When We Stop To Listen…

I enjoy hearing stories. They may not have the happy ending where everything is tied up in a nice little bow. They may be painful, hard, even uncomfortable to listen to sometimes. But stories, people’s stories, are fascinating to me. And everybody has one. It doesn’t matter how dull or boring you think your life has been, you still have a story. A narrative that runs from your family history, your earliest memories all through the course of time until this moment we’re in.

One of the most interesting parts of this, is that often times as I am listening to someone’s story, it’s as if I become more and more engaged. I learn things about them that allow me to make connections. Cognitive connections of thought in regards to why they live in a certain place, have a certain kind of job, even why they have a certain color of hair. But there are also emotional and human connections where I can identify with parts of their story-similar situations, similar feelings, similar memories-that make them more, well, human.

We’ve all been there. It’s the reason why we like to watch comedies (what’s funny is we can identify with the comedian in a certain way) and/or dramas (same reason). And when we make that connection, we feel valued, heard, acknowledged, respected, not alone. Maybe even loved.

Last week a friend from college was passing through Portland. I was able to contact her and make a plan to get lunch. It’s been, oh, I don’t know, 16 years or so, but thought it would be great to catch up since we’ve been overseas for so long. We met, got lunch and we walked around the college campus she used to work at. We talked about culture, politics, Jesus, Portland, faith and memories of college so long ago. It was good, really good. And, amazingly, I learned something. Her job, at a different campus, deals with sex crimes, seeking  where there is wrong doing and passionately pursuing respect and reconciliation. I listened. I learned. I learned about issues and fears that I don’t have being a white American male. I learned about issues we push for but in the end end up hurting so many people. I learned about how we think we are being Jesus to those around us, but end up doing more harm than good. And I learned about her story as well. There were things I never knew about her 16 years ago, but now, I see why some of these things are such great passions of hers. And, I learned a little more about myself in how I act, relate and engage with different demographics of people.

The guys I work with who are in recovery, giving up a life they knew and taking on fairly humbling jobs to get their life in order, teach me things everyday. So do the mentally disabled, current drug addicts and homeless people that walk into my store everyday. There are those around us on a daily basis who may not even know Jesus, but have so much to teach us if we are willing to learn. When we stop, acknowledge who they are, and hear their story, it’s amazing how much we can learn about life, ourselves…and yes, how much we can learn about Jesus from someone who doesn’t even believe in Him.  I pray we all learn more about Jesus and ourselves this day.

…more to come…

be blessed today

 

take posture of learner, I learned something, humility, etc

Living Life in 3D

Those hot summer nights. I remember them clearly. The sun shining way into the evening, the last glimmer of sunlight and the moon shining in it’s fullness at the same time. Then, as it gets darker, the fireflies come out to play, and then the stars. Oh the stars. Growing up in the middle of farming country had some perks, and one of them was little light pollution. The first time I really, and I mean really, encountered the stars was on a backpacking trip in Glacier National Park in Montana here in the States. There were no city lights at all, and the stars were almost as plentiful as rain drops in a downpour. They were…something bigger….something…..more. More than I had once thought. Something grander than I had once believed.

The path of self discovery. It’s incredibly important for each and everyone of us to travel down. And, as I mentioned in an earlier post, we can’t just stop there. Though many often do, this simply leads to a one sided, one dimensional outlook on life-simply who we are. That may not sound so simple. And it’s not. We are incredibly complex. Which is why we must keep going. Going…past the point of self discovery, to the realm of self awareness. Understanding how others experience and the wake we may be leaving, is key to growth and maturity. It’s when we begin to become less self focused and more focused on those around us. Even the “other.” The ones we swear we are nothing like. Perhaps we could consider this two dimensional. And, for a mature adult, this could be the stopping point.

For me, self discovery is where I had stopped for awhile. That is until I realized for the first time, the massive wake I was leaving behind me. And I could have stopped there. Working on me and my behavior, trying to reach out to the other, or at least become more tolerant of the other. And I do continually try to learn more about my wake. But God continued to invite further. The path from this point on, just like the path up to this point, was uncharted, unknown and scary.

Looking up at the stars, that feeling of bigness, and that I am a part of that bigness, is something that invites us into it. And that is where our lives become, for lack of a better descriptor, three dimensional. It’s when we’ve gone from understanding who we are, and how others experience us, to understanding who we are IN Christ.

I have met so many people, followers of Jesus, that have no idea who they are in Christ. This key part helps us to see that we are a part of something much bigger and grander than ourselves. That we are a part of a much larger narrative, a story that is being written as we live, that God continually invites us into. We are more valuable than we could ever imagine, we are more precious than we could ever dream. I remember once hearing an interview with J. K. Rowling, the creator and author of Harry Potter. She said, “I always knew how the story would end.”She goes on to say that it was the story leading up to that end that was what brought her enjoyment and life.

And I believe Christ is the same with us. We are a part of a grand story. Each day, each moment in that presence of Christ, is another opportunity of learning about who we are from the One who created us. Who puts the very breath in our lungs. Why we are wired or gifted or skilled a certain way. Looking back on the life lived already and seeing how God used us through those things, and seeing we are a part of something much greater. Though we may seem insignificant, He desires us to be very intricate parts of it. We need to be reminded of those things from time to time. I hope you are.

be blessed today

 

Getting Caught in the Wake

Oh, that feeling. I hate it. Man, I hate it. It doesn’t matter if the person is small, big, girl, boy, old, young. It doesn’t matter whether or not they are in a position over you or under you at work. It is still uncomfortable. Walking on egg shells. It’s just not fun.

One of the biggest issues in the American Church today, is our lack of self awareness. Or put differently, our lack of understanding how we are experienced by others. This doesn’t just come in our personal interaction with people on a moment by moment or daily basis. But it also comes in our actions and verbiage towards “the other.” “The Others” are other people with differing views, perspectives, faith, theologies and lifestyles than us. In many cases, we may even just naturally assume that everyone else agrees with us or is just like us. Especially if we are part of the same faith community.

I am just as guilty of this as anyone else. I have made (and still do, I’m sure) blanket statements, stereotypes, and rash, harsh judgements. I can be arrogant, or perhaps my self confidence can come across as arrogance. I’ve made mention before that I am a tall, large, white male. This can cause intimidation, fear, feelings of frustration and/or being inferior in others around me. Whether I am trying to bring about these feelings or not, the truth is that simply who I am and how I act can bring about those feelings. A few years ago, I probably would have scoffed at that last sentence, but I have become much more aware of my wake.

 

Last post, I started a dialogue about self discovery. I really do feel this is an important step in our growth as people and especially as followers of Jesus. As we begin to walk down that road of self discovery, we could end up in a place of great growth. But we need humility. Self discovery, if carried long enough and is added with humility, will bring about self awarenesssocial-icons-01

Self awareness is when we begin to understand the wake that we are leaving behind us. Just as a speed boat cruising along at top speed will leave a tremendous wake, so do our actions. There’s a reason why marina’s have a “no wake” policy. If a boat is racing through the marina, it can cause a lot of damage to the docks, the other boats and even the shoreline. Our wake has an impact on those around us. And often times, it is hard for us to see our wake. It’s hard for us to see or understand how others are experiencing us. This is a key area of growth for us as people, let alone as people who are trying to follow Jesus a little better everyday.

I have people who I trust, who I have given the freedom to call me out on my stuff and to call me out when my wake is leaving a path of destruction. I tell them very clearly that I may not respond well to them initially, but I do want them to call me out on it. Why? Because if they don’t, and everyone else is walking on egg shells, who will speak out? And, how will I know what destruction I am leaving if no one speaks out? The Holy Spirit is there to reveal those things to us, to convict us. I don’t know about you, but many times I am too blind to see the Spirit or to busy and self focused to hear Him.

Self awareness, how others experience us, the wake we leave behind us are just another aspect of this journey of self discovery. And yes, just like finding ourselves (how we’re wired, skilled, likes and dislikes) is important, this is where many stop and dare go no further. They don’t dare continue to walk this path of self discovery. Yet, that’s exactly what God desires us to do…..the next part of the journey….

more to come…

be blessed today

 

Have You Found Yourself?

I can’t pin point the exact time it happened to me. I think with most things in life, it came about slowly, over time. It evolved. In all my travels around the globe, I’ve run into many people who were on that same journey. The places I found it most prevalent were in India, Nepal, Bali, Mongolia and a few places in the States such as here in Portland. But, I have encountered folks almost everywhere I’ve been, on the path of “finding themselves.”

My assumption is that the places I found it most, were  places that were very religiously “open.” Where people would not be shamed for believing what they did, no matter how ludicrous it may have seemed to people from their own home cultures. Sure, there was acceptance, but it was more than that. It was the freedom to dive into whatever beliefs they wanted to, carry that liturgy out to whatever extent they desired (minus murdering someone), and there was no public judgement or shaming. At least, not that they could tell.

The cultures we grow up in, no matter where we are, may have some sort of religious expectations upon us (no matter how religiously free we think we think our culture is). We believe what our parents believe, or perhaps we believe what the rest of the crowd we spent the most time with believes. And then, many of us hit a point where we think “what do I actually believe?” What I’ve noticed is that when we start down that road, we then begin to ask, “Who am I?” And so the journey of self discovery begins.

I’ve seen many people on this constant journey to find themselves. Trying to figure out small things such as, “do I really like broccoli” to much deeper more profound things like “do I really believe in God?” I firmly believe this journey is incredibly important to our growth as people. Figuring out our identity, our passions, our desires is foundational in really understanding who we are. This is the point where a lot of people I know have entered into a real, or more accurate understanding  of who they are, not what the world has told them they are. This is the journey of self discovery. I think this is an incredible moment in a person’s life. This is when people begin to really start to live in who they are. Finding themselves.

And then they stop. Or, they never add to this part of their journey. Don’t get me wrong, we need to be life long learners and learners of life. But that doesn’t mean staying in just this place.  It begins with asking the questions, “Who am I?” That could be a scary question, especially for a people pleaser like me. For a long time, and I still struggle with it, I was only who I was as long as people liked me, weren’t upset with me and who still accepted me. Simply put, to a point, I was a chameleon, able to blend in to any group, or more accurately, I took on the personality, likes/dislikes and interests of the group.

This lasted for a while, until I got to the point I realized I had no idea who I actually was. I couldn’t dissect me from them (whoever “them” was at the time). Again, I can’t pin point when it started, but it was somewhere around the senior year of high school and freshman year of college. And it has not ended since then. I am still discovering who I am. But I have added to the things I am learning about myself. We’ll tackle that in the next two posts. For today, perhaps it’s good to reflect and simply ask ourselves, “do I know who I am?”

More to come…

be blessed today

 

Actively Passive

When we knew God was leading us away from Russia, we began to ask “Where to?” God was silent…actually silent for awhile. There were many times I sat down with my spiritual director or a “soul friend” and lament. Lament is something we have forgotten in our North American church culture…but that’s another post. My laments were of sadness, the reality of grief of the loss of leaving somewhere we thought we’d be for a long time. And then there was the lament of frustration, the colorful language of fear, confusion and disorientation coming out. This was a calling out of God to be true to Who He said He was in His written word-a lamp shining on my feet and a light shining on my path. I forget that a torch, or an oil burning lamp doesn’t cast a very bright light…nothing like my LED backpacking headlamp does. No, a torch is just a few steps….

Anyway, my frustration led me to do what I know how to do…actively seek out where it is, hoping something would stick. Not quite throwing a wet noodle on a wall to see if it would stick, but close enough. I am a big believer in throwing things to the wind and seeing what happens. You don’t know unless you try is my philosophy, and so I did. Cold calls to churches in Canada, emails to churches in New Zealand, Australia, the UK, Sweden. Conversations with friends and friends of friends in Paris, the States and other places. And yet, nothing took. My active seeking out was becoming fruitless. As much as I am this active way, Iris is just as much the other way. Waiting to see what drops in our laps and then follow through on it is more her way of seeing where it is God is leading.

In these two seemingly very opposite approaches, you might imagine a massive amount of conflict. And, yes, that would make logical sense. But for us it is tension. Not tension in that we’re at odds and we need to walk on eggshells all the time. No, I mean good tension. Tension  like that of a keel and the sail of a sail boat. The sail catches the wind which pushes the boat. The keel however, catches the water and uses it as a ballast to keep not only the boat upright, but also to keep the boat from being blown all over the place by the wind. This way, the sail and keel work together to harness the wind to move it forward in the most effective and efficient way possible. They work in tension at all times. And both of them are completely utterly passive. They simply are there, at tension with one another, and allowing the wind to move them.

Last time I wrote about being passively active, the idea that we can be constantly active without even realizing it. This can mean coming to God with an agenda of our own when we make time for Him, and/or it can mean that we are living out our agenda all the time, simply asking God to bless it. I asked Iris the other day if she could sum up how she approaches God’s leading and she said it like this, “It’s watching for where He’s leading and then walking towards that, as opposed to going after every avenue and waiting for Him to close doors.” That latter part, that’s me. I’ve learned to follow my gut, and usually that works for me. However, there are times that I’ve learned I need to become actively passive. That is, simply wait on God and see what falls in my lap. Sure I earnestly seek Him in certain areas, but I’ve come to a point where I usually come to Him expecting…..expecting Him, and nothing else. Since I started living this way simply being, and I don’t do it all the time, but since I started approaching life this way, there have been far more unexpected experiences, lessons, encounters and Truths I’ve been met with than I would have ever expected. It’s the active decision to just be. There is an incredible amount of peace in that, that surrender and release. Believe me, I continue to experience it.

Perhaps today is a day you need to become actively passive, stop the doing and and just be. I know it’s super hard, but what would happen if you tried that today, asking for awareness of God’s presence and allowed Him to do what He does?

be blessed today

Passively Active

‘“You’re right,” Violet said {to Klaus} with a sigh, ….. “Maybe we should be passive for a while. Being active hasn’t helped us much.”’  -Lemony Snickets, A Series of Unfortunate Events: Book  the 11th, The Grim Grotto

I was always a go getter. I don’t mean that in any boastful way.  I simply mean that if I felt something was important, I’d do what I could to get that thing done. This is not in everything, mind you, but in some. For example, I remember one summer during college, I was debating on which denomination I wanted to go overseas with. I debated back and forth between the one I grew up with and another one. I won’t tell you the reasons why (I’m a bit embarrassed at my 20 year old values), but it was a big debate in my head. So, I did what any rational, determined, curious college student would do. I called the vice president of the organization and talked to him. His assistant actually transferred my call over to him, and he actually took 45 minutes of his day to talk to me-completely unscheduled. Someone I had never heard of two days prior, nor ever spoken with. It didn’t surprise me at the time. Even though I continue to do these sorts of things today (I might as well talk to the people who will have the answers I need, right?),  I realize now that this is not a normal practice for most people.  After I  met Iris, she informed me that is not usual behavior. Good to know, I’ll take note.

Most of my life has been lived this way. I’ve actively pursued the paths and places I believe I am to go. And, for the most part, it has gone well. God has led us on some incredible paths, adventures, experiences, and places we never expected. This wasn’t just me following, but Iris and I following together. And it usually was an active pursuit. Always doing, moving, seeking, searching, looking. Active.

But passive, on the other hand, is something much different indeed. Passive is allowing things to take place. I always looked at people being passive about life instead of taking it by the horns, as just being lazy. No, I wasn’t judgemental…well, maybe a little. Actually, ya, I was pretty judgemental. I thought my way was the only “right” way. And though I do believe we are to be actively seeking out God, I also believe that there are also times we need to be passive.

I, much like my friends Klaus, Sunny and Violet above, had come to a realization that I was being too active. And it wasn’t just in looking for new opportunities, creating new ministries and finding new places to live. It was also in my times with God. I’m not talking about a “quiet time” or a “devotion.” I’m talking about a conversation with Jesus. A time where I am sitting in a chair, legs crossed, coffee in hand, and He is sitting right across from me, intently listening and I stopping my monologue to listen to Him. Active didn’t quite work for this. I had to learn to stop coming to my coffee time with Him with an agenda, a list to check, a schedule to keep and my self disciplined will getting in the way.

Perhaps you can identify with how I felt. How I felt feel when I come to times, moments with Him just like this, list in hand, only to walk away angry at myself for being to preoccupied with the list, or frustrated that God didn’t join me that day. Perhaps you to can identify with being Passively Active, that is, being too active and yet not realizing it. Let’s walk down this one together….more to come…

be blessed today

 

 

Scarcity

How was it possible that this was it? How is it possible that it didn’t wash away? Or, perhaps blow over? How was it possible, that that many people lived there? It seemed to stretch on forever, this massive area of nothing. Well, my mindset was that it was nothing. Cardboard boxes as homes, digging through trash to find the salvageable things, living on the edge of the Ganges, both bathing and drinking from the same river that the trash and human waste runoff flows into. This shanty town of hundreds of thousands of people didn’t exist a few months prior to our arrival. There was a much larger one that was bulldozed down in an effort by the city government to control the amount of “squatters” in the area. But it didn’t matter, bulldoze one down and they all just moved to a new area and set up their small, rickety abodes. Nepal and India were my introduction to poverty, I mean true poverty. It seems like an eternity ago now, but the images, smells, tastes, sounds…that are just as powerful now as they were 17 years ago. I haven’t been back, though I have grandiose plans of returning someday.

That wasn’t just poverty, it was scarcity. Scarcity of clean water, dry homes, food, clothing, soap, work, privacy, medicine, health, safety, progress….flourishing…..living.

Scarcity of life, to the point of just trying to survive. That was true scarcity, and I had never witnessed it before. But when your eyes are opened to something, it’s hard not to see it anywhere else.

I ate lunch in a park filled with the homeless, today. I sat there and looked around at their scarcity. Granted, they had more than the Untouchable Caste I witnessed while in India, but the homeless in Portland this afternoon still lived with scarcity. Funny…”with” and “scarcity” in the same sentence……

When we sit down and listen to them, or anyone going through difficulties of any kind, and we tell them that “it will be ok,” I wonder, do we really believe that? Do we really believe that it will be ok? Do we really believe that “God’s got this” and leave it at that? Do you believe that? Do you? When you’re going through the loss of a job, the foreclosure of a home, a broken relationship from a misunderstanding, or an unexpected (or expected for that matter) death? And yet we hear “It will be ok, God’s got this.” Do you really believe that?

Do I?

The man who is homeless who loves Jesus is “ok.” So is the person who is sick and/or physically impoverished. We can still “be ok” and become a refugee, or succumb to the power of another country, or have our economy decimated. And in the end of all that, as we walk the road alone being spat on, or running for our lives, do we think that is also what it means when we say “God’s got this?”

To say that “it will be ok, God’s got this” means that there is an understanding that you or I could end up in one of the situations above, and hold to that same belief that “God’s got it.” God’s definition of scarcity is very different than what ours might be. And if that’s the case, what does God give us if his definition is different? How will we be ok if that’s true? Food for thought as I wrestle with this one currently.

….more to come

be blessed today