Ransomed Heart, Personal Thoughts and The Newtown Evil

A friend of mine sent me a link to a post titled "Why Newtown is More Important Than We Think" from over at Ransomed Heart. The author, John, is reacting to the 'shocked' reaction of people to the events of the Newtown murders. You will want to read his post before you read my thoughts below.

My friend asked for my opinion of John's post, so I thought I would share it publicly here:

John’s blog is good. I've read some of his stuff before. His thoughts are well processed and he reason sound. His perspective is different than my own – if a quantitative not qualitative difference. He personifies evil more than I like. Evil, for me, is more about the malformation of possibility, the twisted and sometimes fateful course of human choice gone bad. God has created a reality, placed humans into it (and a lot of other life) and set-up a structure of guiding forces that react to the movement of life through that reality. On a simple level – we are creatures who make choices and live with the consequences – often unknown – of those choices. Life, reality is affected by the singular and cumulative effect of human choice. We create specific cultures by how we chose to live. We create environmental impact/change by the consequences of our patterns of relating to the natural (and orderly) world. We develop as individuals as a result of the choices we make: how we choose to act or react to life on life’s terms. It is neither my experience of life or my religious belief that there is a godly-evil at work corrupting and mal-forming this human project. Rather, the evil influence is the cumulative result of our individual and collective choices to do less-than-godly things. We are our own worst enemies- in the words of Pogo, “We have met the enemy and He is us.”

To build on John's image - we are the wind.

That said, while my world view (other-worldly view?) may differ from John's, I agree that the cumulative result of the malformation of humanity in our world is an urgent matter. I believe the solution is to be found among people of faith and religious traditions that are loving enough to embrace good and strong enough to stand for love in the face of these malformations. We need only look at civilized history for mentors: Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, ML King, Jr, Bill Wilson,  etc. We will find there ways to fight - Prayer, acts of kindness, civil disobedience, debate, personal sacrifice for the good of those who can’t…

One final thought. I am glad people were shocked by the events in Newtown. Part of our hope is centered in the belief that the normal course of our lives and world is ruled by lawful, perhaps even loving actions. We expect good, and hope for some sacred places that our collective humanity respects. We don’t expect someone to kick a puppy, curse at their elders, or shoot children. If we are ever not shocked by these occurrences, we have even more to fear from ourselves.

So, now I would be interested in your thoughts.


Merry Christmas

Once, for a splendid moment, heaven reached down, touched earth and hope was born anew.


Max Lucado Christmas Prayer - 12/14/12 Prayer Time

I have struggled to create some kind of written response to the tragedy of this past Friday in New Town. This morning, at worship, I heard Max Lucado's prayer and there is no way I could say it any better, so I share it with you: (as recorded at The Huffington Post)

Dear Jesus,

It's a good thing you were born at night. This world sure seems dark. I have a good eye for silver linings. But they seem dimmer lately.

These killings, Lord. These children, Lord. Innocence violated. Raw evil demonstrated.

The whole world seems on edge. Trigger-happy. Ticked off. We hear threats of chemical weapons and nuclear bombs. Are we one button-push away from annihilation?

Your world seems a bit darker this Christmas. But you were born in the dark, right? You came at night. The shepherds were nightshift workers. The Wise Men followed a star. Your first cries were heard in the shadows. To see your face, Mary and Joseph needed a candle flame. It was dark. Dark with Herod's jealousy. Dark with Roman oppression. Dark with poverty. Dark with violence.

Herod went on a rampage, killing babies. Joseph took you and your mom into Egypt. You were an immigrant before you were a Nazarene.

Oh, Lord Jesus, you entered the dark world of your day. Won't you enter ours? We are weary of bloodshed. We, like the wise men, are looking for a star. We, like the shepherds, are kneeling at a manger.

This Christmas, we ask you, heal us, help us, be born anew in us.

Your Children


In Memory of:

Children (8 boys and 12 girls)
Charlotte Bacon, 6
Daniel Barden, 7
Olivia Engel, 6
Josephine Gay, 7
Ana Marquez-Greene, 6
Dylan Hockley, 6
Madeline Hsu, 6
Catherine Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7
Jesse Lewis, 6
James Mattioli, 6
Grace McDonnell, 7
Emilie Parker, 6
Jack Pinto, 6
Noah Pozner, 6
Caroline Previdi, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6
Avielle Richman, 6
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Allison Wyatt, 6

Rachel Davino, 29
Anne Marie Murphy, 52
Lauren Rousseau, 30
Mary Sherlach, 56
Victoria Soto, 27
Dawn Hocksprung, 47
Not on the released list: Nancy Lanza, mother of the gunman

We Need to Show Up for God

The following is an excerpt from an Advent sermon. This is the 3rd and final "point" of the message...

3. We need to show up. It reminds me of my childhood memories of waiting for my relatives to arrive so we could open Christmas presents. There I was, nose pressed to the front window, waiting for them... all present and accounted for. Waiting...waiting...waiting.

The element of divine surprise: Jeffery Sobanson in his book, Ascent to God, talks about faith as art, risk and humor. In his paradigm of living faith, he points out that people need a faith that changes because our world view, our understanding of God, changes. As he puts it, "We all reach a point when our faith fails, the center does not hold." He's right. 

Sometimes, God is just funny!

My favorite part of the book, however, is the concept of faith as humor. He challenges us to realize that we are not, ultimately, in control, but God is. The very source and object of our faith is in charge, not us. 

Think of it this way. You are watching a play. The hero has fumbled through antic after antic in an effort to win the love of the heroine.  His efforts have been thwarted, dismissed and misunderstood - until the revelation is shared that he has in fact been the object of her love all along and the success of his wooing has been her desire and arrangement all along. There is humor in that, and the reassurance of Advent is that God will show up to be with us.

And so we come to it, this Advent season of preparation, and in it we find that there is a creative dance between us and the Divine. We are warned and called to prepare and wait for a certain coming, and in the very act of our limited and incomplete preparation, we are assured that we will not miss Christ's coming, and will be graced by the Greatest of guests at our Christmas table. 

God is up to something; about that we can be sure. In some way, the Divine will arrive in our lives, always arrives in our lives and in that arrival, we will find ourselves face to face with hope anew and possibilities galore. We just have to show up.


Christ-mas Planning - Make Plans but Don't Plan The Outcome

"In life there is nothing more unexpected and surprising than the arrivals and departures of pleasure. If we find it in one place to-day, it is vain to seek it there to-morrow. You cannot lay a trap for it." -Alexander Smith 

In preparation for the coming of Christ: We need to not plan the outcome.

There is a saying in 12 Step programs that goes like this - "It is OK to make plans; just don't plan the outcome." How many times have we reached the end of the holiday and felt disappointed? The gift wasn't right. The turkey was dry. The ex-spouse was late bringing the kids. The cake fell. In some small or major way, our expectations for the holiday weren't met. This passage from Matthew warns us about expectations if it does anything. You won't know when, or how, or where the Christ will come, but be ready anyway. But ready for what? It is a fair question, just not the right one. The better question is how to be ready: open-mindedness.

My youngest step-daughter, Christine, had a goal as she prepared to go to school for the first day. She dressed eagerly, got on the bus, and was off. At the end of the day, the bus dropped her off at her driveway, and as her mother stood there to greet her, she placed her hands on her hips, planted one foot soundly and proclaimed with a huff, "I didn't learn to read!" Expectations.
Have you ever exercised with a goal? To run a race, or lose weight (not that anyone here needs to lose weight. In fact, I can't believe I even brought that up right after Thanksgiving), or maybe to recover from an injury. 

A few years ago, I went through a round of physical therapy – exercises, actually – for a back injury I had. The physical therapist and the techs would teach me an exercise and instruct me to do it each day. Then each week I would come back for evaluation, some treatments and the next level of exercise – if I was ready for it. We had a plan: to get me healthy. We had a menu: specific exercises done on a regular basis. But, week to week I was surprised by the changes in my body - sometimes more than expected, sometimes less. My body did or didn't do what I expected it to. (I'm still amazed I can't touch my heel to my nose....)

Then one day I realized the back pain was gone. I'm not exactly sure when it happened, but it did. The pain left and ease of motion was there. What Advent requires of us is an openness to God's working. We are not the only ones with a plan. We are not the only ones working. God's coming is more like getting healthy, or getting fit, than it is like catching a cold. It doesn't just happen to us because of proximity; we have to work to benefit from it. God is free. God is available to everyone, but what happens in our life, in our world, when God comes in an unexpected way is beyond our control. And God always comes unexpectedly, so we need to be open-minded to the unusual ways and times God works. And, of course, we need to show up.


Wishful Preaching - Sample Chapter

Happy December! As my gift to you, enjoy this sampling of my new book, "Wishful Preaching: Things I Wish I'd Said From the Pulpit."

Chapter 11. If You Can’t Laugh at Your Religion, Go Home

The life of a man steeped in religious tradition and routine is not without its humor. Life just seems to enjoy taunting our sacred moments, ever reminding us never to take ourselves too seriously. The following three “true stories” (some details have been changed – to protect the guilty!) offer a glimpse into an irreverent playfulness that is common in life around the pulpit.

Long ago and far away, I was the young associate pastor of a large church. In that same town, there were several other young associate pastors, and we found that meeting for lunch, every month or so, was good for support and laughter. One of the stories, reportedly true, was about an associate pastor who was preaching before the large, traditional congregation he was serving.  For his sermon text, he had chosen a passage from Matthew 16, about the apostle Peter.

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." - Matthew 16:13-18

The passage identifies, among other things, the moment when “Simon” becomes “Peter.” The name, here, is a reference to a Greek word which means ‘rock.’  Many a sermon has drawn the parallel between the strong and unwavering faith of Peter, the rock, and the lack of such faith in today’s church.

The young pastor, the story goes, had a tendency to grow passionate and enthusiastic during his sermons and as he expanded his message to its central theme, he was heard to proclaim, “What the church today needs is more people like Peter! We need more firm Peters!” As someone in the choir gasped, the well-meaning orator sensed that his proclamation was impacting his congregants, and so he repeated this call for “firm Peters” not once but twice more before finishing the sermon.  Go ahead: laugh....

If you like this sample, feel free to click over to Wishful Preaching on Amazon and get more for only $2.99. All proceeds are donated to charity. 


Wishful Preaching - The Book NOW Available

As of 11/26/12, as good a day as any, the Kindle version of "Wishful Preaching: Things I Wish I'd Said From The Pulpit" is now available. All profits go to charity. Own your copy of Wishful Preaching now.

You can read Kindle books on anything, too. See all the options here: Kindle Free Reading Apps.

"A little bit preaching, a tad irreverent and a dash of hilarious - Wishful Preaching is a collection of 12 sermons that SHOULD be preached from the pulpit. After 15 years of ministry and a less than pretty exit, I've become aware that there are a few things I wish I'd said from the pulpit. 

Preaching isn't really all about what the preacher does. It is about what we do, what we hear and how that impacts our lives. Preaching is as much about hearing as it is about talking. This book is about the talking, the proclaiming of preaching. I have written in a form very similar to how I've preached with a mix of scripture, story and humor. 

This book is about hearing, too. You will be challenged to hear some things in different ways, in ways that might really challenge you, even make you steaming, righteous mad. Sound fun?"


Holidays Are for You, Too!

The holidays always present themselves with a forceful intensity. The expectations of others, and our internal conversations can make for a busy mess. Couple these agendas with the ideal and sentimental expectations of what holidays are suppose to be, or at best could be like and we are set for an emotionally intense time.

Be selfish. Some self love and discipline are called for here. Let's plan some 'down time,' some you time into the next few days. Enjoy the traveling, company, shopping and gifting. Turn up the volume on your activity around festive and charitable endeavors. Then, make sure you stop and collect yourself. Breathe.

Plan a few minutes in each day to breathe, rest and pray. Take a walk alone or with someone you love and trust to just 'be' with you.

One of my favorite ways to ground myself in me is to devote my attention and a few moments of my time to my dogs. Pets can really keep us sane amid the hectic tasks of the holidays.

Embrace the passion of these holidays, and have the discipline to take care of yourself, too.

Be blessed.


A Different Kind of Flirt - God at Play

There is always much more.

In each combination
a savoring nuance blended from that moments ingredients
Do you hear that...  that unknown laugh?
It makes me smile.
Who is that?
Even in the mundane, methodical rhythm of talking
we stumble
on the euphoria
of an additional smile
an amalgamation of chemical strokes and spiritual caresses
as if we should have been here all along.
There seems to be more, always.
More to know, feel, grasp, share...

God is such a flirt.


While Pondering @DeepakChopra and Spiritual Connections

"Every cell in your body is eavesdropping on your thoughts."
~ Deepak Chopra

Sometimes you never know what you are getting into on Facebook. A friend of mine recently posted the above quote from Deepak Chopra. I made a simple comment of "That's good" on her status. A few minutes later I got a message from her asking me to expand on my thoughts about the quote. It seemed like a good idea, so here goes...

First, I like the analogy Chopra uses here. The visual imagine of every cell in our body listening is powerful, if not a little scary. My mind goes kinda "Sci-Fi" channel and sees cells with ears attending to a anthropomorphic "thought" awaiting the next utterance as if receiving a command from the King. To snag a phrase from EF Hutton, "When your mind thinks, everyone listens." Fun stuff there. Meaningful stuff there, too.

Second, I think the message Chopra is sharing is that our thoughts tend to direct our focus and thus our actions. There is an old saying, "If you hang around the barber shop long enough, you're going to get a haircut." We laugh because we know it's true. If we think about it, a similar correlation can be drawn from something that precedes hanging out at the barber shop - thinking about the barber shop. Our continued thoughts about people, places and things pave the way for us to walk right up to them. In a very basic way thought commonly precedes action. The point here is that we need to be mindful (pun intended) of how we are thinking. I'm on board with that, and most spiritual traditions from extreme religious asceticism to tantric sex practices place importance on the power of our thoughts to produce action and results.

Lastly, I'd like to go metaphysical on you. If you take Chopra's statement beyond analogy and consider the possibility that there is a cellular (or perhaps spiritual connection) between the cells and processes of our bodies, then it makes sense that the energy exchanged in the process of thinking does have a butterfly effect on all of our cells and thus our body. It isn't too much of stretch to see the connection between our thoughts and our physical and spiritual well being. Of course, we might wonder if those thoughts aren't driven, as well, by the overall health of the larger system. We might also so say, "The voice of the mind speaks but the opinions of the body collective" - (we are Borg??). Nevertheless, the point is a profound one and it is my personal belief that we can make meaningful changes in ourselves by immersing ourselves - body and mind - in an environment that promotes the values of our deepest beliefs. If we hang around the barber shop, we'll likely end up with less hair. If we spend our time with negative and shallow thinking people, we might very well find ourselves with less joy and analytical capacity.

Wait - I guess I have another point, or thought at least. Within the Christian faith, we often speak of the 'Spirit' and our connection with the Divine. Chopra's tantalizing analogy nudges my mind to think of that connection of mind and body to also include spirit. As goes one - so resonates the others. If this is true, then maybe sometimes, when we are listening (eaves dropping) carefully - we might hear some thoughts that are greater than our own - moments when we are privy to eaves dropping on the thoughts of the Divine. If thoughts lead, then perhaps God's thoughts are one way the spirit is present with us, guiding, inviting us to respond to a possibility of change outside of what we can produce on our own in any given moment in time, and perhaps - it isn't about when those Spiritual thoughts are there as much as it is about when we are intently listening. Could we then say, 'Every devoted mind is eavesdropping on the very thoughts of God?"

I like that.


Do We Need to Wait More?

In a world where we are connected via smart phones, tablets, laptops and email we seldom are required to wonder about and anticipate the arrival of someone, someone special. Last Sunday, I was sharing the morning with my 4 year old granddaughter. We were early to church, getting there before many others and their children. Of particular interest to my grandkid was her current 'best church friend', Ruthie. Ruthie is a preteen and simply the greatest small human on the planet to my granddaughter. The order of the morning was to find Ruthie. We walked around the church building, strolled outside to survey the parking lot - we paused and waited - then we looked in another place. As I let my granddaughter lead me on our search for Ruthie, I wondered if Ruthie was even coming to church that day.

Waiting on Ruthie

My first thought was to call Ruthie's mom, but I didn't have her number so we waited. As other children arrived and the time for worship approached, I mentioned that Ruthie might not be coming to church. My granddaughter was undaunted and took her position by the front lobby window. As she watched each car and person arrive with no Ruthie, I imagined the varied emotions she must be experiencing.

Haven't we each had the experience of wanting someone to arrive, hoping to see them? Truth is, as I thought about the experience I had to go to memories of my childhood, to a time when technology wasn't so available, a time when we weren't connected constantly. I remember waiting, nose pressed to the window pane, for my uncle and aunt to arrive on Christmas eve. We couldn't open presents until they arrived, and they wouldn't arrive until they completed their trip to my aunt's parents. We didn't have any way of knowing when they would arrive, or where they were in their timeline. The high tech communications of the day consisted of nothing more than house phones - usually one to a home. So we had to wait. We just did the things we needed to do and carried with each of our actions the hovering expectation of their arrival. The later it got, the more excited we got. The more we lived with that unknown and the knowledge that they could round that corner any moment, the more excited we got. I haven't had that experience lately. I watched my granddaughter experiencing something similar and wondered how quickly technology would make her unknowns fade.

Is there something necessary in our waiting, our expectations in waiting? Do we need to develop and live with some level of uncertainty in order to have a deeper level of connection or value to the arrival moments in our lives? Have we grown so accustom to rapid communication and instant accessibility to family and friends that we are less capable of dealing with uncertainty, and open expectations?

Last Sunday, Ruthie never arrived. My granddaughter finally gave up and joined me in the pew as worship began. Soon she was sharing drawings and quiet conversation with the 4 yr old boy seated next to us. In a few minutes they walked downstairs together for 'children's church.' It was clear her expectation of Ruthie's arrival had passed. What was not clear is how immeasurably valuable that simple moment of hoping, anticipating and waiting may have been for her development. Did she learn something about waiting? Did she build even care to share in the next meeting with Ruthie?  What is clear is that it has me thinking...


I Corinthians 13 as a "Found Poem"

A "found poem" is what happens when someone recognizes the lyrical qualities of a pre-existing prose text and releases the underlying poetry, the way Michelangelo talked about "freeing" the figures (statues) "imprisoned" within the marble.

(See Wikipedia for a longer and more precise discussion.)

If I speak in the tongues
of men and of angels,
but have no love,
I am like a booming gong
or a clanging cymbal.
If I am gifted with prophecy
and can fathom all mysteries
and all knowledge,
and I possess a faith
that can move mountains,
but have no love,
I am nothing.
If I give all I have to the poor
and deliver my body to be burned,
but have no love,
it gains me nothing.

Love is patient,
love is kind.
It does not envy,
it does not boast,
it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others,
it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered,
it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil
but rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.

Love never ends;
but where there are prophecies,
they will cease;
where there are tongues,
they will be stilled;
where there is knowledge,
it will pass away.

For we know in part
and we prophesy in part,
but when completion arrives,
what is partial will come to an end.

When I was a child,
I spoke like a child,
I thought like a child,
I reasoned like a child –
but when I became a man,
I put childish ways behind me.
For now we see but a dim reflection,
but then we shall see face to face;
now I know partially,
but then I shall know fully,
just as I am fully known.

So faith and hope and love abide,
these three –
but the greatest of these
is love.


Expectations of God

There is a saying in 12 step programs that goes like this - "It is ok to make plans, just don't plan the outcome." How many times have we reached the end of the day and felt disappointed? The gift wasn't right. The meal was dry. The weather was wet. The ex-spouse was late bringing the kids. The cake fell. In some small or major way, our expectations for the day weren't met. We just weren't ready for the particular events of the day.

 Matthew 24: 42. Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43. But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. 44. Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

This passage from Matthew warns us about expectations if it does anything. You won't know when, how or where the Christ will come - but be ready anyway. But, ready for what? It is a fair question - just not the right one. The better question is how to be ready...for whatever comes.


My youngest step-daughter, Christine, had a goal as she prepared to go to school for the first day of 1st grade. She eagerly dressed, got on the bus and was off. At the end of the day, the bus dropped her off at her drive way and as her mother stood there to greet her she placed her hands on her hips, planted one foot soundly and proclaimed with a huff, "I didn't learn to read!" Expectations.

Have you ever exercised with a goal, to perhaps run a race, or lose weight (not that anyone here needs to lose weight. In fact, I can't believe I even brought that up), or maybe to recover from an injury.

A few years ago, I went through a round of physical therapy - exercises actually- for a back injury. The Physical therapist and the techs would teach me an exercise and instruct me to do it each day. Then each week I would come back for evaluation, some treatments and the next level of exercise - if I was ready for it. We had a plan - to get me healthy. We had a menu - specific exercises done on a regular basis. But, week to week I was surprised by the changes in my body - sometimes more than expected, sometimes less. My body did or didn't do what I expected it to. I'm still amazed I can't touch my heel to my nose.

Then one day I realized, the back pain was gone. I'm not exactly sure when it happened, but it did. The pain left and ease of motion was there. Preparation requires of us openness to God's working. We are not the only ones with a plan. We are not the only one working. God's coming is more like getting healthy, getting fit than it is like catching a cold. It doesn't just happen to us because of proximity - we have to work to benefit from it. God is free. God is available to everyone - but what happens in our life, in our world when God comes in an unexpected way is, well... beyond our control. AND, God always comes unexpectedly. It's always an unexpected type of gift - so we need to be open minded to the unexpected ways and times God works and of course we need to - show up, do the work of the day and receive the outcome.


Contemplate This

When I understand how small I am, I'm beginning to know the grandeur of my significance.


Living Your Dream Life? Me Neither: How to Get Back on Track.

GUEST POST, by Cyndi Briggs the creator of The Sophia Project, who works as a writer and teacher in Winston-Salem, NC. 

Last spring, I fell ill.

The symptoms were mysterious: lethargy, fatigue, chronic sighing and moodiness. Angst. Melancholy. A big, fat case of the blahs. Regular consumption of late night donuts.

It took me a few weeks to determine the cause. Turns out I had a classic case of Live-the-Life-of-Your-Dreams-itis, a common but often undiscussed condition suffered by many of us in the Western world.

 I’ll let the incomparable Parker Palmer explain:

Like many middle-class Americans, especially those who are white and male, I was raised in a subculture that insisted I could do anything I wanted to do, be anything I wanted to be, if I were willing to make the effort. The message was that both the universe and I were without limits, given enough energy and commitment on my part. God made things that way, and all I had to do was get with the program (from Let Your Life Speak, p. 39). 

 I live and work in a subculture like the one Palmer describes, the world of healing professionals and educators. We all envision ourselves as Robin Williams in the movie Dead Poet’s Society, using the power of our words and our message to inspire ourselves and other to create lives of daring, power, and purpose:


I have been intent on living the life of my dreams for about 10 years now. It began with a set of goals based on random yearnings of my heart: to run a marathon, live in Oregon, finish a PhD, write a book. Noble goals, all. Each one felt like it might be the thing that finally granted me peace, a sense of place and belonging in the world. I hoped accomplishing my dreams might deliver me at last to that plateau of contentment I so longed to find.

Over time, I began to ratchet up the odds: I wanted to make money. You know, like bank. Bucks. Benjamins. I wanted to be a little bit famous. Not Oprah famous, but guest on Oprah famous. I wanted tens of thousands of readers, a book contact, speaking gigs. My dreams began to shape themselves around the hollow outline of the somebody I thought I wanted to be.

My dreams took on a life of their own, a pulse, a heartbeat. They sat on the horizon and taunted me, pointed out to me all the ways I failed to reach them. I mentally beat myself up daily for my lack of accomplishment, for the extra long naps I felt inclined to take, for reading a book instead of writing an essay, for not hustling more to achieve what I wanted.

Fueled by positive thinking blogs and Facebook posts shouting, “The sky's the limit!” I wondered why I felt so very limited. And then I began wondering why I wanted all those external markers of success, anyway. Were those dreams my soul? Or my ego? It gradually dawned on me that my dreams of success were built on a foundation of my insecurities and self-doubt rather than on a genuine desire to serve.

I tell you my story not to discourage you from dreaming or following your dreams, but to point out two simple facts:

1. We do, in fact, have limitations. Here is an abbreviated list of all the things I’ll never be: a professional figure skater, a nuclear physicist, president of the United States, an astronaut, a professional singer/actress/dancer. I’ll never be any of these things, no matter how much I dream about them, because I simply lack the talent, drive, and natural gifts to accomplish them. Period. No amount of positive thinking will ever change the fact that my singing voice is overwhelmingly mediocre.

In addition, I have limitations with regard to my time and energy. One reason Oprah is so successful: she works her ass off. I am a person who enjoys sleeping, eating long meals, hanging out with friends at coffee shops in the middle of the day, and dinking around my apartment, doing lots of nothing. These small activities bring me enormous joy. Oprah doesn’t have my quality of life, in many ways. In addition, she bears the tremendous pressure of celebrity, public criticism, and fame. I don’t want any of that stuff. My limitations, thus, save me in the end from a life that would make me miserable.

2. Our dreams are often built not on the life that desires to live through us, but on our ego’s fragile ideas of what our lives should look like. I love learning and being a student. I would stay in school forever if it were free. Being a student of life is my true and genuine nature. But one major reason I got my PhD was so I could feel important. Plain and simple. I wanted to be called “Dr.” My ego very mistakenly believed that extra letters after my name would remove self-doubt. It didn't work. 

Many of us base our dreams almost exclusively on our insecure ego needs. We get married, buy houses, accept promotions, sell ourselves not because of our soul’s calling but because we’re compensating for the emptiness in our hearts.

How to tell the difference? When I am listening to my soul, the call feels like a Truth that cannot be denied. I often become tearful with emotion. The path before me feels scary, but like a tremendous YES of affirmation. I am full of peace about the decision.

When I make decisions based on my ego, it feels more akin to lust. Something I must have in order to be whole. What feels initially like a rush of energy quickly devolves into a form of obsession, and I feel incomplete without whatever it is I’m lusting after.

When my own case of Live-the-Life-of-Your-Dreams-itis flared up this spring, I decided to stop paying attention to my ego for a bit and quiet down to hear my soul. What resulted was a three month summer of bliss, long days of contemplation and very little striving. I questioned whether ditching my blog and extraneous work commitments was a good choice (my silly little ego cried, “What if they forget about me?”) but my wise soul reassured me again and again that all was well. I’m happy to report that my symptoms have abated, the lesson learned.

I ask you today, what life of your dreams longs to live through you? And how can you get out of the way to allow it to take shape, grow, and bloom?

Guest poster Cyndi Briggs is the creator of The Sophia Project, and works as a writer and teacher in Winston-Salem, NC.


Praying In The Raw

When it comes to prayer, it seems that God is more like a respected friend than ruler or overlord. God is accessible and attentive. When we go to God in prayer, we arrive much the way we might arrive to a meeting with that friend - as we are at that moment. If anger is pressing on our mind, or despair is choking our voice - we would open our mouth and share it with that friend. We might hold it in all day, waiting for that trusted audience to hear us, to listen to us, to be worthy of the real us.

I have a friend, who is a religious leader in his community. He holds a prestigious position. He helps dozens of people with their faith journey each week. Yet, he had a time in his life, as a minister, when he was ready to take his own life. He found himself with a rope around his neck and his cell phone in his hand. He used the phone, not the rope. Why? Because at his moment of greatest need and danger, he called someone who would be with him, listen to him - hear him out. Sometimes - we need to be heard, raw emotions, broken hearts - warts and all.

Warts and all - my mother use to say that, "Kim, I love you as you are, warts and all."

Private prayer is about being with God in whatever state we are in - be it despair or elation. Here's a truth for you, and if you don't get anything else I say here - get this -God is big enough for you. We hear a lot of theology about how powerful God is - God is omnipotent. We hear a lot of theology about how God knows everything - God is omniscient.  We don't hear about how capable God is, and God is capable. We need a new 'Omni' word: God is Omni-competent. No matter how messy, raw or difficult we may be when we come to God in prayer; God can handle it, and make something good out of it.


3 Truths for a Great Life

Jesus laughed. Jesus wept. Do likewise...

Jesus laughed. Jesus wept. Do likewise.


Your God is Too Damn Small - Excerpt

Your God is too damn small. Face it. Right now you are more concerned with the fact that I just said 'damn' than you are with your view of God. I assure you, the second is far more important.

God just doesn't get the respect God deserves anymore. Perhaps it is the cherubic faced angels or the faceless Willow Tree figurines that are to blame. Maybe it is our reaction to 1970's preaching that was once centered in guilt, shame and remorse. Whatever it is, the Divine comes across very warm and fuzzy these days. It is as if we have come to understand God as a great nurturing, heavenly helper. Contrast this to the scene from Job 38.

The manuscript that is now Job has a prologue and a postlude added. The first attempts to explain the heavenly drama in which the story of Job takes place. The second seeks to add some element of justice to the life experience of Job: the restoration of stuff and relationships to Job following his suffering.  Originally, neither prologue nor postlude was a part of the story. Job's life of misfortune and suffering is punctuated by one final plea to God for understanding, for an explanation of suffering. God, apparently weary of Job's questioning - replies in grand fashion.

Job 38: 1-7
Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:
 2 “Who is this that obscures my plans
   with words without knowledge?
3 Brace yourself like a man;
   I will question you,
   and you shall answer me.
 4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
   Tell me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
   Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set,
   or who laid its cornerstone—
7 while the morning stars sang together
   and all the angels shouted for joy?

The text continues with God pouring forth example after example of God's greatness and power, the end of which finds Job humble and cowering before God's awesome majesty.

Do we find God this big in our lives? Can we even imagine the vast greatness of this being to which we claim allegiance?  The writer of Proverbs 9:10 states, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." If my God isn't big enough to strike a little fear into my heart, my God is too small. I'm not talking here about being fearful, in a 'I'm scared God is gonna zap me to hell' kind of fear. No. I'm talking about an awesome respect.

In April of 2010 I was speaking at a Rotary conference in Asheville, NC. I happened to be attending that conference at The Biltmore House at the same time that President Obama and his family were vacationing there. The place was pretty well patrolled by Secret Service agents. I found myself standing in a hallway when about 9 agents appeared and asked me to step to the far side of the corridor. Within a few moments, the presidential family walked up a nearby staircase, past me and into a small dining area. I thought for a moment about reaching into my jacket pocket for my phone to take a photo, but stopped - a bit worried about how that movement might be interpreted (that and getting shot). I was a bit scared and frankly, nervous about the entire moment. I'm not sure we give God even that level of respect.

Fans will swoon and faint over a close encounter with a rock star. TV celebrities get swarmed with adoration and are often the desire of many. When Bono (from U2) speaks, much of the world listens. When Lindsey Lohan 'falls off the wagon,' again, it becomes animated conversation. Yet, when it comes to our God, we are more likely to walk into a worship experience late, or whisper gossip during a prayer than we are to be awed by the fact that the Divine Creator of the Universe is willing to listen to us.

Sometimes I wish God would jump out of a dark corner and shout "BOO!"

Is your God big enough? Does the Divine take you to a place of awe?

(an excerpt from the upcoming book by the same title)


3 Things You Can Do to Save Our Precarious Planet

Precarious Planet

My nephew-in-law ruined my world and now I have to change...again. He sent me this video - see below. Watch it and see what I mean. DO NOT watch this unless you are prepared for the consequences:  disbelief and either despair or a conviction to change.

So for a few months now, I've been walking around, doing the same things I have always done and living with a gnawing ache, despair, that the planet, our home, is rapidly running out of time and that it is our fault. Frankly, it  is depressing to visualize the planet as it will be in less than 150 years and know that I can't change it.

However, this week I ran across an article by Bill McKibben that gave me some hope. Bill has offered some hope and leadership. You can find a nice article on his work and ideas here at Sojourners.

In short he offers three simple, although not necessarily easy, things we can DO about the problem we have created.

Here's the plan, as documented  by Rose Marie Berger  :

1. Divest or get active regarding all stockholdings in these six corporations: ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Peabody, Arch, and BP. These are the primary oil, natural gas, and coal companies operating in or through the United States that top the charts as carbon polluters.

2. Push for carbon "fee-and-dividend" laws on corporate carbon emitters at the local, state, and federal level. No more free rides for oil, gas, and coal companies. You pay taxes to have your garbage hauled away. Why shouldn't they?

3. Take personal responsibility. Everyone can continue to limit energy consumption, use renewable energy sources, and build out a sustainable footprint for our homes and churches. But we also need people to step up and put their bodies on the line...

Read the entire article here and more about Mr. McKibben's work over at BillMcKibben.com.


Holy Communion - What's All the Fuss About? It's Just Bread and Juice.

Have you ever made bread? I mean, have you ever made bread without a bread making machine? Making bread with yeast, flower, water and all that stuff is quite the process.

Bread and Communion are Complex

My wife buys bread. I'm insanely fond of the cranberry walnut bread that she brings back from Harris Teeter. It is "to-die-for." Seriously, it is some of the most flavorful, perfectly textured, moist and hearty stuff that has ever passed the lips of man - well, this man, at least. Yet, if I look at the ingredients, there isn't anything special - flour, cranberries, walnuts, salt, sugar, yeast...the usual suspects...no special sauce. Yet, together they are freaking amazing.

I don't know a lot about making bread, but I know it is often not as easy as it seems. It takes the right ingredients, in the right proportions. It also takes the right temperatures: one for mixing, another for rising, another for baking. It also takes the right baker, someone who knows how to put it all together. However, when all of that comes together - it will make your mouth water and your tongue slap your brain. Speaking of Communion - which is where I am going with this - Communion works the same way.

We have these simple things, bread and juice (we call it wine, but it isn't really - it's just grape juice). In spite of any theological treatment of transubstantiation, it really is just bread and juice. So, what's all the fuss about? Holy Communion, also known as the Eucharist and the Lord's Supper, is a complex an often debated event in the life of the Christian Church. I'm not about to tackle here what has been argued to an unsuccessful conclusion for some 2000 years. What I do want to offer here is an analogy that helps me understand what is going on in the event of Holy Communion, and in this thing call Religion.

Like the making of bread, the celebration of Holy Communion is the coming together of very basic elements into a single moment where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The 'special' thing about Communion is not the bread, juice, liturgy or the individuals present, it is what happens when all of this gets 'baked' together by the Divine. Spiritual awareness is increased. People make new commitments. New missions and ministries are born and proven ministries are continually supported. I like this idea.

It Takes Many Ingredients to Make Beauty

The wonder of Communion is found in what happens when all of the ingredients come together, get completed by God and new possibilities are born. If we take a step back, we can apply this same thinking to a larger picture. In the same way that each congregation is a microcosm of the Communion moment, perhaps we need to think that our specific group experience, our particular denomination is just one of the ingredients in something much larger that God is baking up.  So if we mix some of our stuff with some of other's stuff and turn it over to God, who knows what will rise and form?

What does that mean? Perhaps we can say that it is very important that we find not only ways to be good at what we are doing, but also ways to mix and test some more recipes together. Perhaps we can trust a larger process and be a little less exclusive. or maybe it just means we need to be open to what God is trying to do with us - right now, right where we are - so we can add our part to the mix.


Dr. Robin Meyers - We Need A Compulsion to Imagine

Every word of this talk, I wish I had said from the pulpit. Spend 18 minutes. It will be valuable for you.


5 Facts and Figures About the Holy Bible

If You’re Going to Quote The Bible – Know Something About It

The Christian bible is an amazing book. Almost everyone has more than one copy of it and it graces coffee tables, family archives and church libraries like no other single book. If you are ever staying in a hotel, you have to look no further than the nightstand drawer for a copy. It has been translated into almost every language. The bible is at the core of our lives, our worship and our theology – yet, most of us know very little about how to read it or how it came to be “The Bible.”

Consider these 5 things.

1. Mark is the oldest of the Gospels. Did you know that? The gospels are not in chronological , or even logical order. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (sounds like the Beatles). Most scholars believe that the author of Luke also wrote Acts. Yet, we have John sitting in between them. Why did we do that? Back to Mark. Mark, as I mentioned is universally agreed to be the older of the gospel accounts – separated by decades from its closet kin, historically speaking. As such, it contains a shorter and most likely less embellished account of the gospel story. If you want the story, pure and simple, that was considered by the early followers of Jesus as important, read Mark. Read Mark several times. Read it again. I’ll wait. Make a list of the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. I promise you two things: you will be shocked by what is in the story and you will be amazed at what isn’t. Its good stuff, really it is.

2. Before you ‘proof text’* scripture, take time to know the context. We’ll come back to this one – in another post - it’s a beast.

3. Did you know Job has a prologue and postlude added to it? Remember the story of Job? An ordinary man is spotted by God and Satan and they make a wager: Satan says he is such a good man because God has made life good for him. God disagrees and that sets the stage for the testing of Job. The story now moves from heaven to earth and we see Job slowly and systematically smitten by evil: death, disease, social rejection (everybody un-friend-ed him on Facebook) – Job lost everything.  But, in the end he never rejected God and God saw to it that Job had everything restored to him – several times over (although the bible isn’t clear on exactly how you restore a dead wife – several times over). It is a good story with a simple moral. God may test us, but in the end, the faithful will be rewarded. Make sense? Sounds good – only it isn’t what the book of Job is about at all. Most biblical scholars agree (read - proving this is a long story) that the first few chapters of Job (the part about God and Satan’s wager) and the chapters that conclude the book (the part about the restoration of Job’s stuff) were actually later additions to the work. If you omit those and read the book of Job – the story changes drastically and in my humble opinion, actually sounds more like a sound theological treatment of the problem of suffering that we all face. In the end, God tells job (in dramatic fashion), “I’m God and you’re not – that’s why.” It’s a hard message, but sometimes that is the message we need to hear – We are not God, after all.

4. Consider the fact you are reading a translation of an interpretation of the translation of the original text which was a recollection of a collective memory. Jesus spoke Aramaic, the Gospel writers wrote it down (years later)  in Greek and which was translated to Latin which was translated to English...or something like that.

5. Get a good bible dictionary. You will learn loads of stuff just by reading about your favorite passages of scripture. I'd recommend consulting The Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible.

If these things catch you by surprise and cause you to ask some hard questions about how you are reading and using scripture – good. We are off to a solid start. Thoughts?


Just Not Feeling It - Feelings and Being

It wasn't that long ago, just 'the other day' as we say here in the South, that I was visiting a rural church for worship. After the call to worship by a well tuned choir, the pastor headed to the pulpit. He rose slowly, with an audible groan, shuffled to the pulpit, arranged a few papers and then without looking up, spoke a droning welcome, "This is the day...that the Lord has made..let us be (hesitation) joyful."

It was almost a scene from Saturday Night Live. I didn't know if I should laugh or moan. Clearly his life moment and his words were - disconnected.

Sometimes we don't feel it. Sometimes we are just not happy, joyous and free. What do we do when our desire to be joyful and our feelings don't jive?

Here's some thoughts on that:

1. It's OK to feel bitchy, sad, discouraged and down right 'unholy.' Emotions aren't evil, just uncomfortable. Give yourself a break. It will mostly likely pass.
2. What I feel doesn't have to determine what I do. Acknowledge how you feel, but don't inflict that on innocent (or guilty, for that matter) bystanders.
3. We can change our attitude. Write a list of things that are good in your life. Recite positive and life affirming statements. If I say, "I will win. Why? I'll tell you why. Because I have faith, courage and enthusiasm" ten times, it will likely change my attitude.

One of my favorite quotes comes from William James, "The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes of mind."


Some Days

Some days require 2 cups of coffee and an extra hearty laugh.


Some Thoughts on Sin, Judgement and Theological Perspectives - The Odd Journey of Loving Others

"Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin" – Rubbish!

Pardon me while I rant... We mean well when we invent platitudes and politically correct proclamations. I, above many others, am sensitive to the need to for non- offensive statements and the inclusion of divergent opinions, however, when it comes to utterances that just don’t make any practical sense – I’m not so tolerant. One of those sayings is “Love the sinner and hate the sin.” How do you do that? 

I don’t believe we can separate the two, at least not on a pragmatic level. How do you love the sinner and hate that sinners behavior? (Side note -of course I have trouble even defining what a sinner is, anyway. Isn't a non sinner an imagined state of faultlessness? As such, why do we even talk about such? I'd rather dispense with the term 'sinner' outright. It makes more sense to speak of loving people, even those who are doing destructive, and hurtful things to themselves or others.)  Can a person really differentiate themselves from their actions? Is it possible to really speak of someone apart from the choices that they make or the life they live?

It is our living that fills our soul, fleshes us out as people. We are human beings and our being can't really be segmented from our actions any more than our actions can exist without our being. In short, we don't have the option to love someone without loving the whole package. As my mother is often quoted (by me), "We love you warts and all."

So our theology has to be one that either supports loving or hating the person. Does God call us to love people who are doing bad things? Simply put, yes.

The challenge to love wouldn't be much of a challenge at all if it was to only love people who fit our particular perspective of good. Loving people that are different, and even those who are - by most assessments - bad, is hard work. As soon as I have it figured out - I'll let you know. In the mean time, let's not avoid the hard work of growing more capable of a greater love by speaking such silly things as "love the sinner, hate the sin."

Our use of such remarks is most often our attempt to state judgment on someone without taking responsibility for that. It reminds me of growing up in the South. Here you can say anything you want to about someone if you state it correctly - just end your statement with "bless their heart."

He is such a thick-headed oaf - bless his heart.
She is quite the whore - bless her heart.
That one isn't the sharpest tack in the box - bless her heart.

You get the idea. When someone talks about hating the sin, what they are really doing is judging. I love him, but I hate his drug use. I love her, but I hate the way she dresses. I love those people but... and then anything that comes after the but is really what you want to say.

I'm advocating a more difficult task of dealing with why I am judging others and learning to love more. Who's in?


A Child's Humorous Theology - Children's Messages are Often Poignant

Sometimes the children's message comes from the child. A child was seated on the front pew during a particularly crowed service. As the pastor, enthusiasm running full tilt, stood to invite a packed sanctuary to give generously to the offering... "As we prepare to give to God from our abundance, let us remember that if it wasn't for God' generosity, we would all be but dust..," as the pastor paused for emphasis, the child turned and spoke into the silence - "Mommy, what is butt dust?"

Truth is stranger than fiction and but for the love of the Divine, as suppose we would be little better than butt dust.

Enjoy your day.


Saying "Hell, Yeah!" To Life - Guest Post

Dena Harris, Author

Please welcome Dena Harris, as our guest post today. I spotted this post over at her blog and it just felt like one of those "things I wish I had said from the pulpit." I asked her to share it here - she said "Hell, Yeah!" Enjoy.

I bought a pineapple last week and cut it up for Blair. (Betcha didn't think this post would start like this, did you? Ha! Keep reading.) This morning he mentioned something about the pineapple and I said, "Yeah, I took a bite of it. It's not bad."
"I think we need to watch how we phrase things," said Blair. "'It's not bad,' is not a very enthusiastic way of saying something is good."
He's right. And the Universe is sending me signals to watch my language. Just last night I had dinner with my friend Melody who informed me about a blog she'd read about saying "Hell Yeah!" to life. The writer, she explained, said that too many of us go around settling in life and that he had decided if he couldn't answer, "Hell Yeah!" to whatever person, situation, or choice was put in front of him, the answer would be "no." 
I googled "saying 'hell yeah' to life" and found this post by Derek Sivers. Read it. Here's the opening to tempt you:
Those of you who often over-commit or feel too scattered may appreciate a new philosophy I'm trying:
If I'm not saying “HELL YEAH!” about something, then say no.
Meaning: When deciding whether to commit to something, if I feel anything less than, “Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!” - then my answer is no.
When you say no to most things, you leave room in your life to really throw yourself completely into that rare thing that makes you say “HELL YEAH!”
He goes on to give excellent examples of how he's put this new philosophy to work. Blair and I were talking this morning about what a difference such an attitude should could bring. For example:  
  • Want to go exercise? It's not, "Yeah, I guess I should," it's "Hell yeah I do!"
  • Chinese for dinner? Hell yeah!
  • Go for a walk? Hell yeah!
  • Crank out some writing this morning? Hell yeah! 
 But how will this work on things we maybe really don't feel like saying "Hell yeah!" to but that have to be done anyway? I still think the philosophy will work. Suppose I don't feel like cleaning the house. If I stop for a moment and think about why I like a clean house--it puts me in a good mood, calms my mind, makes me feel organized, I like knowing everything is in its place, I work better when the house is in order--then maybe I can work myself up to a "Hell yeah, I do want to clean the house because I want all those things that follow!"
Anyway, there's going to be a lot of cursing around the Harris household this week because we're going to embrace the hell yeah way of life. 
Did you enjoy this blog post? If so, let me get a "HELL YEAH!!!" ;)


God Loves Us Even if We're a Bad Joke

Can I tell you a bad joke? A lesbian, a Baptist and a Serial Killer Walk into a Church…

I’ve heard some funny jokes in my day. My favorite –with all due apologies to my family and friends who have heard it a thousand times – goes like this: A man walks into a bar. –pause- “Ouch!” Get it? I just think it is hilarious!

This post starts out like a bad joke- a lesbian, a Baptist and a serial killer walk into a church. What happens next? Actually, that could be a very interesting exercise in reflection. How would that joke end? I’ll give you a few minutes to think about it. Go ahead.

What would happen if that really happened the next time you were in church? A lesbian. A Baptist (that one is really scary). A serial killer. Question, how would you know? It isn’t like the visitor’s pad has a place for you to check. Visitor – check. Prayer request – check. Would like a visit from the pastor– check.  Serial Killer - check? How would we know? In fact, on any given Sunday the scary truth is there very well may be a Baptist in your midst!

All too often we gather in a common setting for worship and make assumptions about the people in the same room. The reality is that everyone of us carries our own unique set of dreams, mistakes, regrets and particular formulations. Say it with me, "I'm unique, just like everybody else." We are (and I mean this with all love and kindness) the makings of a bad joke - over and over again.

Given that truth - how cool is it that the Divine welcomes us to gather and seek our own peculiar journey?


Bart Ehrman's Forged : A Review

I invited Mr. David Teague to offer this guest post here on Wishful Preaching. David is a long time friend and a recorded Quaker minister (which makes him a real Friend). Enjoy his post! - Kim the Preacher

There are twenty-seven books in the New Testament. How many of them were written by people we can identify with any degree of certainty?


That’s the answer given by UNC professor Bart Ehrman in his recent book, Forged. (The books, by the way, are Romans, I Corinthians, II Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, I Thessalonians, and Philemon – all letters of Paul). And, while there is some discussion about one or two more, the bulk of modern Biblical scholars agree with Ehrman's list.

As for the other twenty books, Ehrman divides them into two large groups: anonymous works mistakenly attributed to Apostles (Matthew, John, and Paul) or people remembered as apostolic companions (Mark and Luke), and writings, some inside the New Testament (like Ephesians, Colossians, Titus, the two letters to Timothy, the two letters of Peter, Jude, and – in Ehrman's view – Acts, James, and II Thessalonians), and others (the Gospel of Peter, the Acts of Pilate, III Corinthians, the letter of Barnabas, or the Gospel of Nicodemus, for example) outside the Bible altogether. For these books Ehrman uses the modern word for writings produced by people pretending to be someone else, in this case someone more authoritative: forgeries.

Ehrman cites a number of ancient Greek and Roman sources to show that ancient people shared our concepts of forgery and plagiarism, and that such writings, when detected, were almost universally regarded as lies, and therefore illegitimate. Nor are such forgeries confined to whole books of the New Testament: the ending of the Gospel of Mark (16:9-20) was added later, as were John 7:53-8:11 (the woman taken in adultery), and I Corinthians 14:34-35 (“Let the women in the churches keep silent”). As Ehrman remarks, “Whoever added the final twelve verses of Mark did not do so by a mere slip of the pen.”

The philosophical and moral dilemma posed by the probability that so many of the New Testament writings are what we now call forgeries is obvious. Ehrman, in fact, ends the book with a (relatively short) discussion of whether lying is ever justified, and he is clearly unsettled by the knowledge that the majority of the books of the New Testament are not what they are purported to be.

As I see it, however, we Quakers may well have an easier time living with the results of modern critical study of the Bible than do many other faith communities. We regard the Biblical writings not as the “last word,” but as the first – the first layer of experience in our spiritual tradition, if you will. We know that such “nuggets of truth” as we are able to mine out of our own lives, and share in spoken ministry during meeting for worship, come from imperfect individuals. This being the case, I, for one, think we can live with the revelation that the Bible is very much a human book, as well as a divine one. Who knows? For some of us, the new perspective may even make it easier to appreciate the Good Book for the masterpiece – or, rather, the collection of masterpieces – it really is.

David Teague


5 Slow Down Tips- Make Some Life Space

Dave Matthews band calls it, "The Space Between." Marketers say, "White space sells." Advertisers refer to "The pause that refreshes." All of these folks and their sayings come to mind when I find myself overwhelmed by the business and intensity of living.

Life comes at us pretty hard, sometimes. The multiplying demands of parenting, the self manifesting lists of tasks for work, the bombardment of feelings from our relationships - all take their toll on us. Our lives become crowded. Sometimes we carve out more time by sleeping less. Other times we try to tilt the scales by omitting leisure time and hobbies. These things, these accessories to our living are 'luxuries' after all, right?  Soon we become tired, anxious, angry and hungry for some down time. Devotion to family, church, non-profits, and even our pets tugs at us with passionate attachment.

We all know in our minds that down time brings balance, even serenity to our living, yet... too often we lack the white space between the business and activities that make demands of us. Here's a short list of 5 things we can do to create more white space in our living.

1. Manage your use of time. When we begin to feel that we don't have enough time in the day, that there is not enough of us to go around, we can remember that there is always 'enough' time. Time doesn't vary. We have 86,400 seconds in every day - everyday. The issue is trying to do too much. Make a list of everything that needs to be done, then organize your day accordingly. Group similar tasks together (computer tasks, errands, phone calls) and then complete similar tasks together. Delegate to someone else what you can (don't be afraid to ask for help from friends, colleagues, even relatives). "To everything there is a season..." -Ecclesiastes 3:1

2. Plan for your hobbies. Many of us don't think of our 'play' time as important. Carl Jung reportedly spent hours 'playing' during his most difficult periods of his adult life. The solution to our biggest obstacles is often dependent on us allowing our creative minds to play. Make sure that 'play' that you enjoy is on your list.

3. Exercise. The spirit may be willing, but if the flesh is weak, stress and fatigue will overcome us. As strange as it seems, the times when we are most 'tired' are often because we have neglected our bodies. Exercise that engages cardio and muscle strength - even in 20-30 minute daily doses will work wonders.

4. Use advocates. We all have people who understand our need to rest, relax, create, ponder and otherwise have down-time in our lives. If we can get the support of a loving friend to hold us accountable for our self care, we are likely to be more successful. It is easier to say 'no' to one more demand if we have an advocate in our corner.

5. Do nothing. There is a Spanish proverb - "How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then to rest afterwards." Plan for some nothing time. A cup of coffee on the back porch. A restful moment before you start your morning commute. Stare at the stars. Stand in the dark and feel yourself breathe. Sit in a chair, close your eyes and listen to music. Even God rested on the 7th day. Make some 7th day time!

Having white space in our living helps. What more can you add to the list? How do you know it's time to slow down?


Some Things Take Time - Our Sacred Conversations

The other day* I had a visit with a good friend of 5 years. We met innocently enough at a local coffee house (Café Roche) and talked over hot coffee and warm pastries.

Cafe Roche' - Winston Salem, NC
We spent about 2 hours together rambling from topic to topic, laughing and contemplating. When we were done - I left with a bitter-sweet awareness.

The Sweet – We listened and talked to each other. We asked questions to better understand perspectives. We recalled life experiences and things we had read or seen to add depth and breadth to the conversation. We wondered together. We laughed, debated and share silence together. I left feeling grateful for the time and was stimulated in my thinking and creative passion.

The Bitter - I don’t have good, quality, LONG conversations nearly often enough. I know I am busy at work and at home. I know the trend is for 140 character interactions, online chatting, blogging/commenting and trite verbal exchanges (and I’m very good at those – I’m just saying), but I know there is more to it. I know that I still cherish those long evenings with friends during my college years. I know some of my best thinking comes from unscripted moments and open ended time frames. I know that putting everything on 'pause' for someone else is priceless.

Have we somehow developed into a culture where conversation has been replaced with brief proclamations and affirmations? Has the art of informed group inquiry (was there ever such an art) become too complicated, too time consuming for our faced-paced existence?  I think one of the reasons that I love sharing coffee with others – just about anyone – is that it slows things down and creates a moment for conversation. It is hard to be in a hurry when you are holding and trying to drink very HOT liquids!

My life needs more time for coffee and conversation, more space for debating and wondering with others. What about you? Care to join me for a cup of Joe?

*This phrase is used widely here in the South and means - "I can't remember exactly when it was, and it isn't important enough to get the time frame right - but what IS really important is what I'm going to say next, so pay attention!"


Is Your God Competent?

Here's a truth for you, and if you don't get anything else I say here - get this" God is big enough for you. We hear a lot of theology about how powerful God is - God is omnipotent. We hear a lot of theology about how God knows everything - God is omniscient.  We don't hear about how capable God is, and God is capable. We need a new 'Omni' word: God is Omni-competent. No matter how messy, raw or difficult we may be when we come to God in prayer, God can handle it, and make something good out of it.

One of my favorite children's sermon stories (don't you really like those better than these sermons anyway?), is a story of a creative mother and her disobedient daughter. It goes like this...

A mother took her young daughter to shop for an Easter Sunday dress. The two of them had a grand time and decided on a simple, pure white dress, trimmed around the neck and hem with lace. "I'll look like an angel," the daughter proclaimed. The two returned home with the carefully boxed dress, ready for the next morning's Easter festivities. The mom placed the box on her daughter's dresser and gave her strict instructions to leave it alone until the morning.

Later, alone in her room, the young child couldn't resist just looking at it. She opened the box and again imagined how beautiful she would be. She couldn't resist just lifting it out of the box to see it better, and then - of course - she couldn't resist just trying it on. She looked at herself in the mirror and was so pleased that she decided to leave it on - just for a few minutes. She danced and twirled and practiced sitting - - sitting at the chair by the table with her art supplies. Soon she was sitting pretty and drawing and painting, and - yes, you guessed it - getting spots of paint, green paint, on the front of her dress. Once she saw what she had done - she panicked. She quickly took off the dress and as if she could make it all right, folded it back in the box and placed it on top of her dresser. Then she began to suffer, and worry and think. Finally, she didn't know what else to do so she took the box out of her room and shuffled to face her mother.

Her mother surveyed the damage. Three green spots of paint were staining the front of the previously pristine dress. "My dear! What have you done?" she asked. The daughter burst into tears and told her mother everything about how she couldn't help it, and how she wished she hadn't and how sorry she was. It was a story that every parent has heard, and every parent has wanted to make it right, to go back in time and change the past, and every parent has not been able to. But, this parent, this creative mother did something better. "My daughter," she said, "you did wrong and now this dress is a mess. It won't be the same. I hate it for you, because I know how much you wanted to look like an angel. It can't be the white dress you had, but let's see what we can do with what we have."

Then the mother took daughter and dress back to the art table and began to work. With a careful hand she drew from each green spot a single line and on the top of each line she painted a rose. On the bottom of each line she painted leaves and on she worked until the front of the dress was beautifully adorned by three delicate flowers on a pristine white canvas and that was the dress that she wore to Easter the next day.

God is Omni-competent. We take our messes to God. Then we discover a miracle. When we can't, God can.