Divisive Creeds and Lovely Leaves: Autumn’s Instructions for finding our true identity 

“It’s a glorious time of year” is a phrase we hear in some form every autumn, numerous times.  There’s a lot to love, but the centerpiece of it, for many of us, is the colors. Especially where I live, in the Pacific Northwest, the green canvass of a forested hillside is punctuated with spots of color.  Here a flaming orange, there a yellow, over there the deep red of a vine maple. We see, and joy wells up inside us.  

A little research reveals why the colors changebecause of changes in the length of daylight and changes in temperature, the leaves stop their food-making process. The chlorophyll breaks down, the green color disappears, and the yellow to orange colors become visible and give the leaves part of their fall splendor.  

The vibrant colors, it turns out, are a leaf’s truer identity.  It’s covered through spring and summer, but just before dropping away, the veil of chlorophyll drops away and all the vibrancy that was there all the time is finally revealed.  Beauty. Joy. Worship. 

I often think the reason that “nones” are the fastest growing faith demographic in America has to do with the reality that our beautiful and life-giving calling and identity are, like summer leaves, hidden under layers of other things, like creeds for example.

One author explains that “the three famous Christian creeds (Apostle’s, Nicene, and Athanasius) were all written for spiritual offense and defense.  They were meant to faithfully share the identity of God in Christ to the world, but also to defend against false narratives.” Because of this, creeds came with warning labels against ignoring them.  Creeds had introductory admonitions like this:  

“Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the true faith, without which he shall perish everlastingly.  And the true faith is this…” at which point the articulation of the creed began.  

As a result, Christianity has developed a penchant for articulating itself as a set of propositions about God, and salvation about affirming them verbally and intellectually.  I can’t say this next point loudly enough: This practice has done untold harm to the testimony of Christ! Because of it, people would recite creeds before going into battle as they conquered ‘pagan’ lands.  They’d recite it in worship as a means, along with communion, of easing their conscience regarding eternity. They’d defend it by silencing detractors who didn’t subscribe perfectly to its elements.  

Meanwhile, the creed of Jesus got lost, hidden in the noise of doctrinal wars over exactly how Jesus was both God and human, or whether women could teach, or whether salvation was secure or conditional, pre-destined or chosen.   Christianity became divided; doctrinally tribal – and its glorious and beautiful true colors were lost.  

“Jesus had a creed?”  Yes. When a religious expert asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was, he answered:  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets”  

Love God.  Love people.  Those are the true colors of our faith.  Everything that hides these two elements become a tragic cover-up.  Whether malicious or not, the result is that the church is known as the headwaters of racism, colonialism, arrogance, violence, and shooting our own wounded.  

We’ve adapted to this ugliness, but I promise you there’s a growing dissatisfaction with ‘business as usual’.  It’s why people are leaving the church, but not leaving Jesus. People’s hearts are longing for the true colors of hope – hungry to embody service, forgiveness, reconciliation, hospitality, advocacy and solidarity with people on the margins, the pursuit of simplicity as a means of caring for the earth, and so much more.   

These are the colors of hope, and when they’re seen, our hearts leap for joy, just like they do every autumn.  

Our capacity for missing this angers me, and it’s why I stand in solidarity with John, and the ancient church leaders who, before we became wed with power, said over and over:

“Above all else, before all else, love!”

Drain Me Lord 

It’s time

To let the falsehoods drain away 

I’ve clung to them for too long 

As illusions of power and control 

Seduced my heart 

Into pools of religious pride 

 

Ugly colors were born

Veiling your beauty 

Maligning your character 

Begatting violence not peace 

Disease not healing 

Division not reconciling 

 

Drain me Lord 

Of all the false colors 

Hiding your glory 

As I rest into the beauty 

Of your true colors

When God was a Bird – A Book about Finding God in Creation

One of the most profound experiences of my life was attending a small retreat for pastors and scientists in 2010 on a tiny island in British Columbia.  The intersection of science and faith rocked my world in the best possible way.  Already a nature lover, I felt as if I’d been given permission, or more strongly, exhortation, to look for the fingerprints of God everywhere, from the structure and behavior of the atom to the vastness of black holes.  My curiosity about all things was gloriously affirmed, and new adventures of seeing how Christ affects everything, began.

Somewhere in between the micro of the atom and macro of the universe, reside the flora and fauna we encounter on a regular basis in our daily living.  They comprise our ecosystem and its increasingly clear that our Creator has called us to both feast on creation and care for it.  Mark Wallace’s new book, “When God was a Bird” magnifies this invitation with stunning clarity and significant weight.  His thesis might be controversial in evangelical circles because of how close it comes to “animism”.  I surely didn’t agree with every word he writes either, but here’s the thing:  profound truths often reside right near the edges of error, and our fear of error often prevents journey to those needed edges- and we’re all the poorer for having let this fear control us.  “When God was a Bird” was, for me, a book at the edge.  He posits, for example, that when the Holy Spirit shows up as a dove at Christ’s baptism, God is showing us that God animates and empowers ALL life, not just humans.  You can argue about it amongst yourselves.  For my part, I’ll note that a standard evangelical teaching is that, though humans are God’s image bearers, only humans are failing to display God’s glory.  The rest of creation is essentially doing fine!  (Psalm 19, Psalm 104).  So I’m fine believing that God’s spirit is omnipresent in creation, expressing glory through the myriad interactions of sun, rock, stars, moon, elk, bird, bee, pollen, spider, squirrel, seed, and …..  unfolding of each day.  Creation, in fact, is waiting for us to get our act together so that the universe can be healed!  (Romans 8)

This book is mostly about feasting, receiving, worshipping, through creation –  about learning to see God in all creation, to see that God is animating all life, and that all life is therefore, beautiful, ordered, and worthy of reverent preservation.

Using a different bird as his foundation for each chapter, Wallace examines God’s relationship to creation through a prism, revealing various facets of creation theology that instill, in me at least, greater sense of seeing and reverence.  I read, and then look out the window at the forest in which I’m blessed to live.  Long ago I realized that this forest wasn’t simply a stage on which my life was playing out, any more than your place, or any place, is simply stage.  My place is also my teacher.  Through the silence of winter snow, the song of the Varied Thrush in spring as I walk through the forest during after supper dusk, the chattering of squirrels  in the summer, and the diminuendo of voices in the vibrant colors of fall.   All are pointing to God as the source of beauty, provision, delight.  Wallace simply takes it a step further, seeking to show us that the delight we feel when we pay attention to creation IS a delight in God.  Argue the semantics of animism if you wish.  But the larger point is clear:  quit treating creation as either a stage for the play of humanity, or a store of harvesting by humanity.  God’s in all of it, and we ignore or abuse at our peril.

Anyone looking for a deeper relationship with God through paying attention to the book of creation would be well served to consider the claims of the book, even if you don’t agree with everything.  The only warning I’ll offer is that the book is academic.  It will, for most of us, require an expansion of vocabulary.  Coupled with interweaving of theology with ecology, it was, for me, a slow read.  Slow, though, is often worthwhile, and that was surely true for me in this case.  The wisdom and thought provoking revelation offered in this book will prove helpful in some emerging programs of a wilderness ministry our church offers for people in the greater Seattle Area.

note:  I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review

The Collapse of Everything, and Why it’s a Source of Hope

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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviews on Amazon are always helpful.  Thanks!

What some have said who’ve read it:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What media will I consume, and how much?

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

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

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

 

 

 

Steal, Kill, and Destroy – Stealing Time

I tell you not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  Matthew 6:29

It’s wildflower season in the mountains, and they’re everywhere.   Mountain daisies made their first appearance down in the coastal foothills in late May.  They’re long gone down below, and up here, after a few weeks of full glory, it’s clear that their glory days are already past.


The pattern is evident:

Absent.

Present.

Full flowering glory.

Weariness.

Death.

Absence again.

The Bible says that we’re just like flowers; here today, gone tomorrow.  Far from depressing, I find that pondering the brevity of life is encouraging.  It grants perspective, and fosters a cherishing of each moment as precious, each breath a gift.

I run the trail early in the morning and as I pass the wildflowers, ponder the power and poignancy of this millennia-old rhythm.  Far from depressing, the truths apparent in the brief but spectacular  wildflower cycle mirror critical truths of our lives precisely.

1.  Life happens when we draw on resources.  The wild daisies are in full force on the ski trail up to Thunderbird lodge, a trail that appears to be nothing but dry stone this summer in which we’ve had not a single day of significant rain in over two months.  You’d think dry stones wouldn’t produce flowers, yet there they are.  They find the water somehow, enough to thrive.

“What’s needed for thriving?” I ponder.  I remember Jesus’ invitation, that time when he stood in the middle of a crowded courtyard and shouted, “If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink.”  It was a rhetorical question of course because, God knows, all of them, and us too, are thirsty.  Not just for h2o, though that matters, but for meaning, hope, intimacy, peace, justice, enough.  The outlandish promise is that those who come to Christ, wherever they are in the world, will be granted a capacity to blossom and bless.  Some have blossomed as martyrs, others through radical generosity, still others through waking in valleys of poverty and injustice.  The promise isn’t ease.  It’s that God can use every single circumstance of every single life to pour blessing, somehow, into our world – if we’ll drink from the well that is Christ.

2.  Life is a rhythm of flourishing and disappearing.   The Indian Paintbrush, so abundant just a week ago are gone; so gone that to look at the hillside you’d never even realized they existed.  This is the way of all living things.  In fact the Bible explicitly says our lives are like flowers of the field; here and flourishing one day, gone the next, and “it’s place knows it no more”, which is a way of saying that eventually, even if you have a plaque or statue somewhere, the world is no longer yours.   Like the flowers, we’ll be gone and forgotten.

Don’t forget the first part of that same passage though.  We’re invited to “flourish like the flower of the field”.  Over the course of the summer I realize that the flourishing of various plants come in waves.  Daisy.  Paintbrush. Foxglove.  Bear Grass.    They come, flourish, and disappear.  “Pay attention Richard!” I say as I stop and soak in the landscape, which will never again be exactly this.  I think of those who flourished and are no more.  My dad as WWII soldier, teacher, principal, superintendent.  My mentor as WWII soldier, evangelist, preacher, leader.   My mom as wife, parent, teacher, volunteer, caregiver.   My grandmother as baker, hostess, lover of her grandchildren.  My sister as musician, mom, wife, sister, friend to so many that, at her funeral, dozens claimed her as their “best friend”.

They all flourished!  They invested the preciousness of the single life each were given in ways that made a difference in the lives of others so that, in the same way that particular daisy might be gone,  a daisy well-lived will carry on through generations of fruitfulness.   That’s what flourishing means.    As a result, my dad’s flourishing means a son who’s serving and leading.  My mentor’s flourishing means there are over twenty Bible Schools around the world proclaiming Christ as life.  My sister’s flourishing means the grandchildren she never met are learning to live as a blessing in the world because of her.

Yes, our time is short.  Yes, we’ll disappear.  Yes, we can continue to make a difference after we’re gone, and we’ll do that by flourishing while we’re here.

3. Life is short.  Savor, don’t squander.   A lifelong climber in Yosemite, Royal Robbins wrote this to his daughter during his end of life battle with cancer:  “I mean to live this year as if it were my last (may God grant that it won’t be so), and will hate every time I fall below that standard and fritter seconds, minutes, or hours away, (much less days!) in foolishness, resentment, weakness, or any of the seven deadly ones…”

He echoes the Psalmist who reminds us that we have 70 years, maybe 80 or more if we’re fortunate, and then our days are gone, like the early season daisies.  This stark observation, undeniable in spite of omega-3’s, cross-fit, stress management, and jogging, is followed immediately by a prayer.  “Teach us, Lord, to number our days”.  In other words, “don’t let me fritter away even a single second.  Let me live with eyes wide open to all you’re saying to me – in the beauty and ugliness, the darkness and light, the joys and sorrows, the companionship and solitude.  Let me absorb it all and live well, “flourishing” during those brief days I’m granted.

O Lord Christ – 

I look around, amazed that in all the vastness of time and space, this time, this space, are ours.  We’re alive!  Breathing, loving, learning, failing, weeping, serving and being served.  Grant that when we sink into a mindset of squandering, allowing our lives to be reduced to bitterness, we will cease!  Let us hear your voice calling us back to the fullness of life, that not another moment may be wasted.  

Amen 

Forest Bathing as a Vision for the Church

malala-lake-sabbath_28178040973_oThis week I’m living in the forest, in the San Bernadino mountains of California as I speak at a family conference.  As I write, the morning sun is bathing the deck and Sugar Pines, along with a form of Cedar, some oak, and Manzanita, live together as an ecosystem, offering life giving space to squirrels, woodpeckers, deer, bear, and countless other life forms.

Scientists are discovering that humans are also profound beneficiaries of the forest.  “Forsest Bathing”, which simply means to walk in a forest and pay attention to your surroundings while doing so, has been shown now, in numerous studies, to have profound health benefits.  Lower pulse, blood pressure, and respiration rates are just some of the proven benefits.  There are some who believe that prescriptions like this will be seen in the not too distant future.

Though the benefits have been easy to see, it’s been more difficult for scientists to understand and quantify the reason behind these benefits.  Is there something in the scent, the Eco-system, the earth itself?  Is it simply the contrast provided from the concrete jungle in which many of us find ourselves that makes the forest a healing place?  These questions remain, but what’s known in the moment is that a “walk in the woods” isn’t just good for the soul, it’s good for the body too.

Because of numerous experiences in my own life, I wonder if the power of the forest isn’t spiritual, and therefore unquantifiable with the measuring instruments of science.  I say this because my past is filled with countless “forest encounters” with God:

1960’s – As a child I would lie in the middle of a circle of redwoods on the California coast, outside grandma’s house, and look up.  The trees would all appear to be converging at a single point in the sky, and the punctuation of variegated greens set against a backdrop of sky blue did something to me.  This was peace.  Yes that’s it –  peace.

1976 – It’s winter.  I’m in the Sierra Nevada mountains.  Unbeknownst to be, the worst two years of my life are about to come to and end, as a new journey, new calling, and new priorities are born.  The death of my dad two years prior had sent me into a state of depression and isolation.  I was in the mountains for a winter ski retreat, and when the speaker said “knowing God should be the primary pursuit of every one of you in the room” I knew he was talking directly to me.  He’d been reading from Jeremiah 9 in the Bible and when his talk was finished I went out in the freezing air and prayed, in the midst of crunching snow under a million stars.  I told God that I didn’t know what it meant, but that I wanted to make knowing God the main goal of my life, just as the speaker had invited me to do.  This would lead to a change of major, a change of states, and an entirely different trajectory for my life.

1990 – My wife and young family move to a forested acre in the North Cascade mountains of Washington to begin a retreat center.  It is there that I begin identifying with the verses about Jesus going “into the mountains alone to pray”.  After a busy time of serving guests, I would depart for the high country, hiking up to some ridge, often alone, to pray, read, reflect, restore.  These mountains were made for restoration, or so it seemed to me.  Beauty seemed to pour through the atmosphere when I was in them.  Glaciers and rocks spoke of timelessness, and I’d be reminded that I’m just here visiting, for a short time, that God’s work has been here long before me and will be long after.  I’m reminded that God is the rock, a metaphor offering stability in a tenuous world.  The vast distances, from the stars of space, and the surrounding peaks, reminded me that I’m small and that, in the grandness of eternity, so our my problems.  The beauty of ever changing colors, the scent of the air, the form of trees, the reflections of mountain lakes… All of it together spoke “shalom”, a visible representation of peace for me.  I’d come down the mountain restored, having seen something, having prayed, and having received.

And so it’s gone, year after year, until now, when I have my coffee with God in the mornings, in the midst of forest, wether misty or dry, chilled or heated, breathing in not just the words of the text, as I seek to meet Christ, but the air of the forest, which speaks of eternity and passing moments; vast strength and human fragility; and the breath of peace, offered freely to all who will receive.  Things happen in the forest because of who the forest is.

The Church as a Forest 

The Church, at its best, functions the same way.  We pastors think that the our teaching and preaching is the most important thing in the world, but the reality is that people are often persuaded more by the collective presence of Christ and the atmosphere that creates.  Maybe at their best, preaching and environment work together, but at the very least, I’ve encountered many people over the decades whose front door to faith sounded similar to these words…

“No Richard, it wasn’t your teaching that convinced me.  It was the community.  I’ve never seen authentic relationships where people both accepted each other and pushed each other to grow and change.  I wanted to be part of that”  

“It was the beauty of the people Richard.  When I saw that woman in her 60’s caring for her mother and singing songs of worship with her, it stirred something in me.” 

“These people who make up the church – they’re building friendships with prisoners, making meals for the homeless, caring for vulnerable children.  They give me hope, and I want in…” 

On top of this, there’s often the beauty of gathered worship, the beauty of sacred space, the beauty of confession and vulnerability, and the beauty of restored lives.

So without answers, I simply ponder:  Is the church an ecosystem, like a forest, which is life giving when it’s properly fed, and rooted, and located in the appropriate place?  I’d like to think so.  

However, when the church is place of shelter for misogyny, domestic violence, sexual abuse, political fanaticism, arrogance, favoritism of the strong and wealthy, or any other number of ugly things, it’s no longer a healing forest.  It becomes a place of death, a prison of sorts.  Using the letters C-H-U-R-C-H and singing a bit of Hillsong doesn’t make a church the collective expression of Christ.  Only real discipleship does that, and the acid test of true discipleship is simple – am I on a path of embodying more of the humility, service, unconditional love, courageous care for the marginalized, and infinite forgiving grace of Christ?  Or am I just singing some songs in a building while still closing my hand to poor, calling people who disagree with me idiots, getting angry with every latest political shot fired, all while pursuing my own personal well being above all else?

Forest, prison, or place of death – how do people experience life in the church?

For the church to be a place filled with the kind of life that God has in mind, some things need to be true for us that are also true for the forest:

1. We need to be an ecosystem.  Christ’s vision for the church is that each person within it shares their unique contributions to for the well being of the community.  Paul the apostle unpacks this vision and explains that when it works properly, when people experience various aspects of Christ’s beauty and love through various encounters within the community, they will sense the reality of Christ’s presence.  This is paramount, because our desire is that people be given the freedom to choose or reject Christ himself, not the kind of caricatures of Christ that misrepresent him by portraying hate rather than love, law rather than grace, performance rather than receiving freely from a posture of brokenness.  So we seek, increasingly as a church, to represent the heart of Christ with greater clarity.

2. We need a vision for beauty.  My greatest moments of shalom (profound peace) have happened in either the beauty of the wilderness or the gathered community in worship.  In the latter cases, it has been the gathered body of Christ, the church, declaring something of God’s character, through worship (Yes…singing matters more than we realize), or acts of service, or prayers of praise or confession, or simply through the power of Christ’s presence so evident in the gathering.

3. We need to believe that, in spite of our imperfections, God will be revealed through our life together.  Let’s say that we, as a community, have a passion for mercy, Justice, and love (as I write about here in this book).  Let’s see we long for the fruit of the spirit to prevail, in our lives, and our life together.  To the extent that these things are true, we’re properly calibrated, heading in the right direction.  We can rest, knowing we’re becoming a life giving forest.  Of course, there’ll be the need for continual repentance and re-calibration along the way, because we’re not yet the healing, life giving force that we’re fully capable of becoming.  But we’re getting there, and that’s enough for us to confidently believe God will use us.  (“Abide in me, and you’ll bear much fruit”) is how Jesus said it.

All of this is looks very different than a community arguing about esoteric doctrines and implying that those who don’t believe exactly as our church does are lost and condemned.  There are different kinds of forests.  Catholics belong to forests.  So do Pentecostals, and Baptists, and Presbyterians.  No.  None of us will agree with everything in every forest.  But that’s no reason to start a forest fire.  As Paul said, “What then?  Only that in every way, whether in pretense or truth, Christ is proclaimed.  In this I will rejoice.”

When Both Books Speak: 

Just two nights ago, I was privileged to serve community to the gathered body of Christ at a family camp.  We met in a lovely forest, around a campfire, praying with various people and listening and folks shared what God had been saying to them through the week.  Then we finished our time together by singing “How Great Thou Art” an old hymn that includes a verse about walking through the forest and hearing the voice of God speak through the the beauty of creation.  We finished singing, as the forest’s movement from light to darkness came to completion, ending with infinite stars hanging in the sky, and silence, save the crickets carrying on.  Life.  Beauty.  Breath.  Healing.

YES.  Not only receiving all this, but being all this for one another and our world – this is our calling.

 

 

Beating Fear with Seven Words for Seven Summits

NOTE:   This is from a chapter entitled, “Exposure”.  I deal with the deadly life shrinking nature of fear in this post.   Sorry it’s long… it’s from a book!

August 7th – Glungezer Hut sits at 2600m.  We arrive there feeling strong, whole.  Part of the reason is because we shaved 1000 meters of our ascent off quickly, easily, by riding the gondola from Innsbruck rather than hiking, thus shaving time, and calories, and muscle expenditure dramatically.  It’s around 2PM when we come inside, out of a biting wind, to the warmth of a fire, the smell of pasta, and smooth jazz wafting through the speakers of this quintessential Austrian hut.  Our host welcomes us with a shot of peach Schnapps which we, neither of us hard liquor fans, are too polite to refuse. 

After a marvelous meal of pork medallions and sauerkraut, the proprietor shares that he’ll be offering a final weather update regarding tomorrow at 8:30, at which time he’ll tell us whether to take the high or low trail to Lizumer hut.  Without internet, and with only spotty phone coverage, nearly everyone up here is dependent on the weather report offered by the hut host, and in this case, the report will determine both the route, and the time breakfast will be served.  If thunderstorms are predicted, breakfast service times will be adjusted early enough to allow people 7 full hours of hiking before the anticipated time of the storm. 

The main hall is crowded at 8:30 as the report is offered by this stout man with a full grey beard and enough of a twinkle in his eye that you both know he loves his work, and you wonder if, when the huts close in October, he becomes Santa; the real one.  The report is a full fifteen minutes and there’s uproarious laughter along the way, but it’s all in German, so I sit at the edge and wait for Jonathan, the German speaking American from Cleveland, to come translate for me when the meeting’s over. 

As people disperse, he says, “It’s supposed to pour rain all night along and then clear before sunrise.  Thunderstorms are anticipated tomorrow afternoon, so breakfast is at 6:30 and he says we should be in the trail by 7:30.” 

“High or low?” I ask. 

“He says tomorrow will be an amazing day to take the high trail – views in every direction.  The trail is on the ridge the whole way.”  I smile, nodding.  I know the meaning of the word “ridge” and “trail”.  Little do I realize what they will mean when taken together.  I ask what else he said because he spoke to the group for fifteen minutes.  “Nothing important” he says and we leave it at that as we start to hear the pelting rain on the roof of the hut, the sound we hear even louder an hour later as we drift off to sleep wondering if the weather report will turn up true in the morning. 

I’m up at 6 and a quick step outside reveals that we’re starting our day above the clouds and will ascend from there.  Seven summits await us, as we travel along a ridge to the south and east, covering a mere 14k, but taking nine hours to complete.  This is because, as we’ll discover later, this is an alpine route which, according to one website, “should only be attempted by those who have appropriate mountaineering skills and experience” which is no doubt part of what the host said the night before in German while I was reading a book in the corner. 

This isn’t much of a concern for me because I have the appropriate mountaineering skills.  I’ve climbed enough in what might considered dangerous places to feel comfortable on exposed rock ledges and ridges.  My experience has given me confidence on the rock, and ironically, confidence begets a relaxed yet utterly alert and focused demeanor, which makes the exposure feel even easier by virtue of familiarity.  You come to realize, after not falling time after time, that you’re as likely to fall as a good driver is likely to simply veer into oncoming traffic and die in a head on crash.  Yes, it could happen, but probably won’t, so you don’t worry about it.  Good drivers aren’t constantly thinking “don’t drive in the ditch – avoid the ditch – watch out for the ditch”.    They’ve moved into a different zone of quiet confidence; it’s like that with rock climbers and high places.

alps 2As the day progresses, I realize quickly that although I have this assurance on exposed rock, my wife doesn’t.  As we ascend, a few summit crosses come into view, and we’re struck with the realization that each of summits must be obtained today if we’re to progress.  It doesn’t matter how we feel about attaining them, whether excitement or dread.  The path forward will be up and down, along this ridge, for the next 8 miles. 

This, in itself, is daunting, but the true nature of the hike doesn’t reveal itself until after the first summit.  Beyond the cross there’s a descent that, by the standards of any hiker who doesn’t climb, would be harrowing.  There are vertical, nearly vertical, and beyond vertical drops, at least 1500m down, just beyond the edge of the “trail”, but that’s the wrong word.  In fact, there is no trail, simply red and white paint on boulders, showing hikers which rocks to scramble down, but its clear that a single misstep at the wrong place would mean certain death. 

For those with experience, this is not intimidating.  You simply don’t fall.  You inhale deeply, relax, and focus on each step.  For those lacking experience, this is terrifying because every step is saturated with the fear of falling, which creates anxiety, which creates muscle tension, which creates rapid weariness.  My wife’s in the latter category, as are the two German girls with whom we’re hiking, Felicitas and Inge.  They’re both 17, and are here in the Alps in search of their first grand adventure.  On this day, on this ridge, they’ve found more than they bargained for but they, like the rest of us, press on. 

I loved this day of seven summits, and if the truth must be told, the exposure of, the sense that every step matters, is what is so energizing?  This is because when it comes right down to it, I love activities that are so demanding that my mind is reduced to consideration of the single thing in front of me.  Here’s a ladder bolted to rock face.  We must descend it.  On the one hand, it’s a ladder.  The fact that ladders have been part of our lives, that we’ve climbed down dozens, hundreds of ladders in our lives, means that we know this much:  we can climb down this ladder. 

alps 3On the other hand, this ladder, suspended in space, will be especially unforgiving should a hand or foot slip during descent.  We can see that there’ll be no recovery, no next steps.  Instead we’ll begin a fall through space until we hit the slope somewhere beneath, crushing bones and breaking our bodies open before continuing our rapid descent.  After another bounce or two, we’ll likely end up 1500 meters below in the river valley, our spirits having left our bodies for eternity, while our families await news of our demise. 

So yes, though this is ‘just a ladder’, this is an important ladder.  The stakes are high.  The ladder requires something different than the two states of being that are often our default positions in life, for neither fear, nor familiarity, will be helpful.

It’s here we must take pause because both fear and familiarity are deadly poisons.  They’re robbing people of living the life for which they are created, deceiving them into settling for far less, for slavery really, instant of days filled with meaning, joy, purpose, and hope.  So we must consider these robbers and expose them for what they are, liars and thieves who prey on our weakness to make us weaker still.  There’s a third way, utterly other than the way of fear or familiarity.

Fear:

Subsequent to my sabbatical, as I write this, the fear factor in the lives of Europeans and Americans is rising exponentially.  We’re afraid of shootings, of terror, of wacky politicians coming into power, of corrupt politicians remaining in power.  We’re afraid of failure, rejection, myriad forms illness, poverty, betrayal, loneliness, and o so much more.  Fear has become a strong enough force in our culture that people are increasingly defining success as “not failing” which means not falling victim to any of the things we’re afraid might happen to us.

This is a very small way of living.  It would be tantamount defining climbing as not falling, which would be silly of course, on two levels.  The objective of climbing rock face or a mountain, is to get to the top.  Calling it a “good day” because you failed to fall is essentially what more of us are doing, more often than ever before.  We’re defining health as avoiding illness; defining calling as being employed; defining intimacy as staying married; defining security as money in the bank.  By changing the rules and lowering the bar regarding what constitutes the good life, we can feel ‘good’ about ourselves.

…Except we can’t.  As we watch TV, or cat videos on youtube, or fall in bed at the end of another tiring day of obligations with an early dread that tomorrow we’ll need to do it all over again, there’s a nagging feeling that this isn’t the life for which we’ve been created.  This “don’t fall” mentality infects people of faith too, with what I call a fixation on sin management.   When faith is redefined as “stay sober, stay married, tithe, pay your taxes, read your Bible, and go to church”, we’ve functionally changed to goal from reaching the summit to “not falling”  It’s sin management.  It creates judgmentalism, pride, and hypocrisy.  And worst of all: it’s boring.

In contrast, God’s text, offered to point to way toward real living, is shot through with invitations to the kind of wholeness, joy, strength, and generosity that looks o so different than simply avoiding common notions of sin.  God has a summit for us and it looks like this:

Vitality – “…those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.” Isaiah 40:31  We’re promised a capacity for living that’s beyond the norm of just surviving, promised a strength not our own which will enable us to enjoy life for a long time without the prevailing weariness, boredom, fear, and cynicism setting in.  This promise alone is enough to wean me off of the sin management paradigm, but there’s more.

Abundance  “…The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Jn 10:10  This word “abundance” implies a capacity to bless and serve others, even in the midst of our own challenges and messes; even if, like Jesus washing his disciple’s feet on the night of his arrest and impending execution, we’re about to die.  I long for this capacity to be fully present each moment, listening, loving, serving, blessing, encouraging, challenging, healing.  I’m invited, called even, upward to the high country of actively blessing my world, rather than just surviving. 

Wholeness  “…(God) made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” II Corinthians 5:21   Yes!  The invitation goes beyond “not sinning” as we religious people typically regard not sinning.  The vision is much more positive, more summit like.  God letting us know that we’re invited to nothing less than displaying God’s character in our daily living.  The good, generous, gracious, righteous, wise, loving, and holy God is inviting us to nothing less than these same qualities finding expression in our own daily living.  Summits.  All of them; they’re ours to enjoy – and yes, getting there will require conquering fear. 

After the third summit, we take a photo with our companions, the two 17 year old German girls who are out in pursuit of their first adventure.  We survey the descent that’s yet ahead, followed by yet four more exposed ascents on rocky ridges with carefully placed cables as aides.  It looks daunting, and is.  Inge speaks of the challenge ahead, how frightened she’s been, and how she’s not so keen on continuing, but then adds “and yet we must do it”. 

Exactly!  The beauty of this particular day of seven summits is that not ascending is simply not an option.  I must proceed forward if I’m to reach the destination of the next hut.  The only other option is returning to last night’s hut and then hiking all the way back to Innsbruck.  It’s go forward miss the whole reason we came here.  No, simply not falling won’t cut it on this trip.   And for this, I’ll be forever grateful. 

alps 4Fear of falling must be overcome, lest we settle for sin management and religious propriety.  We must climb the high exposed ridges of generosity, where giving is sacrificial and leads to trust.  The cliffs of freedom from addiction must be transcended, and this requires the risks of vulnerability and the courage to face our pain.  The steep rocks of love for the stranger and refugee are vital terrain in this age of fear, but it requires living with the realization your open heart and home is at risk by the very nature of opening to people you don’t know, and sometimes even people you do know!

The faith mountaineers who have gone before us have shown us the way.  They opened their homes, hearts, and wallets.  They stood for the disenfranchised and oppressed, some at the cost of their lives!  They risked vulnerability in their pursuit of wholeness and healing, coming clean about their addictions and infidelities.  They forgave betrayals in Rwanda, England, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, even when it hurt to do so.  They rose above the valleys of mediocrity.  Had their paradigm been merely “not falling” they’d have stayed home.  But alas, the focus of the life for which we’ve been created is the summit, the high calling of being voices of hope and mercy in a despairing world.  When the is the vision, the risk of falling is, by comparison, inconsequential. 

Are you “living small” by focusing on not falling, or do you have a vision for the summit?   When the voice of fear starts whispering lies and inviting me to live small, I’m careful to listen to a different voice – it’s the voice of Jesus, who went the distance, and he offers seven words for seven summits:  Fear not – for I am with you!

Three Ways Sabbath practice will help you become whole.

IMG_7876
“all who are thirsty…”

Yesterday I spent some time in what is slowly becoming a sabbath routine for this season of life.  My wife and I packed a small lunch and some extra clothes in our backpacks and took off for a day of hiking.  In a normal year it would be a ski day, but this is not a normal year.  All the snow is over in Boston, and here where we normally get over 400 inches a year, the ski hills are brown brush; so we hike.

As we hike, we talk about life.  It’s become maybe the best time of the week for sharing, because we have uninterrupted space for needed dialogue, punctuated by periods of silence for reflection, response, or even just enjoyment of the woods.  The conversations always include remembrances of the past and considerations of the future.  The two subjects feed each other by this time in our life together.  We’ve seen 35 years of God’s faithful provision in our lives; seen many decisions we made with finite information which turned out far better than we’d anticipated, precisely because (we believe) God knew ‘the rest of story’ as only God can.

For example, I was sharing yesterday how profound it was to contemplate that we’d purchased this house in the mountains that had its own apartment, solely with a view of retiring there someday and renting it out as a ski chalet in the meantime, while keeping the small apartment for our own, for skiing, writing, hiking, and such.

Now here we are, living there, with my mom-in-law in the perfect little apartment as life circumstances converged so that it was best for her to move in with us.  Her love of mountains and snow, and our purchase converged to meet a need we didn’t even know would exist when we bought the place.  But God knew, and has provided space.  We tell each other these kinds of stories while we hike, recalling God’s faithfulness in the past.

We speak of the future too; pondering how we can best use the gifts and resources God has given us to live fully into the story God desires to write through us.  We ponder options, and they become matters for prayer.  We speak of our heart’s desires in ways that we don’t during week because the week’s too full of obligations to spend much time pondering deeper longings.  Giving voice to these longings is healthy, appropriate, necessary, if we’re to continue growing.

And of course, we speak of the presentof our own marriage, our children, decisions that need to be made.  We speak of money, car brakes, schedules for the coming week, and of trees, waterfalls, lichen, weather, and rocks.

We share a meal at the top.  We hike out.  We drive home.  Then there’s a meal, and peace, and a sense we’ve connected with God and each other.  We propose to do it again next time.  Sabbath; a gift from God.

Of course, this isn’t always the case.  In many circles, Sabbath is nothing more than a legalistic noose tied around the necks of religious people to prevent them from doing anything the religious elite consider work.  The list varies from generation to generation and place to place, including soccer, shopping, cooking, mowing the lawn, wearing false teeth, and lifting anything heavier than two dried figs.  This is just one of many reasons why people rightly hate religion.  Jesus said you could know the worthiness of a person’s teachings and worldview ‘by their fruits’ and if the fruit of Sabbath keep is fear, withdrawal, and judgmentalism, I for one will be at the front of the line to condemn it.

Another group, seeing this legalist nonsense, has done away with the Sabbath completely.  It’s either spiritualized (“Every day is a day of rest in Christ”), or bastardized into simply a “day off” which means a time to knock oneself out with shopping, or obligations with the kids, or find some sort of adrenaline hit so that we can maintain our stress levels until Monday, though because it’s chosen, it’s good stress rather than distress.

Either way is an exercise in missing the point.  Sabbath, when properly practiced as a spiritual discipline, helps create a soil in which several good things can happen.  Here’s what I mean:

A good and consistent Sabbath practice, over time will:

1. Create capacity in our lives – The creation narrative offers a profound revelation that life is intended to be lived in a IMG_7920complimentary manner:  day and night; heaven and earth; sea and dry land; male and female; and yeswork and rest.  God was the prototype of this rhythm, and those who violate it do so at great risk to their own fruitfulness and well  being.  This is because we’re made for a pattern of engagement and withdrawal, and if our Sabbath’s neglect withdrawal, we’ll enter our weekly responsibilities of engagement with even diminishing resources.  The presenting symptoms will be stress related things like sleep troubles, nervousness, fatigue, and/or high anxiety.  When it comes to exercise, we all know that we need to both exercise and rest.  The same’s true with the whole of our lives and the Sabbath is God’s gift to provide for this.

2. Create a context for guidance – My wife and I have made many major life decisions in the context of Sabbaths, because that’s where we make the needed space to ponder God’s faithfulness in the past, and prayerfully give voice to our longings and hopes for the future, so that we can hear God speak and show us next steps.  The worst thing we can do is be reactionary with our lives, both day to day in our obligations and with respect to major life decisions.  It’s far better to be proactive, and this proactivity will come from creating space to pour our hearts out to God and then listen, and then act.

3. Remind you that you’re not the Messiah – One of the practical purposes of Sabbath practice when Israel was in the wilderness was so that they might learn that God will take care of them, all the time, even when they rest.  The more and better anyone learns this, the more fully and profoundly they come to believe that God sustains God’s work and will do so even when we step away from it.  I’ll be blunt in saying that its our sense of indispensability that often turns us into very ugly peoplecontrolling, demanding, fearful, even manipulative; all in the name of “getting the job done”.  The Sabbath, practiced well, will help you get over yourself, and rest in the reality that our participation in whatever work it is to which God has called us, is a privilege, not a necessity.

Make space please!  For remembering; for considering; for sharing; for praying; for restoring.  If that’s not a habit for you, now’s a good time to begin.

Here’s a resource I’ll recommend to round out and develop this discussion further.

 

Rethinking the Body, Aging, and Movement – 4 Vital Ideas

"we started when we were kids and just never stopped"
“we started when we were kids and just never stopped”
IMG_5291
when are you too old to ride your bike to church?

They’re brothers, these two guys in their late sixties/early seventies.  They’re on the deck of the first Alpine hut we stayed in, and it’s morning, about 7:15 actually.  I’m out there to enjoy the view and take a few pictures, while these two are about to hoist their packs and head out for a long day of hiking to the next hut.  They’re strong.  They’re vibrant.  They’re optimistic.  They’re healthy.  And they’re “old.”

They are the first of an endless stream of encounters my wife and I will have with people older than us who are also stronger than us, or at least as strongwell able to carry 20 pounds on their backs for 10-15k day after day, at elevations ranging from 3,000-7,000 feet.  Their presence on the trail has shaken me in the best of ways.  By example they’ve said:  “Yes Richard… it’s possible to stay healthy for many years to come.” 

It won’t happen accidentally though, so I asked some of the “wise and wonderful” seniors I met on the trail what kept them in Gore-Tex and polar-fleece, what kept them moving into their late years.  Their answers, coupled with a careful reading of this book prior to my departure, have revealed four ideas that will give us a good shot at remaining healthy and active for a long time.

1.  A good theology of the body – You know this already, but it’s important to be reminded that we’re not disembodied spirits, that the bodies we’ve been given are marvelous wonders, and that it’s our calling and privilege to take care of our bodies, because they’re the visible expression of who we are.

2. A new vision for normal – Prior to the start of the trip, we envisioned ourselves sitting around in these huts with people between twenty and fifty.  They were there, but there were scores on either end of that, both the very young and the very old.  Their presence served to create a different vision of what normal is, or can be.  It can be normal, at nearly any age, to walk or jog several miles a dayoften with a pack on that effectively adds exponential work to your exercise.   It can be normal to eat fresh, well prepared food, rather than chemicals mixed together and microwaved.   It can be normal to respond to stress by getting adequate rest, some outdoor exercise, and by spending time with good friends.

I know that this new normal isn’t always possible.  There’s cancer and other unwanted intrusions, and some people are living in refugee camps, while others are working three jobs just to be able to afford health insurance.  But for many of us, these exceptions don’t apply.  For most of us, we have the capacity to stay healthy and active, and I’m increasingly convinced that such lifestyle commitments will make us more effective in everything else we do in our roles as teachers, health care professionals, spouses, parents, students, pastors, neighbors, and friends.

I challenge us to rethink our view of normal, because our culture faces an obesity crisis that stems from a slow decay of health habits

Klaus is 70.  He's hiked 30+ days in a row in the high country.  His favorite word:  "fantastisch!"
Klaus is 70. He’s hiked 30+ days in a row in the high country. His favorite word: “fantastisch!”

with respect to food and exercise.  What’s worse, we’re teaching the rest of the world to follow us.  It’s time for a fresh vision.  One fellow traveler on our Alps journey was a 70 year old named Klaus.  He’d been out hiking for 30 days and was nearing the end of his trek when we meet him in a hut and shared a meal.  It was cold outside.  I was tired, in spite of the fact that I’d done 1/3 the distance as him today.  We’d just had supper together and he was absolutely effervescent with joy over his hike that day on dicey ridge, conquering seven summits, all over 6,000′ elevation in 15k of distance and eight hours of hiking.  He was wild eyed as he spoke of the challenges and beauty.  When he finished supper he went outside, and came back, knowing that I too enjoyed photography, and he said, “You must photo the sunset!  Fantastisch!!”   I didn’t want to go out, but I did because of his enthusiasm, his lust for life.  Klaus became my new inspiration for a new normal that night.

 

3. A good aerobic base –  The book I referenced earlier taught me about “building an aerobic base.”  I thought I knew about this base, but no.  It turns out that I, like most of America, was actually not doing aerobic exercise when I was out jogging, because I was going too fast.  The whole thing’s rather complex, so I’ll spare the details because you can read them starting here. 

The bottom line is that if we’re going to be active for the rest of our lives, we’ll need to start moving, at the right speed, most days of the week, for at least an hour.  Most “walkers” need to speed up a bit.  Most “joggers” need to slow down.  On our recent hikes, we’ve encountered cross country ski teams from Russia, Italy, Sweden, and Norway.  All of them are doing the same thing.  They’re building their aerobic base through lots of long, slow, distance.

When I started exercising this way, just before leaving for Europe, I was appalled at how slow I was running around Green Lake, as I tried to keep my pulse rate in the treasured “aerobic zone.”  Not any more.  These days I’m cherishing the good vibes that come from a long slow jog, or a hike uphill, because at the end I feel great, and I know I’m building an even stronger base for the future, know that I’ll come home energized for the day, rather than drained.

4.  Consistency. 

IMG_6029“We’ve been doing this together since we were kids, and we just never stopped,” is what the two brothers said.

“We hike together every year for a week, and because of this, most of us walk nearly every day to stay in shape for this one week adventure together,” is what I heard from a group of 70 year-olds.

IMG_6515‘Use it or lose it’ is, I believe, how you say it in America, no?” said another woman, part of a group on a trail that included climbing a half dozen ladders and crossing a couple high suspension bridges.

All these testimonials from the wise and wonderful seniors we encountered elevate consistency as a high priority.   Our bodies produce everything needed for an active lifestyle as long as we stay active.  Stop moving though, and everything changes fast.

The “Body. Soul. Spirit.” logo you see on clothes I wear comes from the school where I’m presently teaching in Austria.  They take all this stuff seriously, and yesterday the students were out playing soccer or volleyball or ultimate, or jogging or hiking or climbing.  The goal though isn’t twelve weeks of thisit’s a lifestyle change we hope will last.  Same with Bible reading.  Same with prayer.  Same with fellowship:  consistency, or as Eugene Peterson puts it, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” is the goal for every area of our livesbody, soul, and spirit.

How are yours?