is it too much to ask?

Larger Story’s book of the month is  Becoming a True Spiritual Community, my favorite Larry Crabb book and the one I have probably read most often. His honest wrestling was one of my favorite things about Larry. In BTSC, he wrestled with what genuine spiritual connection looks like.

One of the traits I share with Larry is that of a restless spirit. He was rarely satisfied with accepting the status quo when it came to Christianity, a truism that resounds through his books. He pressed into his challenging questions, always from a desire to know the true God more completely.

I, too, have wrestled for a long time with seeking to know God better. The battle has intensified in the last few years. I am dissatisfied with the church in America. If I am honest, I don’t want to go to “church.” In many cases, we Christians don’t represent Jesus very well. I have no doubt some consider me a bitter cynic, maybe even an apostate. You may be right. God knows.

Here’s the thing: We talk about the importance of church attendance, but can we honestly say that our church rhythms model those things that Jesus valued? We gather in groups of tens or hundreds or thousands, all facing forward to listen to an “expert” in the Bible tell us what we need to know, which leaves little room to listen for God’s Spirit or share what is happening in us. Numbers of bodies, volunteer hours, and dollars determine success. Nevertheless, not a week goes by without another story of how some pastor or religious group has abused power.

I long for something more profound, but I find myself in the unfamiliar place of not knowing precisely how to put words to my longings. Still, here are some fragments:

I want to gather with people who are trying to understand and live an integrated life. A few years ago, I was involved in a weekly “integration” meeting. People from multiple backgrounds would gather for lunch and have lively conversations that mattered. Sadly, they are no longer scheduled when I can attend, and it is a considerable loss. I want to hear from people who think as I do and those who do not about how we live in a world that feels increasingly fragmented. What does it mean to live whole and holy lives?

I want to know and be known by the God of steadfast love, the one who is reconciling all broken things. I want to hear from others how they experience God and to know where they meet God. I want to share my doubt and confusion with others who are willing to share in return. I am not interested in neatly packaged answers but in acknowledging that the world is a muddled mess and that God is still bigger.

I want a community that fosters self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-compassion. Too often, well-meaning Christians reject these ideas, but healthy spirituality does not neglect loving ourselves. I want to be reminded that there is a God who loves me “without condition or reservation,” as Brennan Manning would say.

I want a community that practices love for others, especially those who are often on the fringes or even outside neatly labeled biblical boxes. I want them to know, as I want myself to know, that God loves them and to demonstrate that truth not only in word but in deed. I long for a place of radical welcome and acceptance. I want to feast around a table where people of different worldviews and mindsets aren’t trying to fix or convert one another but celebrate their shared humanity and belovedness.

I want to honor and celebrate all of God’s good creation, to look for and celebrate beauty and goodness wherever it may be found: in late-blooming flowers and early falling leaves, in gently falling snow and torrential rains, in the warmth of the sun in a blue sky and the cool of a cloudless night. God called creation very good, but sometimes I think we’ve lost sight of that truth. God invited us to be creation’s caretakers, but we have instead abused it for our own ends.

I long for wholeness. I desire goodness, truth, and beauty. I want to honor each person’s unique journey and remember that we, the human race, are traveling together, and every one of us brings something needed by the whole group. I long for fellowship with those who long for integration, wholeness, and reconciliation.

Is that too much to ask? 

not violence, but peace

With a surge of adrenaline waking them up, the eleven were ready for action. They said, “Lord, is now the time to strike with the sword?” Peter cut off the servant’s right ear. Jesus stopped the retaliation. Following Jesus is not the way of violence, but peace. He said, “That’s enough.” He approached the bleeding man and, touching his ear, restored him. He did not leave the servant to suffer, even though the man was part of the mob who had come to arrest him. My kingdom is always about restoring wholeness.

Luke 22:49-51
Letters to the Beloved

be who you are

Instead of fumbling around in the dark, pretending to be something you are not, be who you are. Walk in the light where you will always find me. This honest, vulnerable place is where you can have real friendships with one another and with me. When you remember that my Son’s blood has cleansed you thoroughly, you will not need to hide. Come out of the shadows and be seen. When you pretend that you are better than you are or have no sin in your life, you may deceive others, but the one you have deceived the most is yourself. You cannot live long in that disintegrated state before it begins to tear you apart. Half-truths are no truth at all.

1 John 1:7-8
Letters to the Beloved

I have questions

Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer,

There are so many things I do not understand.
What was it like when you called the cosmos into being?
Did you speak your creative words matter-of-factly,
or did you sing as you hovered over the waters?

What do you feel when you look at the world you created?
When you look at me?
For so long, I imagined that you were angry, or disappointed,
but what if…what if
suffering stirs your compassion
and sinfulness moves you to love?

What if the great commission
was never about getting people into heaven,
but about bringing heaven to people?

What if you never intended your followers
to focus on who’s right and who’s wrong,
or who’s in and who’s out?
What if instead, you have invited us to love,
regardless of someone’s creed or culture?

What if we believed Jesus’ encouragement
to be whole, as you Father are whole?
What if we believed Paul’s words
that you are truly reconciling all things?

What if…

re-membering ourselves

What if we have misunderstood sin?
What if sin is not so much about behavior, but fragmentation?
What if sinning means that we have forgotten who we are?

What if holiness has little to do
with willing ourselves to comply with a set of external standards
but instead, is about re-membering ourselves?

What if we concerned ourselves
less with avoiding evil
and more with becoming whole?

What if righteousness has little to do
with condemning sin
and much to do with living from our true self?

What if holy living was never about
white-knuckled compliance
but about welcoming ourselves back home?

A prayer for wholeness

God of wholeness,
Father, Son, Spirit,
never lacking or incomplete,
eternally perfect in oneness,
you promised that in the Son,
all things shall be reconciled.

Remind me of my union with you,
always aware of your holy presence
in and around me.
You, O LORD, are never absent,
but I confess that my senses are dulled
by 10,000 distractions.
I want to love you
as you have loved me,
fully and completely and unreservedly.
Let your lovingkindness toward me
ignite my love.

You, O LORD, have filled this world
with those who bear your image
yet each person is uniquely beautiful.
Remove the scales from my eyes
so that I may see with compassion.
Help me to remember that listening is loving
and curiosity is a sacred gift.
To love another is to get dirt on my hands,
just as you did when you formed people
from the dust of the ground.
Whether in agreement or conflict,
let love define me.

As I look inward,
let me see myself as you see me,
not as damaged goods, nor irredeemable,
but as your beloved child
who is infinitely valuable in your eyes.
Let the knowledge of my belovedness
cast aside every doubt I have
about how you see me,
knowing that you cherish me
just as I am right now.

Help me to remember
that when you formed the heavens and the earth,
you called your creation good.
It was full of beauty
and teeming with life,
yet like your people,
your good creation has suffered
the ravages of disintegration.
You have invited me to be a steward of the earth;
let me take up that call with hope and endurance,
remembering that you are reconciling all things.
Grant me the skill
to make good and beautiful things,
remembering that goodness and beauty
are reflections of you.

Where there is hatred, restore compassion
where darkness, light
where confusion, clarity
where where fragmentation, integration
where agitation, peace
where pride, humility
where brokenness, wholeness
and where self-centeredness, love.

What does wholeheartedness look like?

Yesterday, my friend Mark asked me, “What does it look like, feel like, to be wholehearted? How can you tell if you are or if you’re at least moving in that direction?” I spent the day thinking about it. Here were my initial thoughts.

Wholehearted people are present to the moment. They are not overwhelmed with feelings of shame about things they have done or not done, nor are they consumed with anxiety about what has not yet come. They realize that all they have is the present moment and they stay settled in it.

Wholehearted people have ballast. They don’t get easily blown off course when life gets tumultuous. Some call this equanimity. I think in terms of what they “feel” I would say a sense of peace. They are not overwhelmed by emotional shifts, nor are they numb to them.

Wholehearted people are aware of a deep sense of interconnectedness—to God, others, themselves, and to their place in creation.

Wholehearted people are able to consistently live from their true self and not as people pleasers whose identities depend on circumstance. They are free to do things that others may look askance at because they have a profound sense of who they are.

Wholehearted people show up as lights in the world, bearers of truth, goodness, and beauty. They are free from the burden of judgment—of themselves and others. They recognize the humanity and value in others and themselves.

How do we know? I think experience an increasing sense of peace, of shalom, of radiance, of solidity.

What do you think constitutes wholeheartedness?

Be a Voice for Wholeness & Human Flourishing

A few weeks ago, Andrea Wenburg interviewed me for her Voice of Influence podcast on the topic of wholeness and human flourishing. We talked about neuroscience, spirituality, and creativity. If you want a short overview of why I speak and write so much about the ideas of wholeness and integration, this would be a great place to start. Andrea is not only a great interviewer, she is a great thinker too. I would encourage you to check out her other materials as well.

A Prescription for Wholeness

Spread kindness like wildfire. Ask questions. Cross bridges. Pick up a piece of trash. Say hello. Say thank you, to God and others. Go for a walk. Make eye contact. Consider the lilies. Mend fences. Plant wildflowers. Sit in the grass and watch a bumblebee—it will teach you there is no need to rush. Pay for someone’s coffee. Bake two loaves of bread. Give one away. Pray for those who belittle you. Be kind to yourself. Shed tears when you are sad. Sing show tunes, preferably with someone else. Draw a tree; even a stick tree will do. Savor an orange. When you are angry, breathe deeply and exhale mercy. Listen to “the gift of a thistle” by James Horner. Visit somewhere new. Light a candle; in fact, light three, or a hundred. Play with a toddler. Drink a cup of tea. Read a poem by Mary Oliver, or perhaps Rumi. Write a letter to someone, with real paper and ink. Send it through the mail. Look for goodness. Celebrate beauty—it is everywhere. Listen with curiosity. Sing loudly in your car. Hold someone’s hand. Pet a dog. Bike to work. Buy original art, anyone local will do. Always stop at a lemonade stand and always overpay. Breathe. Do it again. Do you realize what a miracle it is that you are alive?

Our Soul Pandemic

Our country is in the midst of a pandemic, a plague that is crippling both citizens and society. I am not talking about COVID-19. The virus that I am thinking of has a much wider reach, but it is not our bodies that are getting sick, but our souls.

In light of COVID-19, our world has drastically changed. Nearly everything that we do has been touched by the virus–our economy, our social lives, our religious observances, our mental health. As the weeks pass, our fragmentation becomes more obvious. As stresses build, those dark parts of us rise to the surface and they play out not only in our homes, but across social media which, it seems, is now our principle form of connection.

This pandemic of divisiveness and hatred dwarfs COVID-19 in both its effects and its reach. Although many of us may not get COVID-19, if my Facebook and Twitter feeds are any indication, many of us have been showing symptoms of hatred and division, more and more each day. Unfortunately, we are a whole lot better at seeing these things in others than in ourselves. We are much more capable of justifying our anger and name calling in the name of justice. When we have no doubt that we are correct, everything is permitted.

Just in the last few days, I’ve seen people I love calling Governor Evers an idiot or, alternatively, President Trump. I wish I were immune. I’ve seen boatloads of misinformation disseminated, but we believe these “facts” because they come from “our side’s” media outlets and experts. We use this misinformation to justify our righteous indignation. Suddenly, it seems that all of us are experts in virology, epidemiology, economics, and constitutional law.

Friends, this hatred, animosity, and division is killing us. Anger can make us feel alive, but too often it is stoked by toxicity. Many of us are thoughtful about the food we consume, trying to keep our bodies healthy, but we allow these viral thoughts to take hold and our souls get sicker and sicker. I pray we begin to wake up to the effects this soul pandemic is having.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Galatians 5 recently, which is one place where Saint Paul contrasts flesh and spirit. In each of us, there is this battle between flesh and spirit and they do not lead us to the same outcome. Starting in verse 19, Paul identified a number of “works of the flesh,” which are opposed to a Spirit-filled life. I won’t mention all of them, but I was struck by “enmity, strife, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, and divisions.” Sadly, this list seems to characterize so much of what I read every single day. Paul is clear that these things do not represent the Kingdom of God. But he also said that when we are walking by the Spirit, there are different evidences in our lives. A Spirit-led person shows love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, not perfectly, but I believe in increasing measure.

I invite each of us, myself chiefly, to regularly ask ourselves, “Who am I? Are my thoughts and actions characterized by fits of anger and division, or am I increasingly gentle and peaceful?” This soul pandemic has a cure, love.

God,
The evidences of fragmentation and division are growing day by day,
both without and within.
You call us to peace, but we are in turmoil;
you call us to grace, but we are full of judgment;
you call us to love, but hatred consumes us.

We are a double-minded people.
How can we be for peace when this war rages within?
We do spiritual violence to others and ourselves
when this plague of strife takes hold.

We are afraid.
We are angry.
We are confused.
Too often, we let our flesh lead,
forgetting both who you are
and who we are.

Forgive us.
Heal our hearts.
Make us whole.