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

The Perfect Storm: Finding Liberty in Simplicity

by , on
Nov 16, 2010

I went running this morning in my shoeless shoes, pondering the fresh health I’m enjoying in my running because I’ve been liberated from the belief that the foot needs something other than itself to run well.  It’s not the point of this post, but if you’re interested, you can read about it here.

The morning offered a bed of leaves through which to run because last night there was a wind storm, the kind that makes a howling sound in our attic bedroom, the kind that strips trees of leaves, reducing them to a shadowy stick figures of their former selves.  They cling, the dead leaves do – until the wind is strong enough.  Finally, some gust wins, and they’re gone.

I ponder Jesus words about the wind of the spirit blowing wherever it wants, and realize that sometimes the wind blows hard so that the things in our life that are enslaving us, weighing us down, and filling us with anxiety, can be untethered and float away.  The wind can be painful, but it leaves spaciousness and liberty in its wake.  “What is cluttering my world?”, I ponder, as my nearly naked feet touch the forest floor.

We cling to much that is needless, and as a result are too often, like that woman in the Bible, “concerned about many things”.  Because of this we worry, we’re weary, and we’re prone to comfort ourselves by escaping from the mess we’ve made by hiding in our big and little addictions.  Sometimes we look for you to bless our messes and our complexities, when what we really need is a good storm, a good gust of Spirit wind to whirl through our souls, stripping us of illusions.  Only when the last dead leaf has been stripped away will we be truly free.  And so I pray, as I prepare for an exceptionally busy day, which kicks off the fullest of weeks, and leads into what is, for many of us, the busiest of seasons:

Blow, wind of the spirit; blow!  Strip my life of all that enslaves.  Blow through my possessions, and give me the capacity to release. Blow your wind through my shopping habits so that I don’t buy needlessly, in some vain attempt to fill a void.  Blow your wind through the use of my time, that I might not be enslaved to meaningless pursuits, that I might invest in the things that matter – loving God, loving people, sharing my gifts and celebrating Yours.  As I’m hanging on to destructive comforts, or petty bitterness, or shallow greed and fear, blow wind, blow.  Release me.

Life comes to us, and pours through us, when the wind of your spirit liberates us from all that enslaves.  Blow through my soul, blow through our church, freeing us from that which detracts from your purposes.  Blow wind, blow.  Forgive us for trying to preserve lifeless forms, when you long to free us so that new life can form.  Blow.  Blow.  Blow.  And when the wind stops, you will be there to cradle us in your love – and that will be life enough.

The wind blows friends – through loss, dead ends, illness, accidents, solitude, silence, weeping in the arms of Jesus, pouring our hearts out to God, listening for God’s voice, cleaning the office, doing the dishes, sitting with your aging parents, quiet music on a cloudy day as your read God’s words.  And when the wind does its job, you’re released, lighter, liberated – may the wind of God’s spirit blow through our souls this day, and every day.  Amen.

Looking for “more” or “less”?

by , on
Aug 11, 2010

There’s a rock and a hard place unfolding in the global economy.  The rock: We need to buy lots of stuff to keep the economic machinery going, so that there will be enough jobs, because when there are lots of jobs, people will buy stuff,which will create more jobs, blah blah blah.  The market’s down about 240 (a big number if you follow it) as I write, because of worries people aren’t going to buy stuff.

The hard place: The most popular article in the NY Times this morning questions the premise that we’ll be happy if we buy more stuff.  The article catalogs the major life shift of Tammy Strobel, who jumped off the work-spend treadmill with her husband.  She’s now living simply, as one of the growing number minimalists who try to limit their number of possessions to around 100, including 0 cars.  They’ve evaporated 30k of debt, are exercising more, eating better, volunteering their time, taking walks in the woods, and have never been happier.

Welcome to our economic world.  We’re stuck, collectively, in a consumerist model that depends on buying stuff, and now we’re discovering that, like unfermented soy products, maybe stuff isn’t so good for you after all.  If we all start living like Tammy, what happens to the auto industry, and the rest of the ‘stuff’ that creates our economy?

There are books about this subject, which you might want to check out here (if you’re interested in the book picture) and here (if you’re interested in lifestyle changes) and here (if you’re interested in just reducing your own debts).

I hope all of us work to become more like Tammy because this is what, I think, the Bible commends. I spent $30 at Goodwill last week, and have a new fall wardrobe, but this doesn’t do much for big economic machine.  That too many are becoming like Tammy is the great fear of wall street.  My response:  Moving towards the light is like rappelling off a cliff.  There’s some uncertainty regarding all the implications, but there’s a knowing, a trusting, that doing it right will be best, in the long run, for everyone.

Are you simplifying?  How?

“humanity”…or the person next to me?

by , on
Jul 14, 2010

“The more I love humanity in general, the less I love man in particular.” – Fyoder Dostoevsky

I’m reading some Russian classics this summer, and was recently reminded of this quote, one of my favorites.  Our friend Fyoder has put his finger on a great deception.  Many of us have romantic notions about our love for humanity.  We grieve over what we see in the world – Palestinians and Israelis in conflict, earthquake victims remaining homeless in Haiti, families suffering great loss because of an oil spill, soldiers traumatized by the horrors of war.  All of it is tragic, and our hearts are full of sympathy and deep emotion, when we think of the tragic condition of humanity.

This kind of sentimentalism, though, is deceptive.  It can trick us into thinking that we really care, but the real care, if we consider the scriptures carefully, is only manifested to the extent that we manifest compassion.  The word means, “to suffer with” and throughout the Bible the message is the same: until we identify with the downtrodden through action and solidarity, our light remains hidden.  Here’s how Isaiah puts it:

“Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed gofree And break every yoke?  Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry And bring thehomeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light will break out like the dawn, And your recovery will speedily spring forth; And your righteousness will go before you; The glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer” Isaiah 58:6-9

Some observations:

1. Action, not sympathy and sentiment, is our calling. Dostoevsky’s point is that it’s easy to confuse sentiment when we listen to NPR, with real action.  But sentiment is to action, what watching sport is to playing it.  Watching the world cup while wearing a soccer jersey makes me feel athletic, even as I sit and stuff my face with chips as I  critique the passes, the officiating, and the annoying incessant horns.  In truth, I can’t play soccer at all.  The popularity of sport, though, resides our vicarious identification.

2. Our light will only shine to the extent that we respond to the needs around us. This is the overwhelming declaration of what it means to be the people of God.  It’s taught in Genesis 12, where we’re blessed to be a blessing.  It’s reiterated throughout the prophets, including this clear passage in Isaiah 58.  Jesus says the same thing in Matthew 5 when he calls us the “light of the world.”  James says that true religion resides precisely in this realm of showing demonstrable love towards others.

3. Isaiah declares, counter-intuitively, that our care of “the least of these” will result, not in their recovery, but in our own.  God is making it clear that making the justice and generosity of God visible in this world isn’t optional.  We won’t be able to recover our fullest humanness until we’re people who are pouring out blessing, and this only happens by making space in our lives for those with visible needs.

When we encounter poverty and injustice, we might feel sentimental, and comfort ourselves into believing that our emotions mean we care.  But the gap between sentimentalism and action is a grand canyon, and it’s only on the action side of that canyon that light is shining, and our own transformation is occurring.