Monday, October 31, 2016


Criticism was (during the time of Aristotle) a social conversation between people who all risked owning and sharing their ideas for the sake of building knowledge.  For criticism to be useful, you have to have some skin in the game. (Brene Brown, Rising Strong).
And one more:
Personal emotional attacks made by people not engaged in problem-solving have zero value in building or creating anything - they're only an attempt to tear down and invalidate what others are attempting build, with no meaningful contribution to replace what has been destroyed. (Brene Brown, Rising Strong).
How do you feel about criticism? No, I don't like it either. I don't like to give it, and I don't like to receive it. Yet, if you read these two quotes, it may be that we have a poor understanding - or a poor experience - with criticism.

Listen to some of these phrases about what criticism should be: "for the sake of building knowledge," "all risked owning and sharing," "have to have skin in the game."

And then here are some about what criticism should not be: "personal emotional attacks," "not-engaged in problem solving," "an attempt to tear down," "no meaningful contribution to replace what has been destroyed."

How do we love through our criticism? How do we transform the hurtful parts of criticism into something where both parties are vulnerable and both parties benefit? 

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Friday, October 28, 2016

Logos Luke 19:1-10

Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much." Then Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost." (Luke 19:8-10)

So what happened here? Zaccheaus, a tax collector, wanted to see Jesus, but he was too short to see, so he climbed a tree. Jesus found him there, asked him to come down, and told him he would stay at his house (Can you follow all of those pronouns?).

Tax collectors were no one's favorite people.  Not only did they collect taxes for Rome, but they made their living by collecting more than what was owned in taxes. I imagine no one loved Zaccheaus, and yet Jesus did, and Jesus went to his home, and treated Zaccheaus like a child of God.

Zaccheaus vows to give the poor half of his possessions and pay back anyone he has defrauded times four.  Jesus proclaims that salvation has come to the house. So what happened? Did salvation come to the house because of Zaccheaus's actions? I don't think so. I think salvation came into the house with the love of Jesus, and what we are seeing in Zaccheaus's action is the result of the salvation - not the ticket to receive it.

It's grace.

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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Potentially Fatal Compassion

Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it's like to live inside somebody else's skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.  (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking)
Two parts of this quote struck me this morning. 
  1. Have you ever considered that compassion has the capacity to be fatal? Of course, we know that it does, but I've never seen it expressed just like that before (that's one of the reasons I love reading Buechner's work).  When white people from the north went south during the 60's to join with African Americans seeking equal rights, they had potentially fatal compassion. They knew there would be no joy or peace for any of us until all of us had it, and some of them lost their lives in the effort. Likewise, the African Americans who kept their seat on buses or walked across bridges, or stood up for the rights they were being denied had compassion - not just for their family and friends, but for those who would come after them - there would be no peace for them until there was peace for all. And for some, it was fatal compassion.
  2. Christ had fatal compassion for us. He died, knowing that there would be no peace for God until there was peace for  us. 

Where in your life do you need to express potentially fatal compassion? What are you willing to allow to die so that someone else will experience peace and joy, knowing that you will not have it until everyone has it?

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016


Have you ever struggled with the idea of corporate reconciliation? Have you ever met someone who has? 

For example, last year at Annual Conference we, as a group, worked through understanding and reconciling with the treatment of Native Americans in our past. Have you ever met someone who has said or thought, "I haven't mistreated Native Americans? Why do I have to apologize and reconcile?"

I think there are several reasons for the confession of corporate and community sin, but as I was reading Rising Strong, I found another one.

Yesterday, I wrote about nostalgia. In the same chapter, Brown explores the idea of how our memories are often "rose-colored." We see things as we think they were. A person who was a child in the 50's might not remember the way African Americans were treated at the time in our country. Exposing that to them is painful to them. It threatens the wonderful memories they have of how life was then.

And yet, if we do not dig to discover the truth in our memories, or the truth of what we didn't know then, we are much less likely to work toward fixing the issues in the present. Stephanie Coontz explains in Brown's book that those who have never cross examined their fond memories of the 50's (memories that exclude the civil rights abuses at the time), "were the ones most hostile to the civil rights and women's movements, which they saw as destroying their harmonious world they remembered."  

Those who struggled through their memories became more adaptable to change. Think of that. Those who examined and reconciled with the abuses of the past were more able to adapt to the future and correct or prevent the same kinds of issues from happening again.

What implications does that have for life in the church? For life in society? For how we approach confession and forgiveness?

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Tuesday, October 25, 2016


Nostalgia sounds relatively harmless even like something to indulge in with a modicum of comfort, until we examine the two Greek root words that form nostalgia: Boston, meaning "returning home" and altos, meaning "pain." (Brene Brown, Rising Strong)
How many church meetings have you attended when someone has said, "I remember when we would (fill in the blank) and there were so many people who came to church."?  Or, "It used to be expected that people would attend worship - or bring their children to worship." While I think there is a benefit to examining what we have done in the past, I think dwelling on our history is not constructive.

UNLESS we see the second Greek word in nostalgia - altos, meaning pain. Do we see the pain in our past? Do we recognize the mistakes we have made, and the consequences those mistakes have had on our present? Do we ever, as a church, look at our past and ask, "What mistakes did we make in the past? How do we do it differently now?"

"There's nothing wrong with celebrating the good things in our past. But memories, like witnesses, do not always tell the truth, the whole truth , and nothing but the truth. We need to cross examine them..."  (Stephanie Coontz, as quoted in Rising Strong)

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Monday, October 24, 2016

On Coincidences

On coincidences:  I believe that people laugh at coincidence as a way of relegating it to the realm of the absurd and of therefore not having to take seriously the possibility that there is a lot more going on in our lives than we either know or care to know. Who can say what it is that's going on, but I suspect that part of it, anyway, is that every once and so often we hear a whisper from the wings that goes something like this: "You've turned up in the right place at the right time.  You're doing fine. Don't ever think that you've been forgotten.  (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking)
I'm not a person who thinks that every little or big thing that has happened is God moving chess pieces around on the board. Not everything is a message. Bad things that happen are not part of God's plan for us. God's ultimate plan for us is good and wonderful; things of this earth (sin and sometimes nature) interfere with God's plan.

All that said, though, I do think that if we listen, we can hear God at work. If we look, we can see God at work. Sometimes we dismiss those workings as coincidence. 

How is God telling you today that you should never think that you have been forgotten?

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Friday, October 21, 2016

Logos Psalm 84:1-7

God, o my God,
Words fail me
Lovely seems too bland a word
to describe where you are
where you live.
Lovely seems too anemic
to explain how the world changes
when you enter it.
But where you live is lovely.

My heart beats
my soul longs
to be where you are, 
God, o my God.
All that is within me
All that is of me
Sings for joy
to know that you are near.

We, your creations,
find a home in you.
The sparrow, the swallow, 
prepare nests in your presence,
and we trust you with our children.
God, o my God.
My king.

Happy are those who come near you.
Happy are those who sing your praise.
Happy are those who find strength in you.
Happy are those who set their hearts on your path.

Tears come our way,
and we walk through the valley of shadows.
You are with us.
The way may be difficult,
but you open a path for us.

Coming to you, we find strength
And we know that 
God will be seen.
God, o my God,
Zion is near.

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Children of Hope

Christians are not waiting for the end of the world but for the new world of God's kingdom on earth. We are not the children of despair; that is, of darkness; we are the children of hope, that is, of light. As such we have the assignment to encourage one another in living faithful, holy lives as we await Christ's return (J. Ellsworth Kalas, Adult Bible Studies, Spring 2013)

How often do you hear, or say, or think, "What is the world coming to?" I don't have to point out to you the despair that is all around us. We all see it. We see drug addiction, hate crimes, terrorism, dishonesty, selfishness, pain and suffering. We see it, and we suffer from it, and we fear it.

But we are not children of despair.

What does it mean to be children of hope? How do we bring light to the world around us?

I think the way to start, when we are surrounded by depair, is to open our eyes to the light that others are shining around us. Look and see the person who is helping in flood recovery. Notice the stranger who offers a hand to the person who is downtrodden, and lifts her up. Pay attention to the friends who are smiling, who offer encouragement, who share the stories of the light. Listen for the actions of God amid the despair, because you can be certain God is there.

And then what? Help. Serve. Encourage. Shine.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Open Minds

Prior to the Vice-presidential debate, the Republican Party released (prematurely, and accidentally) their post-debate spin. The post talked about how the Republican VP candidate had won the debate, and talked about his strengths in the debate.

I manage the social media for our Foundation - I know how easy it is to push the wrong button, but I thought it was symbolic of many voters - and even beyond the election. just as the Republican Party's "spin" was already written, our minds are made up - and not just about the presidential race.

Studies showing that once we have made up our minds, it is hard to change it, because our brains use new data to support what we already know - we craft what we see to enforce what we think. We've all seen that, haven't we?

How can we have open minds?


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Breathe Again

I'm currently reading Frederick Buechner's Wishful Thinking: A Seeker's ABC as my daily devotional source.  It has 26 "chapters," each with words starting with a different letter of the alphabet. I'm on B.

Baptism: "Going under symbolizes the end of everything about your life that is less than human. Coming up again symbolized the beginning in you of something strange and new and hopeful.  You can breathe again."

A few phrases in that quote made me stop and read it again.  First, that "going under" symbolizes the end of everything about your life that is less than human." We say things like, "I"m only human" as if that is an excuse for the errors and sins we commit. This phrase speaks beyond that. God created us to be human, and baptism doesn't erase that. Baptism frees that - frees our humanness from what is less than human. The sanctifying grace of God doesn't transform us away from our humanity; it transforms us into our humanity.

We come up out of the waters of baptism beginning something strange and new and hopeful - we continue on our journey toward what God created us to be. Fully human. Coming up out of the waters, we "can breathe again." That is my favorite image from the quote. We come into the fresh and breathable air of God. Have you been swimming and been underwater too long? Have you experienced the relief of rushing to the surface and breathing again? That's the relief of baptism. We can breath again because we have been released from that which is less than human.

Does that mean we are sin-free? That we are completely transformed? That the work is done? No, not at all. You know that; I know that. But we can breathe again because God is moving us, through grace, to what we were created to be - human.

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Monday, October 17, 2016

Who are we?

Think of the parable of the lost sheep in Luke. Have you ever considered who you are in this story? Who God is calling us to be? Who Jesus is pointing out we are like?

Are you the lost sheep? Are you hidden, lost, without hope? Do you wander around, not even considering that the shepherd is looking for you or, in fact, even notices you are missing? Are you, or have you been, the lost sheep, found at last by the shepherd? Have you experienced the amazing wonder in being found, gathered in? Have you had the heartbreaking experience of finally understanding the amazing love of the shepherd, in one moment of intense flood of understanding, when you are found?

Are you one of the 99 sheep? Do you wonder why the shepherd has seemingly left you to go find someone else, when you have obeyed all the rules and stand impatiently as part of the "good" herd? Have you experienced the fear of having the one lost sheep return, dirty and not even remorseful for having wandered away? Do you secretly (or not so secretly) hate the fact that the lost sheep is able to return, even though it wandered away of its own accord? Do you resent the idea that the "not lost" sheep are expected to celebrate the return of the one who sinned? Do you think that lost sheep who has returned should be made to understand just how distruptive its actions have been? Are you certain it will just run away again?

Or do you feel the pain of the shepherd? Do you feel the call to look for the lost shepherd and the weight of the responsibility to maintain the security of the 99 at the same time? Do you fear searching for the one who has been lost - going into the wilderness where the one has gone? Do you resent the actions of the lost sheep, wishing it had just done what it should have been doing, and stayed with the other 99?

Who are we? I think we are all three of them at different times of our lives, or perhaps at the same time.


Monday, October 10, 2016

Blog Break

Hello, all:

I will not be posting this week, but will be back to the blog on Monday, October 17.


Friday, October 07, 2016

Logos: Jeremiah 29:1-7

These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:1-7)

How often are you somewhere you don't want to be? Imagine being in exile outside of your country in a place where you think God is not. Jeremiah tells those in exile to make their homes where they are - build houses, plant gardens - settle down in this place. And then, what really strikes me is the last verse: Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare."

They are in exile because the people from the place where they are living now have forced them to be there. They are living among their enemies. God is telling them to pray for the best for their enemies, for in that, they will find their own welfare.

Could you do that? Will you do that? Will you pray for God to bring the best there is to the lives of your enemies? Who are you most unwilling to pray for? That is the person God wants you to lift to God in pray, asking for God to bring the very best to that person. How in the world can we do that? And why would that bring the best to us?

I imagine it is hard to pray for someone you call your enemy and remain unchanged. Perhaps that is one of the reasons we don't want to do it. Perhaps we don't want to be changed that much, but God tells us that our good welfare lies along that path.

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Thursday, October 06, 2016


I was involved in a Diversity Summit with our Annual conference. As part of it, we shared worship. The music was global - from different parts of the world and sung in different languages (including but not limited to English). The scripture was read in English, Spanish and Korean. It was a great experience.

During the last worship service of the conference, we came to the point in the Communion Liturgy where it was time to pray the Lord's Prayer. We were told to pray the prayer the way to were comfortable praying it. There was no concern that we all say debts and debtors or trespasses and trespassers. We could have prayed it with whatever words and language was comfortable. All was acceptable.

We weren't exactly in unison, but that was OK. We were praying with one mind and one heart to the one God we worship. 

I remember a few years ago, our older son went to a Global Young Adults gathering in Germany. At one point, all those present sang "How Great Thou Art" in their own language. He said it was amazing. I'm sure it was.

We don't have to agree to worship the same God. Unison doesn't require the same thoughts. God is who unifies us.


Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Death in Forgiveness

Forgiveness is difficult for all of us, I think. And yet, God calls us to forgive others. Remember in a previous post, when I talked about the darkness of the wilderness that happens before the promised land? That happens with forgiveness, I think. There is the difficulty that is like a wilderness before we reach forgiveness.

Why is that?

Brown (in Rising Strong) says, "In order for forgiveness to happen, something has to die. If you make a choice to forgive, you have to face into the pain. You simply have to hurt.... Forgiveness is so difficult because it involves death and grief."

That was an ah-ha moment for me as I read the chapter.

Grief is very difficult for us. It is a time of hurt and pain - a dark wilderness. To forgive someone, we have to choose to enter that wilderness. We have to experience the death of expectations, or of resentment, or of self-righteousness. We have to give up being "right." Any and all of that has to die in order for us to forgive.

Brown says, "Given the dark fears we feel when we experience loss, nothing is more generous and loving than the willingness to embrace grief in order to forgive. To be forgiven is to be loved."

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Tuesday, October 04, 2016


Yesterday I talked about expectations and disappointment. There is a particular kind of disappointment that Brown (Rising Strong) calls heartbreak. "Heartbreak comes from the loss of love or the perceived loss of love. My heart can be broken only by someone ... to whom I have given my heart."

The most obvious example of heartbreak is the loss experienced by the death of a loved one, but there are other kinds - the loss of love in a relationship, the hurt experienced after the action of a friend, the blameless loss experienced when a loved one moves away (or goes to college). We hurt - our heart hurts.

"To love with any level of intensity and honesty is to become vulnerable."

When I was dating Steve, Mom said, "I just don't want you to be hurt." I told her I knew I could be hurt, but I was willing to risk it anyway. And because I did, I have experienced the greatest joys of my life - my relationship with my husband, the gift of my children.

Do we avoid heartbreak by avoiding love? God has made us to love others, and it is that very love that makes us vulnerable to heartbreak. The only way to protect ourselves from heartbreak is to keep our hearts to ourselves, and to not love others. It's not an acceptable trade.

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Monday, October 03, 2016

Expectations and Disappointments

If you've ever been on an Emmaus Walk, you've heard the phrase, "Don't anticipate." The pilgrim on an Emmaus Walk is asked to trust the process - don't judge it until it's over - don't worry about what will happen next. Just experience it.

I was a table leader on a walk, and one of the pilgrims at my table felt as if she had thoroughly prepared herself for the walk. She had prayed - she had fasted from all media. She had given herself over to this event. But as it began to unfold, it wasn't living up to her expectations. She was disappointed, and she wanted to leave. The walk leaders convinced her to stay at least through lunch. As it happened, God worked through her Emmaus experience during the worship service prior to lunch, and all was well.

How do expectations and disappointment mesh? Brown says in Rising Strong, "Disappointment is unmet expectations, and the more significant the expectations, the more significant the disappointment."

Does that mean we should never get excited about anything? I remember as a child that I would muffle my excitement about a coming event, just in case it didn't happen. I think that dampening of anticipation is a way we protect ourselves from disappointment.

But what happens to the joy? To the pleasure we feel in looking forward to something? Are we willing to trade away the joy in order to protect ourselves from potential loss?

Brown says it is important to reality-check our expectations. Are we expecting the perfect holiday celebration? Is perfect possible? Are we expecting a relaxing vacation with three kids? Is that realistic? Once we reality check our expectations, then we can find the joy in the excitement of what is realistic, and open ourselves up to the surprise of what we didn't expect, but will discover to be wonderful.

This year we gave up the expectation of a week long vacation at the beach. Steve started a new job in the spring, and new jobs bring opportunities to accumulate vacation days rather than a store of them. Instead, we decided to plan short, week-end getaways. The first was over Memorial Day, and we spent three days traveling throughout our state, seeing things we've always said we should see, but never have (or haven't seen together). The only expectation was a weekend away together, and it was wonderful. There were stories, surprises, relaxing meals, drive time to talk ... It was fantastic, but the joy would have been missing if I had kept my original expectations for the summer.

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