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

My Reading list since December 2015, What’s Yours?

I know you’re probably looking for some deep insight and great spiritual wisdom (snickers silently to himself), but not today. Today, I want to share the books that I read over the last 12 months. Perhaps you have a book worm in your life or you’re looking for something that is going to challenge you. Take a look at this list and perhaps you’ll find something. As you look through this list, you’ll notice that some of these books are not about spiritual formation, per say. I do believe that learning is still learning, and we can always learn more, so I would encourage you to look at all of them on the list (I should get credit from Amazon or something for recommending books…hhmmmm).

Anyhow, what I would also like is suggestions from you. We all learn from each other, after all. I don’t usually read fiction (except the Shusaku Endo one at the bottom), but if it’s intriguing, I might be up for it!  I hope if you do read one of these books, that God uses it to speak to you.

be blessed today

Discernment: Reading the signs of daily life-Henri Nouwen

Coming Clean: A Story of Faith- Seth Haines

Rising Strong- Brene Brown

Seasons of the Soul: Stages of Spiritual Development- Bruce Demarest

Contemplation And Midlife Crisis: Examples from Classical and Contemporary Spirituality- OSU Rosmarie Carfagna

Seeking God’s Face: Praying with the Bible through the year- Philip Reinders and Eugene Peterson

Life Together- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Let Your Life Speak: Listening For The Voice of Vocation-Parker Palmer

The Dusty Ones: Why Wandering Deepens Your Faith-A.J. Swoboda

On Loving God-Bernard of Clairvaux

The Making of a Leader-Robert Clinton

The Search For God and Guinness: A biography of the beer that changed the world-Stephen Mansfield

Crossing the Chasm, 3rd edition- Geoffery A. Moore

Nudge: Awakening Each Other to the God Who’s Already There-Leonard Sweet

Branding is for Cows. Belonging is for People- CJ Casciotta

Run With The Horses: The Quest for Life at its Best –Eugene Peterson

The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey-Henri Nouwen

The Needs of the Heart-Chip Dodd

Water To Wine: Some Of My Story-Brian Zahnd

Silence- Shusaku Endo

 

 

Are You Savoring the Finer Things in Life?

I like watching the food channel on tv. To me its up there with design shows both fashion and homes-it always amazes me what people can come up in their creativity. Seriously. Watch anyone of those shows and I’ll bet you can list off at least 30 different ways you can make a hamburger differently. Or what someone can do with a couple yards of fabric draped just so, over someones body. Or how a simple piece of wood can become an original, one of a kind piece of art in a home. It is amazing. As I have grown in my hobby turned profession as a coffee roaster and barista, I have also come to enjoy the fine subtle flavors of food and drink. I’ve come to appreciate craft made delicacies. I’ve also come to understand what the word “savory” means. It’s the richness or lushness of a particular food, that’s the savory aspect that I’ve come to appreciate and desire. Savory food is something to be savored-enjoyed, slowly in all of it’s complexity.

Last month I was gone for a week traveling with a friend through the Gobi Desert, the lower mountains and the massive sand dunes of Mongolia. I was so very thankful for this trip as it not only gave me the opportunity to see some incredible landscape, but also to spend time with my friend. A couple of days later, after returning and getting back into life, Iris and I were sitting down talking one night. “I’m so glad you’re back, I really missed you,” she said. “It’s not that I didn’t have a good time without you I did. And, it’s not like I couldn’t have enjoyed my time without you present. I could. It’s just that……I don’t know, It’s just that it seems…..it seems that life is more savory with you than when you’re not here,” she continued.

Savory. Not flavorful…though that is probably also true as I tend to be a little more crazy than  her. No, savory is what she said. But savory is the aromatics, the herbs, the right blend of spices that leaves that enjoyable flavor that keeps you coming back for more. Life is more savory. I guess savory could be a word used towards a work of art as well. There is something that is pleasing when looking at art, something that catches your eye and holds you fast to it. I, for one, enjoy Monet’s paintings as they are pleasant to my eye. The brush strokes, the somewhat muted colors, it is relaxing and peaceful to me. But in regards to something holding me fast, where I can’t move and, yes, even brought to tears…..Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son. It draws me in to all of it’s subtleties.

And I guess that is where I have landed with this place, this world, this life. This world is just not savory without Christ in it. Or, perhaps, life seems to be bland if I don’t have the savoriness of Jesus enhancing or even adding to the beauty that is creation. It’s black and white instead of in technicolor. It’s muted somehow. It’s like eating “dry toast…no butter, no jam, just dry” to quote a line from the highly theological My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Savoring isn’t just the “finer things” in life….it is life itself.

Today, I sat down to finish this post. I usually write my posts a few days (or weeks) in advance and do a simple edit the day I post them. But as I was thinking about this one today, I was trying to figure out what made today so savory. It came down to relationship. Not just relationship with “my people” be it face to face or via some app on my phone, it didn’t matter, it was simply relationship that made my day savory. Of course the whole day wasn’t savory…traffic, traffic isn’t savory at all. But the time in the car talking to a friend while in traffic, that was savory. Lingering, which I’ve written about before. To savor. As with anything, I’m learning that there is always something to be thankful for and now I’m learning that there is a savory part of life because of Christ that I’m beginning to become aware of. What is it about today that made it savory for you? Just curious.

be blessed today

 

Photo Credit: here

 

How to Better Understand Others

A friend of mine and I had a long discussion a while back about looking inward at ourselves. We were talking about whether finding our faults, taking personality profiles, mode of operation analyses, the Enneagram studies, genograms and other evaluations where actually important. And why we as believers in Jesus, focus so much of our time on them as opposed to “just the Word.”

Up to this point, there had been a wave the past decade or so prior, of spiritual formation and focusing inward on ourselves…”the journey within,” I’ve heard it called. Though I perhaps dabbled in it growing up, asking God to search my heart, and then ask for forgiveness for those things, it was never an intentional desire. The intentional, continual and consistent inward journey only began about six  years ago. I’ve talked about it before in other posts, but it really was a stripping away of falsities and untruths that were either put on me or I had accepted as truth.

I have had many conversations the past few years on the idea that we just need the Bible and nothing else, and all of these extra things were a waste of time, taking away from the Truth of the Gospel. Some have said those very words and, sadly,  weren’t open to the idea that perhaps other things may add in our understanding of Christ, ourselves and ourselves in Christ. I also used to be this way, until I came to a point and began to realize that there is a great journey both inward and upward in my soul.

Marjorie Thompson said in her book, “Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life,” that  “One of the most precious results of self-knowledge is greater compassion.   The more clearly we see ourselves, the harder it becomes to  judge the weaknesses and failures of others.” I’ve also found this to be true. The moment I am quick to judge, I also quickly remember when I acted similarly and suddenly have more grace. I am human, so it doesn’t happen all the time, but I hope it has become more frequent (that might be a question for Iris 🙂

Looking at scripture we see the same pattern. The more the disciples began to understand themselves and those around them, the more compassion they began to have towards others. No more talking down to those sick, in need or children. In the early church and church history we also see this pattern. The early Desert Fathers and Mothers, missions to help the poor, sick and destitute all understood this concept as they practiced daily times of silence and meditation on scripture .

 The more clearly we see ourselves, the harder it becomes to  judge the weaknesses and failures of others. -Marjorie Thompson 

As with anything, this life of following Jesus requires a change of perspective from what we know. No matter what culture, social strata or color of skin, we all need to see life from  different perspectives in order to have a fuller understanding of ourselves and the God we serve. When we have a better understanding of ourselves, we then are able to come to others in humility, to learn from them and about them. To better understand them and give grace as grace as been given to us.

Nothing earth shattering here, I know, but a reminder to us all as I was reminded this past week as to why I desire to have a better understanding of myself. May our journey inward be upward focused in order to better love ourselves, those around us and our Creator.

be blessed today

Photo Credit: https://plus.google.com/105843274581171636167/posts

Is Your Life Too Mundane for God?

Most of us, at least most people I know, have fairly routine lives. Myself included. You may say “Now wait just a minute JB. You live in a country thousands of miles from your passport country, speak a different language or two, and roast coffee.” And, to that I say, yes, that is true. But I have a routine that may seem fairly normal. I get up early, work out, read and journal, have breakfast, help get the kids off to school and then I head off to either work or language school with Iris. We come home. The kids come home, we eat dinner, we hang out a bit and then they go to bed. We eventually go to bed, and then the routine starts again. The weekends are filled with either resting at home, or traveling to the countryside and sabbathing together and others who want to follow Jesus more.

I have a friend who lives a similar life but instead of sending his kids off to school, they home school. Instead of the one hourish I spend exercising, he spends a bit more time as he just completed his 5th Ironman just this past Sunday. And their weekends are filled with camping and gymnastics tournaments for their boys. But, it’s his routine.

I know other people and have other friends that seem as though they are traveling more days a month than they are at their home. Different countries for training or certifying people. Different places for outdoor adventures and spend more nights in tents than in bedrooms. Yet, this is their routine.

Many people I talk to and are friend with, often desire a break up of their routine. “Oh, if only my routined, mundane life could change, then I could really experience God doing this.” Or, “If I was doing that, man God would use me so much more.” Maybe that’s true. Or perhaps it is something that society has taught us about those few exceptionally rare cases of people that just did something completely crazy, it seemed, that are the only ones we hear about.

Regular times of sabbath for me are important. They don’t necessarily have to be scheduled, but they are needed. If I don’t have them regularly, even for a solid unplugged hour a week, it is hard for me to be at peace within which then leads to a non-at-peace person without. That hour, I’m learning, doesn’t always have to be in complete solitude with my candle burning, listening to classical music with journal and book in hand. It can be in the midst of my normal living routine. In the mundane tasks or simply making space among those tasks to be reflective and open to what the Spirit might be saying to me.

This is part of the monastic life. Whether it be brewing beer, hoeing the garden, painting a building or kneading bread, these mundane tasks where meant to also be times of asking what it was God was speaking to them through that particular task. Last summer I preached a sermon on how growing up we picked up rocks from the fields after it had been plowed and tilled in preparation for the seeds to be planted. We walked over ever square inch of every field with my grandpa driving the tractor at walking pace while it was hitched to a wagon. My brother, sister, parents and I would all be lined up behind the wagon simply walking with our heads down looking for rocks. If we found any, and we always found a lot, we’d pick them up, and throw them in the wagon to dump out by the tree line. Why were we picking up rocks? Because they would break the very expensive equipment if we didn’t. Just an hour or two of work could save our family thousands of dollars and several days on fixing broken equipment.

I believe, it’s in the mundane that God may speak to us more than in those “experiencing God” moments we always read about.

That reflection reminded me of how many times I need to look for sins in my life, ways that I am affecting other people that I may not recognize if I didn’t spend the time to look at myself and reflect with guidance from the Spirit. That mundane task is something God used to remind me of a greater Truth of Himself. And I believe, it’s in the mundane that God may speak to us more than in those “experiencing God” moments we always read about.

Washing the dishes, punching numbers, running that 21st mile, dropping the kids off-these mundane tasks are incredibly divine moments if we allow them to be. God is always present, He has never left us which means He is always there, always present during those moments. What if we were to give Him more space in those times and wait with open ears and eyes as to what He has for us? What if we simply began to think on Him during those tasks? It might just end up being something extraordinarily exceptional!

Let’s try it for a week, cool?  Honestly, let’s do the best we can at giving these mundane moments to Him and then perhaps we’ll have some stories to share. Will you join me? If you have any incredible encounters, we would all be encouraged by you sharing them with us. Please feel free to comment to this post and we shall see how He speaks through the mundane yet divine.

be blessed today

 

Photo Credit: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140203092316-64875646-bored-at-work-here-s-what-to-do

Are You Disoriented?

I always enjoyed hiking when I was younger but never really backpacked until I entered university. There, nestled in the lower Appalachian Mountains, I began to enjoy a lot of outdoor activities not really available to me in Ohio where I grew up. I live in a place now where it can happen frequently and I’m pretty excited to get out and explore more of this great place. Perhaps the Gobi this summer…..

During my Junior year of university, I went on a failed trip with my then girlfriend (now my Iris) and Mike, a really good friend of mine. We had plans of meeting up with two of our other friends as they planned on showing up later due to a soccer game. We had some plans, but not great ones and we never did meet up with them. Two injuries, lack of water and fear of where our friends were, we decided to cut the trip a day early and find a shortcut back.

The boots I purchased weren’t broken in (a rookie mistake) and therefore I had massive broken blisters on both my heels as well as on the ball of one of my feet. Iris, who had torn her meniscus earlier that volleyball season, was in pain with almost every step. I was slowing down and lagging behind. Mike and Iris were talking and hiking and were getting ahead of me. After a few minutes or so, I rounded a bend in the trail and they were gone. I continued on, trying to listen for their voices, and figured that I would catch up to them at some point. Then, I came to a fork in the trail. Neither this new trail nor the trail I was on was marked and I had no idea which one to take.

I paused for a minute, straining to hear their voices, but  heard nothing other than my imagination putting their voices in my head. I kept going on the slightly more well worn path and began yelling their names. About 10 minutes later, I heard them shout back and I yelled “WAIT!” I caught up to them, but out of embarrassment, never said anything to them about my fear that I was lost in the Great Smokey Mountains, thirsty and hurting. We stopped for a bit, ate some gorp and regrouped as we tried to figure out how to get out. A couple hours later, we were able to get to a store by a road and hitchhiked back to our car. It was one for the story books, but needless to say, we’re a bit more prepared now.

Walter Bruggerman has observed that we as followers of Jesus, go through three phases in our lifetimes. These three phases are cyclical and can repeat numerous times throughout our time on this earth. He writes “each  of God’s children is in transit along the flow of Orientation, Disorientation, and Reorientation.” I’ve gone through these three a few times and am in the middle of it now. But what do they mean?

When we first come to a point of acknowledging and accepting God’s forgiveness and begin to follow Him, we are orienting our life towards Him. We begin to head in a direction, a path, towards Him and what we believe is His will for our lives. But then, if we are seriously following and submitting to Him, there will come a time of complete disorientation. Getting laid off, Him asking you to quit your job, a sudden illness, the death of a spouse or child, burnout, the acknowledgement of an addiction, retirement, the birth of a child, and the list goes on. We wonder what in the world is going on. It may feel like you are walking through the stages of hell and even wondering why God is silent. Job went through this. David, Jesus, Moses, Peter, Paul, William Carey and Elizabeth Elliot just to name a few.

It’s in the disorientation that we begin to understand a deeper meaning of grace. A deeper plane of compassion, sacrifice, wisdom, kindness and joy. It’s in these times where things are stripped away so that all we have to run to is God and nothing else. When the ice begins to thaw from the unknowing, from the harsh winter of what we thought was normality, we can begin to reorient ourselves to where God was the entire time and begin moving forward in a more right direction than we were prior. Their can be no reorientation without the disorientation. The reorientation is incredible…but the pathway of pain has to be walked in order for the peace to come.

From walking the path we thought we always would, to becoming lost and not knowing where to go, to being back in community, God has us walk this cycle as we are in transit. Ah, transit…that’s for another day. So, where are you? If it’s orientation, be ever thankful that you have found new life in Him. If in disorientation, be ever thankful because without this, you will not become the person you will be on the other side…and that is someone I would like to meet. And if in reorientation, be ever thankful for God’s enduring patience and promise to never leave you.

Have you experienced these three phases? What was your experience? Where are you right now at this moment? Sharing your journey helps in walking through the pain and encourages others to continue on. Please share your thoughts, experiences and emotions, and thanks for continuing on.

 

 

 

Simplifying and Living Simply-Why isn’t it simple?

A good friend of mine was talking to me a few months ago. We stay in touch often, reaching out when we are falling back into old habits, hurts or hangups. He and his wife moved recently. In the process of packing up he said “We are trying to simplify our lives with the amount of stuff we have. And we’re also trying to simplify to get to a point of “Jesus only,’ but it is so, so hard to simply say and live “Jesus only.'”

That has sat with me for awhile. The trend in the States and in most of Europe is to simplify what material possession we have. Whether people do it to be trendy or they believe they need to live a more simplified life, the desire is there. I think this is great. However, what I’ve noticed in my own journey, is that I tend to complicate my life, especially my relationship with God. I put things in that shouldn’t be there. I put barriers that hinder my understanding, warp my view and distort my perspective on God, creation and others. Out of my own sinful and dysfunctional nature, I am almost trying to sabotage my relationship with my Creator.

I love documentaries. Be it the best sushi chef in the world, a year in the Arctic or about an incredible road cyclist, I really enjoy watching them. I love to learn, and watching documentaries are one way I broaden my understanding of the world and my perspective of it. One documentary I watched not too long ago is called “180° South.” It’s about a guy who tries to recreate a trip that Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia Clothing, and Doug Tompkins, Founder of The North Face, took back in the 60’s to the Andes in South America. Incredible photography and an engaging story line, it’s worth the watch. In one shot, they have a dialogue about the ecological state of the world that I think is important to this topic of simplifying.

Yvon-“The hardest thing in the world is to simplify your life. It’s so easy to make it complex.  What’s important is living an examened life.

Doug-In response to when people say you can’t go back, well what happens if you get to the cliff? You can go one step forward or do a 180 degree turn and take one step forward. Which way you going?  Which is progress?

Yvon-The solution maybe for a lot of the worlds problems is to turn around and take a forward step. You can’t just keep trying to make a flawed system work.

I believe there are sacred moments in the secular world that are important for us to perk up and pay attention to and this is one of them. What Yvon said in that short discourse is true of our spiritual journeys in relation to God. What I have found is most of us feel unsatisfied or perhaps dissatisfied with ourselves and our relationship with God. What we do, or at least I know I do, is try to put things into my relationship to make it “feel” better. Perhaps give more, pray more, read more, try this trend or that. Do whatever the “other guy” is doing. Yet in the end, I feel more dissatisfied, disappointed or discouraged in myself, usually, and occasionally in God.

Complicating my life be it with material things like tech or social media or spiritual things like the “shoulds” is incredibly easy. It’s when I begin to strip away those things (some of those are incredibly intertwined with my being) that is hard. When it is Jesus Only, we are stripped bare, naked, completely exposed before Christ and others. But, and this is the joy behind it, it is in those moments that we are fully embraced by the light of Christ. Nothing to block it, nothing to hinder it from touching our skin and every dark area of our life.

Simplifying isn’t easy, but it is freedom.

Are you simplifying or are there boundaries hindering you? Have you experienced simplifying and God on the other end? Or are you in process at the stripping stage? Either way, I’d love to hear your story.