Taproot Theatre in Seattle is presently running a play about one of my faith heroes, Sophie Scholl. Along with her brother Hans, these two were German students, members of the “White Rose”, whose mission was to incite German people to resist the reign of Hitler. The play is well-written and well-delivered, consisting primarily of dialogue between Sophie and her interrogator. If you’re in the Seattle area, I hope you don’t miss it (running through the end of April), not only because it’s a good play, but because it will provide you with a window into the heart and mind of a woman who embodied the kind of heart and mind needed today. Here’s why I believe the White Rose’s catalyst to action is worth pondering today:
Seeing the play provoked me to re-read this book. It’s about the role of the White Rose in the German resistance movement of the 30’s and through the WWII. Some books are live, in the sense that they speak differently each time you read them because you’re different, your world is different. We’re living in a time of global polarization between haves and have nots. Were living in a time of mass migration, as people flee death squads, poverty, violence, hunger, and disease. This migration has led to a backlash rise in unhealthy nationalistic fervor and neo-Nazi/white supremacist groups in Europe and the Americas. Shootings in Black churches, and synagogues are just the tip of this hate-filled iceberg.
The White Rose was awakened to action by two things:
I. An awareness that their culture had lost its anchor. One author says it this way: “In a universe where all values have been shattered, where religions and histories and literatures and social structures have lost their meaning, man has to stand up again and proceed to create his own world, his own values, his own decisions, his own actions.” The shattering of values that began in Germany in the early 20th century continues on, globally, at an accelerated pace, right to this very moment. Social structures such as marriage, and institutions such as the church and university, along with the meaning of family are all “up for grabs” as we’re cut free from the moorings and anchors of western civilization.
Members of the White Rose were horrified that the Nazi movement was creating new meaning by calling people back to a mythical golden age of Aryan supremacy, full employment, and the ouster of those who were different. Even though such an age never existed, its appeal in the wake of all the economic, political, and social chaos was strong enough to create a movement, and it was this movement that the White Rose stood against.
What enabled them to stand up against this romanticized future wasn’t simply a counterpoint set of ideals pulled out of thin air. Their convictions were born from revelation about the dignity of all people, and the dangers of all forms of idolatry, including the idols of materialism and nationalism. Their resistance literature essential said It’s not enough to end unemployment by building a vast military machine. It’s not enough, never enough, to enthusiastically swear allegiance to a leader, any leader, if said leader is asking you to believe lies, diminish and marginalize other people, and sacrifice your freedom of thought and expression on the altar of national loyalty. It’s not enough to believe that our strength is only gained through the diminishing of other peoples, other nations. We’re made for more than this. We are, as a nation, better than this.
What made these ideas better? Their source! Behind the curtain, Hans and Sophie Scholl were friends with Carl Muth, a theologian whose small magazine had been banned from publication by the Reich. Hans and Sophie met with Carl on a regular basis in his small house in the forest, which was, “nearly bursting with book, journals, and manuscripts.” Muth became a mentor of sorts for these two who would put their ideas into print and distribute them widely throughout Bavaria.
We too, have access to better ideas, ideas that speak to racism, addiction, loneliness, materialism, nationalism, and the many fears that inflict our culture presently. We have the same source of revelation Hans, Sophie, and Carl had – the scriptures. Do we know what those ideas are? Do we believe them? Or have we, through our own lack of discernment, allowed ourselves to be passively carried along? The White Rose serves as a perpetual reminder that ideas matter, and that the mark of Christian maturity must, among other things, include discernment. I say this, because lies and idols are often, as they were in Germany, couched in the same scriptures, used for dark ends instead of liberation. Without discernment, we run the risk of unwittingly aligning ourselves with hate, fear, and violence, and doing so in Jesus name.
II. A conscience stricken by silence.“‘Where are the Christians?’ Hans shouted after hearing an ‘enemy broadcast’ reporting that German Communists and Social Democrats had resisted the Nazis and been caught. ‘Should we stand here with empty hands at the end of the war when they ask the question, ‘and what did you do?'”
The White Rose spoke because, as Sophie said, “somebody needed to make a start of it”. MLK spoke for the same reason. So did Sojourner Truth. So did St. John of the Cross. But for every soul who spoke, there were too many… far too many… who remained silent.
While Sophie and Hans inspire us in the play, the interrogator is perhaps, the most important figure. He agreed with her convictions, or so he said. He was sympathetic. He understood. But he could not speak; would not speak. To do so would be too costly. His job; his reputation; in his time, even his life was at stake. The risks were too great, so he allowed himself to be carried along by the tides of culture rather.
For those who give voice to their call for racial justice, or environmental justice, or for those who call lies and idols what they are, or who speak up for life in the womb, victims of sexual violence, and human trafficking, or the countless others who have no voice – the risk of loss will always be there. But a life lived to carefully, is a life lived contrary to the fundamental principle and example of Jesus: “he who seeks to save his life will lose it… he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” Our silence, at times, is our greatest sin.
“We will not be silent” is what Sophie said. May her tribe increase.
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.
“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.
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.
Did you watch the funeral of President George H.W. Bush? If so, you saw the importance of named values on full display. From Jon Meacham’s stirring eulogy, to his son’s warm remembrances of him as both mentor and father, the entire event was testimony to a life well lived. Raised in privilege, President Bush recognized the gospel truth that “to whom much is given, much is required” and so lived his life as a courageous servant leader.
The sad reality, though, is that the testimonies offered that day also served as a grave reminder that courage, servanthood, generosity, and civility, are in short supply these days. It is this way because the avalanche of cultural input conspires to enflame individualism, consumerism, pettiness, a sense of personal inadequacy, and victim mentalities. All of these shrink our world down to survival mode, which is far cry from the abundant life Christ came to give, and the “rivers of living water” that should be flowing through us to bring water to the desert that is the 21st century.
The way forward, according to Paul, is that we be “transformed by the renewing of our minds”, because without such intentional swimming upstream, we’ll be swept into the vast cultural chasm of mediocrity and narcissism that is so evident everywhere. I find that the creation of a personal mission statement provides a huge step toward such intentionality. I wrote about why this matters here, and how knowing your gifts is a critical part of the process here.
More than gifts are needed though. Hitler had gifts of eloquence. Countless leaders have gifts of charisma to motivate, and the political savvy to build coalitions of disparate parties in order to gain power. Gifts, by themselves, are amoral. In order to live the life for which we’re created, we need to commit to investing our gifts in ways that build up and contribute to God’s mission in the world. Needless to say, this isn’t the only way gifts can be used. Our gifts can be in the pursuit of power and pleasure as easily as in pursuit of the common good, actually easier! What’s worse, we can whitewash our ignoble pursuits with noble causes and edifying vision. This happens in church work, politics, and the non-profit world too often, as we all know. It’s at the root of the current climate of institutional mistrust and cynicism, and is why I often hear, “I try to follow Jesus, but the church? No thanks…” and then they share their story of feeling used.
What’s the most important thing we can do to assure that our gifts and mission work towards uplifting, rather than destructive ends? Spend time mining and articulating our values. Here’s why:
Values answer the question: “to what end”?
Why am I running, or sitting on the sofa? Why am I reading and meditating, or calling people and planning events? Why do I give money away, or keep it? Why do I turn the TV off, or leave it on? The thing is, in any given situation, either answer could be right. Decisions between this and that must be based on values, because my values will steer my ship to the desired harbor and bring balance to my life. Otherwise, I might run a marathon, but have children I don’t know, or be culturally literate, but spiritually unable to offer people good food, or “successful” outwardly, but inwardly, as Jesus said of some successful people in his day, “full of dead man’s bones”.
Values offer course corrections
There are times when I withdraw into family life and my gifts of writing and teaching start rusting. I need to get back in the game! There are times when I live a fear based life and close my heart and pocketbook too readily. I need my courage value to guide me back to being a voice of hope. There are times when I try to pretend I’m better than I am, but valuing brokenness enables me to look in the mirror and pursue ongoing transformation. Deeply held values become a sort of navigation system for life, enabling shifts as the winds change, so that we reach the desired goal.
Embedded Values build Character
We all have values, but the sad truth is that without intentionality, we will passively adopt the values of prevailing culture. We likely won’t name them, but they’ll be ours nonetheless: Consumerism, Individualism, Material Security, Pain Avoidance. Our values will define our choices, and our choices will define our lives. Without intentionality, these cultural values will prevail and one day we’ll wake up and wonder where the time went, and why haven’t we accomplished much? The answer will be that we accomplished exactly what our values determined we should accomplish. The problem was simply that we didn’t choose our values wisely .
As I open my “to do list” every day, I read my values. As I do this more and more often these values become more deeply embedded in me, moving from page, to mind, to heart. Over time, this infects decision make – not perfectly, but in some measure. The result, I hope, is that we choose wisely, and so steward our one wild and precious life better, for having taken the time to intentionally name our values.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 prisonersand 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!
I’m on holiday today, and went hiking, which can be an exciting activity during spring in the Cascades. I begin my ascent at 1900’ and over the course of three miles climb to 3800’ before a slight descent down to my mountain lake destination. There’s not a hint of snow until I get close the lake, but then the trail crosses several avalanche chutes still filled with snow debris from a wild winter. Avalanche chutes are stripped bear of any trees so this means I’m crossing snow that has warm rock just beneath the surface, which means that I’m walking on snow bridges, often of unknown strength. The snow’s been melting out from the bottom up so that the thickness of the snow can vary from a foot or more to less than an inch. Add in the fact that the strength of said bridge varies not only by it’s depth, but by it’s temperature, and suddenly walking across these bridges can feel like you’re playing Russian roulette with every step.
Plunge your pole, hard, into the place you anticipate placing your foot. Look carefully. Step quickly. Go! They’ve collapsed under my weight more than once during spring hiking, but thankfully I’ve never been seriously injured by it. Not everyone is so lucky. There are lots of ways to mitigate this risk, but I’m using snow bridges as a metaphor today to remind you that every bridge in your life will collapse someday. If a bridge is what we depend on in our lives for security or meaning, the reality is that nothing lasts forever; vocation, health, marriage, children, are all destined for change along our journey. Like snow bridges these blessings are dynamic. One day everything appears solid and then, BOOM! There’s a heart condition, or a financial trial and the risk of foreclosure. Even the best of marriages usually end with one party dying first, leaving the other alone, grieving over the loss of that bridge which gave so much meaning to life. Economic boom periods are cyclical, just like the building of a snow bridge through the winter and its eventual collapse later in the spring. The same could be said of political parties, and even of nations. Nothing lasts forever. There’s a cycle of birth, vibrancy, decay, and death, that’s woven into the fabric of world.
Those who embrace this inevitable temporality of all things are standing on the threshold of freedom and peace! This is because there’s a single exception, in all the universe, to this reality. We who believe that Jesus rose from the dead see that resurrection as the shining light of hope, offering “the power of an indestructible life” as the prototype of where history’s headed. IF this is true, then we have a bridge that will never weaken, melt, or be destroyed. In fact, this is the langauge we find in the Bible…
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea – Psalm 46:2
At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens. The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. – Hebrews 12:26,27
(Jesus) has been constituted a Priest, not on the basis of a bodily legal requirement [an externally imposed command concerning His physical ancestry], but on the basis of the power of an endless and indestructible Life. – Hebrews 7:16
There’s an indestructible life which cannot be shaken, and this life is united with the lives of all who call upon him, so that we become partakers of eternity. This means that we’re part of a better story, a story where God is making all things new, moving the cosmos away from the cycle of birth, death, and decay, to “life for the ages” which is the literal meaning of eternal life.
Where are you putting you weight these days? What bridges are you trusting in to give you meaning and security. I stood on a path today and at one point plunged by pole into the place where I intended to step and it broke through, collapsing the bridge and revealing huge rocks. A fall could have been serious. We need to put our weight where we know we’re safe, where we know that, come what may, our source will always be with us.
We need these truths, all of us, eventually in our lives. My hope is we’ll learn to seek the eternal rock sooner rather than later.
More girls were killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they were girls, than men killed in all the wars in the 20th century.
The equivalent of 5 jumbo jets worth of women die in labor each day… life time risk of maternal death is 1,000x higher in a poor country than in the west. That should be an international scandal.
In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world – all quotes by Nicholas D. Kristof from “Half the Sky”
One of the challenges that the church faces is that it has often been, rightly, accused of being part of the problem rather than part of the solution when it comes to elevating the identity, calling, authority, strength, and leadership of women in the world. Women have been censored, marginalized, shut out from positions of spiritual leadership, treated as property, burned as witches, tortured and killed as heretics , and abused.
I, for one, would like the church I lead to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. This is why we’re presently in a series on “Called by God: Women of the Bible”. In this series my intent is to show how God has called women to frontline visible ministries as prophetesses, Apostles, judges, leaders in civil disobedience, teachers, and more. I’ll also be offering, both on this blog and on our church website, some further discussion about critical questions related to the subject of women in the Bible. I hope you’ll subscribe and join us for the discussion.
I’ve been in church settings where men have walked out when a woman opened the Bible and began to teach or preach. I grew up in a church where women had very confined roles, none of which had to do with teaching or decision making authority. I’m part of a generation that, for the most part, embraced the culturally defined gender roles of “Fiddler on the Roof”. None of this strident patriarchy was fabricated out of thin air. The views come from a certain way of reading the Bible. The reading creates the culture. The culture reinforces the prevailing reading, which deepens the culture still further. And so it goes.
Here’s what can change that:
1. Consider a fresh reading of the Bible. It’s vital to recognize the danger of “cherry picking” certain passages and building entire ethical constructs out of them. My own movement away from strong patriarchy began with the realization that not everything in the Bible that God proscribes applies for all time. We don’t continue executing disobedient children, for example. Women are no longer viewed as property as they so clearly were under Old Testament Law.
Ethics change because God’s revelation is ripening, ultimately to find its fullest blossoming in the person of Christ. In Jesus’ narrative, a woman becomes the first evangelist. Another becomes exemplary of what it means to love God. Two more are the first eyewitnesses to the resurrected Christ. Paul the apostle doesn’t miss a beat in his continuing liberation of women as he speaks of a female Apostle, and of “when” women prophesy in the gathered faith community. I know there are questions about particular texts that seem to indicate confinement to certain roles, and I’ll deal with these in forthcoming material. For now know this: Christ’s example liberates women from previously constrained roles. Paul, if somewhat covertly, continues to develop that same trajectory. So should we.
2. Recognize the difference between Biblical mandate and culture norms. Many women have grown up in a culture of unequal pay, in churches that silenced them, and in homes where the word ‘submission’ was unilaterally imposed on women by men, but never applied to men (as the Bible declares it should be). These women have a weight of cultural baggage to overcome. When Paul says that believers are to be transformed by the “renewing of their minds” this is a classic example of what he’s talking about. Transformation comes from recognizing cultural mores and swimming upstream against them. Men can help women do that by recognizing that they have unique callings
My wife’s perspective is that it’s difficult for a woman to find her true voice because there’s been a historical cultural weight of expectations that have kept women on a clearly defined and constricting path. She says, “Men have often thought of women as fish in a channel. Men have tried to help women get from point A to point B by ‘helping them’, which is tantamount to straightening the stream or building fish ladders. The intention is good, but still too confining. The problem is that women are actually birds, and we can get to God’s appointed destiny of our calling by making our own prayerful decisions, finding our own path with our own unique giftedness as women.”
3. Find your gifts and use them. In the end, one of the reasons I believe women are called to any position in the church is because the last thing I’d ever want to do is censor someone from using gifts that God has given them. In Romans 12, we read that some are called to, variously, give, serve, teach, and lead. Far be it from me to prevent someone from using a certain gift because of their gender! All of us must work at understanding our strengths and how God has created us, and as we do this we’ll find those endeavors which a) bring us great joy b) we’re naturally good at and c) are affirmed by others because others are blessed by our doing them. Those endeavors are where we must focus our time.
How many women, though, have been unable to do that because of the cultural and spiritual forces of patriarchy which shut them out?
It can be otherwise, and it often begins with deconstructing the notion that women have confined roles. They’re not fish in a stream. They’re birds, with a world of heights available to them. It’s time to fly.
Here’s a free chapter for all those folks you know in your lives who have walked the road of success for a bit of distance and are both gratified and weary, cherishing what’s happened so far, but unclear as to what should happen next. If you know such people, please share this chapter with them on your social media. For me, sharing this isn’t about promoting my new book of which this is a part – it’s about helping people navigate the waters of career, creativity, family, and spirituality for the long haul. Happy reading, and happy sharing.
Chapter 1:Accidental Climbers
Many of us learn to do our survival dance, but we never learn to do our actual ‘sacred dance’Richard Rohr
Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.Bill Gates
Woe unto you when all men speak well of you….Jesus the Christ
“If success is a mountain, I’m an accidental climber”. – Richard Dahlstrom
Has it ever happened to you?You’ve been working hard for goals you believe in for a long time.You’ve sacrificed and said no to trinkets so that you could focus on the gold of your objectives, your future.It didn’t happen overnight, but it happened.You took initial steps into the unknown of a new job, or that visionary idea into a deeper realm of committing to it and the universe rewarded with you success.The business grew.You were promoted.The publisher said yes.
It feels good and so you stay on the path a little longer and you continue to get a few more responsibilities.All the while, there are other areas of life, and these too are growing.You’re a spouse now, maybe, or a parent, or you have a loan for a house and are slowly filling it with stuff.Your hard drive’s filling up with pictures of kids at Christmas, and Little League, Prom night, graduations.It’s not perfect.There are bumps along the way, but you’re getting more these days.Life’s filling up.The business is gaining new market share.Investments are doing their job.It’s all paying off.
Days become decades, quickly.Now there’s money in the bank, and when the car breaks you don’t worry about whether you can afford to get it fixed.You eat out a bit more, maybe a lot more.Others, looking in on your life from the outside, are a little envious, or maybe resentful.That’s because you’ve become what our culture tells us is most important; you’ve become, in some measure at least, “successful”. You just kept walking, step by step, and it happened that you eventually found yourself high up on the slope with your own measure of fame, or influence, or upward mobility, looking down on the lights below.You wonder how you got there, pausing to look around for a moment.
You look around, once you have a little time to catch your breath, but nothing looks familiar.You’re not sure where you are anymore.You thought this was the right path because back down there along the way, everyone applauded and affirmed every step you took – college degree, corporate job, promotion, partner, consultant, marriage, kids, cross fit, commute.The world’s filled with cheerleaders ready to affirm or punish every step of the way so that the well trodden mountain becomes your mountain too.You went, almost without questioning, and now that you’re up here, somewhere near the top, you’re not sure this is where you belong.
That’s because you like it here on the one hand, but on the other hand, it’s taken a toll.You’re tired, and the pace of life has become more like a video game, with obligations coming at you faster and faster, so that you’re reacting more than living.Things have gotten complicated too, with some debts and a new lifestyle to which you’ve become accustomed.High up here on the mountain a fall would be costly.There’s your influence to consider, and reputation.You need a little time to get your bearings before proceeding but odds are you won’t push for the needed time off unless something huge shakes you awake, forcing you to ask questions you maybe should have asked years earlier, but were to busy succeeding to actually consider.
Just such a moment came my way last summer. I’d come home from two packed months of speaking at conferences on both coasts and in Europe, ending this season with a cross country flight on a Friday night.At eight the next morning I joined with other staff members of the church I lead for a four hour morning of round-robin interviews with several candidates for a single staff position.These were finished and I was having lunch with one of the candidates when my phone rang.“Germany?” I said to myself, seeing the +49 country code.Because I have a daughter there, I picked up.
“Kristi! Good to hear from you…”
Silence. And then, “Richard it’s Peter.”
“Peter.I thought you were Kristi.Listen, I’ll call you back, I’m right in the middle of…”
“Nope.I need to chat now, for a just a minute or two.”I walk away from the outdoor table just as the waiter brings our food.I’m sitting in rare Seattle sunshine by the front door of the restaurant when he says, “Hans Peter died today in the Alps. Paragliding. They found his body early this evening.I’ll let you know more when I know the time of the funeral.”After a silent moment Peter says,“I know.I’m sick too.”We chat a moment before I hang up the phone and finish the perfunctory interview, wondering why the world hasn’t stopped for everyone else on this outdoor patio, because God knows its collapsed for me.I can’t eat, can’t throw up, though I want to.Then I go home and sit in the sun that set hours ago in Austria, sinking behind the Alps and leaving a family I love mourning in darkness.
Hans Peter was the director of a school in the Alps where I teach regularly, and a kindred spirit.We’d skied his mountains together there, snowshoed in mine east ofSeattle, and ridden bikes amongst the monuments of Washington DC.We’d rejoiced and agonized over our kids; argued theology and commiserated about leadership.We’d walked life together enough that even though we were separated by 6,000 miles or so, he was one of my best friends. And now he’s gone. The next day I broke down while telling my congregation, but on Monday there was an important retreat to lead for my marvelous staff.It would be filled with laughter and adventures, andI just kept pushing, because there was always another thing to do just around the corner.The retreat ended and I sat in a stream and talked at a camera for a video that needed making.Then home, then studying for Sunday, then preaching three times.
After that I collapsed.There was a day or two when the thought of getting out of bed to make a little coffee was overwhelming, let alone actually doing my job.The convergence of weariness and loss created a crisis of introspection that would change my life.
Walking alone in the mountains, I thought about how I’d succeeded at the things I’d gone after these past two decades – teaching, preaching, leading, investing in others, writing.It was all good stuff; not some pyramid scam, or trying to make a quick killing in the market so I could hit the beach – we’re talking about meaningful work that I enjoyed, and that had in some sense “prospered”. But somehow the convergence of my weariness and my friend’s death opened to door to an intense looking inward, and I began to wonder if I was doing the right thing, if the hamster wheel of activity was meaningful after all.Was it weariness I was feeling, or was it the work itself that was broken? Big churches, defined by everyone around them as inherently successful were suddenly up for a thorough evaluation, something I’d not done because I’d never cared about growth or success, or so I told myself.Was I telling myself the truth all those years, or was it a cover for ambition? What’s next? Can I keep doing this, and for how long? I had questions, but when I looked around, all I saw was the fog of weariness.I wondered if I was on the right mountain.
Later that fall I went to some sort of seminar for pastors of big churches and though I participated outwardly, I felt like a stranger at the table.Everyone was excited about their plans, goals, mission statements, “strategies for staff alignment”; even their challenges were energizing to them.I felt disembodied some of the time, like more of an observer than a participant.What was wrong with me?As the day wore on and I considered the dissonance between their excitement and my relative apathy I began to think that I was suffering from the fruit of my own success.
I’d climbed the mountain of ambition, so to speak, and though I’d enjoyed most steps along the way, it was tiring. Like any peak, it came at a cost.Now, at 58, just when I was beginning to think the mountain would level out towards a plateaued summit, I was getting busier than ever, because the work I was leading was still growing.New locations.New leaders.New responsibilities.New team chemistry because continually adding people to the team was changing people’s roles and relationships.The whole thing was my vision; it was working; it was exciting.But it had sort of taken on a life of its own and I was on empty, having used up all the creative fuel in the pursuit as growth, opportunities, and challenges piled on top of each other, year after year.Success!And emptiness at the same time.Should I continue climbing this mountain or might there be another?
When you’re young, nobody tells you about the dangers of success. Success is like a disco ball, high up there on the ceiling in the center of the room, and all the lights of everyone’s ambitions are shining on it, so that its beauty is magnified as it reflects the collective pursuits of greatness back to everyone in room with sparkle, as if to say, “this is what it’s all about”.You want it to shine on you too.We call it lots of things, depending on our profession.We want to build great teams, provide service second to none, create a product everyone needs, cure cancer, end human trafficking, write the song, get the corner office, get into Sundance, make the NY Times Bestseller List, raise amazing kids, find true love.Let’s face it, there’s a gold medal in every area of life.Maybe this isn’t a bad thing.After all, we all need a reason to get up in the morning.We want our lights to shine.We want significance.I get it.
Conventional Wisdom, or disguises dressed as the same, capitalize on these longings for success.That’s what seminars are for, and books about losing 100 pounds, or running marathons, or creating a marketing strategy.There is an entire “pursuit of success” industry precisely because we believe that going after it is the right thing to do, and maybe it is.
I’d always thought I wasn’t in that camp.In a world of big, I’d made my living running a church in my living room, and teaching at tiny Bible schools around the world several weeks a year.In a world of urban, I was living with my wife and three children in a place where the phone book was a single sheet of paper.We were rural, small, subsistence.There were resource challenges at times, but even though we lived below the poverty line, we slept under the stars on clear nights, camped in old fire lookouts where Jack Kerouacspent his summers, and enjoyed tiny staff meetings, laughing around the kitchen table.It was hard work, and frugal, lacking notoriety, but life giving.
Then, when opportunity came knocking, I answered, and we moved to the city where I would lead what, to my mind, was an enormous church of 300 people.“Teaching is teaching” I said naively, believing that the practice of my craft would be the same whether the place was large or small.I was wrong of course.Bigger stuff is more complex than small stuff, and though that is self evident to many, likely most people, it wasn’t clear to me.I needed to learn it first hand, as our big church started to grow even bigger.Growth wasn’t the goal but health was, and the reality is that if people are healthy of spirit, their joy, generosity, hearts of service, capacity to survive trials, and willingness to cross social divides will attract more people like moths drawn to flame.In this terribly needy world, I believe that people are hungry for community, meaning, and for living in a better story than the pursuit of self fulfillment.When people are looking for this kind of life and find others seeking it too, even living it in some measure, they’ll be drawn in.
That’s what started happening and it happened for nearly two decades, slowly and steadily.This meant adding staff, adding buildings, saying good bye to staff for whom the change and growth wasn’t right, dealing with changing team dynamics, altering org charts, creating new positions, reorganizing structures and systems to accommodate “bigger”, adding new locations so that we could offer the same kind of healthy community in other neighborhoods, raising funds, dealing with complexities that happen when competing visions and ideologies sneak in under this larger umbrella, facing the rejection of those who don’t like change and the adulation of those who do (both are equally dangerous) and o so much more.HR task forces.Policy Manuals.Bigger and bigger budgets.Adapt.Grow.Celebrate.Adapt.Grow.Mourn a little bit.Come to discover how much I don’t know about leadership. Grow more.Repeat.
People began writing to me wondering “how we did it”, and the truth is that I didn’t know, because I wasn’t trying to do it at all.I was simply trying to create a healthy community, and build systems that could help others join while still remaining healthy.After we built our new building, I received a magazine in the mail congratulating me that our church had made the list of the “100 Fastest Growing Churches in America”.I didn’t even know that anyone was keeping score, but here we were, on the coveted “list”.Year after year, it was the same, whether we were adding buildings, or locations, or leaders: Growth.The growth, of course, represents much more than added people; it represented changed people.Healed.Empowered.Transformed.Not everyone, that’s for certain, but many.
I knew I should be happy about this, but after about my 16th year of continual growth I began to ask the question:“Where does this story end?”and the honest answer was that I didn’t know. This is because sometimes the only picture of success we can see is the single disco ball in the room.The commonly held metrics of achievement are, in truth, surprisingly few, and predictable.“Growth” whether of sales, souls, or influence is the low hanging fruit, the easy way to convince ourselves we’re significant.
Lots of people go after this low hanging fruit, some with gusto and unapologetic clarity.Others stumble into it by simply doing their jobs well.But whatever our on-ramp, its all the same; we’re heading towards the disco ball in hopes that our light will be magnified.And now, here I was staring into the multi-faceted light of success and I realized I couldn’t see a thing.I didn’t know where I was, or where I was heading.What I did know was that this kind of success had created an environment where the complexity of the machinery seemed to be consuming too much of my creative energy, leaving me running on empty.When that happens, we can’t see far enough ahead to lead well; can’t parse our motives with any sort of clarity; can’t contribute that which is life giving to others and ourselves.Like thin air in the high mountains, this is not a place to stay for long.I knew I needed to move.
I asked my board for three months off, so that I could get off the treadmill, get my bearings, and return, with not only a sense of refreshment, but with a recalibrated soul, better able to serve, lead, and discern the signs. Little did I know that I was on the cusp of an important journey I thought I’d never take.
Richard Rohr reminds us that in Homer’s Odyssey the oft forgotten part of the story is the final two chapters.The major story has to do with Odysseus coming home from war, and all that’s encountered along the way, overcoming trials and temptations in order to be united with his wife, son, and old dear father.Here’s what Rohr says about what happens next:
Accustomed as we are to our normal story line, we rightly expect a ‘happily ever after’ ending to Odyusseus’s tale.And for most readers, that is all, in fact, they need, want, or remember from the story….(But) in the final two chapters, after what seems like a glorious and appropriate ending, Homer announces and calls Odysseus to a new and second journey that is barely talked about, yet somehow Homer deemed it absolutely necessary to his character’s life.
We get high up on the mountain of success, looking for a plateau where we can settle and bask in the glories of our achievements.We think that the goal is “up there” somewhere, in the land of more.Instead, I found an invitation to take a path down, out of speed and into slow, out of complexity and into simplicity, out of comfort and into suffering, out of certainty and into dependency.I found an invitation to walk down a path that would shake me awake, challenging me literally every step of the way. I found an invitation to hit the pause button on the dangerous, if not toxic,treadmill of spiritual success in search of something that I had once, but which had slipped away.The convergence of my weariness born from success, and the death of my friend pointed me towards the path of getting out from behind my books, and desk, and out of my car, alone, away from the crowds, and putting one foot in front of the other for hundreds of miles, from Canada to California on the Pacific Crest trail.In the course of doing so, my hope was to recalibrate, discovering once again the freshness and joy that was my life of faith in earlier days
And so it was, that my wife and I began planning a hike together through the Alps.
You can find the rest of “The Map is Not the Journey” at this link and fine booksellers. My prayer is that those looking to interpret the path they’ve been on in order to walk wisely into their future will find encouragement in these pages.
“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.
You can help this book succeed in a few simple ways:
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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!