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Sunday, January 31, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Galatians 5

Sometimes it’s hard for me to think back 10 years (before I began preparing for the ministry) and remember what my thoughts were about certain things. That’s because some of my attitudes have changed so much. In fact, some of my attitudes have done a complete about face.

“Such as?” you might wonder.

Such as my view on what many people think of themselves.

You see, before I went into ministry I remember buying to the popular notion that most people thought waaaaaaayyyyy too much of themselves. As a result, they were self-centered and self-absorbed. This was why many people failed to reach out and care for others.

And now?

Well, after getting to know the people who cross my path in deep and profound ways, I think most people actually think waaaaaaayyyyy too little of themselves. When they look in the mirror, many folks fail to see the amazing, talented, beautiful child of God they really are. In other words, they fail to love themselves.

And when they fail to reach out to others, I’ve don’t think it’s always because they don’t care about others. Often they fail to reach out to others because they don’t think they have anything to offer others. A huge piece of my call is to help others along in their journey toward self-acceptance and self-love.

So what compelled me to share this insight?

As I was reading the fifth chapter of Galatians, one sentence jumped out at me more than any other: “For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: love others as you love yourself” (Galatians 5:14 from The Message).

“That summary might work if the reader truly loves him or herself,” I thought, “but what about those instances where that’s not the case? What can of worms might Paul’s words be opening up then?”

Today, I would ask you to spend some time exploring this fundamental question: do you truly love yourself? If you do, then it’s okay to move on to the second half of the equation – the part about extending love to others. If you don’t, however, I would encourage you to stop where you are and start spending some time working on that before you try to reach out to others. It might seem selfish at first to tend to that internal work first, but it isn’t. It will be the work you do around self-love that will eventually empower you to care for others in profound new ways!

Til next time…

Saturday, January 30, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Galatians 3-4:31

Some of you might not know that I am the youngest of four children. Each of my three siblings are each a good number of years older than myself (7, 9 and 10 years to be exact).

As I reflect on my experience of what it meant to grow up as the youngest, I realized there were lots of advantages that came with being the baby of the family. Some of those advantages were superficial (i.e. I got to stay up later than my siblings were able to at the same age), and some of them were not (i.e. my parents had a different perspective on life that was informed by more years of living).

One of the things I benefited from most was my parents’ evolved understanding of what makes “good parents”. When my first brother came along, for example, my parents were extremely involved in nearly every detail of his day-to-day life. They made sure he ate his vegetables each day; they checked his homework every night to make sure it was done; and they stayed on him to make sure he was pro-active in terms of thinking about a future career. As a result, my oldest brother grew up extremely dependent upon our parents.

With each subsequent child, my parents began to pull back a bit more until finally – by the time I came along – my parents were comfortable giving me a healthy amount of space to make my own decision. As a result, I learned to take initiative and risks in life. That’s why I’m so glad to have been the youngest.

Of course such differences in leadership style don’t just apply to family situations – they can be applied to spiritual community as well. Paul – in his attempt to address his concerns about the religious control freaks that were using the law to manipulate people – said: “They want to shut you out of God’s grace so that you will always depend on them for approval and direction.”

Paul urged folks to reject such a model to spiritual life and embrace a faith-based approach that allowed individuals the freedom to develop and explore a dynamic relation with God for themselves.

As you go through life these days and experience challenges on many levels, what type of leader are you looking for? Someone who would barge into your life and solve your problems for you; or someone who would come into your life and empower you to take on the challenges for yourself? How you answer that question won’t just tell you what kind of president, pastor or role model you’re looking for; it will also reveal how you might tend to think about God as well.

Til next time…

Friday, January 29, 2010

What I’m (re-) reading today: Galatians 1-2

I’ve been experimenting a lot this month with my blog, trying to feel my way to an approach that works for me (as opposed to feeling consumed with maintaining something for others simply out of habit or routine). A few days ago, I decided to veer from my practice of tying my blog to daily readings. I’m glad I tried that – because it taught me a lesson. I NEED those daily devotions as a part of my spiritual life. Those readings ground me and have tremendous meaning for me. So, for no other reason than that I’ll gravitate back in that direction. Thanks so much for your patience in putting up with me as I continue to be a work in progress….

There is a phenomenon in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered communities know as either the “best little boy/girl in the world” syndrome. What that means is that many of us in the community try to cope with our sexual orientation (or in the case of transgender folks, gender identity) by trying to lead a “perfect” life by other people’s standards. We figure, “If I do everything right, then people will have to like me – even if they eventually do discover my secret.”

That principle guided me for the first 25 years of my life. Let’s just say it wasn’t a great headspace to live in. The pressure from trying to be perfect 24/7 is beyond exhausting. It eventually takes you to a place where you feel as if life is no longer living since you derive no joy or satisfaction for yourself.

Having gone through this experience, I suppose that’s why I relate so strongly to Paul’s words to the Galatians in the passage I re-read this morning. In that passage, Paul wrote: “I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a ‘law man’ so that I could be God’s man” (Galatians 2:19-20 from The Message). What amazing sense of freedom it gives one to let go of other’s expectations (and even your own expectation of whom you are in relation to others) and simply allow yourself to be God’s person!

Maybe there are pieces of your own life where you are still trying to be “the best little boy/girl in the world” – ways in which you are trying to earn your sense of respect and self-worth. If there are, I would encourage you to step back from these behaviors (these sicknesses, really), and open yourself to the possibility of being cherished simply because you are. If you do that, you’ll find this new sense of freedom that will take you places you never dreamed possible.

Til next time…

Thursday, January 28, 2010

I spent some time yesterday talking with a friend about the essential unity of creation. In the midst of the conversation, I couldn't help but think of this performance from my favorite television show - Glee. It beautifully captures the essence of what such unity might look and feel like. I hope you'll carry the energy from this video with you into your day today.

Til next time...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I had a GREAT time at the Sacred Ground conversation group last night as usual. Once again, please know you are invited to join us each Tuesday evening at the Starbucks at Topanga Canyon Blvd and Dumetz Road at 7:00 PM for an evening of wide-open, passionate conversation! One thing did come up in the conversation that I thought would be helpful to share with you.

At one point in the conversation, someone asked the participants why they came to church? They asked the question because some of us were not in a place where the traditional theology offered in mainline churches appealed to them.

The participants then shared some of the reasons they did come to church. One reason that came up more than any other was because of the extraordinary people in the church.

At this point, one of the participants looked over to me and said, “Over the years I’ve realized most pastors have a goal or vision in mind for the congregation. It usually takes a while for us to figure it out. Pastor Craig, would you speed that process up for us and share your vision for us.”

I thought it might be good to share the answer to that question with those of you who weren’t there to hear the response. I do so not because my answer was particularly clever, but because it might be helpful for more folks to know my goal.

I started my answer by referencing the old joke about the person who died and went to heaven and was being shown around his new digs by St. Peter. When they came to one wing, St. Peter leaned over and whispered, “Don’t make a noise as we pass through this wing.” The gentleman asked, “Why not?” “Because this wing is made up of the fundamentalists,” St. Peter explained, “and they like to think they are the only ones up here.”

“What I’ve noticed,” I said after completing the joke, “is that in some progressive communities that same principle applies.” Some progressive folks, for instance, are drawn to church because they want to explore the intellectual aspects of life. Other come because they are passionate about their commitment to issues of peace and justice. Still others come for social reasons.

Sadly, there are folks in each camp who act like the fundamentalists in the joke – they think their reason for coming is the only valid reason. If they come to church for the intellectual stimulation, for instance, they then insist the church then establish an identity primarily as an intellectual community. Others who are driven by a passion for peace and justice counter by insisting the church be known primarily as a peace and justice church. Still others who come for social reasons then insist the church primarily be known as a social center.

My goal as the pastor then is to throw open each group’s doors and let them first recognize the existence (and needs) of the other groups, and then eventually help them come to the point where they can celebrate (and not be threatened by) the presence of the other groups.

Whatever it is that draws you into spiritual community is okay. No matter what initially draws you to church, however, my goal is to use that attraction to draw you into a deeper experience of God.

This means if the intellect was the reason you first showed up, engage your intellect: but use that intellect to deepen your experience of God. If you showed up because of justice and peace issues, that’s great! Just make sure to use your pursuit of justice and peace to enrich your experience of God. And if you showed up because you enjoy the company with others, that’s okay too. Just allow yourself to arrive at a deeper experience of God through the blessings of these life-giving relationships. While there would be dozens of different reasons as to why folks come to church, there would be one primary goal: that each person have a deeper experience of God while they are participating in the life of church.

So there you have the goal or vision of my ministry spelled out in pretty straight forward terms. I hope it helps. My fervent prayer is that each of us will use that initial interest/passion that drew us into spiritual community to grow deeper in our experience of God.

Til next time…

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Galatians 1

When I was a lay person, I remember thinking to myself, “I admire the way a pastor thinks and acts – but they are lucky. They don’t have to deal with the same day-to-day challenges the rest of us face. They don’t have to face things like difficult co-workers, budgetary shortfalls, unreasonable expectations put on one by one’s boss, and the like. It must be so much easier being insulated from sorts of challenges.”

I smile now as I remember thinking that - for the reality is that much of our life is spent dealing with exactly those sorts of challenges. In addition to the “spiritual matters” that I typically deal with, for instance, I’ve worked with our lay leadership to hire and train not one, not two, but three new employees in just the past four weeks. So much for not having “normal” day-to-day concerns 

So if pastors face the same day-to-day challenges as the rest of us, how do they find time to stay (at least in their best moments) spiritually centered?

In many ways, the answer to that question is a lot like the answer to the question, “How does someone become healthy?” By this I mean that the answer has several parts. Instead of doing things like eating right, exercising, and getting plenty of sleep that have to do with our physical health, we try to do things that impact our spiritual health: things like regular prayer/meditation, daily devotional time, the cultivation of relationships outside of our ministry site, and the like. One of the most important spiritual disciplines for me has been my work with a spiritual director.

Lots of folks wonder what a spiritual director is. They ask if it’s simply a counselor or therapist that burns a candle and plays Yanni in the background. That’s not exactly it. A spiritual director is someone who can help us take the details of our daily life and look deeper – to discern God’s presence in the midst of the daily demands. In other words, they help cultivate our ability to stay connected with/to God 24/7. Every 5 or 6 weeks I travel to Altadena to tend to this piece of my spiritual life. Today is that day for my session. Needless to say I’m excited!

All of this raises the question: “What do you do on a regular basis to tend to your spiritual life?” It’s an important question that has the ability to move our faith outside the box of a 10:00 AM Sunday morning worship service into each and every aspect of our daily life.

Til next time…

Monday, January 25, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Romans 15 & 16

Several years ago, I went to a presentation done by missionaries from New Zealand at my home church. Most of the information they shared was relatively standard. There was one thing that they said, however, that fascinated me. It fascinated me so much I’ve remember it almost thirty years later!

In talking about their use of the Bible with the indigenous people, they said that one of the indigenous people’s favorite passages was the first seventeen verses of the first chapter in the book of Matthew. Those are the verses that spell out Jesus’ genealogy.

“Why those verses?” someone asked. “Those are verses most of us usually skip over when we read them.”

“They liked those verses,” the missionaries said, “because they showed the indigenous people that God cares so much about humanity that God pays attention to the branches of their families.”

That was a good lesson for me about how some of the details in scripture that seem unimportant can be significant in other ways.

Today’s culminating words from Romans 16 are a good example of this. Paul takes several verses to say hello to a variety of people ranging from Phoebe in verse 1 to Olympus in verse 15.

“And why are those ‘thank you’s’ important?” you might ask.

Because they are reminders that any effective ministry should have lots and lots of people involved.

In my first parish I underestimated the important of that fact and did WAAAYYYYYY too much of the work myself. That approach was wrong. I’m trying to change that and get more people involved early in the ministry at my second church.

That insight can be of help to you in your day to day life as well. You can examine your life and see if you are prone to what I would call a “lone ranger” approach where you do everything by yourself, or if you find ways of reaching out to others and getting them involved as well. Something to think about.

Til next time…