A Jesus Kind of Lent (Life)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,

for I am gentle and humble in heart,

and you will find rest for your souls.

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

–Matthew 11:28-30

 

Who could you be if you took this invite of Jesus at face value?

What could you let go of?

What long could you wait in a period of rest?

How might you distinguish the false burdens placed by the world, from the worthy yoke placed upon us by Christ?

 

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Maybe the Greatest Struggle is Giving Up Struggle

For Lent today…

I am meditating  on Jesus’ baptism and soul-struggles in the wilderness temptation he faced.

At every turn, his Accuser challenged him to doubt his Divine blessing (“This is my Beloved Child, in whom I am well-pleased” is the message proclaimed at his baptism.)  This was the Gift given as he turned to his wilderness.

Trusting this — throughout his work and under increasingly escalated disappointment and attack  —  ultimately allowed Jesus to face his destiny, and it will allow us to face ours.  Along the way, we will be challenged to doubt and to test, to rely solely on material life, and to secure ourselves through Ego’s accomplishment.  That can mean falling prey to the ideas of Kingdom-building that rely on coercion and empire.  It can mean confusing others’ approval, ever limited by social prejudices, with God’s.  It can also mean falling prey to a belief that we are somehow more or differently blessed than any other child of God (and to the sins that such manifest destiny has often led us).

Lent is often cast as being about struggle.  Divinely ordained struggle.   We can endlessly struggle with ourselves, with others, with God.  Perhaps the greatest struggle-opportunity  of all is giving up struggle.

This might be a fresh way of seeing Jesus’ accomplishments in the wilderness.  Yes, it looks like victory born of struggle, but it might bear more fruit in us if we lift up a different vision.   He gives us the first larger-than-life signal that his victory would be nonviolent, and “gained” not by a win but by a surrender.  Not a surrender to temptation, but a surrender to the consequences of an Emptying proclaimed in a Philippians 2 hymn.  Jesus surrendered to the truth of his Divine oneness, and to the world’s ideas of loss and failure, even as he knew them to be false.

One of the great spiritual needs of our day is for LGBT Christians to give up the struggle for others’ approval, and to surrender into the delight of our Divine blessing.  We are part of the amazing diversity of style and love and family and  life which has always existed and has been ever-evolving.   In many past eras, same-sex love and intimacy have been accepted by some and rejected by others.

The tiny number of Christian scriptures which have become Accusers’ weapons do not speak for the God of the universe who continues to speak timeless truths of blessing.  They represent the struggles of the past, as our ancestors gave voice to their fear and ideals, their best attempts to protect themselves by condemning others and blaming others for the challenges of their day.  They need not sow enmity for today. Overturning their hold on today’s people of faith is a task which a table-turning Jesus relishes… but not for the sake of endless enmity and divisiveness about sexual diversity.  No.  For the sake, maybe, of forming a new people who know that abiding as the Temple of Spirit is God’s will for all of us.

I do not mean to advocate a political passivity in our wilderness, but to suggest that living in increased conditions of peace and prosperity will only come when are able to “love from the center of who we are.”  To work hard and witness – and even cause some trouble now and again — from that deep and unconditioned place.  And to join Jesus in disbelieving the Accuser’s lies and pictures of success that would verify or validate our Divine blessing.

May the testing of this life lead us always to reject the struggles which are false, alienating and divisive. May we, with Spirit’s blessing, recognize and live into our Divine birthright to know blessing and to bless, to know our royalty and servanthood all at the same time.

That could be the greatest “struggle” of all.

— Lent 2012

Rev. Jacki Belile, CEC, is a spiritual life coach and ordained Baptist minister.  She has supported LGBT people of faith and their allies on the journey of living out Christ’s radical welcome since 1996.

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God’s Kindness Leads Us to Repentance…

Romans 2:1-8   Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgement on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. 2You say,* ‘We know that God’s judgement on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.’ 3Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgement of God? 4Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgement will be revealed. 6For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: 7to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.

 

This text follows a famously mis-used text which implies judgment on any and all same-sex loving expression.  I encourage, this  Lent, a fresh reading of  Romans 1 and 2, chapters in which an apostle in progress (Paul) passionately reaches out to new Christ-followers in the “belly of the beast” (Rome), where new Gentile and Jewish friends found themselves called together in Christ’s new community.   With a powerful and provocative set-up, Paul calls to mind his recipients’ prejudices and images of corruption, violence, and all kinds of attempts on the part of Rome’s lustful empire to be God or limit God or make God in their own image.

One chief way to try to be God is to JUDGE, it turns out.  (And, he delivers this 1-2 punch to those who might go along with all his ramp-up about the perverse Romans.) But when any of our judging, hard hearts remain untouched by the free gift of God’s grace, then we “store up wrath” in and for ourselves…

The Christian gospel (Good News) is  that God’s kindness leads to repentance (not the other way around), and that we can all be delivered from the manifold death-dealing passions of idolatry in which we objectify and judge others (or self) as if we were God.  That is what it means to be self-seeking after the law of sin and death.

If Lent means, for you, preparing to head with Christ for Jerusalem… then let us look for the Truth of his gospel in his actual life and actual heart and actual walk.   There we will find free grace, lavish kindness, and unconditional calling to Oneness with him.  Lenten lives are lives that would turn away from all the traps and baggage — including Religion’s Judgments – that we would exchange for the real deal.

That is a God in whom Jesus announces:  There is now NO condemnation…

Yes, we store up wrath in and for ourselves and in so doing sin and fall short of God’s glory.

There is now NO condemnation…

May this Lenten season be for you a season of rediscovery of God’s kindness.

 

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I Don’t Need to Suffer to Be of Service

The following italicized excerpt is from Micheal Neill, one of the coaching mentors I most treasure, and taken from his February 13, 2012 newsletter.

I can see that life was unfolding before I was born and will continue to do so long after I’m gone. And that while I have a role to play, I’m not the star of this particular movie. Which is a huge and blessed relief, because it means I can just relax and enjoy my life as best I know how to do.

I don’t need to suffer to be of service – in fact, over time it’s the one thing sure to stop me. Suffer long enough and you begin to shield your eyes from the suffering of others. 

In fact, the simple but paradoxical rule of thumb seems to be this:

The more I enjoy my life, the more compassion I feel for the suffering of others.

Have fun, learn heaps, and be kind – to yourself and to everyone else!

Read more at Micheal Neill’s website.

The above letter provokes me into thought, prayer and conversation about a theme that I am working out “with fear and trembling” (that’s old-fashioned King James biblical language, not literal fear).  The crux of the complicated wrestling:

How can it be that so much of Christian thought and effort seems to be attached to suffering and sacrifice?

Where is this damaging preoccupation manifest today among conservative AND liberal notions of bearing the cross?

What does it look like to prosper in joyful growth, service and community with the humility of the Gospel (laid out in the Sermon on the Mount)?

My clients, students and I are working this out together.  Because the notion that enjoying this life is a betrayal of the Gospel or necessarily a block to the outpouring of compassion and justice has damaged countless precious lives and distorted the integrity of our worshipful offerings.  The cost, in terms of Biblical self-care, is that we risk false and prideful sacrifice rather than the “living sacrifice” which we see in Romans 12.  And, that we fail to make “every thought captive to Christ” by savoring the gifts of this world: loving relationships with self and others, nature, collaborations of all kinds, music and art and all sensory embodied experiences.  Being with others’ joy and pain in graced silence.  And so much more.  And, the time to truly know all these.

Thanks for being on this journey with me, and with provocative mentors and conversations like Michael.

Peace and love,

Jacki

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Excel When You Must, But Do Not Excel the World

“Do not seek too much fame, but do not seek obscurity.
Be proud, but do not remind the world of your deeds.
Excel when you must, but do not excel the world.
Many heroes are not yet born,
Many have already died;
To be alive to hear this song is a victory.”

— A West African Song

Thirteen years ago, a blessed brother traveler read this aloud in a public setting and dedicated the gift of this poem to me.  It was a time of difficult transition, and his great heart saw and felt my great need for new Grounding.   Another precious friend framed a beautiful version and gave it to me upon my ordination that year.  It has provided a kind of measuring stick, mantra, and mirror-question many times since.

The Course in Miracles teaches about the danger of special attachments and special relationships.  In my coaching and teaching, I often draw upon my own journey of recovery from workaholism (in which illusions and attachments to excellence abound).  I have often found capacity to let go of outward achievements wherein lay temptation to “excel the world” or “remind the world of my deeds.”  I faith, I am pressing on for a different prize: “to be alive to hear this song” and to be Christ’s presence in it.

Today, I draw upon this Life Text as I honor my grandmother, Elizabeth Schrock, who died Monday.   She embodied victory in her Christian life as she lived out humility and perseverance while receiving no great outward honor.  She is not famous, yet she is a hero. My hero.  And her life is a model of victory.

I am grateful for so many lessons along life’s path, and for the example of Jesus Christ through whom we see “the express image of God.”  Thank you so very much, Grandma Schrock, for the gift of your life.

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‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ — from a parable of Jesus in Matthew 25:23.

 

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Forgiveness and the Heart of God

Jonah did not like that the people of Nineveh saw the “error of their ways.”  He was more attached to his role of self-righteous victim and ranting “prophet” than to the radical Divine option that those oppressing Powers That Be might actually experience grace and a second chance.

I’d like to reread, soon, Miguel de la Torre’s book Liberating Jonah: Toward a Biblical Ethics of Reconciliation.  I’ve always loved the story of Jonah, and began serious discipling study of it in 2005.  Miguel’s book offers some wonderful challenges about what it means to forgive injustice and to truly envision reconciliation. And there’s no sugar coating it.

That’s really important: no sugar coating.  As we embark together in coaching and classes this year as part of Living Well Ministries’ Forgive for Life programs, we will support one another in a forgiveness journey which holds truth of pain and radical compassion together.  No sugar coating.  No self-righteousness, either.

I hope that I can support, in these settings and others, the sustainable prophetic work of those called to transform  injustice in our world.  So very often I encounter those engaged in justice work I truly value and share in interactions which reveal such animosity, resentment, and demonizing toward “the Other” who they would blame for society’s ills.  No doubt, many structural injustices and systemic prejudices — such as racism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism and sexism — permeate our current reality and hold many in bondage through invisible systems of privilege and unequal power and opportunity.   In Buddhist terms, our attachments to blame and our aversions poison us all. The liberating and creating work of justice-making cannot thrive while we are stuck in that abyss.

As a Christian coach, I hold the vision of shalom for us all.  Peace, completeness and well-being might be modern aspects of this Hebrew concept.  In my personal life, public ministry and coaching/teaching work, I hold space for people to articulate the pain and damage they feel and see WHILE LETTING GO of Jonah’s temptation to make the human vessels of harm out to be evil incarnate.   I have slowly shed a view (now, to shed in daily experience!)  of God as one whose wrath would come down to punish my/our enemies.  Or, that I have the power and right to  dehumanize those whose beliefs and actions cause harm.

We have the opportunity to cultivate a Divine heart that, unlike Jonah’s, truly desires the well-being of all victims and all violators.   (That’s the approach to forgiveness I take, inspired by Marjorie Suchocki’s work).  Anticipating Lent is a good time to recall that a forgiveness that demands a punitive judgment is not Christ’s gospel.  Forgiveness looks like acceptance, bold truth-telling, and a welcome Home.

“While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”   Romans 5:8

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Joining with God in Expressing Love for the World

The Holy One is with us in all of life. Our purpose for opening the door inward is to help us know and claim who we are so we can more completely join with God in expressing this love in every part of our external world.

— Joyce Rupp

Open the Door: A Journey to the True Self

 

“Love from the Center of Who You are” is how Paul puts it (via Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase) in Romans 12:9a.   My clients and students at Living Well Ministries are creating and recreating lives with a passion for such a life.  We look inward not in selfishness or escapism, but in order to truly feel and act from the grace which we profess to be God’s.  We boldly explore our present energy blocks, the ideas and habits which get in our way as we aspire to live generously and sustainably in this world.  We dare to look at lifestyle habits of greed, gluttony and compulsion in which we trade spaciousness and receptivity for endless tasks.  In the reality of experienced brokenness, we are learning how to rest in what Parker Palmer calls “a hidden wholeness.”

As I prepare to teach next month’s class on biblical self-care, I am reminded of Coach Cheryl Richardson’s wise challenge.  How can we be truly follow our God’s guidance if we do not make time and room to get to know and listen to our True Self?

Joyce Rupp shares this passion, and I am grateful for the privilege of sharing her work as an invitation for fellowship and discernment among a sacred group of sisters in ministry this year.  We call care so much about following our Lord in a calling to love the world. Really and materially.  It’s my hope that this is a year for all of us of deepening that “Living Well” from which we can do so with joy.

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The Friend Who Can Be Silent With Us…

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
― Henri J.M. NouwenI, The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey

 

Oh, how wise and wonderful are Nouwen’s words.  As a “recovering” extravert, I can confess that the capacity to hold such silence has been something I’ve been slow to learn.  But it holds so much reward, both for my friends and clients as well as for myself.  It’s truly a spiritual discipline to practice such stillness, and to be reminded over and over again how Present God is.  This God cannot be reduced to Expert, Fixer, Preacher, or even Knower.  Thanks, again, to Nouwen for giving us words for this grace.  It empowers my imagination about the truly HOLY interplay of silence and proclamation…

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Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life…

“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”   ― Henri J.M. Nouwen

The highlighted portion above, in this amazing passage, almost made it into my sermon this morning at St. James.  It’s so awesome I couldn’t NOT proclaim it.  So, Facebook friends, I would welcome your thoughts about it.

It’s true, I believe, of individuals AND communities, and a vital piece to recognize for achieving the graced health which is our birthright and out of which we can truly do bold things for Jesus’ cause of justice.  I am pondering further today and tomorrow – in honor of Dr. King – the energy connections between the kind of self-rejection Nouwen describes and the weakness and timidity of the white moderates he so righteously critiques in Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  (We read portions of that today in worship.  Wow. It never ceases to feel like Jesus’ Gospel of Repentance in full force…)

In my coaching, I  serve folks who are beginning to wrestle with this great enemy of self-rejection.  I also support many who have already achieved much liberation, but whose energy is blocked in current areas of life and service. They’re  LGBT and straight, single and in relationships, old and young, lay and clergy.  Individuals and churches.   Together, we are embracing a path that is very very distinct from the religious paths on which many of us began.  Many of our earlier paths have shaped our habits of self-rejection, and can sadly thus be seen as creating obstacles to the REAL spiritual life.

In a lovely reminder from Romans 8… Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  No matter your faith background or desire for formal labels or affiliations today, drinking this in (from the Living Well!) will empower you to do great things for yourself and for this world so in need of your creative power.  Let’s explore, together, what that looks like for you.

Are you ready?   I will be thrilled to support you in any way I can.

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God Comes To Us Disguised As Our Life

 Richard Rohr, an incredible spiritual leader for today’s seekers, has said “God comes to us disguised as our life.”

I am mindful that the Christian season of Advent is filled with rich reminders of this sort of expectancy.

Perhaps you’ll hear in it these echoes ancient and new…

 A context of occupation and tension and lives claimed by the Empire’s false peace.

A world of encounter amid diversity and transformation amid conflict.

A community of communities wrestling for blessing and name.

A people — some in despair, some with resilience, and a few with star-fixed hope.

A temptation toward triumphalism, and a truth born in a manger.

Then and now, God comes to us disguised as our life.  Ever at work in all of Life, and always greater than all our designs,  Emmanuel is announced again at Advent.  And when the Divine in our life  is looked upon with welcome and praise, we give birth again to redemption and hope. 

Wherever you walk, however you name yourself, I pray that Jesus’ birth brings good news this year.  That his church brings blessing, not burden, to you.  That a New Year awaits you with the graces needed to discover this:

God comes to you disguised as your life.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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