Friday, March 30, 2007

the luckiest sonofabitch in the world

so this week i've been just doing journey stuff. writing in the mornings. meeting with people, doing the usual. planning worship, counseling with people, met with someone interested in pursuing ministry, lunch with friends, phone calls with journeyers, prayer with someone, worked on website components, prepared a lent lunch talk. the usual. good stuff.
what was also usual - and wonderful - was that people checked on me. gave me affirmation. love. told me the talk we gave sunday morning was really good, honest, clean, clear. that leslie (wife and minister) and david (my awesome co-pastor) stacie (journey administrator and brilliant) and i, as well as the finance team chair (a great guy, deeply committed), did a really good job. that they know it must've been hard to talk about money shit, because journey's about love and serving, and not money - and that money is just part of how it works, a necessary component to helping good stuff happen.
it rocked. it really, really meant the world to me.
i feel fear sometimes, and it's always connected to one message, a lie, something i picked up in an uncertain and tumultuous childhood, and a message all of us get, i think, in one form or another. the message i heard and which made sense to me as a child was, If you disappoint us or make us angry or unhappy, you're a failure, and you will be rejected and alone.
the fear is about being alone and in danger. vulnerable. as the genesis story says about adam and eve when they felt separate from paradise, naked.
what i have come to understand in the last few years is that that lie is, in fact, a lie indeed. it's not true. not The Truth.
the truth is that i am a child of god, and safe, and loved, and the beloved.
my faith community gives me the gift of reminding me of this Truth all the time. it's not about ego or about hero worship. they just care about me, and i care about them. we mean it.
and besides, this faith community is too real itself, and too willing to join me in dealing with their own shit and lies and baggage and shadow, to allow me to go off into the ditch of ego. they watch me, and i watch them. and it's all love. all love. all all all all love.

i am the luckiest sonofabitch in the world. and i know it. and that's the Truth.

ps so, there will be people who will tell me sometimes that they are in fact not happy. they are frustrated, sad, angry, whatever. that they don't like this or that. i feel deep compassion for them that i could not feel when i was a younger man and afraid. i feel deep compassion for them because i know that it is true, i know it is, that whenever we are angry or frustrated or sad and we project that on someone else - we are not looking at ourselves, and seeing what our shit is. our own shit.
if i want to fix it for someone else, or blame someone else, it's because i have something lying to me, inside - and i can't see it clearly. i hear it, but i'm not hearing that it's not the truth, about myself. to say to someone else "you have to fix this" is really saying, "i'm uncomfortable and that frightens me and i am angry because i'm afraid. you have to fix it for me."
here's truth #1 - it's about you. me. whatever. whoever's feeling it? it's their shit.
here's truth #2 - it doesn't need to be fixed. there is no fixing. there is only being in something and responding to it with love.
here's truth #3 - it's not shit in that it's bad - it just is the thing we're carrying around, that we acquired somewhere along the way to help us when we were afraid or confused ... but it's not the truth. because the truth is, god is good and present and we don't have to be afraid at all.

i have a loving community. we sit in things together. we learn together. we all bring all of it and love each other through it.
it's not easy. sometimes we do a better job of it than we do at other times. we know that.
god can and does do ridiculously impossible and beautiful things with a community like that.

Monday, March 26, 2007


i had never seen this movie. lots of people had told me it was perfectly made, one of their absolute favorites, beautiful, sweet. i had no idea. it is all that and more. it absolutely transported me. i've watched it twice in three days. i'm going to watch it again.

it's a fable. it's a romance. it's about hope. it's worth watching. it's better on the second viewing ... or at least it was for me.

peace in the valley

so, yesterday was a big day for me at journey. a big day for me and leslie. and journey. we talked to the faith community about money. i hate talking about money. i'm not afraid of money as much as i know that talking about money with journeyers isn't what it's about. i love talking to journeyers, individually and collectively, about the things that matter like our hearts, and following jesus, and giving who we are away. serving. loving. forgiving. getting healthy. all that good stuff.
but talking about money because we all committed to journey, and to moving to the warehouse, and to having the staff we have ... i dunno, i just didn't like it. it felt weird. maybe it's because money is so weird in america. but it's nothing new - jesus had to talk about money a lot too, and about how it makes people weird.
and yet i'm very happy to say, Here is what we're doing, here is what we're dreaming about. and i know that that's what yesterday was about. and so that's good.
anyway, i was exhausted, hadn't slept well for days, didn't sleep much saturday night, konked out yesterday afternoon. and today i was just wiped out. i had lots and lots and lots of fear. it wasn't about having to default on the warehouse - it was about being alone, letting the journeyers down, not knowing what'll happen next.
i prayed and prayed. i argued with god. i begged for some peace.
and then it came, in the weirdest way:
i met with a couple who are getting married. they're in their 30's, quiet, nice. down to earth. i talked to them about their wedding, about their relationship, about their life together. they asked about journey - a friend from New Warrior referred them. and i just liked being with them. i gave them the tour of the warehouse.
i stood there, after they left ... and was ... happy. hopeful. i knew that we are where god has led us - as a faith community. with a dream. with something we believe in. and that it was the right thing to do, to tell the journeyers that this is worth committing to.

i love you guys.
i am grateful.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

of course it's difficult, i told her.

i received an email last week from a young woman who's on staff at a pretty traditional church. she'd read wrestling with god and wanted to know how to keep her soul alive, while working at a church. this is what i told her:

As you can see and have no doubt heard, I'm no longer on staff at a regular church - and it's great to be doing something else. Something not traditional, not connected to expectations by a large mechanism or hierarchy or ego structures or denomination. I'm not saying those things are bad - but my experience is that the gifts they offer of support and parameters almost always have strings attached. So ... and here you are - at a traditional denominational church with beliefs based on tradition and doctrine. a church which i bet has expectations for how ministry can and can't be done, what's acceptable, whom you have to please, what you have to do to grease the wheels, etc etc etc. Of course it's more difficult than you imagine. it's more difficult than any of us imagine before we go into it - i went into ministry thinking that i already knew that people are flawed and organized religion was often political and crappy - but it didn't prepare me in the least for the nightmarish struggles that would come. dysfunctional, egocentric, narcissistic senior pastors. angry and fearful and weird and weak and snippish church members. restrictions. fussiness. territorialism. small-mindedness. nastiness. cowardice. and the thing that really bummed me out more than anything was my absolute clear conviction that god had brought me to this, led me to it, called me to it, foreseen it.
that sucked.
and i was pretty pissed off at god because i had naively thought that there must be SOME good things about traditional religion. i served at a united methodist church for six years and then at a mega/seeker church for three years. it was all very hard. that's not to say there weren't lovely moments as well; my wife and family and i met many amazing and beautiful people, and grew spiritually and emotionally, and we learned and learned and learned. we've gotten stronger and stronger. which is all good. aaaaaaaaaaaallllllllllllllll good. resurrection following crucifixion ... over and over and over and over ...
so, why am i telling you all this? because i want you to know that it's not you, you're not crazy, it's not your imagination, church work is very hard, very demanding, full of lovely people and sick people. it's as if every person who's part of the church where we work thinks that we work for them individually - even the nice ones. the traditional church is based on a consumer model, and a membership model - both of which are territorial and self-serving at their worst. i saw people fight over the most amazingly stupid and trivial things. FIGHT. physically, emotionally, territorially. i'm still blown away by how much of it is just messed up. jesus weeps.
how to stay sane? well, i was lucky and blessed enough to be brought into community with a group of people who got the same vision and calling my wife and i did - and we started a church together. from scratch. it's been ridiculously hard ---- but so good. so right. because we just said, This is what we value, and this is what we believe about loving and following and serving jesus, and this is what we're going to do, and that's that. take it or leave it. we all said that together.

we left behind a safe income and security and plans and career to do it. and it has been totally worth it - partly because, after ten years of ministry before we started journey, we knew what we were and were not about.
how did that happen?
we read. we read everything we could find. brian mclaren. brennan manning. anne lamott. richard rohr. c s lewis. teresa of avila. gandhi. martin luther king jr. reallivepreacher.
we sought out people who were trying to stay alive in their souls, both close by and online and at conferences or retreats, by email, not in the same church as we were or in the same town as we were, or right around the corner. we actively sought wise friends and advice and support. we learned, after a few years, to rest - although with 2 children it's never easy to just be Off Duty. nor is it ever easy to be Off Duty when one is on staff at a church.
i try not to read too many christian inspirational books. i find them to be too much like candy - sweet, but not nutritious. too easy.
you did a good thing by emailing me - that means you're reaching out for support. smart woman. wise. do you have friends who aren't on staff or at the church where you're working? cultivate and keep those friendships.
soul-search. journal. think. pray. keep defining what your call from god is and is NOT. what other people tell you it is, is pretty much never right. that's the biblical pattern, anyway - nobody can tell you what god is telling you. a mentor can be helpful - but it's nobody's journey but yours.
therapy is good. finding a good therapist - and by the way, my experience with christian therapists is that they're usually too sappy if they label themselves as christian therapists, and their suggestions tend to be like christian bookstores (see above). nice, but not gritty or real or dirty enough for how complex and painful and weird life really is. but good therapy can be amazing, open the mind and heart. read books that are about what you came from - i came from a messed up family. i need all the therapy i can get, and i get it. i read books about what it means to be a child of that kind of family. i do whatever i can to find healing and awareness.
i feed my soul with art, with music, with reading for pleasure, with nature, with gardening, with walking. i feed my soul by eating foods i like and (mostly, but not always, and that's okay too) that are good for my body. i feed my soul by thinking a lot.
i also play. i play more and more and more, the older i get. it's very helpful. just to chill and keep things in perspective. draw, paint, watch movies, walk in the woods, ride bicycles, sit and watch people on the town square. watch hilarious and useless tv. take naps. go on retreats to cool places. write it into your budget and get the church to pay for it.
and i learned over time that momentary crises of faith, and fear, and feeling overwhelmed or angry or hurt, are real - but they don't last. they just don't. someone gets all upset about how i set up the sunday school room or handled a meeting or whatever? it'll pass. it's not that big a deal. it's only this moment. it's not as if it's jesus on the cross. and i mean that in the most reverent sense.
in those moments when you absolutely know in your bones and soul what your calling from god IS and is NOT, then you will inspire the people around you. they'll see something shining in you. or they won't - and that's about them, not you. it's not your job to make them understand it. you're young. you are free. you can go wherever you and god decide. you don't HAVE to be ANYWHERE. if you wanted to just take off and go do church work - or not - anywhere you could think of, you could. soon enough you'll be married and have children and a mortgage, and those joys all come with a price, which is, lack of mobility and the weight of responsibility --- or not; it's your choice; you have freedom. you don't have to be married and have children. you don't have to work for a church. god will bless you and be with you and love on you no matter what you choose.
if there are people - no, when there are people - who don't get it, who don't see what you're trying to do or be or share with the children and families you're ministering to, who don't understand you, who want you to fit a certain model or mold, who want you to be nice and tame and safe, who want your ministry to be cost-effective and to bring in the largest number of families and tithers ... when that happens, all you have to do is remember:
i am choosing this today, for myself, and for god. i am not trapped here. i can do whatever my heart tells me to do. i am choosing this today. and i am choosing to give this gift, with what i have today. it is a good gift to give whether anybody here gets it or not, understands it or not, values it or not. it is good because it comes from within my heart and my relationship with god.
that's where jesus is. because that's where openness is. that's where the poor are, the hungry are, the needy are, the hopeful are.
suburban corporate consumerist america is a pretty sick mess. it's full of goodness and hope, because that's what human beings are. they're created in the image of god. but the system itself is pretty twisted. it makes people afraid and worried and paranoid and fake. and inside, they're just hungry for love and acceptance and hope. so, give your gift and don't be sucked in.
and when it's time to take a break, take it. if pastors or church leaders or church members tell you No, it's about their crap. you can't change that. but you can be healthy, no matter what comes.
and, dare to be bold and dream big for your ministry. YOUR ministry - it's not anybody else's, whether you work for a church or not. you don't work for a church. you work because of your calling from god. the place you're working happens to be at that church on that day. it doesn't own you. you are free and powerful. so, dream big. say, "Why can't we do this? I think I'll plan it and propose it. let's try it." what's the worst that can happen? they say no? in which case, you've already dreamed it, you and god - so who knows, maybe they'll say yes later, or maybe you'll get to do it somewhere else. you do not owe the church ANYTHING. there's no amount of money, no salary and benefits, that make it okay to be a slave to the pastors and leaders of a church. anyone who doesn't understand that isn't worth listening to.
listen to your heart. that's where jesus is too.
i hope this is helpful.
you already know all this or you wouldn't've emailed me.
you already know all this because it's your truth. you want to stay alive and healthy and real. do. insist on it. don't let anything suck that out of you.
but you have to be responsible for making sure it happens, for you, and only for you. nobody will give it to you. i spent a lot of time being a victim - not on the outside, but inside - Don't they see what a hero i'm being? how hard i'm working? ... which is coupled with, Nobody gives a damn about me ... which is tied to, God, you stink. why'd you do this to me?
what i learned is that those are ways of avoiding the responsibility - and freedom - and power - of saying, it's my life, mine and god's, and i get to choose.
that's scary. and wonderful. that's what jesus did. read the temptations in the desert story again.
i wish you all, all, all the peace and courage and joy there is. i send you power and grace. i pray for you to know your truth and your calling from god, deep in your soul. it will shine.

much much love

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

in the valley

here's an email i received today from mike lawrence. a few weeks ago i posted about mike's daughter, sam, who had what they thought was a brain tumor. sam has a number of disabilities. i have seen in mike and kathie his wife True Faith - not attached to results turning out the way they wanted, but just being willing to Take The Next Step.

"After being fired by the oncologist a couple of weeks ago because she doesn’t have cancer, this morning we were fired by the multiple sclerosis specialist because she doesn’t have that either. The official diagnosis now is 'encephalitis' which, to my understanding, is roughly translatable to 'some kind of virus or bacteria infection.' By all indications, the infection has run its course; there are no symptoms like fever, headache, elevated blood count or the like. There was a nasty lesion in her brain, which, since the infection has now run its course, is in a slow process of healing. They say it is likely a one time event and that likely she will have a return of all functions to the pre-infection level, with perhaps some complications from the residual scarring.

"So, since Feb. 6, when they told us they were almost sure it was a malignant brain tumor, here is where we stand on this trek. I would still be terrified, but at every fork in the road we have been directed down the safest path available; so I am still hopeful and full of faith in God – something like not being afraid in 'the valley of the shadow of death.'

"Samantha is incredible. She has been right beside us in all the discussions about tumor, the ms, and the treatments involved etc. Even with her limitations, she understood and just sat there with a limp right arm and limp right leg and took the news and went on to the next treatment, doctor etc.(sometimes she was a little demanding and/or grumpy).

"I think about analysis, coincidence, bad luck, good luck, free will, fate…. and I think about God and Jesus at this time of Easter. If I felt enlightened or good or bad or smart or even stupid, this might be a diatribe or indictment, or perhaps a sermon. I don’t feel any of that. My highest aspiration is to be like my daughter, limited and perfect, afflicted and healthy, fearful and faithful; just to go on to the next treatment or doctor or even God, 'I’m doing ok here not feeling too well, but the news is good and I’m glad you’re here and please help and keep helping.'

"Thank all of you for your prayers and support."

and so there you have it. pay attention.

Monday, March 19, 2007

mark ruffalo's answers

mark ruffalo who is one of my favorite actors just gave this answer to question 10:

If heaven exists, what would you like to hear god say when you enter the pearly gates?

"Welcome. Jesus was a liberal."

oh - and i didn't get to post this last sentence last night; computer weirded out.
i'm not interested in politics here - liberal vs. conservative - right or left - even if that's what mark ruffalo means. what i'm interested in is that jesus was about love and openness and adventure, rather than keeping things safe and as they have always been. jesus looked at things with fresh eyes. jesus caused trouble because he loved so profoundly.

the ten questions

James Lipton on "Inside the Actors Studio" asks each actor the following questions at the end of the show. i usually hate canned things but these questions are actually really revealing. So i figured i'd run em. i will use all the words i want, so be forewarned.
ps that's will ferrell, not james lipton ...

1. What is your favorite word?
my favorite word is yes. the word that goes with it is no. they belong together.
2. What is your least favorite word?
my least favorite word is "need." as in, "i need this from you," which i'm learning is really about not having clarity about what i want. so, when people say to me, "i need this," i try to listen to what they are telling me they want. and when people say to me, "you need to do this," i try to listen to why i can't stand it to hear that ... and then be present with them while they tell me what they want.
3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
courage. c s lewis says that every virtue when it's at its deepest place, is courage. love is courage. integrity is courage. compassion is courage.

i'm not always courageous. but i am learning to be.
4. What turns you off?
arrogance - which is just about fear.
5. What is your favorite curse word?
"shit." it's a great all-purpose word. i don't even stop myself from saying it. except on sunday mornings at journey, and that's a struggle.
6. What sound or noise do you love?
quiet - especially in nature. which isn't quiet, but it's not human sounds. i like the quiet when the journeyers are breathing when we're gathering ourselves and our hearts together. i like the quiet when my family or a child are sleeping.
and i love laughter. oh, wait, that's two sounds.
7. What sound or noise do you hate?
i used to hate crying - which was just about my own fear of opening up and feeling anything unpleasant. plus, growing up was very sucky and had a lot of crying in it, and i wanted to distance myself from that sound because of what it reminded me of.
now i believe in crying, my own and other people's, even though it's not always comfortable for me. but it's worth it.
the sound or noise i hate is the tape in my head that tells me "you can't do this."
i also believe that that tape in my head is worthy of listening to. but not listening to.
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
9. What profession would you not like to do?
corporate lawyer, or anything having to do with screwing over the little person.
10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
a. god exists.
b. i don't believe that there are pearly gates - they're a metaphor. but it's a nice image. the metaphor i like better is "the arms that love extends."
c. what i want god to say is, "yes."
i actually believe that god will say "yes" to me ... and to every being that has been in this earthly experience. and that doesn't have anything to do with "who goes to heaven." i don't give a shit. it's not about that for me.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Love and Serenity

i really like the movie "Serenity," and i've never seen "Firefly," the TV show it spun from, so i'm a loser. but anyway, Mal, the captain of the ship, says something important about how to fly what he calls a "boat," which is, a starship:

"Love. You can know all the math in the 'Verse, but take a boat in the air you don't love, she'll shake you off just as sure as the turning of worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she oughta fall down, tells ya she's hurtin' 'fore she keens. Makes her home."

so, that's my vote for the day: Love, that keeps us in the air when we oughta fall down.

Friday, March 9, 2007

what makes a man?

I saw "300" today. It is a movie about being a man.
gerard butler's character, the king, is powerful. passionate. compassionate. unwilling to waver. and he is absolutely ready to sacrifice himself for his country, his family, his honor.
i want to be like that.
the Wild At Heart books and retreats and dvds and all that stuff, has something right when he says that men seek and yearn for adventure. we live our lives in cubicles and minivans and safety and insecurity. men need to believe, feel, that their lives are meaningful. that we're passionate. that we matter. that we're on the earth for a purpose.
But Wild At Heart, and its corrolary for women, Captivating, has it wrong when they say that men want a beauty to rescue. men do not need to rescue women. a strong woman with her own mission and passion and purpose does not need anyone to rescue her.
jesus knew this. jesus' life was passionate, full of purpose. he was willing to sacrifice himself, to do battle, to shout at sickness and rage at oppression of the poor and broken. he did all of this because of his vast, overwhelmingly powerful love.
the queen in "300" is strong. she fights for her family, for her country, for what she believes in. she is willing to sacrifice herself as well. spartan women do not need to be rescued.
when a man is full of passion and compassion, power, his own sense of his calling, his commitment to something important, he can be tender, loving, soft. he doesn't need to prove it. he lives it.
jesus did not come to rescue any of us - he came to empower us, inspire us, call us to greatness. it is not the greatness of violence - it is more powerful than that. it is the greatness of love.
the language of the struggle in this movie is violence - but violence in this case is simply an expression of power and will. it's a myth, after all.
i believe that we are called to live a life that has greatness. passion.
bono is such a man. he uses his power to help millions of people, to end hunger and AIDS, to inspire us to love our neighbor and our enemy.
just go see the freakin' movie. it's the shit. it's the point.
it's not for children.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

andy goldsworthy and time

i watched a dvd lent to me by a friend at journey. it's "rivers and tides," a documentary/ presentation about a scottish artist, andy goldsworthy. he works with nature, makes little and big things, out of the natural elements of a place - leaves, rocks, sticks, ice - and sets these pieces of art up ... and then leaves them alone. they're not meant to be permanent. he doesn't believe anything is permanent - not stone (he says he has learned that it's liquid, and he's right - it changes, evolves, like everything), not anything. so he creates his art and just lets it go.

he's like a preacher. but the good kind.
check him out. he's amazing. he makes me quiet.