Reimagine Theology – Relevance in Hurt

imagine theology C and L

Ruby Sales played and continues to play an essential role in securing civil rights for all people. She does this in very practical ways, and she does this in theological ways. She imagines a theology that speaks to the hurt, that notices difference while noticing the essential sameness, humanness. She imagines a theology that does not overlook those in the backyard, around the corner . . . in Appalachia. It is a theology that “begins to deepen people’s understanding about their capacity to live fully human lives and to touch the goodness inside of them . . . .”

Turning 50 has forced me to reevaluate my calling, my purpose, from where or what do I derive meaning. In the On Being interview I reference above, Ruby Sales adds to her brainstorm of theological ideals when she clarifies, “as a black person, I want a theology that gives hope and meaning to people who are struggling to have meaning in a world where they no longer are as essential to whiteness as they once were.” And she alludes to the phenomenon of championing ethnicities as seemingly more “sexy” – which gave me pause.

Because really, in the endeavor to be more mindful, practice the presence of God in my daily life, part of that project is to examine intent, motive. And I wonder how much I am motivated by a sense that I am no longer essential to much of anything anymore, and certainly to the theological conversation.

But Ms. Sales has turned my face toward the heart of God by repeating her favorite black folk religion song, “I love everybody. I love everybody. I love everybody in my heart.” And when I love, I do not ask, “am I relevant.” I ask, “where do you hurt?”

Because, I am only relevant in relationship. And I can only be relating when my question is not about me, but about you.

Because, when I know where you hurt, that disclosure opens that space where I, too, hurt. And in our relating, we heal those places and become relevant to one another. And we become more relevant to others because we know, and we are healing, and we can be a part of their healing, too.

Where do you hurt?

How do you love?

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. (2Cor1:3-4)

yūgen and the art of grace

yūgen art of grace

Mindfulness practices are prevalent and pervasive, and their effects are well documented and understood. At the same time, their techniques devoid of the context from which they were derived (for example, relationship with God) limit the potential and capacity these practices hold for greater wellbeing and wholeness. An article I recently read by, Lomas, et. al., discuss this problem as pertains Buddhism.[1] It is easy to see how well it can be applied to Christian spiritual practices.

The Zen branch of Buddhism is Japan’s iteration that incorporates the spiritual philosophy into the everyday experience. In particular, it is a spiritual sensibility that does not require words, as the Holy Spirit in the Christian experience understands with a sense “too deep for words” (Rom 8:26). It made its way to Japan through China who shaped its expression through the lens of Taoism. The Tao, then, refers to an all-encompassing being without form and is omnipresent. To encounter this being one must rest into the free-flowing action, relinquishing control “and aligning oneself with the Tao.”[2] It is hard not to call to mind an omnipresent Creator-God and the words of Jesus beckoning those who hear to rest, be still, come and be, stay a while.

It seems to me that by not seeing God in the practices of other cultures, Christians limit the capacity for the Spirit of God to make things right internally and in the community and beyond. These are not so different from many of the ancient practices of the so-called Desert Fathers and early spiritual writers. But, they are relegated to antiquity because very few are willing to go spend the balance of their lives living in a hut in the desert. Yet, practices found in Zen Buddhism, for instance, evoke similar results but are deemed not-God since the reference is to the Buddha, not Christ.

In Acts 17:23, even Paul recognizes the opportunity to see God in the practices of the Greeks when he recognizes the alter to an unknown god. And just as mindfulness practice extracted from Buddhist philosophy and lifestyle is stripped of its transforming potential, so too Christian prayer and Bible-teaching is limited when there is no whole-self surrender to the natural movement of a pervasive Creator-God.

In Zen, art is especially conducive to evoke meditation and a sense of awe and wonder. These are included in practices such as painting, swordsmanship, and, chadō, the tea ceremony. Chadō, also found in art forms such as archery and poetry, is described as having four key elements:

Kei, or reverence, refers to mutual deference and respect from the participants, and concomitant control of the ego. Wa, or harmony, reflects the experience of nonduality, in which the self does not stand apart from the other, but participates in a union of ‘interbeing.’ Sei, or purity, signifies that the heart-mind is free from the turbulent emotions which usually tend to disturb its equanimity. Finally, jaku, or tranquility, refers to the nature of the resulting untroubled mind.[3]

It is easy to notice that mindfulness spiritual practice is typically separate from daily activity, a way of being. But I can begin to engage by allowing myself to be moved with awe. My favorite Zen principle is yūgen, or profound grace. Profound grace! It is beyond expression, each part and gen translated as “cloudy impenetrability,” offers a sense of knowing the unkown, intuiting the intangible – mystery. It is a way of being that understands there is darkness, but does not despair because beyond the intellect is the Spirit who bears witness to my spirit that I am God’s own. It is a beauty that each person expresses – but does so much better when it is allowed to reverberate, seep through the yuck of each day.

And it is a beauty that is evident in the lovely human being in the picture above. Thank you, Bethany, for practicing yūgen and patiently allowing me the pleasure of capturing the essence of it on my phone!

[1] T. Lomas et al., “Zen and the Art of Living Mindfully: The Health-Enhancing Potential of Zen Aesthetics,” Journal of Religion and Health (2017/07/17 2017): 4.

[2] Ibid., 6.

[3] Ibid., 8.

Live, Move, Be

human sartre de beauvoir moi

Today, I am so inspired, encouraged and strengthened by these beautiful people. Howie and Lysander and a dozen more from DGFUMC are being present to other beautiful people in another city. They are being that being that is also becoming because they live and move and have their being in God. And as they become, they immediately give themselves to others – who, in turn, give themselves back – each being and becoming more of themselves, more like God. This, an exquisite dance that is, well, human.

Who knew wielding a power tool could be so profound?

Just Like You, Nothing Like You – Day Twenty-Nine

like no one else

One of the first personality inventories I took sorts people into groups represented by one of four animals (lion, beaver, golden retriever, otter) developed by Smalley and Trent in the 1980s. I never liked taking these inventories mostly because the questions could be answered differently depending on the day, or two answers were equally true. The animal incarnation proved this when my responses graphed a line nearly straight across. Also, I resist being placed in a box.My dyslexic-processing brain confronts categories of any kind, and to place billions of beautifully unique persons in 1 of 4 categories is anathema to me.

Still, our culture insists. There’s the assessment based on the Greek humors – Sanguine, Choleric, Melancholy, Phlegmatic – developed by Graeco-Arabic medicine, c. 400BCE. And the most widely used by businesses and university-entrance constabularies, Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory first published in 1944, based on Jungian categories of personality traits. And the MMPI, the TIPI, the Keirsey, and the DISC. The one that holds some promise for meaningful insight in my professional opinion, though, is the Enneagram. Its origins are in dispute, but likely set with Oscar Ichazo in the 1950s. It is the most nuanced test, inviting the numinous that plays a very real role in how we express who we are.

By far the most enjoyable types of personality sorters are funneled through Buzzfeed and other social media channels. My daughters will often send me one along with their results, at once laughing at the absurdity of its validity and giving a nod to a modicum of the same. Apparently, I’m Hermione Granger, my Disney princess alter ego is Rapunzel?, and my Norse god counterpart is Odin. I took that last one three times, adjusting my fence-top answers, and it always returned Odin. Grr. I’m Thor! I. am. Thor. Ok, I suppose “wise” and “leader” are characteristics I hope describe me. And I do have a little issue with being in control. But that hammer.

The real concern I have with personality sorters is two-fold. One, it often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy or cop-out default (well, I am choleric, after all, I’m just stating the truth), and two, human beings are organic, living, changeable creatures impacted by one another, circumstances, brain chemistry, the weather . . . . Sure, I have some overarching tendencies that are characteristic of my behavior. We are habitual beings, too (and there are good, psycho-socio- and neurological reasons for this). Crucially, each carries a specific genetic piece of God’s character, unique. And because we are human and made in the image of this same God, we will recognize God in each other—and, in a similar way, I will recognize myself in you.

The point is, perhaps I have the expertise to see that you process your thoughts out loud and might be categorized as “extroverted.” By understanding this I can then discern that when you are talking about a solution, it is not your final draft. But to call you “a thinker” or “lion” or “phlegmatic” or Loki, well, I will miss all of the other beautiful bits about you that are not in the “S” category, or whatever. I can blow you off because I am not comfortable with introverts, or read your stand up comedy for “socializer” and misunderstand your need for alone time.

Sometimes these inventories are fun for validating the aspects that are true about me, and can help begin to understand someone else a bit better. But there is a gaggle of studies that show how “personality” traits change over time. Indeed, brain chemistry and hormone distribution changes at many stages of development. Mindfulness practice is shown to augment these changes in productive ways, as well. The most salient of these is that it helps me see you for who you are without my junk getting in the way. When I am present with you, mindful of your being, your personhood, I can see you more—and love you better—because to be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known! And my prayer is that at (nearly) 50 I might have such a disposition of presence as this. So, my goal today (or tomorrow—it’s a bit late now): be with someone and notice 5 distinct things about her that I love, traits that he does that I would like to develop. Will you join me? Because, I am just like you. And, I am unique.

 

Cinco de Mayo (aka, 3 weeks before I turn 50) – Day Nineteen

cinco de mayo sam

A century before I was born, a noteworthy event transpired in another part of the world. It is directly related to Mexico’s victory over the French occupying forces at the Battle of Puebla that Cinco de Mayo commemorates. Though that battle did not give Mexico decisive freedom from Napoleon IIIs occupation, it was a significant turn toward that end. The Mexican army was outnumbered 2 to 1 and under qualified; still, they crushed the French army on May 5, 1862. It is speculated that if the French did win at Puebla they would transfer forces to aid the Confederate cause in the US. Instead, Mexico held on following the win, and after the Civil War’s end, the US offered political and military aid to Mexico ensuring they would wrest a final freedom from French occupation June 5, 1867 – cinco de Junio!

These Independent-Study history lessons continue a common theme: everything changes. nothing changes. Whether it is a significant incident in the year of my birth, or 100 years before it, when society does not collectively remember its history, hubris – or despair – catalyze a repeat. Friends are only friends until the friendship is no longer useful. Or, uncomfortable. Or, becomes embarrassing. Or, horror of all horrors, costly.

But friendship is inherently costly—whether between individuals, communities, or countries—because it is only friendship when each gives up the self. Voluntarily. Out of love. In solidarity with the other. And love does not come with conditions. Anyone who has ever been to a wedding has heard 1 Corinthian 13. But love is not just for those who marry. Indeed, marriage is symbolic of our relationship with God. It is symbolic of our covenant with one another to regard the other with dignity, as one created in the image of the God of all that is created – and not yet.

cinco de mayo nik

In (nearly) 50 years, what has changed because I exist in this world? What remains the same because I lack courage? My mother gave me a Bible at an important time in my life. She included a verse on the opening page – what felt to me as a prophetic blessing: “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Josh1:9)

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Or dismayed. I can – and must – be a part of making things right in this world. It is what makes me human. One of those ways is to stand in solidarity with my neighbors and friends from Mexico whose dignity is disregarded. Today this is what I remember to be, and that having lived (nearly) half a century I am not finished. But the courageous are only thus when in the company of others who do the same. Are you in?

Love is Faith is Love – Day Seventeen

enough love

A full century before I came into this world, Amy Carmichael was born in Ireland. Like me, she was the first-born in her family. Ultimately she would live 55 years in India developing a community that rescued children from temple prostitution, nurturing and enabling them to do the same. Her life story, journal confessions and poetry were my guide for many years, impacting my spiritual formation through college and beyond. And they challenged me to live out what I believed—faith moved and moving. It is a much-needed reminder for me today as I continue these meditations and work out how to move through turning 50.

Carmichael wrote, “We profess to be strangers and pilgrims, seeking after a country of our own, yet we settle down in the most un-stranger-like fashion, exactly as if we were quite at home and meant to stay as long as we could. I don’t wonder apostolic miracles have died. Apostolic living certainly has.” We do not own the land. Not really. And we are citizens of a country by accident of birth. Why, then, do we assume it is our right to close it off to others, or remain unmoved in our space while others are stripped of human dignity, the spark of their true mage as created in God’s? Perhaps it is fear.

And perhaps I am afraid, too. And tired. And maybe even a little apathetic. But re-reading some of these poems I memorized long ago, and the words that motivated me to leave everything for China after college, has flicked a spark. I am not sure what exactly is my next move. But I know I must move. And I believe God is. So, I’m stepping out (metaphorically, today, at any rate— on the computer, for now) bolstered by a familiar poem, recalling a familiar strength, trusting a God who deigns to be familiar with me.

Strength of my heart, I need not fail,
Not mind to fear but to obey,
With such a Leader, who could quail?
Thou art as Thou wert yesterday.
Strength of my heart, I rest in Thee,
Fulfill Thy purposes through me.

Act Human – Day Sixteen

Human kind and present

On May 2, 1967, the Black Panthers entered the California State Capitol building, guns at their sides. Theirs was a demonstration, advocacy for their right to defend themselves against racism in policing. They wanted to police their neighborhoods by being present (carrying guns in compliance with CA law), observe arrests and other law enforcement activities. Huey Newton, the Black Panthers’ leader, actually included a law book with his rifle to remind officers of their civilian rights.

This group of people were not encouraging violence. Rather, they meant to be informed eyes, accountability for what history proved to be race-motivated, and excessively punitive action on African-American communities. They were not afraid to assert their rights and encourage others to do the same. Indeed, the Panthers alerted journalists to their plans, so when they entered the CA Capitol building, journalists followed to record the proceedings.

I am absolutely in favor of gun control. The Black Panthers’ strategy in this instance is not one I would promote. At the same time, what they were about was precisely what all humankind ought to be about: that better personhood characterized by kindness, generosity, caring for those who need care, sharing with one who has none of that which I own two. It began as a wholesale resistance against white culture, but shifted to a more class critique of society. Still, the reaction of authorities remained extreme.

In January 1969, the first Panther’s Free Breakfast for School Children Program is initiated at St. Augustine’s Church in Oakland. By the end of the year, the Panthers set up kitchens in cities across the nation, feeding over 10,000 children every day before they went to school. In Chicago, Fred Hampton, leads five different breakfast programs on the West Side, helps create a free medical center, and initiates a door to door program of health services which test for sickle cell anemia, and encourage blood drives for the Cook County Hospital. A few months later, police enter his apartment and shoot him in the head as he sleeps.

I only knew of the Black Panthers as a militant and violent group. Nothing was included in my education to explain what they were ultimately about. And there certainly was no outline of the reasons behind why they assembled in the first place. It is important to recall history—especially since it often seems it is repeated while I remain naïve of past efforts to make things right.

So, today, I have a little more information on a movement that frightened a lot of people yet also did an enormous amount of good. I have little physical energy to start or promote programs that do goodness, rightness. I can write and research and try to get others thinking about and motivated to love mercy and to do righteousness in this world. I am at a loss as to how I can get this damn blog to a larger audience, though—the audience that needs encouragement to continue in their efforts, or motivated to begin something they are passionate about. Do you need that? Can I help you? How might I help? Be human. Be kind. Be present. Together.

The Politics of Pink – Day Eight

feminism quote korean food

The most popular Christmas present in 1967 was Battleship. It had actually been around as a pencil and paper game since 1930s until Milton Bradley released it as a board game in 1967. And while there were unmistakable elements that marked many toys as intended for a specific gender (e.g., dolls and kitchen sets for girls, GI Joe and die cast cars for boys), the color of these objects were not so obvious (i.e., pink for everything-girl) and still more toys were available that were merely intended for any kid to enjoy (Wham-O, Lite-Brite, jacks, marbles, and kazoos).

sam of the jungle

When my girls were young, we enjoyed watching Dora the Explorer. They learned a little Spanish and loved the quests Dora led them on, and she did so with a sense that anyone is able to go on such a quest. So when I went in search of a Dora-themed toy one Christmas and could only find a Dora dressed as a princess all in pink, I was flummoxed. And not just Dora—everything in that isle was pink! I hate pink.

Ok, hate is a strong word. Pink is not flattering on me and is not a color with which I choose to decorate. Regardless, when did this symbolic reversal of progress toward equality take place? Sure, there is increased attention to providing encouragement and support for girls to pursue STEM tracks in school, and Hollywood is attempting to provide strong female heroes that do not overstate the female form. But, why must there be two sets of play-station controls, one pink and pastels, the other primary colors?! I hate pastels.

Why this rant? My 16-year-old son was just assigned to debate the question, Is Feminism still necessary in today’s society? This after just reading an article that bemoaned assertions that the role of men is become irrelevant. Of course, no one is irrelevant. All people are necessary for any society to exist, and for humanity to relate in all its fullness all members are indispensible. The problem is when members’ roles are assigned according to one of two categories, crushing the impulse of one or overlooking the gifts of another. And these assumptions are deeply ingrained, and I believe begin, in part, with the color and type of toy a parent presents to a child.

With the push to embrace all ethnicities and to refrain from prejudice, it seems we still have this compulsion to assign others to categories (intellectual, athletic, silly, feminine, aggressive . . .) without taking time to get to know a person. Critical thinking demands too much of our time. We are on tweet-time in preference to contemplative, present-time. And the injury perpetrated is incalculable.

The so-called second wave of feminism occurred in the 1960s, the years around my birth. Both the first and second waves arose out of the recognition of inequality of the sexes. Perception of the movements—as is often the case when liberty is denied to a discrete people group—became warped, misunderstood. And the debate continues. My husband is a feminist. He is also a masculist—that is, one who advocates the right to, as a man, express feelings and nurture his children and consider leadership a quality of gifting, not that of gender (in the family, church, work-place, playground), to be emancipated from the expectation to dominate or control a group or decision.

Mary Wollstonecraft’s observation in 1792 was still relevant in 1967 and remains important in 2017. Until every person is seen for who he or she is and considered on that basis—not any arbitrary, irrelevant category—yes, Lysander, feminism is still necessary in today’s society. I suspect he will present a persuasive debate.

More on gender and leadership in my book: Leading Together: Mindfulness and the Gender Neutral Zone [bit.ly/justLTM]

Confirming Love – Day Seven

Confirmation Sunday 2017

Today was Confirmation Sunday at our church. It was such an honor to hear the brief description each student shared about what confirmation means to him or her, along with a meaningful verse. Each one was a benediction and a prayer for the congregation, at once affirming their place in the community and reinforcing the responsibility the congregation has to continue the care of their formation.

Confirmation Sunday 2

As I considered the role Howie plays in their spiritual development and the privilege I have to be involved with him in it to some degree, I reflect on those who are implicated in my early spiritual formation, and those who continue in that provision.

The church in which I spent the majority of my growing up years did not have a formal Confirmation program. As it happens, though, when I was in junior high a few of the leaders thought it might be a good idea to launch a pilot program. Though my parents taught and encouraged bible literacy and our church did implement a strong Sunday school program, the new confirmation class reinforced what I learned and affirmed that God was already speaking into my life about who I am as God’s own.

I think of people like Roger Castle, who confirmed the knowledge already present, and Lorraine Thulson who spiritually nurtured so many of us from earliest years. My college mentor, Pentor, who taught me how to lead and saw me for who I am. After China, Nancy Haldane supported a deeper faith in the Spirit’s power; and Toddy Holeman encouraged a pastoral impulse along with the counseling degree in seminary. There are many who may not even know how significant a blessing or a comment was on my formation—I think of Linda Adams and Delia Nüesch-Olver—and those who walked with me through especially difficult times—Pam Braman and Kathy Callahan-Howell, just to name a few.

One thing that continues to ring true is that we are always giving and receiving form. When I encounter you, I encounter God’s image—an aspect of God’s character that is uniquely expressed in you. When you connect with me, you have the same opportunity to know God afresh. Of course, if I put on a mask out of fear or insecurity, that light is not quite as visible. But I trust that scripture speaks the truth that even darkness is light for God.

So, my prayer for these young confirmands is that each one continues to grow in the knowledge of who he or she is as image-bearers of the Creator of all things! And, that the community of Christ not loose sight of its inimitable role in supporting these beautiful human beings.

Listen!

make-space-and-listen

A friend recently mentioned the inherent difficulty in helping someone change, particularly if there is a presenting personality disorder (in the friend’s case, narcissistic). Not only is it difficult (some behavioral scientists think impossible) to treat or influence the attitude and behavior of one who displays the characteristics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, it is very difficult to persuade a majority of “normal” people with facts. The problem lies with the issue of identity. When I believe something with any conviction, I identify with that position. Of course, if you think much about it, this is likely intuitive to most people. What happens is data that does not support ones view triggers negative emotion that hampers the ability to see another point of view. Exacerbating the problem, the data is often spewed ad hominem.

The trouble is we do most of our communication with words—tweets, Facebook posts, YouTube and article shares, and petition upon petition. All the while, these sentiments and “facts” (some absolutely based on scientific rigor, others, not so much—some even fake by design!) only serve to bolster ones own stance (“see, this article supports my view,” or “what a hack, I can’t believe they really buy into that”).

This is why it is even more crucial that we, particularly as leaders intentionally make time and space in mindfulness spiritual practice—together. The Shema, essentially the Jewish Lord’s Prayer, translates “hear” or “listen.” It is called the Shema because it is the very first word of the prayer, but it is also how the people are addressed most every time God directly speaks to them. Not only that, when God speaks, it is often that God interjects “I have heard their cry.” God listens to us!

Because of Jesus, we have personal access, freedom to hear with the same Spirit that witnesses to our spirit, God’s word to us. But how can we hear if we do not listen? How can we know the fullness of God’s speaking if we do not also hear it through others—all of whom are made in that same God’s image. I don’t mean listening to propaganda that seeps its way into the rhetoric, or the regurgitation of ideologies that may or may not be supported by current leadership. Rather, I mean listening to what comes from spending time together first listening to God—this God that is One, who reveals to us that we must (and can) love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

The second part (to love our neighbors as ourselves) implies action. To love is to do so actively. And to love . . . is to know . . . and to know is to love. When I love someone, I must suspend my own perspective—I don’t mean discard my perspectives indiscriminately. But by doing so I make space for another person to be seen, time for greater understanding behind the words. In that graced space there is more room to expand—in perspective and in love.

It has to be intentional, though. We did some of this during my thesis project to beautiful effect. There is so much more possible! Who will make the first move? Let’s get together and try it out. Who is with me?

 

bit.ly/MGNZone