A Sanctuary in Time

the-sabbathIt’s hard to really experience sabbatical when I still have to preach, make a bulletin, plan for summer worship and even fall worship (!) because I won’t be able to do that over the summer. There are also grant proposals upon which the future depends…

I was hoping I would really be working a lot less these first two weeks of June. Technically, my sabbatical from Grace Commons began as of June 1st. But my sabbatical from St. James does not begin until June 17th. From then on, I will be off until September 1st.

I am working full-on for these two weeks, and it is teaching me how devoted I will need to be to myself and to the Sabbath process in order to get the renewal I will need.

Let this be a lesson to me! Let me create a sanctuary in time for myself through this sabbatical. That’s a wonderful concept I got from Abraham Joshua Heschel from his beautiful book, The Sabbath.

From the inside flap of the book:

Judaism, [Heschel] argues, is the religion of time: it finds meaning not in space and the material things that fill it but in time and the eternity that imbues it, so that “the Sabbaths are our great cathedrals.”

As a Christian, I have a lot to learn from this wonderful Jewish teacher. I love this little book. I pray I can be inspired by it on my sabbatical.

May my Sabbatical be a Great Cathedral. AMEN.

My Lunch with John Cobb

John B. Cobb

I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Well, and I was brave. I was attending the Emergent Village Theological Conversation a few weeks ago and just loving the conversation about Process Theology.

On several occasions I was hovering around waiting for a chance to talk to John Cobb, a well-known process theologian who has now been retired for 20 years. I wanted to thank him for his thought-provoking presentations and to ask him a question or two.

But of course many people wanted to do the same thing. I gave up several times, told myself it wasn’t important, walked away and circled back, hung around while someone else video-taped him, then had my opportunity.

After thanking him for his presentations I said that I would love to ask him a few questions at some point. (That was the brave part.) He said, “How about now? I’m about to have some lunch.” I felt like the luckiest person in the world.

That meal was like sitting down for a lunch-time chat with Jimmy Carter about world politics. Let’s just say, John Cobb has thought through a few issues. I came away from that lunch with a great deal of admiration for him as a thinker and tremendous respect for him as a kind and generous human being.

The thing that was most moving and helpful for me, though, was the depth of his Christian faith. He spoke with conviction about the importance of Christ, even while he described an openness to learning about God through the insights of non-Christians. Dr. Cobb affirmed certain core convictions of Christianity, but reframed them in such a way that I felt liberated.

It was as though he was pointing to a window looking out onto a landscape I had never seen. What process theology has given him, he said, is a language with which to speak about God and Christ which doesn’t require him to hand over his rationality. And yet, his “rationality” is not limited by old categories.

Everything he spoke of, he presented with humility, acknowledging the imperfection of his knowing, but never hesitating to seek a greater understanding of God. He said that all of us who speak about God are merely speculating, but he believes that we are called to speculate!

After lunch, as I listened to more presentations and began reading his books, I saw that all my questions have been asked many times before. I was right on track with the questions so many people have.

I asked some big questions like: How do you understand the incarnation? How was God present in Jesus? How does what Jesus did then relate to us now? To answer them, he always began by reframing the question and undoing my entire (unconscious) metaphysics. What is the world made of? What is existence? What makes a human being?

I won’t be able to even list all the questions here, but I highly recommend that you check out Dr. Cobb’s comments in his “Ask Dr. Cobb” column over at the Process and Faith website.

Right now I am reading The Process Perspective II. (It’s okay to skip the first one and go right to this one, which is also available digitally.) It gives a simple introduction to Christian process theology and covers basic metaphysics, the nature of God, science, evolution and ecology, the nature of Christ, the problem of evil, and religious pluralism. These are collections of pieces from the “Ask Dr. Cobb” column. He is so conversational in his answers that reading them feels like sitting down for lunch with him.

I only wish I had some of that great bok choy and rice we had that day in early February.

Abundance in a throwaway culture

Sometimes it seems like we have too much abundance in the U.S. I just came home from the store where I saw a box of chocolate covered cherries for $1.50. I bought a sweater for $11.00. It does not feel right, it feels wrong to be able to purchase a brand new article of clothing for such a small percentage of my income. But I did it.

I’m pretty sure it was knitted on a machine, but someone had to run that machine, and with my purchase price being so low, I’m sure the retailer’s purchase price was much lower. Which means the wages earned by the people who actually produced it must be very low. I write this partly to remind myself that it is true. It’s easy to look the other way, to put it out of my mind, to forget it.

I bought the sweater partly in response to a good friend who gently commented on some t-shirts I’ve been wearing which I have owned for 15 years. Yeah, they’re a bit ratty around the collar. I’m not extravagant when it comes to clothing, but I think I can do a better job of caring for myself. It’s a balance, isn’t it? And how do we judge whether we’ve achieved the balance point or not? I know there are better ways to replace my falling-apart t-shirts and my otherwise out-dated clothing.

For Halloween I bought a new pair of jeans at the Thrift Store for $2.50 to be part of my costume. I decided they were pretty good for daily wear also! I feel so much better about the purchase I made at the Thrift Store, than the purchase of the $11.00 brand-spanking-new sweater.

One of my fondest childhood memories of Christmas is from the year my mom did all her Christmas Shopping at the Thrift Store because that was all she could afford. I loved it, because it was such an abundant Christmas! I got so many nice pieces of clothing. And probably some toys, too, but mostly I remember a really great button-down shirt.

Abundance doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. But it does take an investment of time–to make wise purchases, to take care of the things we’ve already got, to recycle, reuse, share. It takes time, and time takes a commitment. So I need to strengthen my commitment.

I want to have an abundance that is solid and basic and responsible. I don’t want an abundance that is based on goods that are inexpensive and easy to throw away because they didn’t really “cost me” anything much. But I know that I am part of a system that creates “abundance” by depriving others of their basic needs.

The things I want, and the things I have, are costing other people much more than they are costing me.

In her book, Graceful Living: Your Faith, Values, and Money in Changing Times, Laura Dunham writes that

Those who view the world as a place of scarcity tend to hoard, not share, what they have, while those who see the earth’s abundance believe there’s enough for everyone and respond generously to the needs of others. (p.7)

Sometimes when I hear people talking about “defending our way of life” here in the United States, I get a sense of this hoarding mentality which doesn’t believe there is enough for everyone.

I actually want to change my way of life, not defend it, so that I can use less, need less, want less. For that, I need friends who are doing the same, and I need a stronger sense of sufficiency. In my next post in this series, I’ll reflect on frugality and simplicity as a means of strengthening a sense of sufficiency. And by sufficiency, I mean it is enough

How can I help myself feel that it is enough? How do you?

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This is part of a series reflecting on Laura Dunham’s book, Graceful Living: Your Faith, Values, and Money in Changing Times. Her seven “Graceful Living” concepts are abundance, frugality, simplicity, generosity, sustainability, justice, and Sabbath. If you’re interested in getting a copy of this book, you can email the author directly at lgad@mindspring.com.

A Life Well-Lived

I often speak about God’s dream for the world–that our world would become a place of shalom, meaning peace and wholeness and well-being. When I invite people to the communion table, for example, I often say that at the communion table we embody God’s dreams for a world where there will be no more tears, no hunger, no injustice.

The American Dream is something else. It suggests that we’re all responsible and capable of creating success for ourselves. And that success is defined largely in terms of wealth and the quantity of stuff, or the kinds of stuff, that we can acquire.

Dunham reminds us in her book that the drafters of the U. S. Constitution had in mind a democratic society with equality of opportunity, in which individual freedom would be balanced with the common good. (p3) That’s something we don’t talk about much–the common good, and how we all contribute to it.

Success is too often defined by money, power, and position, not by a life well lived.

So, what is a life well lived? I’m asking myself that. What would my life look like, if it was well lived?

I know that one of the things I struggle with is feeling that I have “enough”, or I have all I need, that I have the right things, and I don’t need more or different or better things. Sometimes I do need more, different or better things, but a lot of times, I don’t!

It’s so easy to use the language of “should” when talking about money and stuff. But I don’t find that “should” language helps me change very much. I think I need to better understand the roots of my feelings, in order to make conscious decisions and commitments, rather than being controlled under the table by my fears and whatever else I find in this process.

Dunham suggests seven “Graceful Living” concepts, and I’m going to attempt to work through them one at a time in upcoming posts. They are: abundance, frugality, simplicity, generosity, sustainability, justice, and Sabbath.

~ This is part of a series reflecting on Laura Dunham’s book, Graceful Living: Your Faith, Values, and Money in Changing Times. ~

Graceful Living: Faith, Values, and Money

In November I’m blogging this book by Laura Dunham, Graceful Living: Your Faith, Values, and Money in Changing Times. Laura is a Presbyterian minister, a certified financial planner, and a former college professor.

We’re taking a look at Stewardship at Wicker Park Grace, and how our relationship with money affects our relationships with the world and each other.

How is money a spiritual thing? How can getting our finances in order make us stronger spiritually?

Mostly I’ll focus on Part One in the book: Choosing How to Live.

Chapter One: Living in a Consumer Society

Chapter Two: Money as a Spiritual Concern

Chapter Three: Graceful Living: Designing a Lifestyle Consistent with Your Faith

I got a copy of this book from a Stewardship group at the Presbytery of Chicago, and unfortunately, I can’t find where it’s easily available on-line. If anybody knows, please post a comment here!

Becoming Bully Proof

Yesterday a good friend of mine was in a car accident (no one was injured), and the driver of the other vehicle leaped out of his car and called her a horrible string of names that can’t be repeated here.

Being in a car accident is a scary thing, for everyone involved. For a moment, you know that you are not in control. Human vulnerability is heightened. You could be injured. You could die. Things around you break. It’s scary.

But how do we respond? How do we respond to our human vulnerability? By attacking others? By flying into a rage? By becoming a bully? Will our bullying protect us from vulnerability?

And how then, do we respond to people who turn against us like bullies? This man became a bully. He attempted to prove his Powerful Nature by dominating my friend, by insulting and demeaning her. It was an act of violence, an act of hostility. It hurt her. It would hurt any of us.

Mahatma Gandhi said that when you feel humiliated by a bully, it’s a natural thing to want to slap them to “vindicate your self-respect.”* But instead of doing that, he suggested that we try to address the feeling of humiliation inside ourselves. He said that we could become “proof” against a bully’s insults. It’s a beautiful British use of the word “proof”–like a rain coat is rain proof, or a brick is fire proof.

I love the idea that we can become bully proof. But I know that it’s a life-long task! Gandhi talked about internalizing a non-violent spirit in order to become “proof” to violence.

I believe that bully-proofing begins with self-awareness of the shame and humiliation that is already inside us, learning to love and forgive ourselves again and again. For me, it has to do with accepting my imperfection and failings, and knowing that I am human and beautiful and beloved, even when I make terrible mistakes.

Usually, my mistakes are not as terrible as I fear, my imperfection is not as horrible as I dread. But that’s not the most important thing. The most important thing is extending generous hospitality to myself, even (especially) in the face of hostility directed against me.

Self-awareness and self-acceptance allow me to experience the goodness that is at the core of my being, underneath and before every bad judgement, every mistake, every oversight.

I make mistakes, but mistakes are not who I am. This awareness is the basis for feeling that I am completely capable of growing and changing–that I am valuable and deserve to be treated with respect at ALL times. All of us deserve to be recognized as having inherent worth and dignity.

Let a bully’s insults remain “in the bully’s mouth and not touch you at all,” Gandhi said.*


*You can find these quotes and more discussion of these ideas and related spiritual practices on page 139 in my book, in the chapter on “Hospitality to Enemies: Extending Generosity through Non-Retaliation.” The Gandhi quotes came originally from The Essential Gandhi: An Anthology of His Writings on His Life, Work, and Ideas, page 174. My book is Hospitality-The Sacred Art, published by Skylight Paths Publishing.

Poverty of Heart Means Openness

The reviewer at Publisher’s Weekly described my understanding of hospitality as “capacious.” I had to look that word up! (You can read the full review on the Amazon.com site.)

Capacious means containing or capable of containing a great deal, roomy. Yeah. So, not only my book, but hospitality, too. A roomy heart and life. Capacious!

Priest and author Henri Nouwen (pronounced Now-win) wrote so beautifully about spaciousness of heart during his lifetime. One beautiful image I got from him was the understanding of “poverty of heart” as “openness” of heart. He wrote of this in his book, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. I highly recommend this book.

Nouwen wrote,

A good host not only has to be poor in mind but also poor in heart. When our heart is filled with prejudices, worries, jealousies, there is little room for a stranger…[W]e have to remind ourselves constantly that an inflated heart is just as dangerous as an inflated mind. An inflated heart can make us very intolerant. (pg 106-7)

But how can we let go of these “prejudices, worries, jealousies” and let our hearts relax into openness? First we have to realize that we are carrying these feelings around with us and that requires self- awareness. There are lots of ways we can improve our self-awareness: through meditation practices, through talk therapy, through conversation with friends, through journaling, or any number of spiritual practices. (I write about these and others in detail in my book, along with step by step instructions to try different practices.)

Hospitality involves awareness of the self–what’s really going on inside me–as well as awareness of the other. We have to see others clearly, and not through a haze of preconceived ideas about them.

With poverty of heart we can receive the experiences of others as a gift to us. Their histories can creatively connect with ours, their lives give new meaning to ours, and their God speaks to ours in mutual revelation. (p 107)

So if we can develop the kind of poverty of heart that means uncluttered, then we will have a much greater capacity to welcome others truly. We will have a capacious capacity for hospitality.

It’s All about Relationship

Every once in awhile, someone finds me on facebook to tell me what it was like to read my book. I love that and I’m so grateful that something I’ve created helps people.

Despite having “hospitality” as the title, the book is really about how to become a more loving, whole person.

One reader wrote that she found herself thinking more about relationships of all kinds after reading the book:

Just finished your book/loaned to me several months ago/ sat on the table with the stack of “to read”. Was not at all what I expected!

As the creator of several church “hospitality-outreach” programs… I expected a “How to make your church more inviting” manual.

Now that I have finished, I’m thinking more about me and my relationships, both large and small. Thank you so much for writing this book. I’m sure I will return to it often.

Writing the book helped me a lot, too. I felt like I got a lot more language for ideas that had only been vague ideas before struggling to write the book.

I love to write, but it’s hard to set aside the time! Writing this book was like being in Finals at school for a year, pretty much non-stop. Nevertheless, I do intend to write more books!

One obvious next book would be a Study Guide for Christians to go with my Hospitality-The Sacred Art. Because the book itself is written for a very broad audience, (people of various faiths or no faith), I would like to help Christians, or followers of Jesus if you prefer that language, to ground their practice of hospitality in Biblical scripture and Christian tradition.

Looking for the Evil Within Us

In my book on Hospitality-the sacred art, I have a chapter devoted to hospitality to our enemies. These are two words we don’t put together in our heads (or our practice) very often. Hospitality. Enemies.

The idea is very akin to the Jesus concepts of “Love your enemies,” “pray for those who persecute you.” When Jesus cried out from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” it’s a similar thing.

In the chapter, I outline a spiritual practice of Self-Examination because transformative spiritual hospitality is based, I believe, on honest self-awareness. This is especially important when we are faced with adversarial or hostile situations.

I rely a lot on the writings of Mahatma Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in this chapter, as they were brilliant theologians and practitioners of “loving” “enemies.” Rev. King has a great sermon called Loving Your Enemies that he preached in 1957, before I was born. I relied on his sermon for inspiration and courage in writing my chapter about hospitality to enemies. Read his full sermon here.

Here is a short piece from my book:

Dr. King’s second step toward loving enemies invites us to look within for a very specific purpose. He suggested that we look for the good in our enemies and look for the evil that is in us. Dr. King described us as being split up and divided against ourselves as though a civil war were raging inside us. It is the “isness” of our present nature being out of harmony with the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts us, Dr King said. In other words, we’re not as completely good as we would like to be.

If we can recognize that this is true within ourselves as well as within our adversaries, then we can no longer see ourselves as entirely innocent, or our adversaries as entirely guilty, or evil. There is no wholly good person, just as there is no wholly bad person. There are only human beings. When we can realize and remember our shared humanity with our adversaires, our attitude can shift, and a little compassion may even rise up within us.

If you would like to explore this particular practice, you can simply add a new step or focus to the earlier exercise of self-examination. Work your way through the same steps of imagining your adversary, and this time look for signs within yourself of hostility, hatred, disrespect, disdain, or anything that undermines the humanity of your adversary by seeing him or her as all bad. Also notice that seeing yourself as all good undermines your own humanity too, because that belief is not based in the complex reality of what it means to be human.

Psalms for Praying

This is one of my favorite books for prayer and liturgy. We use this book almost every week at Wicker Park Grace for our liturgical psalm.

We sing a refrain, taizé -style, sometimes an actual song from Taizé , and sometimes an original refrain composed to go with a particular psalm. In between the communally sung refrains, designated readers read the text of the psalm while our musicians improvise quietly in the background.

For example, from our gathering on Sept 11, we spoke these words from psalm 114:

Begin with REFRAIN:

Come all you who have wondered far from the path,
who have separated yourselves from Love;
A banquet has been prepared for you in the heart’s secret room.
There you will find the way Home; a welcome ever awaits you!
Even as you acknowledge the times you have erred,
The forgiveness of the Beloved will envelop you.

REFRAIN

Call upon the Beloved when fear arises, when you feel overwhelmed;
The eternal Listener will heed your cry;
You will find strength to face the shadows.
Befriend all that is within you, discover the Sacred Altar within your heart.
Then will abundant blessings enter your home;
And you will welcome the Divine Guest who is ever with you.
You are never alone!

REFRAIN