anyway.   The scourge is well resourced with presidents from both parties.

The point isn’t perfection.  One look at Abraham, or Noah, or David remind us that perfection isn’t the point.  What’s happened in our culture, though, is that our silence, and our collective turning the other way, and our voting, have all become forms of tacit approval, not of those who have failed and know it, but of those for whom the misuse of power as a means of using a woman for sexual satisfaction became normal, even a matter for boasting.

All people are created in God’s image, and as such, none are ever to be treated as objects existing for the profit and pleasure of those with more power.  Sadly, this has been one of the most violated truths in the history of the world, including American history.  Blacks were literally property, for centuries, as confirmed “on the books” of insurance companies and banks whose records go back to the times of the colonies.  American Indians?  Objects.  Women?  Objects for sexual pleasure, void of voting rights, employment rights, equal pay rights, or even the most basic right of all – the right to walk through the world with the confidence that you’re being seen as a whole person, not an object to be used and discarded.

Are you intent on putting people in positions of power who believe in the dignity of all people, precisely because all are made in God’s image?  Are you interested in ending the objectification culture that has wounded women in America for centuries?  Are you going to take steps, as you’re able, to break down the dividing walls of racism, classism, and sexism that are a blight on both American culture and (too often) the church?

#metoo

 

 

 

Bible Study Resources – and why daily doses are best

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Oct 14, 2017

“Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son.”  – Eugene Peterson in “Eat this Book”

The long slow process of spiritual transformation is nearly identical to the process of physical transformation.  A little bit, every day, done mindfully, transforms.  The seven minute workout has value.  So does a daily mindful reading of the Bible.  Small passages work as well as big ones – even better sometimes.

As I said in a recent teaching, it’s Christ who transforms us into generous people, and it’s the Bible that is our primary source of revelation for the journey.  Thus if we’re going to take transformation seriously, we need to show up and let God speak to us regularly.

People who digest God’s revelation with the goal of making Christ visible through their lives are the people who are transformed.  The people of the French village who courageously sheltered so many Jews had been shaped by the gospel and Bible studies for centuries.  Untold millions of lives have been transformed by responding to God’s revelation in the Bible – marriages healed, guidance gained, freedom from addiction realized, broken relationships reconciled, callings discovered, shame and self-loathing exorcised, and much more.

The common thread in all this courage and transformation?  Bible study.  Don’t think you need to just randomly open the Bible and read it.  There are thousands of resources to help you.  Here are a few I, and others I trust, use:

Seeking God’s Face was written by a friend, and offers a way to “pray through the Bible in a year”.  The readings take about 10 minutes, if you really go slow and pay attention.

Jesus Always, by Sarah Young is a 365 day devotional written as if God is the first person voice.  The italicized words are directly from the referenced scriptures.  Reading the whole devotional, including the referenced scriptures, takes five minutes.

365 Days with E. Stanley Jones offers daily scripture readings, coupled with writings from a remarkable man who changed the face of Christianity in India and was writing about the kingdom of God long before it became a popular topic.  I use it for part of each year.

This is my favorite Bible app, because it has a nearly endless variety of daily reading plans from which to choose.  You can also sign up and join the online community which gives you the ability to share meaningful verses with others in the community and let people know when you’ve completed a reading program.  I also use this when I’m reading through books of the Bible in my daily reading, as it lets me choose from nearly every English translation ever created.

For a deeper dive into the texts that form the weekly sermon taught at the church I lead, you can click here.

Might I encourage you to join a Bible study?  There’s likely one near you, either in the form of a small group or class in your church, or a community Bible study, such as Bible Study Fellowship.  Studying together with others helps strengthen the habit of daily Bible study.

Finally, Sacred Space, is a guided reading and prayer book published annually by the Jesuits which offers scripture reading, guided prayer, and a thoughtful question.  It is published annually.

In our readings, we’ll always be looking for promises, words of hope, and calls to action.   I’ll encourage you to worry less about the sections you don’t understand and the problems that arise.  Don’t ignore those, but hold them.  Let them ripen over time.

Finally, don’t worry about getting the whole story.  Like aerobic capacity in your body, the whole story will fall into place with increasing clarity after months, years, decades of showing up.

Daily.

Small Dose.

With a bent to discover Christ….

And take a step of obedience. 

Obedience is the thing, living in active response to the living God. The most important question we ask of this text is not, ‘What does this mean?’ but ‘What can I obey?’ A simple act of obedience will open up our lives to this text far more quickly than any number of Bible studies and dictionaries and concordances. – Eugene Peterson,

Happy Studying, and let me know how you’re doing.

 

 

 

 

Soil Conditions for seeds of hope – Lessons learned on a bike ride

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Oct 7, 2017

It’s no news that we live in a world of increasing insanity, where daily headlines serve to remind us that humanity is collectively, like Sarumon in Lord of the Rings “replacing reason with madness” by choosing arrogance over humility, violence over reconciliation, individualism over community, and fear over hope.

The upcoming series I’m preaching at the church I lead is predicated on the very good news that nobody need be swept away in this avalanche of darkness, that there’s a different way of living, a way of hope.  The foundation of this hope, as this video declares, is that we have the seed of Christ within us (or at least can have that seed if we desire it), and that this seed is the essence of wisdom, strength, humility, and infinite love.  It falls to us, then, not to create these qualities, but to create the conditions in which these qualities can take root, germinate, and blossom.

What have been called ‘spiritual disciplines’ down through the ages provide the path for the soil care of our souls.  All good.  All true.  All vital.  And yet…

All of us need to be reminded that there are lots of other seeds in our souls besides the seed of Christ.  Much has been sown there that’s destructive, things like self-loathing and lust, rage and greed, pride and hate.    Some of the seeds are sown because of our stories – abuse, divorce, addiction, absence, and dozens of other family systems maladies sow destructive seeds.  They’re there, inside us, waiting to choke out the good seed of Christ.

Other seeds are sown through our culture, which saturates us with lies in order to make us anxious consumers, buying more and more in order to escape the sense of inadequacy and meaninglessness that so often characterizes life.

So there are other seeds settled in the soil of our hearts.   What shall we do about that?

Make the conditions right for Christ’s life.   On a particular bike ride near my house I’m able to see the transformation of the landscape, from cedar and fir, to fir, to fir and pine, to pine.  It all happens in the space of about 10 miles as I ride from western to eastern Washington.  The difference of conditions cause one seed to take root, germinate, and thrive, while another withers.

A vital question for each of us is whether or not we’re creating conditions in our lives for Christ’s seed to thrive, or the invasive species of greed, violence, and lust.

I’m increasingly convinced that the news cycle feeds the invasive species.  So does our tolerance of violence, in both video games and entertainment.   Our unlimited access to sexual fantasy.  The access to highly customizable entertainment that feeds our individualistic tendencies.  Our access to meeting the demands of any and every appetite on demand.  All of these create the wrong conditions, because by living these ways we’re inviting the wrong seeds, welcoming them even.

The whole scene hearkens me back to a profound scene in Deuteronomy.  God says this to Israel:  When the Lord your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses.

All of this plays out in an antiphonal scene, clearly articulating two different lifestyles, with attendant consequences on two different types of terrain:  “the blessings are over here.  The curses are over there.”   And then, with everyone standing between the two, God casts the vision:  “So choose life, in order that you may live…”

This becomes a helpful lens, as we see that the quality of our lives is ultimately determined by whether or not we’ve made the soil of our hearts favorable for good seed or bad seed – and that determination is made by a thousand little choices every week, maybe even every day:

Will I gossip to boost my ego by putting someone down, or remain quiet?

Will I indulge my appetites for every creature comfort of food, warmth, and entertainment, or will I align myself with Christ and learn to overcome my appetites so that I’m master over them rather than they over me?

Will I open my fist and give freely of my time and money in order to bless others, or will I continue to grasp, and so develop the scarcity mentality that is part of the curse?

What will I think about when I have time to think?

What media will I consume, and how much?

Will I give thought to my food choices, my movement choices, my sleep habits, and simply go with the flow of culture?

Every choice is conditioning the soil of my heart to favor pine or fir, hope or despair, freedom or slavery, blessing or curse.

Learning to choose wisely requires disciplines… spiritual disciplines… soil care for the soul.

 

 

 

Welcome Autumn – by Learning to Walk in the Dark

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Sep 30, 2017

August 21st was one of those rare days where people cheered darkness.  In Seattle, where the eclipse only reached 92% of total, it was still dark enough,  cold enough, awesome enough, to elicit cheers.   It was the same everywhere along the path of darkness forged by the moon –  eruptions of joy as people embraced the darkness.

The rest of our lives, it’s a different story, especially if we’ve been taught to love Jesus.   We’ve often learned that darkness is unequivocally bad.  Every verse mentioning it says so, linking darkness with Satan, and all else worth avoiding in the world.

As a result, we’ve managed to find ways of banishing darkness.  We’ve caste it out of the natural world by lighting up the night so that we don’t need to deal with it at all until we close our eyes for sleep (though our extension of light beyond what nature intended means we’re paying a price).  We’ve cast it out of our faith too, by creating what one favorite author calls “the full solar version of Christianity”, a faith which intensely seeks to keep the lights on perpetually.  “All good, all the time – that’s Jesus!” they say, with a big grin and powerful handshake.  In its worst forms, it claims to “pray the darkness away” whether the darkness is cancer, infidelity, abuse, job loss, or a shocking accident that leaves a husband and father suddenly staring into a future of loneliness, his family having been killed in the car.  All good all the time?  Wishing it were so, yea even praying it, doesn’t make it so.  Ugh.

Darkness is real.  But don’t despair.  God lives there too.

When Abraham doubted God, where did God send him?  Out into the dark to count the stars.  When Jacob was running for his life as a self perceived failure and dropped down to sleep in desert, God met him there in a dream, in the dark.  Later God met him again in the dark for a wrestling match. The shepherds?  The dark.  Jesus birth?  The dark.  Jesus final triumph over evil that caused him to cry “it is finished” and graves to break open?  The dark yet again.  It turns out some good things happen in the dark after all.  But there’s more.

The reality is that darkness has been with us since the beginning, before sin.  “There was evening and there was morning, the first day…”   From the beginning, it was our lot in life to deal with the darkness, about half the time actually – at least physically.  Ecclesiastes tells me that the same’s true in the real of spirit and emotion, at least in this present age.  “There’s a time for everything” is how the wise old preacher put it:  birth and death, war and peace, seeking and losing, laughter and tears – a time for everything; including darkness.

The reason this looms large as an issue is because we live in a world were all manner of bad things happen, plunging us into the darkness of uncertainty.  She walks out of the oncologists office with a 40% chance of living a year.  He weeps at the graveside of his spouse, wondering what’s next for he and his three children.  They weep as the ultrasound reveals an abnormality.

What are we supposed to do?  Celebrate?  Resort to hollow praise in hopes that if we sing loud enough all will be fixed?  Claim our healing and prosperity?  Nope.  There is one thing only:

Don’t be afraid of the dark.  Recognize that these seasons of uncertainty, loss, betrayal, and even death, go with the territory of the world in which we live.  I sometimes thing that some of us Christians like the light so much that, ironically, we stick our heads in the sands to live in denial of the darkness all around us.  But hear this:  the overwhelming testimony of the Bible is that, though the darkness is real – God meets us there, and walks with us there.   Our fear of the dark has the affect of shuttering our lives, so that joy dries up, risk dries up, faith and hope dry up.  Our single paradigm becomes avoiding the dark – hardly a decent way to live ever, but especially if you’re called to courageous faith, as all disciples are.

Barbara Brown Taylor in her wonderful book, “Learning to Walk in the Dark” writes about one grown woman who was terrified by the dark:  her fear was the fault of everyone who taught her to fear the dark, convincing her that it is cdangerous – all of it, all the time, under every circumstance – that what she cannot see will almost certainly hurt her and that the best way to protect herself from such unseen maleficence si to stay inside after dark, with the doors locked and sleep with lights on.” 

Not Abraham or Jacob, as they pondered infinity under the starry sky.  Not Jonah in the darkness of a fish’s belly.  Not Job in the darkness of mysterious and massive loss.  Not Jesus in the Garden, or even on the cross when the whole world turned dark.  Not Paul and Silas in the darkness of dungeon prison.

Why?  Because the light of the world is with us, even in the dark.  “Even the darkness is light to you….” is how the Psalmist says it.  This is why I say, “Welcome autumn – with your shorter colder days.  Thank you for the chance to learn how to walk with you through the dark seasons.”

If you’d care to comment on how God has met you in the dark, I and perhaps other readers too, would be grateful.

 

 

 

Are you running to Win?

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Sep 28, 2017

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in a such a way that you may win…”

You are God’s uniquely handcrafted beautiful creation.  You have gifts to bring to our darkening and weary world, and that means you weren’t just put here to survive, or have a few grand adventures of your own.  You were put here to bless; to pour your life out onto the canvass of this world in the colors of hope, in an artistry that’s yours alone.

So get on with it.

Run to win.  

Get over the mentalities of scarcity which define survival and a hefty stash of cash as the win because God knows that the world is full of people who have more than enough food, money, water, and activities, but who are utterly missing the life for which they’re created.

You’re not made to survive and consume, though you’ll do both, throughout your days.  You’re made to thrive and bless and serve.  Abundant Life is what Jesus called it.  Don’t settle for anything less.

Run to win.  

Flush your fears of thermonuclear war, political insanity down the toilet, and quit arguing, or worrying, about who stands or sits during the national anthem of a football game . You have no control of any of this.

Focus instead on what you’re going to be doing with your “one wild and precious life” because if you waste your days in fear and worry, you’re not just cheating yourself out of joy, peace, and meaning – you’re cheating the rest of us too.  The world needs what you have to offer.

Find your gift (is it teaching, healing, serving, walking with those who are suffering, empowering, creating…?) and spend your life developing your precious gifts so that you can be a blessing to others.

If you already know your gift then for God’s sake (literally – for God’s sake) turn off the TV, set aside the video games, let go of the petty tie suckers, and get on with using it.

Run to win.  

Paul the Apostle said that he disciplines his body, so that at the end of his life he’ll be confirmed to have been a participant in the abundant life Jesus offers, not just a spectator, or worse, an armchair quarterback who knows Jesus, justice, hospitality, confession, risk, love, service…but only as theory.

Run to win.  

I woke up one morning recently, having had a moment in a dream where my own moments of self-pity, petty indulgences, cynical judgement, time wasted in social media political grenade lobbing, and the paralysis of an absurd self-pity (in spite of all the blessings I enjoy) marched past my bed like characters in a parade.  Each one filled me with regret and I woke with a start, in the middle of the night – praying to God that I’d create no more of these subtle, yet despicable characters the rest of my days.  “Rather” I prayed, “may I run to win – continually receiving your revelation from creation, friendships, text, and trials” and “may I pour my life out, using my gifts to love, serve, and bless”

Are you running to participate?

Are you running when it’s convenient?

Are you running at all?

Run to win. 

 

Steal, Kill, and Destroy – stealing our unity

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Sep 7, 2017

“Every time the Christian church divided or separated, each group lost one half of the Gospel message…”  Richard Rohr

I understand that the literalists will have a problem with Rohr’s statement, but the point is essentially accurate:  Our divisions are mostly losses, not gains.  Since Jesus made unity a climactic request in his final prayer,  taking steps toward reconciliation, unity, and love for all people, is perhaps one of the most important things we can be doing.  Here are some recent thoughts toward that end:

Here’s a manifesto on unity.    I spoke it the week after Charlottesville in the church I lead.   We’d set up the sermon series far ahead of time, having no idea that the racial divide of America, already a gaping wound that’s been festering for centuries, would become even deeper.   In case you don’t want to listen to the whole thing, here are the talking points:

  1. Jesus’ last prayer on earth was that those who claim to follow him would display visible unity.  He said that visible unity of groups that would otherwise be at odds would become evidence the gospel is real, because it would be unique.  The subsequent 2000 years have, of course, proven him right.  We humans divide into all manner of category:  insider vs. outsider.    Jews and Neo-Nazis.  Blacks and KKK.  Property owners and “serfs” (back in the feudal days), or “homeless people” today.   Saved & Unsaved (in spite of the fact that Jesus explicitly warned us not to play at being the “salvation police” in these words).   Educated and Illiterate.  Young and old.   The result is always the same too.  Our divisions testify that we would rather be tribal than reconciling.  In spite of John Lennon imagining otherwise, we can’t seem to acquire the unity we desire.   Jesus knew that our world is longing for visible displays of dividing walls being broken down, and that when those displays are evident, not just on placards and in marches, but in actual relationships, such unity testifies of a deep spiritual reality at the source.
  2. Visible unity requires truth.  Real unity isn’t some sort of “anything goes”, mindless tolerance.  For any community to be a community, there must be values that mark the community as distinct.  We don’t like this in our highly individualized culture, but it’s true.  If a community stands for peace, then violence becomes ‘abnormal’.  If a community stands for generosity, then closing one’s heart to the needs of the world is unacceptable.   If a community stands for sexuality as an expression of love, then rape, pedophilia, and other sexual power plays are out of bounds. Stand for the truth that every person is made in the image of God, and vilifying any person based on their skin color, sexual orientation, or economic status is out of bounds.
  3. Truth, though, requires an atmosphere of love if it is to thrive.  Air dropping into someone’s life because you see “sin” and “confronting them” is hardly the “speaking the truth in love” that Paul had in mind.  Real telling of truth requires a whole package of things.  When you’re going to ‘say the hard word to someone’, if you’re not willing to also say:  “you are made in the image of God and God’s desires for your life are infinitely more beautiful than you can imagine”, and “I’m committed to walking with you, into the valley of darkness, through it, and into the light”, then don’t bother saying anything.  Lacking a culture of love or a commitment to fostering it, you’re not telling the truth at all – you’re just fault-finding.
  4. Love, though, because it’s love, will always seek truth.   We won’t always know truth, not in a ‘bombproof’ sort of way, the way we know the sky is blue.  But we’ll always seek truth.  That means a real loving community will, at times,  be wrestling with differing views, generously speaking, listening, praying, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith…”  In the meantime,  there will be situations where there are points of disagreement and enough humility to realize that we don’t KNOW (the way we know, for example, that pedophilia is wrong, or that putting a burning cross in someone’s yard, or affirming neo-nazis, or shooting police just because they’re police, are wrong).  When that happens, we’re to seek truth “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love”

Some are so good at speaking the truth that they’ve become the doctrinal and moral police for the world, presumptuously claiming the moral high ground and judging all those “down there” who don’t see things precisely like them.

Others are so good at tolerance that they’ve stopped caring about the pursuit of truth, and are passively endorsing unfettered greed, individualism, and various forms of sexual debauchery, all in the name of unity.  Such unity, though, is worthless in the end because salt will lose its saltiness, and when the time comes to shelter Jews during the holocaust, or take a stand against abortion, or sex with pixels, they’ll remain silent in their attempt to preserve unity.

Nope – too much tolerance or too much moral policing will steal our unity, one way or the other.  It’s time for something different.  Time for truth and love, interwoven so tightly that you can’t tell one from the other.

We live in perilous times, because our social isolation and disintegration of family have created a longing to belong.  This is fertile soil for crazy tribes, including those wearing religious clothes of all faiths and denominations.  Seeking to embody real community, real truth and real love for all people is a lot of work.  But it’s our calling if we claim to follow Jesus.

 

38 thoughts on Marriage after 38 years.

by , on
Sep 4, 2017
 My wife and I celebrated 38 years of married life yesterday.  Here are 38 thoughts on what’s contributed to our marriage not just surviving, but thriving.  Enjoy, and please feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments section.  Thanks to all of you who’ve walked with us over various sections of our path!  

still smiling after 38 years of journeying together

1.  we had specific reasons for marrying each other, and through times of difficulty, it’s helped to remember those

2. truth-telling occurs best in an environment bathed in affirmation and encouragement
3. your spouse can’t possibly meet every need in your life.  Enjoy a broad reach of friendships without idolizing them, all the while affirming the strengths of your spouse.
4. having common passions (in our case, the outdoors and the mountains) makes life together very enjoyable.
5. apologizing when you make mistakes, as soon as you’re aware that you’ve made them, is by far the best path to maintain intimacy.  Denial and justification is poison.
6. forgiving when the other apologizes is equally important
7. we both have our bad days, and hard seasons.  Don’t panic when your spouse descends into a valley.  Walk there with them and commit to walking through the valley with them, and out of it.
8. it’s important to create a secure environment where truth-telling and saying the hard thing can occur
9. truth-telling can only happen if the other party knows, at some deep level, that you’re committed to their wholeness and well being, and not just venting frustration.
10. truth-telling also happens best when the one saying the hard word has a sense that it’s safe to do so – but this safety takes time to foster.
11. celebrate and leverage the differences between you
12. she’s practical, he’s idealistic
12. she’s a doer, he’s a contemplative
13. she fixes things that break, he writes.
14. simple, affectionate touch matters – nurture it
15. good sex matters too – it can be a barometer of other areas, so keep investing in it
16. while apart, try to touch base every day
17. never grow tired of saying or hearing the words, “I love you”
18. approaching intimacy with God differently is fine – don’t impose your particular spiritual habits on your spouse
19. help each other discover the spiritual gifts you both have – affirm, celebrate, and use them.  They’ll bring you great joy, and bless others.
20.  know what your spouse longs for from you in order to feel loved. A good resource for this can be found here.
21. cook together and eat romantic meals at home
22. if you’re laughing together on an almost daily basis, that’s a good sign.
23.  you can’t affirm what you appreciate about the other person too often – recognize the profound value of encouragement and offer it regularly.
24. say “please” and “thank you”
25.  nothing will unfold exactly as planned, so as life happens, if you don’t have a spirit of adaptability, it will be trouble.
26. while the children are still in the house, make certain you’re investing in the marriage, not just the children.  After the kids move out, the marriage will still be there, stronger than ever if you do.  And remember this simple formula: happy marriage=happy children
27. in an age of cynicism regarding marriage, remember that your very act of committing to a covenant is culturally subversive, swimming upstream against prevailing currents.  Celebrate that, and recognize the importance of it.
28. if she’s better at fixing electrical outlets, don’t be threatened by that.
29. backpacking together seals the marriage.  When you’re in a tiny tent and it’s raining hard for eighteen straight hours with the wind blowing so that the tent fabric is in your face, you’re bonded for life.
30. recognize the many blessings God has given you as a couple, whatever they are.  Count them.  Be grateful for them.  Celebrate them.   See them as gifts, not entitlements.
31. recognize that the blessings you have are given so that you can bless others.  Talk together about how you’re doing that, and going to do that.
32. don’t cling to certain seasons of life – embrace each new season as a new context for learning, growing, and growing closer.
33. if neither of you have “cards and gifts” as love languages, then count yourselves fortunate.  You don’t need to buy each other cards and gifts!!
34.  learn Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
35. remember that you won’t always be facing the same season at the same time – so be patient with one another, and give each other grace to walk through seasons at your own pace.
36. Even if you’re better at fixing broken stuff, remember to affirm the myriad of ways HE enriches your daily life, talks you into activities you would never do on your own, and cooks delicious food for you.
37.  now that she’s a ranger, remember to always obey her while you’re in the forest
38.  don’t forget that you now live in the forest.  So…..
Happy Anniversary

Steal, Kill, and Destroy – Stealing our Healthy Sexual Identity

by , on
Aug 10, 2017

Continuing in a series of looking at ways in which the gifts God wants us to know and enjoy are stolen from us, this entry and the next one will consider how millions have lost their sexual joy and identity, and how all of us are paying a huge price because of it.  I welcome your thoughts. 

We’re sexual beings, made biologically for reproduction, and emotionally for intimacy.  We’re made, by our creator, with sexual longings and appetites, and with the physiological realities that sexual arousal is intended to be pleasurable.   There are body parts and nerve endings related to our sexuality that have no other purpose than to be a source of pleasure.  Sex is a good gift from our Maker.

Alas, though, it’s a fallen world.  As a result, this grand and precious gift has been stolen from us.  The enemy of the kind of “life abundant”, which is what Jesus came to bring us, has, for all time, been a master thief in this arena.  This theft, which I’d suggest likely has affected 100% of us in various measure at various times, leaves isolation, shame, fear, hatred, and heartache in its wake.   Further, the strategies of the thief are many.  Here I offer a few “theft strategies” , and with them, some practical steps to take so that sexual identity can return to its intended place in our lives as a powerful gift.

Strategy #1: “Sex as bad” – I put this first because many reading this are Christ followers, and the church has been deplorable in this regard.  From the beginning, the early church rightly understood that our sexuality could easily be misused, but the response was to vilify it rather than hold it wisely.   Some church fathers forbade sex for any reason other than procreation; others limited the days of the year on which intercourse was allowed; still others advocated castration.  At the root of these lies, perpetrated by faith leaders, was the belief that sex is best controlled by killing it.  Kill the desire and you solve the problem.

Desire, though, doesn’t die easily, nor should it.  Some who manage to attain “purity” do so at the cost of believing in the goodness of sex.  Others, who fail, fall into a dung pile of shame – their identity deeply damaged by the guilt heaped on them directly and covertly through an ethic for sex that God never had in mind.

Strategy #2:  “Sex as recreation” – At the other end of the spectrum from a fear of sex, is the lie that sex is an appetite just like hunger, and as such, should be honored in a manner similar to our relationship with food.  If you’re hungry, eat.  If you’re horny?  There’s an app for that, and a willing partner nearby.  It’s a “sex at dawn” mentality, based on the faulty belief that a) we’re nothing more than animals, and b) that the happiest animals were polyamorous.   Though “Sex at Dusk” does a marvelous job deconstructing this false edifice with hard science, it’s not sold nearly as many copies as “Sex at Dawn” and appears to be out of print except for the kindle edition.   It turns it we’d rather believe the lie.

The fruit of this is that sex in increasingly divorced from any sense of covenant commitment.  That might sound appealing, and there are presentations of this lifestyle (such as the classic “Sex in the City”) that make hookup culture appear normal, and relatively risk free.

It’s not.  Easy access to commitment-free sex, while superficially appealing to some (perhaps many), more often than not yields the ugly fruits of  1) loss of capacity for real intimacy 2) increased loneliness, which leads to, 3) an increased desire to quench the pain of loneliness, which leads to 4) an increased dependency on another sexual encounter.  We call that addiction, and addiction steals huge swaths of your soul,  as well as those of your family, friends, and co-workers.

Strategy #3:  “Sex as pixels” – Internet pornography, and soon, virtual reality pornography, are creating an alternate universe of sexual pleasure and release ‘on demand’.  The effect on the user is a rewiring of the brain in such a way that that began as a “demand” originating from your own will, ultimately becomes a “demand” on your own will creating an arousal addiction.  Your brain on porn articulates the destructive consequences of this pathway physiologically and emotionally.  Erectile dysfunction is an ever increasing problem among all men, tragically including young men in their 20s.

In addition, all porn users, of all ages, are rewiring their brains so that the scripted fantasies of actors, specifically intended to arouse, become their new “baseline” of what constitutes normal.  As a result, arousal in the context of real intimacy (which must, of necessity, be mutual not unilateral, and include self-giving, not just receiving), becomes difficult, sometimes impossible.  Thus the spouse of the porn user feels pressured to perform in a certain way, or perhaps doesn’t feel anything at all, because the user has substituted sexual release with pixels for genuine intimacy.  The long term effects of either path?  Sexual joy is stolen.

NEXT UP:  In the next post, I’ll share some solutions to these theft problems.  In the meantime, though, consider this read, as a means of re-orienting your brain toward a redemptive view of sexuality:  Real Sex offers a way through the minefield, casting a vision of holding one’s sexuality joyfully, in wholeness.