Rule of Life

I was reading through some old notes last night and came across this little snippet of wisdom from Dallas Willard,

“To drift in this society is very dangerous.”

It reminded me why the ancients used to create and then adhere to a “rule of life,” which was a term used to describe specific practices, or habits, that each person wanted to intentionally include in their days. Some monasteries had specific communal “rules” that each monk followed. Others created their own individual “rules” that were unique to them.

Here is an example from Pope John Paul XXIII. Notice how simple it is:

* Spend 15 minutes in prayer first thing in the morning

* Spend 15 minutes reading spiritual literature

* Before bed, spend a few moments examining my conscience and making a confession to  God; then identify the issues I want to pray    about in the morning

* Set aside time for prayer, study, recreation and sleep

* Make a habit of turning my mind to God in prayer throughout the day

What do you think of this?

Do you have a “rule of life?”

Most of us do, whether it is an intentional one or not is really the question.

Pay attention to your life this week and see where your time and attention are going …

Are you drifting and hoping you will just float to where you want to be?

Or is it time to provide a bit more gentle intentionality to your days and weeks?

Why Judge?

I have often wondered how the church, which was founded on amazing grace, became a place of judgment for people struggling with sin.

Which is really all of us, if you think about it.

 Here is a thought:

I think the church moves toward judgment of those outside our walls because it is much easier to judge others than it is to love, and to submit our own darkness to the transforming ways of God.

And so we judge. Despite what the Scriptures tell us is our main job.

Paul says that love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:10)

He says that the only thing that really counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:6)

The writer of 1 John says:

“We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (1 John 4:19-21)

Jesus said:

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:35)

(Not to mention his summary of the greatest commandment … love God, love neighbor.)

We, by the nature of who we are as followers of Christ, are first of all called to love.

Here is a little section of 1 Corinthians that I am not sure many of us have even heard before:

“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.”(1 Corinthians 5:12-13)

Far easier to judge than to love…

I think Paul knew that.

I often ponder what might happen if the church became known again as a place of great love and grace, rather than a place that makes hurting, broken people feel worse than ever about themselves.

O, the tongue ...

James writes, “We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.” (James 3:2)

Jesus says, “… for the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:45)

I have been pondering these passages of Scripture in light of a couple verbal interchanges I experienced over the last week or so.

Let me explain:

I have been teaching on Sunday mornings at Orchard Hill Church for 15 years. Because of recent retirement and staff changes, I am now one of the senior teachers at our church. I suppose you could even call me a teaching pastor. And don’t forget, I happen to be a woman.

Despite this seniority, I still find people (mainly men) who speak to me in ways that are not meant to be demeaning, but that, in actuality, are demeaning.

One man, on a Sunday morning before I was to teach, approached me and said, “I’ll be in there evaluating you this morning!”

Another man approached me during the week and said - (and I fully believe he hoped this would be complimentary) - “I told our senior leader after your last few teachings …. ‘I think we should keep her!’”

Now listen, I am a joker. I love a little light banter; am unoffended by casual sarcasm. I don’t consider myself overly sensitive. I don't walk around demanding respect or privilege in any way.

But I wonder about these kinds of comments.

I wonder what is underneath them.

I wonder about my own words to others. How careful am I with what I say? Do I ever use my words – intentionally or unintentionally – to “keep people in their place” or to demonstrate power?

And I wonder, in the church, when I feel diminished by words from a brother or a sister, what would be an appropriate response?

Stillness ...

“Be still, and know that I am God …”

How rarely we do that; just be still. Just let God be God.

It is so hard.

Because if he is God, then I am definitely not.

And sometimes that is just tough to face.

So, we run and run and run, hoping somehow to prove our worth, to find meaning, to justify our existence.

Is it too much for God to ask that one day a week we “be still?” Is it too much for God to ask that every once in awhile we simply allow him to be God?

This poem from Mary Oliver helps me do these really hard things:

Today

Today I’m flying low and I’m

not saying a word.

I’m letting the voodoos of ambition sleep.

The world goes on as it must,

the bees in the garden rumbling a bit,

the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.

And so forth.

But I’m taking the day off.

Quiet as a feather.

I hardly move though really I’m traveling

a terrific distance.

Stillness. One of the doors

into the temple.

What do you believe in?

As I listen to conversations between Christians, and as I pay attention to some of the arguments amongst Christian groups of various kinds played out for the world to see on social media (um, is this wise?) I have found myself wondering …

Do we believe more in our own beliefs than we do in Jesus?

It sure seems like we do.

Fighting over what we believe about women…

Fighting over what we believe about very specific doctrines…

Fighting over what we believe about sexuality…

Fighting over what we believe the true definition of “biblical” is…

Fighting over politics …

And the list goes on…

I have found myself wishing we did a bit more fighting over Jesus, to be honest.

Martin Luther nails it:

“Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God, your functional savior.”

At times, you would think our beliefs have become our “god,” our “functional savior.” We cling to them more tightly than almost anything else … it seems our very faith hinges upon them. We seem to want to fight to the death for them.

Do we believe more in our own beliefs than we do in Jesus?

Do we?

Not good, honest ...

"Prayer is not the place to be good; it is the place to be honest." (John Coe)

The discipline of being sick ...

I am a terrible sick person.

I rail against being sick. I hate it. I fight it. I try to doctor myself. I can’t rest well. I try to stay productive even though my head is pounding like a freight train.

And this tells me something about myself:

I have a hard time being human, being vulnerable, being weak.

And this tells me even more about myself:

I have a hard time surrendering to the truth of the moment; I want to create my own reality.

I have a hard time letting God be God; I want to run the show.

I have a hard time giving up control, dropping the reins, saying to God, “Thy will be done …”

And so today, on my second full sick day, I am going to practice “the discipline of being sick.”

It is a new spiritual discipline I just made up.

And it looks like me being kind to my very human and frail body. It looks like surrendering to the sick day rather than fighting it. It looks like resting, rather than railing against my need for rest. It looks like finding joy in the space and time away from productivity rather than struggling to be productive in the pain.

It looks like trusting that God can take care of the universe very well on His own, thank you very much, without my teeny-tiny bit of assistance.

It looks like giving in to the fact that I am human after all.

In the end, it looks very much like actually trusting God.

Mystery ...

 

The more I grow in my faith, the less I know for sure.

I know that seems wrong; it seems like the more we grow, the more we should know. That could even be a Christian slogan!

But I am finding the opposite to be true … it’s not that I doubt more. It’s just that I am more and more willing to say I don’t know about more and more things related to God.

And there is something grace-filled and freeing about that.

It is not my job to know everything.

It is not my job to know a bunch of facts about God or faith or the Bible.

It is my job to grow increasingly aware that God is God, and I am not … and to be very ok with that reality.

This poem by Mary Oliver helps me put some words to this:

Mysteries, Yes

"Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing in the mouths of lambs.

How rivers and stones are forever in allegiance with gravity while we ourselves dream of rising.

How two hands touch and the bonds will never be broken.

How people come, from delight or the scars of damage, to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say “Look!” and laugh in astonishment, and bow their heads."

 

I will choose the beauty and power of mystery over thinking I have the answers every time …

The driver's seat ...

"I heard an old man speak once,

someone who had been sober for fifty years,

a very prominent doctor.

He said that he’d finally figured out a few years ago that his profound sense of control,

in the world and over his life,

is another addiction and a total illusion.

He said that when he sees little kids sitting in the back seat of cars,

in those car seats that have steering wheels,

with grim expressions of concentration on their faces,

clearly convinced that their efforts are causing the car to do whatever it is doing,

he thinks of himself and his relationship with God:

God who drives along silently, gently amused, in the real driver's seat. "

(Anne Lamott,  Operating Instructions)

Be a tree ...

"A tree brings glory to God by being a tree."

(Thomas Merton)

Be holy where you are ...

I am thoughtful this week about the idea that most of human unhappiness stems from within.

We are unhappy, many of us, with ourselves.

I often wonder what kind of energy might be freed up in the human soul if we simply were done disliking ourselves, berating ourselves, wishing we were someone else.

This is why I love the Merton quote I posted yesterday: “A tree brings glory to God by being a tree.”

That simple line says almost everything I want to say about self-acceptance, but also about the most profound way to glorify God – by simply becoming oneself.

So, more on this topic from Mother Theresa:

“The president of Mexico sent for me. I told him that he had to become holy as a president: not a Missionary of Charity, but as a president.

He looked at me a bit surprised, but it is like that: we have to become holy, each of us, in the place where God has put us.”

What might it look like for you to “become holy” in the place where God has put you?

Give up the idea that you should be somewhere, someone else.

Use all your God-given energy to become more and more who you actually are, right where you are.

Don't be Moses ...

"When I reach the world to come, God will not ask me why I wasn't more like Moses.

He will ask me why I wasn't more like Zusya."

(early Hasidic leader, Rabbi Zusya)

Honest prayer ...

I am a strong proponent of honest prayer.

I really have no time for pretending I am more holy, more pious, more cleaned up than I actually am. Too much pretending exhausts me.

And I believe that prayer is one of the primary places in our lives with God where we are deeply tempted to pretend.

That is why I like Anne Lamott.

For many, she is too irreverent.

For me, she is just about right.

Here is a prayer she wrote:

Hi, God.

I am just a mess.

It is all hopeless.

What else is new?

I would be sick of me, if I were You, but miraculously You are not.

I know I have no control over other people’s lives, and I hate this. Yet, I believe that if I accept this and surrender, You will meet me wherever I am.

Wow. Can this be true? If so, how is this afternoon – say, two-ish?

Thank you in advance for Your company and blessings.

You have never once let me down.

Amen.

How’s that for honest?

I saw it ...

Two years ago we went to South Africa to visit my daughter who was studying at the University of Cape Town.

The natural beauty was jaw-dropping.

The culture was rich and fascinating.

The food was drool-worthy.

But the spirit of the place was something I had never felt before.

There was a vague sense of dread in the air. Everything felt a tad unsafe. Unsettled. Unmoored. Festering.

The bed and breakfast at which we stayed had multiple locked, gated entries.

Razor wire was everywhere.

We had to buzz in to a really nice restaurant … the neighborhood was too dangerous to have an unlocked entrance.

My daughter’s home had a security guard. If she was at the library late at night, she always called a car to drive her home.

On a wine tour just outside a township, we got stuck in a traffic jam and armed guards showed up on the edges of the highway, protecting us from possible car-jacking.

This was South Africa 20 years after the horror of apartheid.

“The sins of the fathers …” is what I kept thinking of.

To see black and brown people living in shanty towns that spread as far as the eye could see, while white people lived in relative luxury … well, it was just shocking.

But it should be no more shocking to me than living here. I guess sometimes you have to travel to begin to see your own situation with new eyes.

I read these statistics this week and they brought me to my knees for my brothers and sisters in this country:

“The US incarcerates a higher proportion of blacks than apartheid South Africa did.”

“In America, the black-white wealth gap today is greater than it was in South Africa in 1970 at the peak of apartheid.”

It was Christians who brought apartheid to South Africa. They thought God condoned it; even mandated it.

As a Christian in America today, I wonder what role I might be playing in the pain and suffering of my neighbors.

Of all the questions I might ask myself these days, this might be one of the most important.

Why resolutions are bad ...

I have been following Billy Graham’s grandson, Tullian Tchividjian, on twitter. He tweets a lot about grace.

Learning to live in grace is my one New Year’s resolution for 2015.

Then I read what Tchividjian had to say about resolutions:

“Down deep, every one of us longs to be loved, accepted, appreciated, respected, and so on. We want our lives to count.

And we conclude that if we’re going to experience these things, we have to make it happen by doing more, trying harder, losing weight, behaving better, etc.

In other words, underneath our New Year’s resolutions is the drive to save ourselves by generating our own value, significance, meaning, and security by what we do and by who we can become.”

New Year’s resolutions are a burdening attempt to fix ourselves and make ourselves more loveable.

But here’s the good news: God loves us as we are, not as we should be.

I just bought his new devotional – It Is Finished. Every day, for 365 days, he is going to push me on grace.

Do you think a resolution to live more fully in grace counts as kind of an anti-resolution?

I think so.

Because it's my blog ...

Because it's my blog... I can post this.

Please, no matter what your theological views, read it...

http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/parents-lgbt

It feels a bit like it ties in with my posting of the Barna survey on how many Christians follow the teachings of the Pharisees over the teachings of Jesus.

Again, I am not saying this is an easy issue.

But we should pay attention to the pain.

Such pain...

 

Grace or un-grace?

Doing some reading for our Way of Life class tomorrow, and stumbled on Anne Lamott’s definition of grace:

“It is unearned love – the love that goes before, that greets us on the way.

It’s the help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate and have discovered that your best thinking and most charming charm have failed you.

Grace is the light or electricity or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there.”

 So, here is the question:

Is your life at its core filled with grace or un-grace?

Too much ...

It is the time of year when all kinds of bins and boxes and organizational supplies are for sale.

They are meant to help those of us who have way too much stuff BELIEVE that with just the right equipment, we can really, finally, get organized.

Here’s the dirty truth:

If you have too much stuff, you will never be able to organize it and keep it organized.

It is bigger than you.

The only way you are going to ever be able to organize your stuff and keep it organized is to get rid of A LOT of it.

Why is this so obviously true and we constantly fail to see it?

Here is an even better question:

How does this principle apply to your spiritual life?

If I just get more organized, I will have time to spend with God…

 Once I am done watching Game of Thrones I will make time to read the Bible …

 As soon as I am through with school I will really start to pray …

 Once soccer season is over we can spend more time together as a family …

You know how it goes … We think if we can just learn how to be more productive, how to squeeze more and more activities and obligations into our already over-crowded schedules, we can finally become organized, effective and focused.

The problem is, we simply have too many obligations …

And no amount of planning, multi-tasking or organizing will help us …

Our only hope is to get rid of some of our obligations so we have the time, energy and focus to spend on what really matters to us.

Don’t go buy the new bins at Target … just start giving your stuff away.

Don’t buy a new planner … just start saying NO.

The Bible ...

So many questions these days about the Bible, and what certain parts of it mean …

Know what?

I don’t have that many answers.

The Bible remains a mystery to me …

Occasionally, I think I catch a glimpse of truth.

But mostly, I remain humbly confused.

In awe … but confused.

Drawn to it... but confused. 

I love what Debbie Blue says about the Bible …

“The Bible isn’t really at all good at being an instruction manual.

It’s good at leading us into a tangle of wild poetry, heartbreaking stories, contradictions, twists and turns, the concrete struggles of a vast array of unruly, disparate human beings being sought after by God …

The Bible isn’t a cage that contains God, making God available to take out or hang in our living room,

it’s a witness to the fecund, ungraspable Other

(and our relationship to that Other).”

We need to stop reading the Bible for “answers.”

We need to start engaging the Bible to touch God …

and to give him a chance to touch us.