Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Stretching and growing

It's an ongoing learning and growing journey for me, this faith stuff.  Part of the learning and growing process has included unlearning and letting go.  Though that has been going on for a while, I saw a quote today that my cousin David had posted by Ramana Maharshi that resonated: "There will come a time when one will have to forget all that one has learned."  I'm not familiar with this person, but I have heard this stated by others and agree that there is an unlearning that becomes necessary in our lives.  We come to a point in which we need to unlearn in order to learn.  Must we forget all that we have learned?  Likely not, but I think I get the idea.  

What is one thing I've had to unlearn in my life?  Racism.  Whether it was implicit or explicit, I've had to forget what I learned and learn that it's not okay to tell jokes that demean anyone. 

Do I always get it right?  No, I mess up and say the wrong thing(s) still in a variety of situations.  Part of that is because of things I've heard and learned at deep levels.  Even when I try to do and say what is right, there is the other lurking underneath.  The bottom line is that I'm human.  I seek to learn and grow into a more holy and just human, but there are times when I'm simply not.

As I continue to learn and grow, beliefs have been another area of forgetting, unlearning, and learning anew.  There are things I learned along the way that don't add up anymore.  This is not an easy process.  When something you believe no longer fits or works and you are forced to rethink and change paradigms, it causes uneasiness.  Why?  First of all, because it is change.  Change from what you've been taught and what you've been living for a while.  Secondly, because if that is no longer functional or working, then what is?  Paradigm shifts are risky in that they shake things up.  There is no longer a status quo.  But risk pays off.  It is okay for cracks to happen in beliefs.  Some things stay and other things may go.

If we are willing to go through the process of learning, stretching, and growing, then our faith muscles will become stronger.  The foundation of our faith will not necessarily be shaken because we ask questions, doubt, or even throw off some beliefs.  I say "necessarily" because for some people, their faith has been shaken.  If I were to be honest, I imagine my faith has been shaken at times too.  But, it has remained.  

This summer, Frank Rogers stretched me in the week he spoke to us at the Fellowship of United Methodist Spiritual Directors and Retreat Leaders / Hearts on Fire retreat about compassion in the way of Jesus.  I bought his latest book (Compassion in Practice: the Way of Jesus) so that I could revisit some of that at a later time.  

My time in the 2 Year Academy was a time of stretching and growing as I read books and heard from faculty in that time period.  Some of it stretched me a little and some of it stretched me lots. 

Right now I'm reading Brian McLaren's The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World's Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian.  I've only read through chapter 2 so far, but there has been some gentle stretching and growing.

In chapter 1, McLaren talks about beliefs not being the essential part of Christianity.  The essence of our faith is more than statements, lists, things observed, etc.  Beliefs are not the point of Christianity.  In chapter 2, McLaren begins to talk about what matters more: love and compassion, as lived out by Jesus.  Galatians 5:6-- "The only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love"  Hmm.... what does it mean to live that out?  McLaren notes that for Jesus, "In story after story and without a single exception, we see that the driving motivation in Jesus's life is love." (44)  If we are to follow that example, what would it look like?  

Another thing that caught my attention in the book from chapter 1 was that McLaren spoke about his crisis of belief by a palo verde tree one day.  He writes, "I was standing in front of a palo verde tree in the amber sunlight when suddenly my thinking cracked open and I fell through the crack into a deeper level of reflection." (23)  When I read that, it made me think of something Jerry Webber had shared at one of our 2 Year Academy sessions.  He wrote this short, yet insightful poem:

"My Life Cracks Open"

My life cracks open
I stand in it

careful not to run.

You see, when life cracks open, the first response (for me typically) over the years has been to run, to get the heck out of dodge (so to speak).  Yet, in more recent years, I am learning to stand in the crack, to stand in the chaos.  I am standing to see what I can learn and what the next visible step might be.  

It may be uncomfortable, but it's okay.  

A boiled egg eventually must be cracked open if one is going to have deviled eggs or egg salad.  

The cocoon must crack open in order for the butterfly to emerge.  When it emerges, it is no longer the same as it was when it entered the cocoon, at least on the outside.  It has gone through a transformation.  Its essence, its being is still the same on the inside.

That's how my faith is these days.  The essence of my faith isn't changing.  The foundation remains based on the One who came and lived among us and who told us about the greatest commandments to love God and love one another as ourselves.  

McLaren notes, "If we are to be truly Christian, it makes sense to turn to Jesus for the answer." (42)  It does, doesn't it?!?!  "Of the many radical things said and done by Jesus, his unflinching emphasis on love was most radical of all.  Love was the greatest commandment, his prime directive-- love for God, for self, for neighbor, for stranger, for alien, for outsider, for outcast, and even for enemy, as he himself modeled." (42)

Like I said, I've just started the book, but I look forward to reading the rest of it and seeing what McLaren has to say.  

Have you experienced any cracking open in your life, in your beliefs?  

How are you stretching and growing?

Blessings on your journey, 


Blessings from this week

This week has been busy, but has had its share of blessings already.  My schedule has been a little packed with activities that were planned and some that came about because, well, life happens.  In the midst of these activities, I have experienced some blessings that I thought I'd share this morning.

On Monday, for Halloween, Simpson UMC in Rossville, GA had their Trunk 'r Treat. Though we didn't advertise that a magician would be there, that was going to be part of our surprise for folks, if it could work out with him.  My day got a bit hectic with an unexpected ministry opportunity, so I never got around to calling him to double check that everything was lined up.  When I pulled into the church about 15 minutes before the official start time, there were several cars set up, some kids coming in, and the magician.  That entire scene made my heart smile.  All in all there were about 8 or 9 cars there to greet the kids and give out candy.  We had one group of folks from one of the other churches there.  Some folks were out of town and we had a death in one of the churches.  Otherwise, I imagine we would have had more cars for Trunk 'r Treat.  There were maybe 300-350 folks that came through that evening in the 2 hour span of daylight that we held the event.  It blessed me to see everyone interacting with one another.  Watching the magician interacting with the kids really blessed me.  This was the first time I have gotten to see Steve perform and I enjoyed watching both him and the kids.

Steve McDaniel, local magician and member of Simpson UMC
Yesterday, November 1, was All Saints Day.  Appropriate for All Saints Day, we celebrated and remembered one of the saints from one of the churches.  She had just recently celebrated her 100th birthday.  It was a blessing to celebrate her life.  A very unexpected blessing happened as we gathered with the family to pray prior to going into the chapel.  As I had come in the door, a woman's face had caught my attention. I said hello, recognizing her, but not exactly placing her.  When we circled up to pray, she was sharing that she had come into the family by marriage later.  As soon as I heard her voice, I knew her.  Annelle.  (Apologies for interrupting.)  When I spoke her name, she said mine.  Both of us had been trying to figure out how we knew each other.  She briefly shared with the family our connection, which is like family, because I grew up in my early years a couple of doors down from her.  She graduated high school with my Dad.  Her kids were about my brothers' age, but I grew up knowing them.  We spent lots of time in her house growing up.  It was a special moment of recognition.  I wish we had more time to catch up, but she and her husband had to leave after the service to go back to Dalton.  Hopefully another day we can catch up some.  In addition to seeing Annelle after so many years, the other thing that struck me significantly was that I knew it was her when I heard her voice.  [That reminded me of the Scripture about the sheep knowing their shepherd's voice. (John 10)]

Yesterday evening was week 2 for Flintstone's community meal.  I went out with some flyers prior to the meal to get them into some of the locations we hadn't yet posted them.  At one location I ran into a woman who called me by name.  We had met at her restaurant a while back.  She took some flyers to post at the restaurant.  She also offered to assist us if we have needs.

That's the 2nd restaurant in the local area that is helping us get the word out and coming along side us.  The Chattanooga Valley/Flintstone community is wonderful in helping one another.

I went on down the road and noticed that the Red Door antique store was open.  I haven't been there before because it's usually closed when I'm in town.  I pulled in and grabbed some flyers.  As I mentioned where I was from, the gentleman said he was planning to come by there later and I had saved him a trip.  He had some produce for us.  Would we like it?  Yes!  He had a flat box of potatoes and some crackers for us.  He said that he will have produce from time to time.  I gave him the contact number of the person in charge and headed back to the church.  As I brought the potatoes in and shared the story with the lead person, wouldn't you know it?!?!  She had planned to cook beef stew for next week.  She can definitely use those potatoes.

These are just a few of the blessings I've had already this week.  There are more. I am grateful for each of these. One of the things I've come to realize is that blessings abound daily.  In order to recognize them, I need to pay attention.  In order to be able to pay attention, I need to be able to slow down a little bit, spend time with people, listen, and simply "be".

What blessings have you recognized in the past day or two?

Blessings on your journey,


P.S. Here is a song about "Blessings"  by Laura Story