40 – thoughts on marriage after 40 years of it

I’m just back from an anniversary reunion.  Our three children along with their spouses, three grandchildren and mom-in-law gathered together in a big house on the east side of the Cascades to celebrate Donna’s and my 40 year marriage.  It wasn’t really about the 40 years though – it was about the reality that we’re honestly entering our fifth decade of marriage together still enjoying each other’s company, still a team, still healthy and intimate with each other…in short, still very much “in love”. 

As has been my tradition for a while now, I offer up this list of 40 things I’ve learned about marriage, one for each year.  They’re not prescriptive as much as descriptive – they are what’s worked for us. I hope that some of this may work for you too.  They’re offered in no particular order: 

 

  1. We’ve always tried to spend less than we make.
  2. Eat by candlelight as often as possible (even when you don’t want to.  Sometimes just striking the match can be the trigger toward reconciliation after a disagreement) 
  3. Remember the reasons you married.  In my case, I said to her:  “you make me laugh, you give me the freedom to fail, you’ll live anywhere in the world”
  4. She responded, “Anywhere but Los Angeles…” and after assuring her that that would never happen, we felt God’s call to move there and she did!
  5. The best centerpieces are summer wildflowers in an empty beer bottle
  6. We’ve always tried to keep a sabbath day.  These days its hiking together, mostly in silence, and then sharing an evening meal.
  7. The TV is rarely a friend of intimacy – but we don’t judge ourselves when we watch some.
  8. Being radically different, in that we share no common letters on the Meyers-Briggs or numbers on the Enneagram, isn’t a bad thing….
  9. …IF (and it’s a big if) you can begin to see other’s differences, not as annoying, but as completing you.
  10. For example: Donna loves details and I hate them.  Just this morning she pointed out that I bought the Italian version of Grandpa’s Sausage from Owen’s Meats.  I told her I didn’t even know there was an Italian version.  She said, “That’s because you don’t read labels carefully.”   Instead of being annoyed, though, I think she appreciates my breadth of curiosity that makes me read more widely than deeply…
  11. …and I appreciate her attention to detail because: insurance, taxes, bills, desks to organize, closets and counters to clean of clutter, calendars, airline tickets, parking at the airport, and on and on it goes…  Every detail is a gift to me!
  12. In spite of vast differences, a shared passion is a gift.  Ours is the outdoors.
  13. But I like speed and peaks and she likes paying attention to forest details and mostly level ground.
  14. Rather than dig our heels in – we compromise.  I find scrambles to the tops of peaks she can do, or ridges with views (which she loves), and I leave the meandering snowshoe trips to her and her friends, and the hard skiing where I shoot for 55mph or more, or peak-bagging to me and my friends.
  15. Learning to compromise in the wilderness has been the lab, but the same kind of compromise has bled into lots of other areas of life…
  16. …like food – where I’m increasingly Paleo, but not a zealot about it because of French Toast and cheese sandwiches but because bread doesn’t treat her well, I eat that stuff when I’m alone in the city.
  17. Which reminds me that travel brings reality to the saying “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”  After a time apart, when I’m away teaching, my appreciation of Donna is rekindled, as there are o-so-many things I miss when we’re apart….
  18. …as we are regularly in this season of life due to our dual living locations of Seattle and the mountains.  This is because of our privileged season of life to provide a home for Donna’s mom, which is a reminder that holding plans with an open hand and being flexible is far greater than making autonomous goals and going after them with rigid dogma.
  19. We’ve always given some money away –  giving to our local church and a few other things we support.  Never hoard it all for yourselves.
  20. Our devotional lives are dramatically different and I eventually learned that that’s OK.  There were years though, when I coveted greater spiritual compatibility.  Now I celebrate our different ways of viewing the world, and we’ve learned to listen to each other better as a result.
  21. As we’ve grown older, we’ve had more talks about our sex life than we did early on…
  22. …which have resulted in dramatic changes in our intimacy practices.  This is a testimony to honesty, vulnerable, and serving the other….
  23. …and as a result, our life in this area is better than ever! (our only regret is that we didn’t start this a few decades earlier)
  24. We’re not athletes or obsessive dieters, but we try to exercise most days, and eat decently.  We’ve been fortunate to be healthy and count that as both a privilege and a reason to keep pursuing and expanding healthy habits for spirit, soul, and body.
  25. Our best conversations are ones that nobody else will ever know about
  26. (And now a few from Donna): Laugh often.
  27. Remind myself that I’m not always right and sometimes “winning” is an illusion.  Miss Crankypants can be hard to live with too.
  28. Adapt. Adapt. Adapt. We are changeable people who live in changing times. What worked yesterday may not be working well today and may not work tomorrow so be open to change and adapt.
  29. Make do with what we already have. Mend it. Use it up. Wear it out. Get every ounce out if it whether it’s an older car, an “outdated” article of clothing or furniture, the end of the toothpaste, (and, yes, tea bags are  good for two cups of tea… Sometimes more, but I digress…)
  30. Cultivate the things we both enjoy and keep doing them. For us, it’s been nature and simply being out in God’s cathedrals.  I help him slow down and pay attention.  He helps me push myself a little harder.
  31. Be curious. About everything. Don’t settle for what I already know and stagnate there. Learn new things. Be open to other points of view. Stay nimble.
  32. Love God. Love others. Period.
  33. Cook together. Try new recipes. Tweak old favorites. We enjoy the process of alternating between executive chef and sous-chef. Clean the kitchen. Together.
  34. Learn to fight fair and then let go of past transgressions. Don’t keep a storehouse of bitterness. Let it go and move forward. Forgiveness needs to go both ways.
  35. Encourage Richard’s interests and be willing to enter into them, even if it’s not necessarily my favorite thing.
  36. Richard was very intentional about cultivating our relationship as a couple especially during those parenting years. It’s important to remember what we appreciated about each other in the beginning and keep encouraging that today.
  37. Date nights were not that great if all we did was talk about our kids. (Sorry kids. You were not the center of our universe…) We tried to talk about ourselves. How we’re doing as individuals and as a couple. We’re not afraid of hard conversations any more. Becoming good listeners needs to start with honest sharing.
  38. Conflict is not always a negative thing as long as our children see honest forgiveness, humility and reconciliation as the end result. (We weren’t perfect at this but we tried.)
  39. Embrace each day as a gift to be enjoyed. Life is uncertain. Since we don’t know how much time we have, we need to make each day count for something positive to share with our world.
  40. Don’t go to bed angry for two reasons: 1. You won’t really sleep well anyway. 2. Trying to have a “rational” conversation in the morning while you’re sleep-deprived probably won’t go as well. So skip the bad nights’ sleep and talk it out. We made a perfect divot together in the middle of our ancient futon for a reason. (Sorry if that’s TMI. But it’s true.)

 

 

 

 

The Disciplines of Self Care – (Why your Oxygen mask must go on first)

Years ago I found myself in a debate over an organization’s mission statement.  At the time it read, “meeting people at their point of need and enabling them to become all God had in mind when God made them”  I liked it, but others didn’t.  “Too consumeristic” they said, declaring that this kind of mission statement feeds narcissism, with the result that “having my needs met” would become the only thing people would care about.  It’s a legitimate concern.  The older I become, the more firmly I believe that the end goal of our lives is to become these full containers that are overflowing with compassion, generosity, courage, beauty, and creativity.  These things are a far cry from the consumerism that prevails in both the marketplace and churches of today.  And yet, the older I get, the more I stand by my statement that having our needs met isn’t just important, it’s foundational.  Until we receive, we’re unable to give.  Here’s what I mean….

You’re no doubt aware of the Mt. Everest spectacles this year.  With overcrowding and unnecessary deaths, the events of this summer hearken back to the 1996 climbing season when eight climbers died on Mount Everest during a storm. It was the worst loss of life ever on the mountain on a single day. Author Jon Krakauer, who himself attempted to climb the peak that year, wrote a best-selling book about the incident, Into Thin Air, which was published in 1997.  Anatoli Boukreev, also guiding on Everest that year, also published a book about the events entitled, The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest.  (The two books offer a fascinating look at how two people, participating in the same events, can recall differently, highlight different things, and interpret the same exact events dramatically differently, attaching totally different motives to a person’s actions.  This makes for interesting consideration of how we read the Bible, but that’s a different topic, for a different day)

Boukreev, the Russian guide working for Seattle guide Scott Fisher, had taken his clients to the top earliest in the day.  He descended to the nearest camp without his clients, where he brewed tea, fortified himself, and then went back up the mountain to work on rescue operations.  Here’s an excerpt from Boukreev’s book explaining the situation:

“I said to Scott that the ascent seemed to be going slowly, and I was concerned that descending climbers could possibly run out of oxygen before their return to Camp IV (at 7,900 m). I explained that I wanted to descend as quickly as possible to Camp IV to warm myself and get a supply of hot drink and oxygen in case I might need to go back up the mountain to assist descending climbers. Scott, as had Rob Hall before him, said ‘OK’ to this plan.”

Some said Boukreev was selfish to go down.  But one article describes the value of how his time of rest for what came next:

Six people needed help and only Boukreev was willing to go out. With tea and oxygen he went out three times in the storm and brought back first Sandy Pittman, and then Charlotte Fox and Tim Madsen. He repeatedly asked Sherpas and members of other expeditions to help save Yasuko Namba (Weaters wasn’t there at that point), but no one would.

(One climber), Gammelgaard, remembers seeing Boukreev after he returned with Fox and Madsen: “I woke up at around 5 a.m. and saw Anatoli [Boukreev]. He had returned. It was already light, and he sat without saying a word. He was completely exhausted. There was no energy left in him.

Going down early and resting was… selfish?  The debate here is a debate that goes well beyond the climbing world, because it’s really about the role of self-care and service of others in the lives we live.  The critics of Boukreev are perhaps rightly wary of an excessive focus on self care because, to be blunt, by almost any standard, most agree that we live in the age of the elevated selfishness.

The danger of being a “lover of self” is obvious in the Bible, and the warnings are there for a reason.  There’s something in our nature that is tempted to withdraw from compassion, service, and generosity.  When we yield to such tendencies our lives shrink dramatically, even though we have an outer coating of righteousness.  We can redefine success as not breaking laws like stealing, killing, committing adultery, paying our taxes, and even add things like going to church, verbally defending the Bible, and perhaps even defending our politics.  But this is not, by any stretch of Jesus’ imagination, what following Jesus looks like.  This is self absorbed religion, taking in, and in, and in.  If you strip the religious veneer off of it, it’s just pure narcissism – living for our own well being and not caring for others.  When the warning against being a ‘lover of self’ isn’t heeded, religious people will be the worst kind of self lovers… self righteous self-lovers!

In contrast, God’s clear calling from the beginning is that humans are invited to feast on God’s blessings, but to do so in order that we might actively bless and serve others!  Remember Abraham:  “blessed to be a blessing”.  Remember Micah: “what does God require of you, but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God”.  Remember Jesus: “if anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink, and from his belly will burst forth rivers of living water”.  You get this picture of being filled so that we can pour out!

Which brings me, for a moment, back to Boukreev.  Remember that warning when you’re flying.  “If you’re flying with children and the oxygen masks appear, put your own mask on first!”  None of us will ever know Boukreev’s true motives.  We DO know that he had the strength and inner fortitude to rescue three people, above 8000 meters, in an Everest storm.  He had to find them, stabilize them, move them.  Some were snow blind.  Some were refusing to move, preferring instead to die.  No matter.  He served…and saved… because he was strong enough to do so.

THE POINT OF IT ALL

I’m increasingly convinced that one of the largest barriers to healthy marriages, families, churches, non-profits, businesses, even cities and nations, is the appalling condition of the people in charge.  When I go to pastors’ conferences, for example, I hear material that is good, inspiring, and even important – things about casting vision, managing well, staffing and hiring decisions, change management, conflict management, how to think big, etc.  Without being dismissive of any of it, my complaint is that if you sweep all of that stuff away, a fundamental truth remains:  healthy leaders are the foundational element for creating healthy systems.  Healthy individuals who marry create healthy marriages.  Healthy couples create healthy families.  Healthy pastors help create healthy churches.  And so it goes.  There are exceptions of course, but this is a deep flowing river of reality.

That’s why Boukreev warmed, rested, and drank tea.  That’s why David “strengthened himself in the Lord” prior to his battle.  That’s why Jesus went off “early in the morning to the mountains to pray”.  Whole people have resources to share, not out pride, or anger, or to create something that will fill ego needs.  Their strength of inner resources enable them to serve!  That’s the reason things like solitude, silence, moving your body, eating real food, getting enough sleep, enjoying creation, and meditation are important.  It isn’t so that you can become a dammed up narcissist.  It’s so you can fully bless and serve others.

Paul prays that our spirit, soul, and body, would be made whole!  I’m presently developing a curriculum around this theme, and know that one of the first things people will feel is that this is too self-absorbed.  My answer:  Yes, if you’re warming up, and napping, and drinking tea, just so you can stay comfortable while others die on the mountain, it’s self-absorbed.  But if your wholeness leads to service, hospitality, justice, mercy, crossing social divides, and being compassionately present with others in the midst of their suffering, then it’s a different story.  That’s the life for which you’re created:  receiving fullness, that you might be fully poured out!

I’ll be writing more on this very important subject of wholeness, and starting a podcast soon, around the subject spirit/soul/body wholeness, but the healthy pursuit of wholeness is always toward a particular end:  we seek fulness so that we might become people who shine as beacons of light, joy, compassion, hope and generosity in a world overwhelmingly governed by fear, anger, tribalism, and pettiness.  I hope you’ll join me on the journey.

 

 

Dear Green Lake: Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year

Dear Green Lake

When I moved to Seattle in the fall of 1976, you were my first discovery beyond the confines of the little college I was attending.  I’d made friends with lots of runners so, of course, they brought me to you. We’d run the lake and then head over to Beth’s Cafe for a giant omelette or cinnamon roll.  You introduced me to seasons that first year: spectacular fall colors graced the lakeside trees, shoreline ice and stark grey trees in winter, vibrant blossoms and infinite shades of green each spring.  You seduced me, and I started falling in love with Seattle.  Throw in a Sonics World Championship, a new football team, and world class symphony and Seattle won my heart.

Before my five year departure from Washington, I walked the frozen shores with the woman who is now my wife and after that walk, made a decision to propose.  When we left Seattle in 1979, we grieved.  Little did we know that, 16 years later, we’d return with our young family as I followed my calling to Bethany Community Church, just a few hundred yards from the lake!

My love affair with you reignited instantly and in these subsequent 25 years, I’ve run at least several thousand miles around your shores, at all times of day and night, and in every season.  I’ve run with friends and congregants, and run alone.  I’ve run with music and in silence.  I’ve run in snow and oppressive heat.  Every season.  Every occasion.  You’ve been there for me.  Thank you!

Mostly though, I’ve run alone.  Well, not alone really.  I’ve run early in the morning, before work, after a little time of reading, stretching, prayer.  You’ve been the context where so many things have become clear.  I don’t know if it’s the rhythm of the running, the beauty of the sunrise, the sounds of the bird, the scent of the blossoms, the fecundity of the fallen leaves, or the lake itself, but you’ve been the place where ideas have germinated, conversations initiated, confessions made, next steps determined.  It’s not a stretch at all for me to say that God spoke during those morning runs, profoundly, too many times to number.  I believe it’s because you, Green Lake, represent the beauty of creation, in a world increasingly threatened by our human lust for more.  You represent consistency in a city that I’ve lived in long enough to mourn countless changes.  And what’s more, you don’t just represent beauty in a world marred by the ugliness of oppression, loneliness, and disease. You are beauty.  I know you’re facing your own challenges.  I know you’re threatened often, and neglected, even abused at times.  But there you are, reminding me of so much that I love about Seattle, and setting a table for me to meet with God. Thank you!

In the past I’d run around you three times in preparation for a big race, like the Bloomsday thing in Spokane, or the Torchlight Run in the summer across the soon to be departing beloved viaduct (may it rest in peace).  Then two became my max.  Now it’s one lap, with a little extra distance  tossed in around the playfields and tennis courts.  No matter.  The pace per mile has changed.  The city has changed.  I’ve changed.  But the thing that hasn’t changed is that when I put one foot in front of the other in the midst of your divine beauty, I hear God’s voice.  So I’ll keep coming back, as long as I’m privileged to live and serve this city I love, until my running becomes walking, becomes sitting.  Thank you for being my cathedral, sanctuary, and resting place.

Our city is filled with more challenges and opportunities than I can ever remember.  And this, too, is why I’ll keep coming back to listen for the Voice of guidance, hope, vision, encouragement, and correction that somehow seems clearer there, on most days, than nearly anywhere else, at least for me.

Merry Christmas Green Lake, and Happy New Year.  May 2019 be a year of hearing God’s voice with greater clarity than ever as I run your shores, cherish your seasons, and absorb your beauty.

 

Seasons of Life and Lessons in Staying and Letting Go

left to right: Martin, Director of Tauernhof, Richard, Charlie, board member of Tauernhof.

“Stay a little longer” my friend Martin invited from Austria over FaceTime last August as I was planning my teaching trip for December.  “We’re dedicating the new building the weekend after you finish teaching.  So you should stay for that.” And so it was this past Sunday, (12.9.18) sitting in a marvelous new building, I was eking out enough understanding of German to not only celebrate the great new work there, but to recommit to my own work and calling in a fresh way.

I was reminded, both in the dedication sermon and the interactions with guests, that the work of God in a locale is bigger by far than any individual.  Lacking this understanding, too many leaders develop Messiah complexes and make the work about them.  Others hang on desperately to their titles and positions out of personal fear of letting go.  Still others leave too soon out of odd ambitions, fear of conflict, or just plain laziness.  All these options are toxic, both to the work and to the individuals clinging to, or fighting for, titles.

Phil, the first principal I worked for, and David, the current principal.

I’ve been visiting this Bible school as a teacher since 1995, invited by the principal at that time, named Phil Peters.  Years later, Phil left, and Martin Buchsteiner took his place.  Then, in August of 2013, the Director of Tauernhof, my good friend Hans Peter, died in a paragliding accident.  His death came 25 years after the founding director, Gernot Kunzelmann died in a paragliding accident in 1988.  Gernot began Tauernhof 22 years earlier in a facility that began as an orphanage more than five decades before.  After Hans Peter’s death, Martin became the Director, and David Hines, a bi-lingual German who was studying at Gordon Seminary in the states, became the new principal of the Bible School.

What a joy to hear a sermon reminding us that the torch of leadership is only carried by any of us as individuals for a season and is then passed to a new generation.  Gernot to Hans Peter to Martin.  Phil to Martin to David.  The torch passes and new generations carry on the work.  The power of this was multiplied for me as I was able to share conversations with family members from each of these leaders.  Garnot’s wife Gertraud was in attendance, as was Hans Peter’s son, and of course, Martin, Phil, and David (all three Principals of the Bible School during the decades I’ve taught there).

With each leader, there’s been a beautiful carrying of the timeless torch, the message of Christ as life, embodied in both the teaching and the life of the community.  But there’s also been unique contributions from each leader, so that the whole is a reflection, like a prism, of the unique colors of Christ brought by each one.

I left the dedication ceremony and skied alone for a couple of hours, weighing what I’d heard, seen, conversed about.  So many Decembers in this space, and a few spring, summer, and fall weeks as well.  I’ve seen the changes – staffing changes, facility changes, senior leadership changes.  But at the top of the climbing wall that sits at the back of the property there’s a banner which reads, “Jesus Christ.  The same yesterday, today, and forever.”  So leaders come and go, but the essence, the declaration of Christ in a way that moves people toward body/soul/spirit wholeness, goes on – bigger than any single leader.  This, of course, is as it should be; must be if the work really belongs to God.  I exhale, and rest, finding peace in the reminder that I don’t dare hold on to any role for a day longer than I should out of fear or pride (nor a day shorter out of laziness, or conflict aversion for that matter!)  Rather, you and I are called to carry the torch of Christ into various spaces that are the contexts God has given us, and to be all in, all there, for those seasons God gives us, confident that whatever we build that has the mark of Christ will not have been a waste of days.

As I exit the gondola at the top of the ski hill, the valley rains that were my companion when I boarded the lift have turned to snow, the first real snowfall of the year.  “Ah yes” I say to myself.  “Another season has come, faithfully, finally, to the mountain.  Thanks be to God.”

I came off the mountain and settled in front of my computer to listen to a live stream of the church I lead.  I was privileged to watch one of our most recently hired pastors preach, and as I listened, I thought to myself, “yes God…your work will be fine for many years to come.”  Strangely, in the act of letting go and trusting God with the future, I felt a sense of refreshment in my own work, and vision for the future – because vision can only fill empty hands!

O Lord Christ

Thank you for the timeless nature of your work in the world, bigger than any of us.

Thank you for the privilege of carrying the torch and using our gifts for a season to bless and serve.

Forgive us for any decisions we make about the future that are rooted in greed, or fear, or pride, or laziness.

Teach us to number our days and pour ourselves out fully in them, knowing that joy will be our gift.

Teach us to say goodbye at the right time, neither too early nor too late, but only in response to You.

And we will rest in trusting You with the future of the work, knowing it was Yours all along. 

SPECIAL NOTE:  I’m happy to be speaking at the International Ski Week from March 10-16 in 2019 and you’re invited.   Ski instruction in the morning.  Free time in the afternoon for skiing, napping, touring the area, and Bible sessions/worship in the evening. Here’s the link with details and costs, and here’s a link to a few pictures from last year.

 

Time heals nothing

I’m not sure why “This is Us” even found its way into my life as a show to watch, but however it did, I’m often amazed by its power to speak to me at so many levels.  Aside from being well crafted, the show has lots of freaky parallels to my own story, enough to make me feel, at times, like I’m watching a movie of some sections of my life:

The show has an adopted child in the family – I’m an adopted child in my family.

The sister among the siblings struggles with weight  – my sister struggled with her weight.

The dad in the story dies during the adopted son’s senior year in high school – my dad died my senior year in high school.

The death of the dad overwhelms the mom.  The death of my dad overwhelmed my mom.

It just goes on and on, so that in last night’s episode, when the son who got accepted to an exclusive college called and said he was going to delay for year to stay at home and care for his mom, I felt every ounce of his pain because I also delayed my entry into an exclusive college to stay home and care for my mom for a year, a year that turned out to be one of the hardest of my life.  These episodes have had me reliving family history stuff related to weight, performance, how we dealt with conflict, sibling dynamics, marriage dynamics, parenting styles, adoption, and so much more.

Here’s the point though, for now:  Life, Art, and Revelation are, at their best, woven together in a cord, so tightly that it’s difficult to pull them apart, separating the one from the other, so that deep transformation or understanding can arise from short periods of intense revelation.  This happened in the past 24 hours with respect to the subject of time.

The leaving of the leaves is an annual reminder that we too will leave.

Life:  I’m driving east on I-90 after an intense period of work in the city: big meetings; small meetings; one on one meetings; board meetings.  I’m tired yes, but quickly brought to awe and worship as I see the maples and cottonwoods changing color, and leaves falling in the wind.  Every autumn is a reminder of both the gift and brevity of life for me.  Something about the trees losing their leaves shakes me awake, and I ask God, at least annually, at least in the fall, to empower me to live wisely, and well because I’m mindful that life is short.  An autumn will happen, someday, when I won’t be here to see it.  That’s why my hope is to keep my daily priorities more or less aligned with my mission statement.  I don’t want to get to the end of the game and realize that I’ve lived just to survive rather than serve, to consume rather than create, to gain rather than give.   “…teach us to number our days…” said the Psalmist, and yesterday the annual reminder of that prayer was in full color on the trees and in the air.

Art:  That episode last night ended with the mom owning up, for the first time, to her passivity regarding her daughter’s struggles with weight – owned up to the fact that her husband’s death, and particularly the circumstances surrounding it, left her empty, with no love to give her children.  The daughter owned some stuff too, in a real conversation that came about 25 years later than it needed to because we think that “time heals all wounds” for some stupid reason.

Right there, in the midst of that conversation, the producer embedded a profound Damien Rice song called “Older Chests” which poetically exposes how we speak out of both sides of our mouths regarding time.  On the one hand: “I’ll be fine.  I just need time” and on the other, “Everything’s falling apart as time marches on”.  He exposes the folly that time heals anything at all.  Yes, time is needed, but only time plus the hard work of forgiveness, or confession, or a next step of service or generosity, or a reconciliation of a relationship, or a naming of your addiction and getting help, or a step of brutal honesty — only those things heal.  Time, without the intervention of our next steps, just leads to decay, and ‘presenting problems’ and unchecked addictions that are either visible or hidden.

Revelation:  Then next, I read my devotions this morning, and came to this:  The conventional explanation regarding suffering is that God sends us the burden because God knows that we are strong enough to handle it, but this is all wrong. Living in a fallen world sends us the problem, not God. When we try to deal with it, we find out that we are not strong. We are weak; we get tired, we get angry, overwhelmed. . . . But when we reach the limits of our own strength and courage, something unexpected happens. We find reinforcement coming from a source outside of ourselves. And in the knowledge that we are not alone, that God is on our side, we manage to go on. (My paraphrase of a good word from Richard Rohr this morning.)

So there you have it.  A theme just keeps coming up over and over again with incredible intensity for 24 hours:  “You’re getting older Richard, and your years of enjoying autumn leaves are numbered.  Use your time wisely!”  Next up:  “Time heals nothing Richard, and that show which mirrors your life so closely exposes the steps you need to take toward community in certain relationships because time doesn’t create community – calls, and supper, and conversations, and hikes, and laughter and truth telling – these create community in time.  And finally, “There are times of suffering, but these times can be only be redeemed, not by passively riding the waves of more time, but by actively taking steps that move us to whatever we need to move toward, be it forgiveness, gratitude, dependency, truth telling, or whatever.

Time heals nothing.  And I know it better today than yesterday at this time because God speaks through falling leaves, TV shows, and text… thanks be to God.

The thing that mustn’t change: Use Your Gifts!

My predecessor just keep using his gifts day after day for 38 years.

The difficult truth that few seem interested in hearing these days is that the stuff we receive in our social media feeds is overwhelmingly not convincing anyone to change their minds about anything.  Minds were mostly made up, one way or the other, about the supreme court nominee, long before the hearing on Thursday, and as a result, everything that has happened since only served to confirm predisposed biases.

It can be tempting in such an environment to think that shouting louder or editing our writing or footage better will somehow persuade.  I doubt it.  We’re living, overwhelmingly, in tribal, self-referential echo chambers.  I’ve never seen a more divided time, and I’m not alone in my assessment.  After the exhausting work of trying to either persuade, or at the least, point people to ‘third way’ alternatives that are neither (for example) “Do away with ICE” nor “Summarily Evict” young people who have grown up in America” – it’s tempting to simply give up.  I mean, when shouting louder doesn’t work, or posting more doesn’t work, what’s left?

“Fan into flame the gift that God has given you…”   which means that you and I have each been wired uniquely by our creator to bless and serve this broken world.  If perfecting and using our gifts is the road we’ve been called to travel, the truth of the matter is that there are about a million seductive side roads along the way.  You can be tempted to pursue success instead of using your gifts, because success can soothe your insecurities.  You can be tempted to persuade people who, in all likelihood won’t be persuaded by you, precisely because they’re already deeply entrenched, and your attempts are born out of rage, or pride that you’re enlightened, or some other dark place.  When the shouting’s done, nobody’s convinced.  You can be tempted to invest your time in self medicating your fears, frustrations, and sorrows.  You give a finger to the world and say, “A curse on all of you… I’m redefining my life as the consumption of good coffee, good wine, and the pursuit of good ski conditions.”   And just like that, you forfeit the life for which you’re created.

There’s a better way forward:

  1. You’re blessed to be a blessing.  This means that you are still here, breathing and eating, enjoying beauty and feeling pain, because God wants you to be a blessing in some way.  Writing.  Woodwork.  Hospitality with the neighbors.  Mentoring someone younger than you.  Teaching.  Healing.  So get on with it… as you’re exhorted to do here and here.
  2. This implies that you’ve come to discover how God has made you; what your unique capacities are.  Many spend the precious commodity of time on the earth never intentionally even asking the question:  What unique contributions does God want me to make to this world?  Just asking the question is a good starting point.  As I began asking this question years ago, I realized that my best strengths are almost always related to creating.  I studied architecture because I like creating space.  I studied music composition because I like creating a collection of sounds.  And now, almost every day, I create – usually using words that become books, or sermons, or classes.
  3. Stay in the Zone.  A favorite book of mine called “Flow” talks about how 100% focus on what we’re called to do leads to a beautiful space, where time almost stands still and we’re no longer anxious about things “out there”, whether that be the leaky pipes, or the state of politics in America.  While we’re at our task(s) we’re all in – and we’re intentional about getting all in every day because we have some short term goals that keep us going back to the drawing board, or wood shop, or library, or writing software, or the homeless shelter where we serve, or medical clinic, or courtroom.  We know our craft, our calling, and are committed to it regardless of the noise and villifying and arguing that’s going on out there — we’re not scattered.

This is liberating friends.  Some people have shared that they’re disappointed I don’t write as much these days about politics or divisive social and theological issues.  I don’t write as much because ironically, while such posts easily generate four or five times more readers, they persuade almost nobody, and leave acidic and hateful words in the comments section from people who seem to enjoy nothing more than calling those who disagree with them ‘idiots’.  This isn’t helping anyone, so I’ve drastically reduced such posts.

Instead, my commitment to you is to help you shine as the light God has created you to be, and I’ll leave the shouting to others.  This isn’t intended to lead to withdrawal or silence – but engagement – it’s just that engagement that comes out from a commitment to use our gifts, build up and encourage others will be the best foundation for changing the world.

I welcome your thoughts.

“…the time we’ve been given” – The Why and How of a Personal Mission Statement

I have a morning routine:

1. CoffeeAlways first:  Coffee

2. Bible reading while drinking the first cup.

3. Meditation (from the Bible reading)

4. Writing in the journal with the second cup.

5. Check my to do list.

The to-do list is a document somewhere in the cloud, and every time I open it, this shows up:

MISSION STATEMENT:  RD uses his gifts of teaching,  catalytic vision, and leadership to serve and bless people by inviting them to wholeness, and demonstrating through both teaching and living, how Christ changes everything: spirit, soul, body – intimacy, family, friendships, values, ethics, relationship with neighbors, posture vis a vis culture – priorities as a citizen, global citizen, and citizen of a heavenly kingdom – and hope regarding the future.  He offers clear steps for people to take in their journey of transformation and invites people to those next steps

This is my mission statement and I’m of the opinion that everyone needs one for two important reasons:

1. Jesus had one.  In one of Jesus’ earliest public appearances, he opened Isaiah and read this:  ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

Then he closed the scroll and told everyone in the room that this scripture was being fulfilled right before their very eyes, because Jesus was the “me” to whom this text was referring.  He knew that the charge in Isaiah was his, that this was why he came to earth.

It’s best if each of us knows ‘why we’ve come to earth’ because such a knowing gives us clarity and purpose each and every day.  Clarity and purpose are not only vital to our mental and physical health, but they alleviate the frustration of ultimately looking back on our lives and wondering if we’ve invested them well.  If we both know our mission, and take the time to visit it regularly, there’s a sort of ‘sifting’ that happens, so that we spend increasingly less time doing things that don’t contribute to our mission.

This might sound like a mission statement will lead to a joyless life of pure self denial, but nothing could be further from the truth.  The reality is that when we’re living into our prayerfully crafted and wisely created mission statement, we will be living in ways that align with who we actually are, rather than who we perhaps want to be.  For example, I’d love to be my neighbor sometimes because he has tremendous abilities with power tools and practical problem solving when it comes to matters of property.  However, there have been a few times when I’ve tried to become him by fixing my own car, or solving an electrical problem in the house.  Oops!  The only thing I become good at when I try to be him is impatience and @#$%^.   I now know that I’m not wired for wiring.  I’m wired for writing.  So, other than simpler projects which I can pull off easily with a ‘for dummies’ guidebook, I’m leaving repairs and remodels to the folks who can do it.  I’ll stick with words, thank you very much.

As a result, because I’m doing more activities that contribute to my mission, I’m more fulfilled!

2. A mission statement prevents mission drift.  Every morning when I create my to-do list and look at past projects that are either done or due soon, I’m subconsciously weighing these activities against my mission statement.  This helps me not only stay true to my calling; it helps me continually understand my calling better.  As a result of this little daily process, I’m gaining a clearer picture of what I’ll hope to be doing with my time when, someday, I’m no longer leading a large urban church.  My mission statement helps me narrow the broad array of choices, and focus – both on a daily basis, and when asking big life questions.

Before running off to make a mission statement, there are two caveats:

Caveat #1:  Your mission statement must be more important than other things.  Some people have mission statements, but they’re actually just window dressing to cover up their truest motivations, which are about wealth, power, fame, living in a certain nice place, being super healthy, or enjoying sensual pleasures as much as possible.  It’s not that we shouldn’t care at all about such things; it’s just that when such things become central in our lives, they become terribly destructive.  So you performed well in the cross-fit gym.  Is that really why you were born?  So you have spectacular sex four nights a week, or retire with multiple millions in the bank at 36, or buy a Tuscan Villa.  Are these your core reasons for existence?  I hope not.  Our mission statement has to do with living into our perceived truest identity, and I’ll write more about that in my next post.   For now the important thing to see is that we’re to be driven by our identity, not our desires.   If I were driven solely by desires, I’d be the guy with a great villa in Tuscany and millions in the bank.

It’s better though, to be driven by the calling and identity that God has given us, which brings me to the second caveat…

Caveat #2:  We don’t create our mission statement out of thin air.  We discern it!  At a level, this is a lifelong process of answering this question carefully:  What do I do that brings me joy, and is affirmed by other people?

A deliberate, careful, and prayerful consideration of this question will likely yield a few answers, and embedded in those answers will be the seeds of your mission statement.

This is so valuable and practical for me that I hope you’ll walk with me through the process and create your own.  It’s because of this mission statement that I say “yes” to coffee with God, still say “yes” to leading the church I lead, say “yes” or “no” to hospitality and speaking invitations on various occasions, and easily say “no” to various options for use of my time or money.

Does anyone else out there have a mission statement they’d like to share?

Do you have questions about crafting your mission statement?

If “yes”, please respond in the comments section and it will help craft this series.  Thanks!

Your “Sphere of Influence” is calling and You must go

As happens every September, there’s a feeling of newness in the air.  It’s not just the crisp morning air and footballs flying, it’s a returning from the unusual syncopations of summer activities to the more rhythmic routine of autumn. I’ve returned from vacation this year particularly refreshed and focused, and for particular reasons.  I’ve watched with growing concern as America has become increasingly polarized politically, so much that our fragmentation is becoming, more than either party’s ideology, the biggest present threat to our future.

The church hasn’t been immune to this polarizing.  We’ve mirrored the culture’s political tribal hatred, enough so that it’s increasingly rare to find people of differing political parties willing to worship together, let alone dialogue about their differences.  We then add theological layers to the debate, elevating particular ethical issues to the status of litmus tests for fellowship, while knowing full well that there are good people who love Christ and hold to a high view of scripture who hold the opposite view.  But for too many, that fact is of no consequence as they withdraw from fellowship because of “those people”.

Toss in a healthy dose of #METOO, courtesy of a NY Times article regarding a well known evangelical church, and an ever expanding sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church and I find myself, on my worst days, wanting to pull out completely.  John Muir said, “The mountains are calling and I must go…”.   I hear them calling too but there are two phrases, each different than Muir’s, that keep me coming to work, day after day, as I soon enter what will be my 24th year of ministry in the same place.

1. The mountains are calling and I want to go…  Of course I do.  My wife and I enjoyed our first dates on hikes and snowshoeing.  The mountains are reminders for us of so much that is true and life giving:  our smallness in the light of eternity – God’s grandiose generosity and immense creativity – glimpses, in the majesty of mountains, abundance of waters, beauty of wildlife, silence of a starry night, of life as it should be:  glorious, peaceful, interdependent, thriving.  Yes, I’ll keep getting out:  for morning runs, sabbath hikes, photography meditation walks, ski tours, and more.  I need to read God’s other book, the book of creation, as much as I need to read the Bible.  Maybe you do too.

But it’s also true that….

My sphere of influence: develop leaders and invite people to body/soul/spirit wholeness

2. My sphere of influence is calling, and I must go.  Sphere of influence is a little phrase I picked up decades ago in one of the best books I’ve ever read.  The author spoke of our sphere of concern, things about which we care, but are outside our control.  We care about politics, climate change, health care, increasing urban density in Seattle, the lazy employee on our team at work, the senior management that are incompetent, etc.  But many of these things, for most of us, are well outside our authority to fix.  Of course for some of them we can vote on, and perhaps if we’re motivated, we can and should organize as well, or do something more dramatic.  But what we shouldn’t do at all is spend time worrying, complaining, lamenting, gossiping, grumbling, whining, posting social media grenades, or being vexed, if it’s a matter outside our direct sphere of influence.  If we do we’ll be paralyzed, overcome with worry, and ultimately feel like disempowered victims.  Does that sound familiar to you?  Increasingly, the Victim card is the most popularly played card in the game of life.  But it’s often misguided and disempowering.

It’s far better for me to focus on my sphere of influence.  I’ve developed a personal mission statement, which I’ll share in the next blog post.  My goals come out of this statement, and my to do list, at my best, comes out of these goals.  That way, no matter what’s going on in Syria or Washington DC, I needn’t succumb to the anxiety, fear, anger, and hand wringing that is the soil out from which our current cultural crises are being born.  Instead, I can follow the advice of Paul when he prayed that his friends would “live a life worthy of God’s calling…”.

Be faithful on your path because nobody else can!

My commitment to you:

I have a goal this fall of using this blog  as a means of encouraging you to define, refine, and excel in your calling.  I’ll write about finding your gifts, writing your own mission statement, and developing a set of core values by which to live.  YOU CAN HELP in this process by engaging with the material, subscribing (see below), and sharing the posts you like with your friends.

I’m asking you to share the material because my hope and prayer is that more and more people will step away from the negative and cynical culture wars, disempowering victim mentalities, and disengaged cynicism, and instead live fully into their callings to be people of hope in this very difficult time.  Will you join me on the journey?

O Lord Christ…

With each headline we sense a vast machine at work, destroying some things we hold dear, no matter our party, even as those operating the machinery do so in the name of preservation.  Forgive our fears, our cynicism, our anger – all of which have blinded us to the seminal truth that each of us have a place in this world: gifts to use; neighbors and children and enemies to love; our own souls to nurture toward wholeness; joy to impart.  May we get on with it, each of us, in our spheres of influence, doing whatever our hands find to do, with all our might.  And we’ll thank you for the joy, and privilege, and adventure of it – in Jesus name.

Amen

The Sacred Art of Unlearning

My granddaughter moved in a few weeks ago.  O yeah – my daughter and son-in-law moved in too, but I’m writing about my granddaughter because I was utterly surprised by her.  I knew she’d be here, but had no idea how much she’d teach me because I’d forgotten about being a child.  We bonded quickly and though I’m aware that I write shielded from the hard 24/7 work of discipline, care, and nurture that is parenting, I’m nonetheless seeing this small child, I believe, through a different lens now than the lens through which I saw my own children decades ago.  Maybe its because I’m at a stage of life where I’m less driven.  Maybe I’m a little softer now.  I don’t know.  I only know that my time with my granddaughter sweeps away some things in me that need sweeping away so that I can once again learn what it means to have ‘faith like a child’.

I hope that by sharing some things I’m learning, you too can enjoy a little refreshment.

Cultivate Curiosity – “What’s that?” is the phrase I’m hearing most these days.  Luci will point at any item in the house and ask.  She knows what she doesn’t know, and strangely, that’s a fundamental precondition for learning and knowing anything.  One of the problems with adulthood in general is that once we’ve developed a capacity to find our way through the maze that is daily living, we’re at risk of functionally becoming “zombies”; not literally of course, but in the sense that we’re falling far short of the kind of humans we’re created to be.  Instead of overflowing with delight, gratitude, and deep engagement in the moment, we’re stuck inside our heads with anxiety, fear, regret, shame, judgements, and obsession with our appetites.

We all need to re-cultivate curiosity, but none need it more than the political and religious fundamentalists of any denomination or party.  Matthew Perry, a journalist and atheist, wrote an article entitled “Africa Needs God” in which he declares that his travels in Africa revealed that, “Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world – a directness in their dealings with others – that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall.”

I wish this was true among Christ followers in America, but instead we’re predominantly listening for keywords so that we can put people in bins.  I just read that all democrats are “haters”, just as I read that all republicans are “blind,” (a charge also brought against democrats).  Don’t even get me started about the mudslinging generalizations tossed at churches by churches.  If someone doesn’t use the right word to describe the authority of the Bible or have the wrong view of who gets to be a church member, or a different view of baptism, or the meaning of what happened on the cross, or whatever, they get a label and presto!  You don’t need to learn anything from them anymore.

When did we become only turf defenders, judging those who view the world differently?  When we allowed curiosity to dry up?  Listen!  We have nothing to fear by asking questions, nothing to fear by holding our convictions with an open hand.  This is because Jesus is “the truth” and so if we’re seeking truth, then we’ll find it – eventually.  But seekers of truth operate under the presupposition that they don’t have all the answers, and that even some of the answers they hold might just need a bit of adjusting.

We’re in drought season when it comes to the matter of humble curiosity.  Children can help us unlearn our arrogance and start learning again.

Enjoy Helping –  As I was packing for my speaking trip this past week, Luci was with me so I handed her my tech cords and asked her to put them in my backpack.  She was finished in seconds and asked, “What else goes in your backpack?” And thus began a half hour of my granddaughter helping me pack, and talking about airplanes.

When did we grow up and begin viewing help as a burden, or a privilege we dole out while patting ourselves on the back?  It happened, ironically, to the extent that we became insecure in our identity, because the people who give generously to their last breath are people who know they are full.  They know they’ve received much, and so find it both a privilege and delight to give much.  What’s more, like Luci, people who serve do so as a means of bonding with people.  The task isn’t unimportant, but it’s very secondary to the relationship.  Luci wants (to my utter delight) to be with me!

There’s a delight in relationship that trumps task and this becomes the culture in which service can grow.

Laugh – while we were sitting together watching the World Cup final, Luci brought out a quartet of tiny stuffed animals, all from the Winnie the Pooh collection.  I tossed one at her and it hit her on the head.  She burst into laughter so I threw another, and another, and another, until all four were on the floor.  When she stopped laughing for two seconds she picked them up and tossed them at me.  I caught them and threw them back, not ‘to’ her, but ‘at’ her, and soon she was on the floor laughing more, and more and more.

I don’t think I’d laughed that hard in real life for a quite a while because, you know, adulthood.  Plans.  Goals.  Aches and pains.  Fears and regrets. Investments.  Properties.  Retirement.  Health Insurance.  Politics…and a host of other things that steal our capacity to find joy in the moment.   The serious business of living.

Really?  How about we become like children again and live out from a posture of trust? “Faith like a child” is what Jesus called it, and when we live like that, we’re less worried about the future, less shamed over our past, and as a result, more completely in the moment.

Addressing Poverty – one by one by one by one

In the wake of the recent head tax hysteria in Seattle, I’ve been thinking a lot about Mother Teresa’s famous quote about poverty. Answering the question “Which is the poorest nation on earth?” in a very Mother Teresa-like manner, she said, “Yes, yes, yes. I have been to many countries and seen much poverty and suffering. Everywhere I go people tell me of their hardships and struggles, and ask for help, and I give what I can. But of all the countries I have been to, the poorest one I have been to is America.” Somewhat shocked, the reporter informed Mother Teresa that America was one of the richest countries and questioned how it could be the poorest. “Because,”,she replied, “America suffers most from the poverty of loneliness.”

This relates to the head tax, and to the liberal dream that money and programs can eventually solve homelessness.  Money, the increasing divide between the rich and poor, the disappearing middle class, and cost of health care are all, as the left  points out, contributing factors to the present and increasing crisis. I, for one, agree.

But the left often seems blind the fact that a strong social network and strong family ties are even more foundational.  When these are in place, individuals in crisis are offered a web into which they might fall, giving their lives a resiliency, emotional strength, and confidence that they are loved. These things, believe me, go a long way in mitigating a myriad of social problems, including homelessness. To believe that addressing all the real problems in the above paragraph without naming the demise of family networks as a scourge is pure folly. The elephant in the room is that we suffer from a depth of relational poverty that isolates, leaving people without the safety net that first and foremost should is the purvue of healthy family systems.

Normalize divorce, encourage endless consumerism in the name of economic growth, steal childhood from young lives by hiring phones and iPads as babysitters, substitute “staying married” for “intimacy,” allow political divides to make family members enemies, toss in a good dose of hypermobility, stay too busy to visit family, raise your children with manipulation to fulfill your unmet ambitions, and presto – you have the recipe for isolation. Isolation is a factor in addictive behavior, which itself becomes an employment factor, and a factor in domestic violence. Can you see the storm arising? The results are people living on the streets who are cut off from family, victims of domestic violence, or opioids, or foreclosure.

You could buy a house for everyone on the streets, but until you address the all the factors that elevate hyper-individualism to the status of an idol, homelessness will continue to mature into an economic pandemic.

The good news is that there’s plenty each of us can do to shine as light in the midst of this dark problem.

1. Recognize the value of family ties. I just returned from speaking at a camp in the coastal redwoods where my grandma was a cook. Every time I’m there, I need to tell the guests to whom I’m speaking that this place is holy ground for me, because when I was a child it was literally the safest place on earth for my young soul. I still have memories of gramdma’s delight as she picked me up, hugged my little four-year-old body and delightedly cried, “Welcome!  We’re so glad you’re here.” The ensuing days as a child where filled with the scent of redwoods and cinnamon rolls, coastal air and bacon. There was laughter, storytelling, rock skipping at the creek, sand castle building in Santa Cruz, and a San Francisco Giants baseball game. Last week, I went and sat outside her still-standing house and could nearly see the ghosts of my whole family, laughing, reading, resting. Heaven on earth.

Her legacy is why I’m so delighted that my oldest daughter, her husband, and my granddaughter are living with us.  I hope and pray that when little Luci is 60, she’ll look back on her time in the fir forest east of Seattle as a safe place, a little heaven on earth. We’ll watch World Cup together, toss a ball, roast hot dogs on a campfire, wade in Coal Creek across the street, maybe even sleep under the stars a night or two.  Hopefully she’ll learn, not by preaching, that people who love God also love people, laugh a lot, are curious, and love the world God has made.

The notion that any program will ever be able to create that is rubbish. Yes, by all means we need to care for the current generation living on the streets and provide both food and compassion. But if we take the long view, we’d be wise to also elevate the value of healthy marriages, of enough time for hugs and freshly cooked food, of family systems where truth and grace and prevail. These, though, are moral issues, solvable only by saying there are things we can value that increase the odds of making families healthier.

2. Name values – and the greatest of these is love. I’ll forever declare that healthy marriages aren’t made by people “staying together” because “the Bible says so.”. Rather, healthy marriages require love, and love requires vulnerability and truth-telling, confession and forgiveness, mutual servanthood, and time, and energy.  I’ll forever declare that sexual intimacy belongs in covenant relationships, that sex isn’t just a form of recreation, that “serial monogamy” is destroying the possibilities of real intimacy, even as evangelical shaming does the same.

This brings me to the next important observation which is that, when our values differ among family members regarding sexuality, money, politics, or any other divisive thing, love needs to win.  You don’t disown your children because they don’t share your view. You don’t spend your meals together endlessly trying to convince the other party. You have the conversation once, or once in a while; never proportionally more than spice to the omellete. Life’s too short for that kind of hostility, and it’s not the way of Jesus.

3. Practice hospitality. The couple in this picture came up to me at the camp where I spoke and told me that they were the “young kids” on staff when my grandma was the cook in the early 60’s.  “We loved your grandma,” he said. “They were hospitable!”  Another old man at the conference told me he was single when he arrived at Mount Hermon and that my grandma had the only TV in the area in the early 60s.  “She invited all the single people over on New Year’s Day for pancakes, the Rose Parade, and the Rose Bowl.” Yes. Food. Sport. And a welcoming home.

We can and must address acute social problems. But we cannot, and must not, kid ourselves into thinking that money solves the most glaring poverty on the planet – the relational poverty that comes from thinking individualism and more stuff can solve all problems.  One of the best things you and I can do in the wake of our multiple national crises is embody the values that make for strong social networks and strong families.