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

Steal, Kill, and Destroy – stealing our unity

by , on
Sep 7, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

38 thoughts on Marriage after 38 years.

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

still smiling after 38 years of journeying together

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

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

Vicarious vs. Experience: Not Even Close

by , on
Jun 9, 2017

There’s a line at the end of Song of Solomon in the 6th chapter that speaks of an old problem.  “Come back!  Come back, O beautiful woman, that we may admire you!”  It appears that some onlookers are enchanted by the beauty of the woman in this love story.  She strong, lovely, confident.  And she’s courageously in a relationship of real love with her man, a shepherd.  Note that in this particular scene, when she’s heading away with her lover, they call her back.  Why?  “So that we may admire you!”

They would, in other words, rather look on a relationship from the outside, experiencing the hollow thrill of being an observer, rather than jumping into the deep end of real intimacy in their own lives.  This is a sort of primitive pornography, not in the sense that they’re viewing explicit love making but in the more critical sense that they’re voyouristic and vicarious rather than involved and intimate.  Apparently the escapist fantasy route has always been an option.  Today it’s more than just “an option” – it’s become so ubiquitous as to be considered normal.  The popularity of video games, fantasy sports league, and pornography have created a destructive trifecta.  There’s an entire virtual world now available to emerging generations and both genders, but especially men, are living there in increasing numbers, with increasing regularity.  The pathologies arising from this sort of behavior present as everything from academic failure and arrested social skill development (especially with the opposite sex), to erectile dysfunction.  Much of this is cataloged here.

Yourbrainonporn.com provides the compelling science behind why the prevalence of porn is so destructive for cultures, for those who value science.  The short summary is that you can now encounter more lovers in an hour of the dungeon that is pornography than you would have encountered in one, two, maybe even ten lifetimes, one hundred years ago.  You are not physiologically designed for the continual stimulation and variety offered in this fantasy world.  What’s worse though, is that it can quickly become an “arousal addiction”, meaning that the addict doesn’t just want more of the same.  He/she wants “different”.  If this isn’t a recipe for marital disaster, I don’t know what is.

What’s more, porn is only one alternate reality inviting the investment of our time and attention.  Why play sports when you can join fantasy leagues and watch sports, no exercise or risk of injury to body or ego required?  You could play games demanding social interaction, eye contact, laughter, risk, courage, and wisdom, all of which combine to aid in the both the building of friendships and the development of social skills.  But why not play a video game instead?  Alone.  With no risk of rejection or failure.

In a word: safety.  Is this alternate world real? No.  Life giving? No. Contributing to a person’s sense of mission? No.  Capable of filling the intimacy void we all feel?  No.  But its safe, and in a world where there’s fear at every turn, safety is appealing.

What’s the way forward?

1. A strong core.  If a person sees themselves as capable, having gifts to share with the world, forgiven, called, and empowered, its much more difficult to enjoy disengagement from reality.  When people with a strong sense of self retreat into a tiny fantasy world for comfort, the dissonance is often just too much, and they refuse to stay there, in spite of the short term pleasures gained from escaping.  You build a strong core by beginning to believe that what God says about you is true – that you’re loved, forgiven, blessed, gifted, and invited, even called, to be a blessing in this world.  Keep learning what God says about you and believing it!

2. A sense of call.  When it became clear that I wasn’t ever going to win the Alpine Skiing World Cup, or write a symphony, skiing and music took back seats to other things, like preaching, parenting, marriage, church leadership, teaching university students, writing, and helping create outdoor environments and experiences where people can encounter Christ.  When I’m at my best, the use of my time, whether exercising, reading, or praying, feeds my sense of call and core identity and, to be blunt, there’s little time left for virtual escapes.

3. A high view of marriage and sexuality.  The erectile dysfunction that’s hijacking healthy sexuality among increasingly younger men is happening precisely because the safer fantasy world, which over-promises and under-delivers, is so appealing. In contrast, Song of Solomon shows us that radical monogamy is better.  It requires all kinds of things that are wildly beyond the scope of this post, but perhaps the main thing is a foundational belief that the best sexual expressions are mutual rather than one party giving in to the other out of a sense of obligation.  They both respect the boundaries of the other, and at times this creates an intensifying of the longings because there’s a confidence in the underlying love, and an obvious playfulness sexually, whether or not it ends in the land of O.  All this, of course, requires self-control and the belief that an unfulfilled sexual appetite won’t damage your body or soul, a message rare in our culture.

4. An internal bias toward reality rather than fantasy escapes.  Whether porn, Netflix, Facebook, or Ben & Jerry – a chronic preference for these easily accessible and easily stimulating options creates an increasing bias towards the safety, predictability, and risk free nature of the virtual world (or in the case of ben & jerry – the high glycemic world).  Such worlds feel good in the moment, but the ensuing crash leaves an emptiness and ache.

The good news is that movement away from all of that can happen!  Here are a few resources for your consideration.

Celebrate Recovery

Homecoming

Pure Desire

There’s a class at Bethany Community Church beginning at the end of summer that helps people move out of destructive behavior patterns and into God’s better story.   Contact us for details.  Here’s a testimony from someone who took the “spiritual journey” class.

The best resource, however, and the most important, is your life with God.  You have a calling, a journey yet ahead.  Don’t miss it by getting stuck in some fake world, when a real world of adventure awaits you.  Yesterday’s gone, and there’s no point wallowing in guilt or shame over failures that are common, when God’s inviting you to move on, into freedom and real intimacy.

37 Years married and Still Enjoying Eros: Here’s How

by , on
May 31, 2017

Preaching the Song of Solomon this spring has reminded me of a few critical truths that are mostly lost among Christ followers.  In our fear of abusing the gifts of sexuality God has given humankind, we’ve unwittingly taught that our sexuality is a liability to be scorned and controlled, rather than a gift to be celebrated.  The Bible tells us otherwise:

  1. God affirms eros.
  2. Healthy eros requires a cocktail of practices on a regular basis, including affirmation, invitation, respecting each other’s boundaries, and a commitment to serving the other.
  3. These ingredients aren’t possible in casual hook-ups, let alone pornographic stimulation via a fabricated fantasy world.
  4. There’s a book in the Bible about sexual love, because God affirms it.  There’s only one book in the Bible about sexual love because it is a part of life, but isn’t the whole of it.

This past Sunday’s teaching, “Eros Affirmed” might provide some insight into what I’m talking about.  Steep a pot of tea, a carafe of French Press, or a glass of “something”, and have a look and listen – and maybe consider sharing with someone who’d benefit from it.  One woman told me on Sunday she’s planning on sharing it with a few folks who’d benefit from it.

(audio or video)

http://churchbcc.sermon.net/main/main/20940294

I welcome your thoughts!

Idol Busting and Fire Walking – the power of right habits

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Apr 4, 2017

“Nebuchadnezzar said to them: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: Is it true that you don’t serve my gods or worship the gold statue I’ve set up? If you are now ready to do so, bow down and worship the gold statue I’ve made when you hear the sound of horn, pipe, zither, lyre, harp, flute, and every kind of instrument. But if you won’t worship it, you will be thrown straight into the furnace of flaming fire. Then what god will rescue you from my power?” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered King Nebuchadnezzar: “We don’t need to answer your question. If our God—the one we serve—is able to rescue us from the furnace of flaming fire and from your power, Your Majesty, then let him rescue us. But if he doesn’t, know this for certain, Your Majesty: we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you’ve set up.””

‭‭Daniel‬ ‭3:14-18‬ ‭CEB‬‬

I know it’s not technically firewalking, but its fire – maybe “fire bathing“?  The point of the story is that there are three men who are so deeply committed to worship their God, and no other, that they’re willing to pay the ultimate price while being mindful, as well, that their God is powerful enough to protect them in the fire.

In his book “The Power of Habit”, Charles Duhigg helps readers see that when we determine in advance what our routine will be when certain cues occur in our lives, our response to those cues become habits.  Cue: stress   Response: nicotine.  Habit: chain-smoking.    Cue: weariness.  Routine: TV.  Habit: wasting your life!     Cue: loneliness. Routine: porn  Habit: arousal addiction (as brilliantly articulated in this book).

Our three fire bathing friends have something significant to teach us about this.  They’ve determined in advance that when the cue is worship, the routine will be to worship their own God, and no other.  It’s become so entrenched in them that they don’t seem to wrestle with it at all.  They’re all in, with no thought of turning back, even at cost of their lives.

The critical question that comes into play here for me at this point in their story is:  “What’s their reward?” It’s an important question because the reality is that we’re built for rewards.  You run (or sit and eat ice cream) for the reward.  You get an education (or stop learning and growing) for the reward.  You do your job with excellence (or choose to scaresly show up) for the reward.  We do what we do, including following Christ – or abandon fidelity to Christ in pursuit of other sources, in order to receive a reward.

Our rewards are the same as these three enjoy:  confidence, courage, peace, and freedom, and power – which are all promised to us in the scriptures as fruits of faithfully looking to Christ as our source.

APPLICATION: 

Our eyes tend to glaze over when we think of idolatry these days, because the word conjures imagery of statues, altars, and visible representations of false gods.  Here in the west, though, our idols are different: less visible, and more seductive.

Our idols anything we look to in our lives as our foundational source for comfort, meaning, direction, security.  Our idols, then, are our ROUTINE RESPONSES in the cue, routine, reward loop, that we look toward as a primary means of coping with a particular state of mind and heart.

“When I’m lonely I visit chat rooms”

“When I’m stressed I drink”

“When I’m frustrated I get angry and blame”

“When I’m _________ I ________”

Especially to the extent that any unhealthy response to a cue becomes a habit – we’re enslaved, and hurtling toward idolatry, if not already there.   Idols overpromise and under-deliver – every time.

In contrast, whenever I choose cues that contribute to my fundamental identity as a child of God, or to my calling – the rewards of confidence, courage, peace, and freedom, are ignited and I’m strengthened to walk through fires – surely most of which are metaphorical, while believing that if I’m meant to walk through literal fires, the power will be granted.

TRY THIS: 

Consider an unhealthy cue, response, reward pattern in your life and change both the response the reward.  Do you believe that, over time at least, the right response will lead to the fourfold reward of confidence, courage, peace, and freeedom?  Then determine the right response to the cue, the response of faithfulness that will bring the reward:  

When I’m lonely I will call a friend to encourage, be encouraged, or both.

When I’m stressed, I will exercise and give thanks for my body

When I’m frustrated at work, I will pray for the wisdom and strength to be a person of peace, grace, and truth – and by faith thank God that I’m becoming such… little by little.

You get the picture.  Changing our habits of response to life’s cues isn’t just what the book The Power of Habit is all about – it’s what Christ followers call discipleship.

 

 

A letter to men:

by , on
Oct 21, 2016

 When it comes to sexual abuse, and the treatment of women in general:

Words matter. Mr. Trump spoke on the bus about making unwanted sexual advances and literally grabbing women. He spoke to Howard Stern about walking uninvited into dressing rooms at beauty pageants (a word confirmed by beauty pageant participants). He has spoken numerous times throughout his campaign about the appearance of women, objectifying and judging them.  “Locker room talk,” he says. He’s “Sorry. But Mister Clinton was worse.” Let’s take a look at two things that have come out from hiding because of his words.

First, his words have exposed the pain of a nation. Men should read just a few of the #NOTokay posts on twitter, as Trump’s words have led to an outpouring of women empowered to share their story. To say he’s exposed something would be an understatement. Women, by the millions, have been victims of unwanted sexual advances. Many don’t have a voice to fight back, don’t know who to trust with their story. As a result, they suffer in silence. I know this because in the wake of his words, I sat in a room and listened to the anger, the hurt, the stories from women.

There’s a culture of sexual abuse in our country, and it must be named, condemned, and stopped. The problem isn’t the past; it’s the present. And the problem in the present isn’t just a presidential candidate; it’s an entire culture.

Men, we should be offering Mr. Trump a stiff reminder that words matter. “By your words you will be justified and by words you will be condemned,” is how Jesus put it. He also said that, “out of the abundance of the heart” the mouth speaks. So when a man calls women pigs and says the things he said to Howard Stern and Billy Bush, and there’s an outcry from women, Mr. Trump shouldn’t be surprised.

There should be an outcry from all of us, as well. This is not just locker room talk, or typical banter, but even if it were, it’s not OK. Words matter, and words that treat women as objects to be used for men’s pleasure are far, far from the heart of the life for which any of us are created, men or women.

Second, Mr. Trump’s words have exposed the depth of sexual victimization, misogyny, and sick patriarchy in our culture. I know this because the other trending hashtag has been #repealthe19th, which is a wish-dream to remove the women’s right to vote. That there’s a group of people who are both Islamaphobic and only want men to vote is a bit of irony. That the group is large enough to gain notice is both sad and angering. Our nation has a long way to go, but it’s better than it was in many ways. Women vote. Anyone can sit anywhere on a bus. Sometimes you shouldn’t go back.

History reminds us that redemption is often born out of the depths of darkness.  Rwanda’s genocide becomes fertile soil for a profound reconciliation movement.  Germany’s implosion in the wake of WWII becomes a context for the rebuilding of a nation on an entirely different footing, where every person has dignity and worth, and the common good matters.

If we can listen to those hurt by Mr. Trump’s words, if we feel the pain of what’s been going on for generations and let the weight of it sink into our souls, this darkness can be a low point, a wake up call when we say “enough” and begin fighting to make honor, respect, dignity, and empowerment the norm.  It needs to happen now.  Who’s in?

 

 

Marriage: 37 Lessons from 37 Years of Experience

by , on
Sep 9, 2016
still smiling after 37 years of journeying together

still smiling after 37 years of journeying together

Thirty seven years is a long time, and yesterday my wife and I were able to celebrate that time marker as the length of marriage.  This is something that brings us both pride and gratitude, but more gratitude than  pride.  We realize that we’ve been largely healthy, and at least one of has been employed, the whole time.  We have much cause for thanks, because of the lives we’ve been given.  Still, 37 years is a big deal and to be both married and still very much in love is, we feel, no accident.  

While I’d never presume to write a book about marriage, it may prove helpful to share some of “what’s worked for us…”  So here they are:  37 lessons learned in 37 years.  Enjoy!  And if you find it helpful or think it might help others, share freely!  

  1. We’ve always made big decisions entirely together.  Why would we move, buy or sell a car, change jobs, or practice radical hospitality, if only one party thought it was a good idea?
  2. Candles at supper have been the default for the 37 years.  We’re at our best when the TV is off and we’re eating together, sharing, talking, and listening.
  3. Our devotional lives are very different, and though it took over a decade for me to realize it…that’s OK.
  4. Our circadian rhythms are also different, and while I’m still convinced God’s desire is for all humans to rise early, I’ll confess I enjoy the quiet house before 7.
  5. We’ve learned to fan each other’s strengths into flame.  She’s better at details, organizing, and maintaining.  I’m better at vision, words, writing, teaching.  We’re done trying to change the other in these realms, now seeing them as assets.
  6. We enjoyed our children when they were small, and still do now that they’re all adults and married. 
  7. Though we enjoy our children, they’ve never defined us fully.  The whole time we’ve been married we realized that we’d been a couple before we had children, and would still be a couple (short of death), after they left home.
  8. Donna’s heart of compassion for others is a quality I celebrate, and I’m in awe of it on a regular basis. 
  9. Her compassion makes me a better pastor and teacher.  I know this, and so any accolades that come my way for my work, I share with her so she knows the important role she plays in my world outside the home.
  10. Donna has her own chain saw.   You have no idea how important this is unless you burn wood as your primary heat source. 
  11. We both love cutting wood, and I love splitting, while she loves stacking.  It’s as if we’re made for each other.
  12. We are both terribly easily pleased.  Sunsets, simple meals, good coffee or tea, the smell of the forest, and the sound of birds bring us as much joy as a night at a fancy restaurant, or a concert or sporting event. 
  13. We’ve learned that we’re aging (in spite of fish oil and eating occasional vegetables) and have adapted.  In fact, I’d say “adaptation to life’s changing seasons” has been one of the most important reasons we’re still wildly in love.  We gave up the illusion of control a long time ago.
  14. We’ve worked at our sex life to make sure it’s still enjoyable and life giving to both of us.  This requires conversation, total transparency, a bit of trial and error, and a sense of humor.  That is all.  
  15. She wants a cat and I don’t.  I want a big dog, like a Malamute or Husky, and she doesn’t.  So we’re happily pet free.
  16. Our shared love of the mountains, evident from the day we met, has been a good glue.  We get outside together often, and always have.  It’s a context where real sharing occurs.
  17. I’ve appreciated Donna’s quickness to forgive.  “The freedom to fail” was one of the three things I was looking for in a spouse.  She’s given me that and the result has been a profound transparency that I now realize is too rare among married couples.
  18. She’s not picky about music and I am.  This has worked out well for me and, I can only assume, for her too. 
  19. Early on we sought approval from each other for any expenses over $20.  The amount’s gone up.  The principle remains – no money is “mine” or “hers”.  It’s ours. 
  20. We’ve paid our credit cards on time every month, which means we’ve bought less than we’ve made.   
  21. We’ve given our money away – both to our church and other organizations.  We’ve done this regularly, even when we were making “not so much”. 
  22. Beyond our economic compatibility is the unanticipated gift that I’ve never felt pressured to “earn up” in order to achieve a lifestyle.  Only now, looking through the rear view mirror, can I see what a blessing this was, and still is. 
  23. We are both strong as individuals.  This has been important because throughout our marriage there have been seasons where we’ve been able to offer less of ourselves to each other.  Travel for work, young children, and aging parents, all come to mind.  I tell young couples that one of the best things they can do to prepare for marriage is develop a strong sense of personal identity, so that they’re not making incessant demands on their spouse to fill some gaping hole in their life. 
  24. To really know what the other person wants in a given situation we sometimes jokingly say, “What would you do right now if I weren’t here… If I were dead?”  “Well if you were dead, I’d have steak, mushrooms, and a spinach salad.  Then I’d go for a walk and listen to the birds.”  Done.  Evening planned, or decision made, according to the desires of one or the other of us. 
  25. Each of us believe that marriage requires a million tiny little positive investments, and that each positive investment will eventually yield rich dividends.  As a result, a neck rub, a clean kitchen, a meal prepared while the other rests after a hard day, are things we enjoy doing for each other.  We’ve recognized that the joy isn’t just in the moment, but that there will be joy later because of these tiny acts of kindness.
  26. We don’t watch much TV at all.
  27. When we argue, the win isn’t that one of us is right and one is wrong.  The win is that we both feel heard and honored by the time we’re done. 
  28. We both believe that God brought us together, and brings every couple together, in order to create a new union that will bless the world uniquely.  Because of this we have a sense of calling to be a blessing to others, and though we debate what that means and looks like, we are truly seeking to live into that calling.
  29. We are both able to say the hard thing to the other and know it will eventually be received. 
  30. We laugh nearly every single day and this seems, to me, to be a sign that we’re still having fun, and she’s still the one!
  31. We share some deep commitments to a body/soul/spirit theology that means we take exercise, food, stress managements, and sleep seriously, just as we take prayer, Bible reading, fellowship, and service seriously.
  32. We share some recreation, in particular hiking and downhill skiing. 
  33. Sharing recreation requires that we appreciate each other’s personalities.  I go fast and push for more.  She slows down to savor.  It’s a dance and we do it well enough that we genuinely enjoy our shared loves. 
  34. Traveling together has not only expanded our world, but increased our intimacy.  We’ve seen things in other parts of the world that have challenged our ways of thinking, and that we’ve seen them together has been helpful.
  35. We know each other’s love languages.  Hers is “words of affirmation” and mine is “time spent together”.  Knowing this and serving each other in these ways is huge.
  36. Christ is the foundation of our marriage in the sense that our completion in Christ is the well from which we’re able to draw so that we can serve and bless each other freely.
  37. Forgiveness.  “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you”. Ephesians 5:32

We’d love to hear what’s worked for you in the comments section.  Cheers!  

Immigration and the Better Shelter

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Sep 2, 2015

“when the raft in the ocean is safer than our home, we’ll go”

With the train station closed in Budapest, over 70 dead in a truck on the side of the road in Austria, millions in refugee camps, and talk of building a wall between the United States and Mexico, perhaps one thing the entire world can agree on is that we have an immigration problem.

Consensus ends there, however, as robust debates unfold in both the EU and USA regarding what should be done with the ocean of suffering that seems to be pouring into these two geographies.  These are important conversations, and difficult.  Solutions are costly, no matter your stance, and divisive.
Christ followers are called, of course, to represent the heart of Christ in the matter, and this demands that our response be driven by a fundamental belief that every person in this sea of suffering is made in the image of God.  Some of God’s image-bearers are angry, militant.  Many, most even, are children and mothers.  All are made in God’s image and people of faith are invited to not only view “the problem” in its philosophical/political consideration through this lens, but to see people, individuals who are hungry and frightened.  Immigration resettlement ministries, such as this one, go a long way toward opening our eyes, at the least, to the humanity of the problem, and until we see this as a human problem rather than a political one, any solution will fall short.
On the other hand, it’s equally important as Christ followers to see the folly of believing that there’s a policy solution out there that’s the magic pill.  There isn’t.  A little historical perspective might help here.
1.  People have always fled towards sanity and safety.   In the 30’s in Germany, it was Jews getting out, in search of safety.  In the 19th century it was the Underground Railroad, with slaves seeking free states.  It was the flight of Tutsis to the Congo during the genocide, and Cambodians to refugee camps in Thailand during the reign of Pol Pot.
The darkness of principalities and powers is real, and this means that no government or kingdom has ever been wholly just.  But just as important, it means that in a world where nothing is perfect, there are kingdoms and reigns which are exceptionally evil and violent, places where safety utterly evaporates because not just one or two citizens, but whole cities and people groups are targeted for overt, intentional, oppression and destruction.  When that happens, as one refugee poet writes (my paraphrase), “we’ll risk fleeing, because the risk of drowning at sea is safer than the risk of staying home.”
Overnight, architects, medical professionals, artists, teachers, willingly displace themselves when insanity reigns.  And then what?  They don’t know what’s next; only that the present is too unbearable to continue.  This is the way of it, and bastions of sanity, precisely because they have a good measure of justice and compassion, are where people will go.  We know for certain that becoming uncompassionate isn’t the solution.  We know too, that there are physical limits to any nation’s capacity to absorb, and when insanity reigns more and more, the crisis we presently see will become bigger and bigger.
2.  Sanity and Safety are never absolute.    Read about the suburbs of Paris, and various places in England, and you come to see that relocation and receiving social services is no magic bullet.  Seething racism and xenophobia can often incite a downward spiral of mistrust and anger that erupts in deep cultural fissures as the new normal in the very place which was supposed to offer hope.  Whether its Chinese laborers in San Francisco in the 19th century, migrant farm workers today, or refugees unable to find any employment at all, it turns out that simply opening the doors at a political level is never enough.
Let’s remember, too, that bastions of sanity don’t stay sane forever.  The Republic of Congo that offered shelter during the Rwandan genocide is now a place of violence and uncertainty.  Even in more seemingly stable situations, predators, racism, and the commensurate angry and often violent response, evaporate any notion that simply a change of geography will be the answer.
While some will accuse me at this point of spiritualizing, I’ll be quick to add that this isn’t solely a physical/economic issue.  People move to the San Juan Islands, or Shoreline, from Seattle, in search of “something better” whether its free parking, less crime, a slower pace, whatever.  It’s always “out there” somewhere, this promise of more and better.
As a person who’s been privileged to be a pastor in some of the most beautiful landscapes in the Pacific Northwest, I’ll let you know that infidelity, domestic violence, addiction, loneliness, and all the other marks of emptiness, are fully present in the midst of dripping fir trees, stunning green, coastal views, and stunning sunsets.  As one friend said to me once, “I didn’t realize when I moved to Friday Harbor, that all my (emotional/spiritual) baggage would walk on the ferry with me”  That’s a good way of saying it.
This, I believe, is one of the reasons Jesus said “the son of man has nowhere to lay his head”.  While it may have been true at a physical level, as Jesus wasn’t a homeowner, it was true at a different level as well.  Jesus knew that his kingdom was “not of this world”, that neither Rome, nor the EU, nor the USA would ever get it fully right.  That’s not an excuse for pietist disengagement.  It’s just a reality.  Oppression, Katrina, fires, laws, and our own failures conspire to make nirvana unreachable.
There is a shelter however.  His name is Jesus.  
In my years of blogging and writing, I’ve noticed that when I approach controversial political topics like gun control and homosexuality, thousands are interested in reading and many respond, often with ugly rhetoric.  We really seem to care about these hot cultural topics.
Companionship with Christ though?  Statistics tell me people don’t care, though they may.  But as I grow older I’m starting to see that I’ve been wrong in dividing issues and putting them in bins of politics and/or spirituality.  Christ is inviting us to know him as the foundational shelter, the first shelter, the shelter in whom we can have confidence so that when the floods come, we won’t be shaken.  We’re afraid to say it, because it makes us sound as if we don’t care about Syria.  Rubbish!  Our Syrian friends need water, food, safety, and the assurance that there’s a better foundation for the future than France, England, or the USA – there’s one sure foundation, one lasting companion.  It’s high time we started believing it, preaching it, and living it.  

“Godspell” – Musings on the power of Art in God’s World

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Aug 21, 2015
Godspell_Ext_emailbannerI saw Taproot Theatre’s spectacular version of Godspell last night and wept through a couple of the songs because they took me back to the two  darkest years of my life, and remembrances of my first encounter with Stephen Schwartz’ inspired musical.  Back then, lonely, unhealthy, uncertain of the future, one song in particular stood out, and when I heard it last night I closed my eyes and was transported back in time…
I’m 19 and a good friend had landed the part of Jesus in Godspell, so he invites me to see him on opening night.  It’s been two years since my dad has died, and this winter of my 19th year is the winter of my discontent.  I’m lonely, because high school’s over and my cadre of friends have scattered.  My future’s radically uncertain as I’ve applied for admittance to architecture school, but only one in six students will get in.  Since my self confidence is in the toilet, I’m certain I won’t be accepted and there’s no plan B.  The stress of living at home, a choice a made to help walk through my mom’s grief with her, is taking it’s toll.  All of these elements together have conspired to make my unhappy, unhealthy, and uncertain about this God I grew up learning I was supposed to love and obey.  “For what reason?” was the question I’d asked countless times in that dark era… “so that God can kill my dad?”  I’d heard sermons about rejoicing and giving thanks, but lately they’d pretty much bounced off of me as pious nonsense – good for little kids maybe, but not for the real world.
And then the music of Godspell begins.  There’s something about the masterful interplay of text and music that draws me in, so that by the time she sings the “Day by Day” prayer, I’m not only humming along, I’m wishing I had the courage to pray that very prayer.  “What would it be like” I remember thinking, “to love God in a real way?”  When the song ended, I began to see the possibility of loving God because the Jesus on the stage was lovable, mostly because he loves.  The text between the songs was almost wholly drawn from the words of Jesus himself in the gospels, and yet the words took on new life, became almost believable, in spite of my doubts, fears, unhappiness.
Then it happened.  With a guitar and a recorder, as setup, a man sings a thanksgiving song called All Good Gifts.
We plow the fields, and scatter the good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand.
He sends us snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain.
All good gifts around us
Are sent from Heaven above.
So thank the Lord, O, thank the Lord for all his love.
[CHORUS]
We thank thee then, O Father, for all things bright and good,
The seedtime and the harvest, our life our health our food,
No gifts have we to offer for all thy love imparts,
But that which thou desirest, our humble thankful hearts.
[ALL]
All good gifts around us
Are sent from Heaven above..
So thank the Lord, thank the Lord for all his love..
I really wanna thank you Lord!
All good gifts around us
Are sent from Heaven above..
Then thank the Lord, oh thank the Lord for all his love..
Oh thank the Lord…….
By the end of the song, back in 1975, I’m in tears, struck as no sermon had ever struck me, nor Bible study, nor Young Life talk, nor words at any funeral, party, or dinner conversation, that God is good because God is the source of all that IS good.  With eyes closed, I’d see the snows of my nearby Yosemite, the ripe fruits of my central California Valley, the rich bounty of harvests in my little corner of the world.  And more.  I recalled the bounty of friendships.  The joy of the family into which I’d been adopted.  The reality that God had, in spite of my dad’s death, taken a rather inauspicious beginning and, like a grain of wheat, turned it into something good.  “Yes it’s winter.  Yes there are things I don’t understand.  Yes, when this musical ends, there’s still no plan B”  But in spite of it all, I found myself recalling previous blessings and singing along, “I really wanna thank you Lord”  because I really did want to back then in Fresno, 1975, in my emptiness and frustration.
The song ended.  I dried my tears, which flowed again with the lyrics of Psalm 137 about weeping by the rivers of Babylon.  I knew my Bible well enough to understand that this song was a reminder:  There are lots of things in life that you don’t really love and appreciate until they’re gone.  And of course, in that moment, that was my dad, who was there for me in sport, in challenging me to rise to my best effort in study, in exemplifying teaching and gentle leadership, and in exemplary suffering.  I don’t think I valued any of it deeply until he was gone, and by then it was too late.  During the song, Jesus is saying good bye, knowing what’s coming.  His disciples?  Clueless like the rest of us, until darkness covers the earth.
IMG_9132And then hope.  “Long Live God!”  Only last night, August 20, 2015, did I realize that I left the theater a changed young man in the winter of 1975.  I’m reminded of Jacob in Genesis 28, on the run from his brother; alone; afraid; sleeping in the desert.  It’s there that God meets him and gives him a boatload of promises, causing Jacob to say, “Surely the Lord was in the place and I didn’t even know it.”
Surely indeed.  The Lord was in a tiny theater in Fresno in 1975, and seeds were planted then that would germinate a year later while studying architecture.  By the fall of ’76 I’d change majors, change schools, and change states.  Little did I know that as a music major back then, I’d be playing percussion for a Seattle Pacific University musical about John Wesley called “Ride Ride” starring none other than Scott Nolte, who founded  Taproot Theatre Company with his wife Pam, both of whom are now some of my closest friends.
That’s why I wrote, during intermission last night, that Taproot had become a worship service for me, as I celebrated God’s relentless faithfulness in my life.  Seeds were no doubt planted last night that will sprout in a new generation.
And yes, “I really wanna thank the Lord”
 (tickets are still available for Saturday’s 2PM showing.  Worth.  Every.  Minute.)

While you were living…the unconscious nature of transformation

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Jul 6, 2015

After a week of meetings in Germany with Torchbearers Missionary Fellowship, my wife and I made our way to Schladming for a little bit of rest before I head up to England for a week of speaking at Capernwray Hall.   The week is a break in the midst of what has been a very busy time, both at home and on the road.

Because I’m here without obligations or responsibilities, I hadn’t anticipated that the Spring Bible School students would still be here, but as it turns out, today is their last day.  What this means is that they’ll spend their morning worshiping, praying, and sharing together the things God has taught them during their time here.

Though I don’t know them at all, Donna and I sneak in the back to listen just a bit and it’s there, in that space, that I remember my time here twenty years ago, in spring school 1995.   That spring I spent my free time filling out an application for the role of senior pastor at Bethany Community Church in Seattle because, after speaking there for a week earlier in the spring, I’d been asked to apply for the job, a job I wasn’t sure I wanted, but was certain I didn’t want to miss, if it was God’s will.  I remember writing answers to questions, printing the whole thing and faxing it to the church office in Seattle, fairly convinced that my lack of large church experience (I was leading a house church at the time) would disqualify me from consideration anyway.

I was wrong, of course, as I often am when I presume to know the ways and mind of God.  By the fall of that same year, Donna and I were packing up our things for a move to Seattle where, on December 1st, we began our five year commitment to the big church of 300 in the big city of Seattle.  After a year, 300 had grown to 225.  After five years though, we said no to some other opportunities, convinced that there was another chapter for us in Seattle and Bethany.

Five years has become twenty.  225 people have become 3500 people.  One location has become six.  And all of this represents the faithfulness of God in changing one life at a time, one step at a time.  The church in Seattle has changed profoundly.

And here in Austria?  New facilities.  New staff.  New leaders.  Larger Bible Schools.  A sailing ministry in Greece.  Yes… God’s been at work here too, and all the outward signs are but the most visible outward displays representing countless changed lives, now scattered throughout the world like so much life giving seed, making Jesus visible.  This space has also been a place of change.

All these thoughts are swirling as I run through the mist hanging in the alps this morning.  I’m mindful that the church I lead is changing in good ways, as is this school in Austria.  New leaders.  New locations.  Changed lives.  It’s good stuff!  So I ponder, as the rain falls – “What practices and attitudes help create positive changes?” Though there are many, these ___ seem foundational:

I.  Vertical Connection –  Jesus said it:  “Abide in me and you’ll bear much fruit”  Those eight simple words are at the core of the work God wants to do in the world.  This is because God’s desire is to express nothing less than the life of Christ through the likes of you and me.  When it works, his joy, peace, power, wisdom, love, patience, generosity, forgiveness and hope are poured out through us, watering thirsty souls.

Foundational as this is, it is also the most elusive piece of the puzzle for many.  We’re raised to believe that we have what it takes to make a grand difference in the world, and that with enough planning and projects, metrics and media, goals and objectives, we’ll reach the promised land of fulfilled vision, or meaningful work, or perfect children.

Um, no.  That’s not going to happen.  To the contrary, the story that God will write through any of us will, in the end, declare that it’s those who are mindful of their own thirst and need for the reality of Christ that God will use to express God’s life to the world.

Our thirst for God and for the enjoyment of Christ’s real presence in our lives are the most important realities we can pursue and experience.  They’re as vital as air and water, critical resources for the kind of life Jesus invites us to live.

II.  Patient Expectation –  My techno watch tells me two things while I’m running this morning.  First, it confirms the glad news that I’m running at pace that keeps heart happily ticking along between 130 and 140 beats per minutes, sort of a sweet spot for my running.  Second, I lean the even better news that I’m travelling faster in this same sweet spot now than I was last summer when I was here.  Same heart rate; faster running!  How did that happen?

Gradually.  In his book about training for alpine adventures, Mark Twight introduces the acronym: TINSTAAFL, which means “There is no such thing as a free lunch”  It’s his way of saying that nobody can compress the time it takes to get in shape for a big climb, thinking that a few cross fit sessions where your heart pumps and your muscles ache and you feel like throwing up will never be able to do the job.  “Gradualness is the only way aerobic adaptation is gained” is the essence of what he says.

I just focus on staying between 130 and 140.  It’s my body, and the magic of health and exercise that make me faster.  My own attempt to go faster nearly two years ago resulted in a strained Achilles, the result of which was a total ban on running for about a month.  Faster?  My attempts at self improvement were in the toilet.  It was then that my physical therapist said, “you’re going too fast – keep your pulse under 135”  My first days on my urban running path were an exercise in humility.  As person after person passed me, I wanted to shout, “I’m faster than this!!” but I kept quiet and kept doing my turtle thing.

Slowly faster.   I’m  convinced that those who want to look more like Jesus need to find out what it is that Jesus wants us to actually DO, and what he promises to do in response.  This is where my II Corinthians 3:16-18 favorite stuff comes in.   That’s where I’m told to “behold his glory” and that if I do that, I will be transformed, slowly, yet relentlessly, ‘from glory to glory’ – so that I look more like Jesus.  Little by little, hope will evict despair, light will overcome darkness, love will overwhelm hate, and the whole complex thing that is your personality will be infused with a hope, quiet confidence, and joy that I can’t be made in any self improvement program any more than the guys who make potato chips can fabricate, a butterfly.

Our transformation, you see, is divine handiwork.  We are his workmanship, we’re told.  So we can all just relax bit, drop our program of self-branding and building a following, stop worrying about what the other moms think of our recipes and living rooms, and simply make getting to know Jesus as a friend our chief aim in life.  Then he’ll do the changing while we focus on other stuff, just like my body produces whatever it makes so that i run faster now than a year ago, not because I’m trying to run faster, but because I’m showing up more consistently.

No single devotional, or utterance of gratitude to God for a sunrise, or receptivity to what Jesus is saying through that difficult person – none of these things are deal breakers.  The sky rarely opens up and pours out fire, or doves.  Instead, like mitochondria multiplying in response to the stress of running, little unseen things are happening, just because we keep showing up.

Then one day, we open our eyes and realize that, in spite of ourselves, the years have given us more joy, more contentment, and more grace, than we’d every have hoped, surely more than we deserve.  When that happens we’ll not only thank God for the work God has done, we’ll realize it happened in spite of ourselves, while we were living.

O Lord Christ…

You promise to change us, starting with the gift of rest, if we’ll just relax and learn of you.  But we’re religionists, busy, striving, making ourselves holy for you, or effective for you, or at least less guilty in hopes you won’t destroy.  Forgive us Lord, for the image we’ve made of you is an idol, and our souls are parched because of it.  Staring now, we pray, may you be our pursuit, our joy, our companion.  Teach us this, so that we’ll keep seeking you… and then we’ll simply thank you that, without a lot of perception on our part, the deepest changes of our soul needs will ripen.  We’ll wake up some day, see the changes, and give thanks.