Archive for September 2010

Dimensions of Peace

September 27, 2010

My impressions regarding our Sunday morning (9/19) worship service are varied. I was pleased to be hosting two Chinese professors who are visiting scholars at George Fox University. Alice and Catherine are professors of English at a University of Post and Telecommunications. They had expressed an interest in learning American culture by attending church. I thought the Sunday morning service was a good one to have them participating in as we were commemorating the International Day of Peace and having a service that was a little out of the ordinary. By hosting Alice and Catherine, and answering a number of questions that they posed about our meeting for worship and our barbecue afterward, I was able to think about the meeting and the meaning I make of it.

I tried to draw a word picture of sorts out of the raw material that came from the meeting. From the introductory comments that one of our worship leaders brought, I learned that the concept of peace is a multilayered one. From personal peace, to peace in the family, the community, the nation and in the world, each of us can focus on a different layer. I reflected on what was said, that we can get stuck if we exclusively focus on personal peace, looking to enhance our own well being and relationship with God; of if we are solely concerned with international peace. At either end of the spectrum, we could become so focused that we lose opportunity to truly reflect peace as God intends.

I found it hard to find a way of tying all the ideas together, but I reflected on the structure of the worship meeting, from the songs that helped us focus on the work of God in our lives to the specific activities that we were invited to participate in as part of the meeting. We had the choice to walk the path, to use the labyrinth, to make a peace flag or to read and reflect on quotes there were displayed in the sanctuary. During the story that my wife, Debbie read to the children I was challenged to reflect on what peace is like and how I experience it. I also realized that certain boys’ inappropriate words during the response time were probably inhibiting other kid’s participation, and I did not like that.

I invited Alice and Catherine to walk on the path which extends around our property with me. We were blessed with lovely weather and the walk was slow and lovely. We talked about church, worship, the property and the beauty that surrounded us. We also visited the labyrinth that had been set up in the gym and both Alice and Catherine walked it as I conversed with others. I recognized that I was in the presence of two persons who may have never been in a worship experience before this time. I did my best to be open and sensitive to their lack of connections with what we were doing. How is my commitment and outreach a “peace making” activity.

I reflect back on Stan’s sermon of the previous week regarding holy dissatisfaction. In my mind there is a distinction to be made between standing up to injustice or in carrying out peacemaking from an ethical sense of doing the right thing or challenging wrong doing and acting out of a transformed heart which is compelled to respond to God. However, do I dare speak against ethical stands for justice and peace? Should I only act on God’s clear direction? And how is my heart transformed anyway? Do my actions in doing good themselves cause a transformation?

These thoughts lead me to some of the reflections shared by others at the conclusion of this Sunday’s worship service. Again, I tried hard to find themes to categorize these thoughts, but could not easily group them. I heard that a need for Jesus is important and that stillness and a release of my need to control are needed to be at peace. I was challenged to think about how my brokenness itself becomes a venue for sharing light (a thought that Parker Palmer shares in his book; A Hidden Wholeness). This thought is actually one that will form a foundation for a webinar I am doing next Tuesday on balancing work and life. The audience will be educators who work in Christian schools and I have been thinking about maintaining a peaceful life related to our professional roles and responsibilities.

Regarding a peaceful life, we were challenged during the service to find peace inside so that we would be able to influence others. In order to find this peace, we need to give up our own rights and see that God may be investing us into something bigger than we realize. Spiritual renewal is hard work, in a sense; we are not passive in seeking or maintaining peace, but actively working toward achieving peace on the many dimensions from personal to international. One person made the point that strong and clear messages of peace can come from secular voices, and those are not to be ignored.

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It Isn’t Quite Right

September 16, 2010

During the open worship time on Sunday at our Friends meeting, I was wrestling with concerns and ideas, but did not believe that anything I was thinking was intended for the group. I found myself being in a position of “knowing too much”. My upbringing and personal dispositions have prepared me to be a person who is willing to identify needs and to accept responsibility. This willingness makes me a prime candidate for saying yes to invitations for service, and also compels me to volunteer for service before I am asked. Once I accept a responsibility, I am diligent to carry it out. I know that as a result, I am busily involved with the politics of organizations.

I serve as department chair at my University. As such, I have many responsibilities that go beyond what would be expected of a faculty member. I serve on the editorial board of a scholarly journal and am president of an international association of scholar-teachers. In these roles, I am expected to plan programs, lead people, assess efforts and teach others professionals. In my local congregation  I have been active in leadership for several years in varying capacity.

What this context provides for me is an understanding that when I say, “It isn’t quite right”, I am in a position of knowing more than I should about various groups I am a part of. As a result, whether I am dealing with other professors, with university business or with local church politics, I can say, I know too much, and things aren’t quite right.

My realization about things not being quite right does indeed come from my vision of what an ideal organization would be like. The three organizations I mention are all made up of people who are followers of Christ, and I can say with confidence that the actual practice of people in these groups does not measure up to the ideal.

So what? Does it really matter to me that life is less than ideal, that people are less than perfect, that love and respect and servanthood have been replaced by “every man for himself”, “the wealthy and powerful have first crack, they’ve earned, it after all” and “why should I be the one to get involved, it is not worth hassling with”.

I make sense of my lack of response in various ways. For instance, since we are all human and none of us measure up to the fullness of the ideal, I can just learn to live within a comfortable margin of tolerance between what I would characterize as my ideal and what is awful. In this grey, in-between area there are gradations which are less than totally light but light enough for me to be content, and other, darker levels in which I am uncomfortable. If I am lacking courage or energy or focus, I can lower the threshold of acceptability of the environment and say, “yes, I guess this is okay after all.” Or, I can say, “I don’t want to get so single minded that I am unable to enjoy a balanced life that allows me time with my family, some leisure, and the opportunity to continue to grow professionally”. At times, I find myself getting to the edge of speaking out, saying, it isn’t quite right.” And then I wonder, “how will this affect me personally, will my willingness to confront and offend other people bring me discomfort and pain from others whom I choose to challenge.”

I reflect on the people that were featured in the sermon on Sunday. Jesus, Paul, Peter and Martin Luther King Jr. were all killed for taking stands. George Fox suffered at the hands of the church people of his day and was imprisoned for his efforts. Martin Luther was harassed, run out of the church, and had a death sentence pronounced on him. Mother Teresa embraced a life of poverty, and although honored for her efforts at service, was also attacked by others for her attempts to influence culture. Lucretia Mott’s opposition to slavery and advocacy for women’s right seem mainstream today, but in her day, she was so far ahead of the culture that she was attacked, ostracized and considered to be out of bounds both within the church and in the culture at large.

Are these the kinds of lives that I aspire to? Or, am I Like the disciples that Jesus dealt with in Mark chapter 10, who were amazed that Jesus stated that rich people would find it extremely difficult to enter the Kingdom of God.

23-25Looking at his disciples, Jesus said, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who ‘have it all’ to enter God’s kingdom?” The disciples couldn’t believe what they were hearing, but Jesus kept on: “You can’t imagine how difficult. I’d say it’s easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for the rich to get into God’s kingdom.”
26That set the disciples back on their heels. “Then who has any chance at all?” they asked.
27Jesus was blunt: “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it.”

I say I want to follow Jesus, so why is it so difficult for me to accept the fact having it all is actually a barrier to God’s kingdom, not an indication of my heavenly citizenship. Those folks that we were reminded of in the sermon on Sunday saw things a bit differently. I learned from the sermon that my behaviors, my choices, my life will reflect my grasp of the vision of Christ in my life. The work of transformation that Christ can do, desires to do and will do occurs only if I am willing to let God to it. I realize that I am attempting to pull off things on my own, figuring out how to make transformation occur at my behest, all within my comfortable notion of, “things are just about right”. I suppose that at this point in time, I am looking for ways of holding on to much of what I have, not in laying it down for the sake of saying, “it isn’t quite right”. And that isn’t quite right, is it?

Childish and Childlike

September 12, 2010

My friend, Troy and I read Mark 10 recently. This chapter has a lot of content. You may remember a particular passage, here presented in the NIV:

13People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.

We discussed what it means to receive God’s kingdom like a little child. The Message version gives several clues.  In the wording there  it states, “accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child”. The passage itself implies acceptance and simplicity as important. In our conversation we generated the following lists of attributes of children that contribute to our being like a little child:

  • trust
  • simplicity
  • gratitude
  • recognition of need
  • joy
  • sense of adventure

I will briefly review my view of receiving the Kingdom as a child.  At this point, I am only  examining  my own thinking and behavior.

Trust is foundational for acceptance.  If the Kingdom of God advances continually in the time-space, conceptual space, spiritual space, relational space, circumstantial space and geographic space that I occupy, I am faced with a choice as to whether I accept or  resist its advance.  My choice to accept or reject is related to my ability to trust God.  Is what happens to me a conspiracy of the universe against me?  Is what happens God’s will?  Is what happens coincidental or accidental? Am I a victim, a recipient, or a bystander?  Each of these stances I could take reflects my view of the universe and how I trust or not trust God.

Simplicity implies lack of artifice, lack of baggage, lack of cost-counting.  Do I make decisions based on the merits of the actions implied by that decision, or based on a calculation which measures the level of reaction other people will have to my decision, the costs and benefits of my decision and the long term gains available to me? Is something to be done for the intrinsic merit or worth of the action?

Troy reminded that a simple and trusting manner in which to live in this world is with gratitude.  I know that I have much to be thankful for in my life.  It could be that living with gratitude is even more to the point than being thankful.  These concepts may be accepted as interchangeable, but it may be that gratitude is a disposition, an attitude that I put on as a way of life, not just an acknowledgment to another person that I am thankful for some thing in particular. I admit that not all children are grateful, but if you are like me you can probably relate a story about gratitude that involved a young child and a general view of life that included joy and thankfulness on a continual basis.

Being able to admit my need is very challenging. I want to be able to figure things out for myself rather than asking someone else to assist me.  In the simplicity and trust of a child, admitting need is part of the package. Personal pride and my own abilities hamper my willingness to ask for help.  How often do I forget that asking for help blesses others who are able to meet my need.

Joy, a general sense of delight and pleasure with the world around me, is another characteristic we have identified as childlike.  While not all circumstances are pleasant, each day bring an opportunity for joy.  Or does it?  I am not suggesting that my list of childlike characteristics are meant to be presented to the reader as a to-do list. I know that all of these factors are measures of childlikeness, but may not be easily learned or adopted behaviors.  It could be that all of these are reflections of a life lived in recognition and union with God and therefore we want to seek that union and the others will follow.  Of, could it be that when we are joyful we are entered into the kingdom?

A sense of adventure, the state of being in which every stone, every doorway, every sound and gust of wind hints at something more; clues to a hidden world in which each moment brings mystery, anticipation, hope and tension.  Adventure on the road and in the kitchen are both similar in that as we take the next step toward our destination, we are carried away by our own desire to be intrigues, amazed with and in awe of life.

I am comfortable in knowing that there are many who may read this who have other views, based on their own understanding and experience.  I will continue to make space in my own life to reflect on my attitudes and behaviors, at times wondering about the Kingdom of God and my proximity to it.  I long for God’s voice calling, “Hey, kid, come on in.”