A Future Not Our Own

This poem-prayer, often attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero, helps me to remember and to teach a certain kind of stillness which is not passivity, a vision which avoids being ungrounded in the present.  Oh, how we all need to be reminded of the Master Builder, to think and to pray and to walk with the One who holds the future.  My clients who are leaders of any kind, especially clergy and activists working hard to make a difference in this world, especially often need to be nourished — and CHALLENGED — by these words.  I dedicate this to them, and to the older adults whom I will serve as guest preacher this Sunday.

I learned recently that Romero never spoke these words, yet they live on as Word spoken by his life.  In my sermon for Sunday (Pentecost/Memorial Day), I hope to do justice to and with this sacred text and the words of hope in Hebrews 11-12.

Thanks to Dan Clendenin for his terrific site, Journey with Jesus, where I found this text and background.  This is an excerpt from his page:

 

In memory of Oscar Romero (1917–1980)

A Future Not Our Own

It helps now and then to step back and take a long view.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of
saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession
brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives include everything.

This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one
day will grow. We water the seeds already planted
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects
far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of
liberation in realizing this.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s
grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the
difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not
messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.

From Xavarian Missionaries:

Oscar A. Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, in El Salvador, was assassinated on March 24, 1980, while celebrating Mass in a small chapel in a cancer hospital where he lived. He had always been close to his people, preached a prophetic gospel, denouncing the injustice in his country and supporting the development of popular and mass organizations. He became the voice of the Salvadoran people when all other channels of expression had been crushed by the repression.

This prayer was composed by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, drafted for a homily by Card. John Dearden in Nov. 1979 for a celebration of departed priests. As a reflection on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Bishop Romero, Bishop Untener included it in a reflection titled “The mystery of the Romero Prayer.” The mystery is that the words of the prayer are attributed to Oscar Romero, but they were never spoken by him.

Share

A Rainbow GPS (God Placement System)

I have the fabulous honor of attending a teleseminar series on transformational writing this week.  One of Christine Kloser’s top-notch guests is Lisa Nichols, author of No Matter What.    She took my breath away- such a spirited blend of glorious charisma and authentic humility.   Find out more at http://motivatingthemasses.com/.

One thing I continue to find on this “living well” journey… I am surrounded by amazing peers and mentors who support my desire for personal transformation and commitment to being excellent in my service of others.    Nichols introduced me to the phrase “God Placement System,” and I’ve really been taking that in.  I am aware that often in this life we find ourselves needing to trust that the GPS is working properly.  Sometimes our preconceived notions point us in other directions.  And sometimes others might challenge our GPS readings.

Most of my LGBT clients, students and readers across the country know what it is to doubt their GPS. And, to have others doubt their GPS.  One of the richest blessings of any faith journey is to have been tested by such doubt.  This refines us  and our ability to discern which voice is truly God’s, that voice which is truly life-giving.  We are a gift to Christ’s church precisely because we have challenged the idolatries of traditional norms and dared to trust that tradition is not God.

We can move through times of confusion and challenge with a graceful power if we depend on the unconditional love of the Holy Spirit to guide us.  As we move into the season of Pentecost and Pride this June, I will be meditating here especially on the scriptures and lessons which have nourished my journey as a lesbian Christian pastor and coach.

Are there theme or texts you would especially like to examine together?  Let me know, and we’ll grapple with that together.

 

Share

Filling Up and Letting Go…

I am experiencing an abundant Lent, awash in cleansing self-examination and Holy Spirit’s grace and vision.  For years my compass text for Lent has been Isaiah 55, which beckons us to graced inquiry, trust, and joy.  Some tough things are going on for me right now, what Joyce Rupp describes as wilderness-imposed growth.  Yet I take refuge in this Word, and the community and path to which it points:

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
3 Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.
6 Seek the Lord while God may be found,
call upon God while God is near;
7 let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that God may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for abundant pardon.
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
12 For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

 

 

Share

A Spirituality of Subtraction

The medieval mystic Meister Eckhardt said the spiritual life has much more to do with subtraction than with addition. Yet Christians today are involved in a spirituality of addition. Consumer culture wants us to have more. God wants us to let go.

— Richard Rohr

Check out more wonderful Lenten nourishment from Rohr.

Share

Maintaining A Spiritual Basis of Civility

At its core, civility isn’t an issue of choosing our words more carefully.  Civility is an issue of attitude.  Ultimately we will discover that every human exchange bears the promise of blessing instead of cursing each other.  The more we can admit that God is always at hand and loving each one of us as (equal) children, the more we’ll treat each other in ways guided by our common Father-Mother God.

— excerpt from The Christian Science Monitor’s devotional column on 3/5/12.

How might we be civil with those whose choices are causing pain?  With those whose short-sightedness or prejudice would distort or diminish the welfare of others? With those who use the name of God to perpetuate hatred or insular complicity in social ills?

This Lent, I pray for daily openness to transformation.  A transformation of heart and character, not just external matters and etiquette.  This piece on civility points to the heart of the matter: an equanimity of spirit about one another in our challenging relationships is the only way we can bear the fruit of blessing. Genuine blessing that empowers social change, just relationships, and thriving kinship.  Blessing is not cheap affirmation, but holding a vision of empowerment and generativity.

For me, striving to know and be a blessing means always striving to see the Higher Self in myself and others, even when  beliefs and actions are expressing limited current capacity for loving actions.  For my spiritual coaching clients, it often means creating some essential space to simultaneously nurture their own good and their practices of prayer for others.   We often have so many more choices than we perceive.  For all of us, it can sometimes be very very hard on the Ego, which really wants to name Good Guys and Bad Guys.  But its a kingdom pursuit that is every bit as worthy as the priceless pearl of Matthew 13:45-6

Did I say it was hard?

I will pray for you and I ask you to pray for me!

Share

To Love Our Neighbors as Ourselves

Here’s a real golden nugget, I think, from Emanuel Swedenborg’True Christianity:

We read that we are to love the Lord God above all things, and our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:27).  To love our neighbor as ourselves means not despising our neighbors in comparison with ourselves.  It means treating them justly and not judging them wrongfully.  The law of goodwill pronounced and given by the Lord himself is this:  

“Whatever you want people to do for you, do likewise for them.  This is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31,32)

This is how people who love heaven love their neighbor.  People who love the world, however, love their neighbor on a worldly basis for a worldly benefit.  People who love themselves love their neighbor in a selfish way for a selfish benefit.

Wow!  Think about the entrenched ugliness of our unresolved pain and violence in this world.  Is it not much about comparing and competing, treating folks unjustly or allowing injustice, and judging wrongfully?

I am really savoring this collection of Emanuel Swedenborg’s writings, including the parts of it that are a bit strange metaphysically.  I love to learn about innovative ideas and experiences others have had (or thought they had), and to ponder what it might reveal about God’s reality.  One does not have to be hopelessly relativist to be committed to appreciating at face value the potential gift that others are bringing.  To listen and to understand does not mean to give over all discriminating faculties!  (Unfortunately, the sort of fundamentalism and evangelicalism that formed my early life would indeed have us fearfully separate ourselves from such encounters, rather than seek in them the practice of neighborly love and intellectual humility).

I especially love to read things outside the mainstream of acceptance (or, shall I say invisible histories/herstories and even “heresy”).  It is a spiritual practice — studying the breadth and spirit of experience, testimony and communal ethics that have been born amid human grappling with the presence and expectations of God.  And, striving to encounter these things with the heart, not just the endlessly dissecting intellectual impulse.  Swedenborg called these  “sense-oriented” and I associate them with negative Ego grasping which other traditions name as our snare.

My coaching clients and students see this loving neighbors and self thing is the heart of the matter.  So, in fact did Jesus.  Swedenborg has some truly innovative ways of picturing and teaching this.  Tomorrow’s post will be especially interesting for those working on the spiritual projects of forgiveness and biblical self-care.

Maybe a Lenten practice that would be good Christian contribution to public discourse this election season:

To not despise our neighbor in comparison with ourselves.

To treat others justly.

To not judge wrongfully.

To do unto others as we’d like done unto us…

“The Law of Goodwill.”

 

Share

A House Built on a Rock

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand.The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!” — Matthew 7:24-27

This passage has held and nourished many returns – my returns to study — over the years.    It’s so simple really.  To hear and act upon the words of Jesus.  Jesus (not church or government or culture).  The words he’s just shared (the Sermon on the Mount, not later pronouncements of Tradition).

 

To hear.

What is it to hear?

To hear and perceive the Good News in them.

To hear and feel Gospel-style judgment (not condemnation) in them.

To hear and know more of God because of them.

To hear the Truth in silence beneath our hapless and self-centered words.

To hear the pain of this world, as He did.

 

To act.

What is it to act on them?

All of these are to act on them, in the manner Jesus himself acted upon Word:

To submit to their wisdom in hope,  obedience and simplicity.

To chew them with earnestness, as a sweet scroll, turning food into life and into waste as well.

To wrestle with them as Jacob, settling for nothing less than blessing.

To resist their use as weapons, as lifeless tools in the hands of prejudice or legalism.

To take upon — as a yoke — an inner meaning which is Life and Spirit.

To embody them as Word-made-flesh, unafraid of our place in the family of things.*

 

Jesus cried out with lament on another day,  “If only you knew the ways that make for peace!”   Today, He stills beckons us to the blessing of the universal and nonviolent compassionate spirit of the Sermon on the Mount.   When we embrace such a life with our whole being, we must dissolve Ego’s opposition and the backlash of those who themselves are threatened by such grace.  But it is truly the way to the life of resilience and witness that is pictured by the  house on the rock.  It is the life of freedom from judgments, vengeance and prejudice.  It is the life that lasts.

 

Where do you see examples of the steadfast in your life, of the weathering of failure and finitude?

Where do you see the crushing impact of despair, discrimination, or disappointments?

What fresh word of life is for you this day?

 

*I am invoking Mary Oliver’s poem Wild Geese here.  Check out Panhala for the full text and lots more great poems.

 

Share

You Cannot Change the Circumstances…

“You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.” — Jim Rohn

 

This is a wonderfully life-giving and empowering reminder to me.  I do not hear it as piety but as prophetically wise, not as quietism but responsibility-taking, not as escapism but as incredible rigor.  My clients and students who are working on sustainable activism, biblical self-care,  forgiveness or coming out as gay or lesbian Christians are thriving because they are learning what they REALLY have charge of — their “energy leadership.”

This approach – quite suitable for Lent —  yokes self-examination with the tasks of transformation of circumstances.  It makes the interior life the starting point.

I join others from time to time in the critique of Western individualism and the corrosive impact it has had when taken to the extreme.  But I will not settle for a faith and a justice-calling that does not take seriously — reverentially — that resilience that can be cultivated only when we remember the limits of what we have charge of…

It is, I would go so far to say, GOOD NEWS.

What do you think?

 

Share

Please All and You Will Please None

The Man, The Boy, and the Donkey

Spiritual Story by Unknown

A Man and his son were once going with their Donkey to market. As they were walking along by its side a countryman passed them and said: “You fools, what is a Donkey for but to ride upon?”

So the Man put the Boy on the Donkey and they went on their way. But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: “See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides.”

And thus the Man ordered his Boy to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other: “Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along.”

Well, the Man didn’t know what to do, but at last he took his Boy up before him on the Donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and the passers-by began to jeer and point at them. The Man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at. The men said: “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey of yoursu and your hulking son?”

The Man and Boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they thought, till at last they cut down a pole, tied the donkey’s feet to it, and raised the pole and the donkey to their shoulders. They went along amid the laughter of all who met them till they came to Market Bridge, when the Donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the Boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle the Donkey fell over the bridge, and his fore-feet being tied together he was drowned. “That will teach you,” said an old man who had followed them:

If you try to please everyone, you will probably lose your &(*(! (ass, everything, etc.)
Or:

“Please all, and you will please none.”

 

************************************

I’ve used this story in a number of sermons and workshops, varying the punch line dependent on my audience.  Thanks to http://www.Spiritual-Short-Stories.com  for this and many other riches.

Share

Like Plants Seeking the Sun

I am enjoying reading a collection of Emanuel Swedenborg’s writing, and contemplating deeply the Lord of Love and Wisdom.

My former pastor, Rev. Ann-Louise Haak, gave me a great image of Lent a few years back. Like plants who turn toward the sun for greater light, warmth and thriving we are called in seasons like Lent to make those intentional turns — those course corrections — that have been depriving us of Love, Light, and Lasting Nourishment.  Any sacrifice or penance that is of God is for this.

On the way to the cross with Jesus, He enlivens my solidarity to care with increasing purity of affection about how the vessel which is my life serves Christ’s purposes of Love and Wisdom.  Like a plant seeking Sun, this is what I long for.

May all who claim his name and his calling, look deeply within our hearts and minds this Lent.

Does the form and the content of our Christian life bless this creation through Love and Wisdom?  Does our claim to the power of his life, death and resurrection make us more like him?  Or, does our “faith” rationalize a separation from the needs of this world, a judgment even of the frailties and sins of this life?  If truly enlivened by Christ, we long for the expansions of our hearts and minds and to be used fully by Wisdom and for Love.  We grow in our capacity to serve others, to see people with God’s eyes, and to acknowledge the humanity of all (to name them neighbors, even, capable of God’s good no less than we are).  That is the uncontestable victorious world-resurrecting power of his life.

Swedenborg writes in Divine Love and Wisdom about the self-love which manifests in behavior that is controlling, and how this is the furthest thing from Divine Love.  In every season, confession about such self-love is redemptive.  The self-love sins of the Church in this arena have been great, and are blemishes on its testimony to Christ.  This is most manifestly reflected today in the lustful and scapegoating opposition to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons.  A frenzy of lies and distortions keep many well-intentioned conservatives in a place of fear and fear’s temptation to control.  When we stop trying to control others, we may be given the grace to truly see them as they are with all their frailties, shortcomings and gifts.  We are given the privileged and Good News opportunity to repent, for so often when we think we are loving the Lord we are really loving ourselves.

As I look around at the religious voices aiming for more control (so different from liberty!) in the public square, I lament at the collective sin of so much of Christ’s church.  As a lesbian Baptist minister and life coach, it is easy to name my horrors about the Religious Right and the pain these brothers and sisters cause.  But conservative and liberals in different ways fail the test of love and wisdom.  Where are the humble hearts who seek only to love the Lord (not so much our social idolatries)?  What could we create if we could acknowledge Others’ fears, understand them with Divine perspective, and bless one another even as we stand against injustice and violence?

May we be granted the grace to repent — each in the measure of our own need — and animated by faith to turn ourselves like plants to the great Creator of True Love and True Wisdom.

Share