Category Archives: spirituality

The Truth About Islam

The heightened interest in the “truth of Islam” should not be a surprise with anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by Islamic Fundamentalists, the threats of Qur’an burning and of course the ongoing battle about whether or not a Mosque should be allowed near the ground zero site.  That it is part of the conversation does not bother me.  What bothers me are the presentations created for the sole purpose of stirring people up; a common technique used to motivate groups of people to action by touching sensitive triggers… especially fearful ones.

coexistBetween Facebook and the inevitable email forwards, I notice a definite trend towards more presentations of the “truth” about Islam.  These presentations are full of facts and often well produced.  The slick way they present the information is a hook to the reader/watcher/listener.  The web presentation I saw last night really drew me in.  It was compelling because of the way it “painted” words on the screen as they were spoken.  Very nicely done… and the information seemed accurate.  I have not read the Qur’an, so I cannot actually speak to its accuracy, but I was pleased that they encouraged people to read it for themselves for confirmation.

What I have read is Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson, which I highly recommend.  Mortenson has humbly served the people of Afghanistan for many years now.  He builds schools for them so they can learn.  Why?  Because it turns out most of them are illiterate.  Illiterate people in a country that is overrun with fear and extremism. It turns out, these Islamic Fundamentalists who hate us so much do not hate us because of the Qur’an tells them to hate us, they hate us because they are taught to hate us by people who were taught to hate us by people who were taught to hate us by… They cannot read the Qur’an and neither can their radical Islamic “teachers”!  What the Qur’an literally says is irrelevant when the people we are discussing cannot read it.

Back to the web presentation… one of it’s main points was how radical Muslims are more aligned with the words of the Qur’an than moderate Islam.  As if we should discount the moderate voices and let the extremists be the true representatives. In most any religion, the radicals are the ones quoting chapter and verse to support their teachings?  Fundamentalist fringe groups are always so stuck on “being right” that they

  1. Lose sight of the big picture.
  2. Decide what is more important than anything else
  3. Take a stand on whatever that is
  4. Draw a line to determine who is in and who is out
  5. Turn against or wage war on everyone on the other side of that line

As a Christian, I personally do not want to be defined by any of the Christian fringe groups.  In fact, as a person, the only way I want to be defined is that I am myself.  If someone wants to know what I believe, they should ask me.  Don’t put me in a box with someone else that calls themself a Christian.  There are many “Christian boxes” and so far as I can tell, I don’t fit in any of them perfectly.  (Note to self… practice what you preach).

Let’s characterize the greater Islamic community, not by what their ancient writings say, but by the way they translate it into actions.  How do we do that?  Observe.  Ask.  Listen.  The vast majority of Muslims are peaceable people.  Most of them reject the violence of the radicals. To lump them all together with the radical factions is to invite them to lump people like me in with the likes of Fred Phelps (no link provided… look him up if you are interested).  It is not a fair representation. As Emerson might have said (or not) What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you your sacred text says.

Lastly, I abhor the use of fear as a motivator in any context.  I especially despise it with religion.  The present move to frighten people about Islam is gaining momentum and it will backfire.  Stirring up hatred is not a Christian concept. Did not Jesus say to “love your enemies”?  What would he do?

Part of the Conversation

mastersvoiceThere’s a conversation going on that is beginning to get interesting.  It is always stirring, sometimes uplifting, frequently frustrating, commonly heated. The conversation is about religion, faith, belief, destiny, doctrine and tolerance to name a few topics.  Sometimes it gets some politics mixed in too.  I have strong thoughts and feelings about the topic and I want to join into the conversation, but I haven’t jumped in yet.  Why?

Even though I don’t believe it is true, intellectually, I have an emotional belief that I don’t have anything to bring to the conversation, so I should just keep my mouth shut, my keyboard quiet and listen.  So I listen and I read and I gradually I feel stirred to the point I feel like I will burst.  Then I don’t usually make the time to write. When I do start to write something, I don’t publish it.  I have a bit of a narcissistic belief that tells me that if I am ok, everything is ok, so I focus my thoughts inward.  These inward thoughts are a necessary part of being engaged with life and with the conversation, but they are not the end I really want.  I want to be part of the larger conversation.  I do want to share my thoughts with others.

One of the reasons I don’t publish is that my thoughts are too big.  I have 10 volumes of material in my head and organizing it then squeezing it out one word at a time is excruciatingly slow.  The slowness makes me lose momentum, which fuels distractions that keep me from writing.  The truth is that writing is just one of my desires.  There are other things that are just as important, frequently more important; like going to work and loving my family and friends.  Over time, I lose my train of thought and focus and I stop trying.  Not so much discouragement, but forgetfulness.  Next thing I know I get some margin back in my life and I find myself back where I am now; longing to be part of the conversation.

I do not like conflict.  Some people who I am close to may not believe that because they frequently see me in conflict and attempting working through it.  While I am usually willing to step into the discomfort of conflict, sometimes I do a poor job of working through it and it always drains me emotionally.  The anticipation of the emotional energy I will have to expend to stay in the conversation is daunting.  It is easier to just shrink back into my cave and leave the conflict alone.  But then I watch from inside the cave, wishing I was part of the conversation.

I do not want to impose my beliefs on others.  In my early years, I believed that as a “good Christian”, I should be in people’s face about what I believe.  I was pretty arrogant.  As a Christian, my beliefs about what is “required” now center more on loving God and loving people.  The words that keep coming back to me are grace, gifts and humility. I want to treat people graciously, give them gifts of listening and honoring even when I do not agree with them. And I want to hold my beliefs with open hands in a spirit of humility.  I don’t believe what I believed 10 or 20 years ago, and in 10 or 20  years I won’t likely believe what I do now.  I don’t have to win the argument, I just want to be in the conversation.  A friend of mine tells me that he loves competition, but it doesn’t matter in the end who won.  He just loves being in the game whole-heartedly.  That parallels my desire with the conversation.

Lastly (for now), I am afraid of rejection. This conversation seems to be dominated by strong voices of theologians and others who hold strong feelings about their beliefs.  There are many teachers and leaders and fellow Christians that I have studied under and followed over the years.  I do not want to disappoint them, so rather than express disagreement or doubt about what they taught, I usually stay quiet.  Ultimately, it is my own fear of being abandoned, deserted, ignored and/or shunned, which is both rational and irrational at the same time.  It is unfair and irrational because some of these people I am afraid of losing love me no matter what I believe or disbelieve and that’s that.  At the same time, it is a perfectly rational fear. Some would break ties with me if they knew what I really thought.  My cousin recently posted a controversial quote about faith on Facebook and was de-friended by someone who disagreed.  I don’t want that to happen, but I realize that 20-30 years ago that could well have been me that de-friended.  There’s a  thought; my 20 year old self de-friending my 52 year old self.  It helps me give grace to those who will not listen.

The price of keeping my thoughts to myself is too high.  I am ready to become part of the conversation.

Hurt People Hurt People

Hurt people hurt people.  People hurt others because they themselves are hurt.  The people who they hurt, hurt others.  It is an endless cycle… unless it is not.  What can stop the cycle?

flockPeople like you and I point fingers at one another saying, “You hurt me!”  The truth is, I did hurt you, whether I meant to or not.  You hurt me, whether you meant to or not.  I am hurt.  You are hurt.  I cannot see your hurt because of my own hurt.  You can’t see mine because of yours.  We are each stuck in our own pain, pointing fingers of blame.  Again, the endless cycle.  What can stop the cycle.

The only choice other than feeling the pain and looking for blame seems to be to just sweep it all under the rug.  Just pretend as if nothing happened.  But it did.  The hurt is real.  The pain is intense.  To ignore it is to direct the rage inward.  Inward where it will eat us alive.  What else can we do?  Am I supposed to just “forgive and forget”?  I can’t forget.  It hurts too bad.   The two choices to a) live in the pain and feel the hurt or b) bury the pain and pretend it is not there both feed the cycle.  But it is all most of us have ever seen… ever!  There must be another way.

Enter Grace stage left…

No, I’m not getting religious.  As much as I have heard grace talked about at church, rarely if ever have I seen it practiced.  I’m not talking about some cosmic thing that you can’t quite put your brain around.  I mean the kind of demonstrated grace we can experience in this life.  It understands we are both in pain and that much of that pain is born from misunderstanding.  The grace I am talking about allows me to listen to you without defense when you are accusing me.  (Ever experienced that?)  In this kind of grace I recognize that I am a pain giver as well as a pain receiver. (Ouch!)   This grace creates a space where you and I can listen to one another for understanding, not to fix the problem and not even to agree!  The kind of grace space I mean is one where you and I can feel both listened to and understood.  Where we are not so concerned with who got the most points or who won.

The world is full of hurt people.  Some of them were hurt by me.  Some by you. I know some of the wounds I have inflicted, but not all of them.  I want to live in a place of grace where I can confess my faults and feel understood.  If there is to be any hope of having a space like that, someone has to start.  Someone must break the cycle.  In that spirit, I want to be one who helps create those kinds of spaces for others.  It has to start somewhere.  Why not here?  Why not now?  It is not an easier way to live, but it is a better way to live.

Sorting Life

On Peace

corn.jpgThe men’s group where I am a member was discussing Romans chapter 8 this morning.  We were talking about what it means to have God’s peace.  Several in our group are going through tough times; some family issues and others business problems.  They were asking why they aren’t experiencing God’s peace.  It is easy in the middle of a problem to point to someone who is not having the same problem and attribute God’s peace to them.  If I am experiencing a problem that is causing turmoil in my life, and I see someone who is not experiencing the same problem, it is easy to assume that she must have God’s peace unlike me.  Sounds silly when you say it like that, but it is an easy leap to make when you feel life crashing down around you… at least it is for me.  That leap is not fair for many reasons.  The reason I want to focus on now is that life happens; whether as a result of our own actions and decisions or things that are completely out of our control.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of measuring our spiritual status by our physical status.  Are we prospering?  We must be “right with God”.  Are we failing in life?  We must be out of God’s will.  I don’t believe that our physical circumstances and our spiritual circumstances are that easily related…  I’ll try my hand at an un-parable.  Jesus might have introduced it like this, “The Kingdom of God is not like this…”

A farmer planted corn and the corn did well.  Later others can come by and saw acres of corn.  They knew merely by virtue of the plants they saw that the farmer planted corn.

Not so spiritually speaking.  It would be judgemental and wrong for me to look at my friend whose business is not doing well and say that he’s not right with God.  And it would be just as presumptuous to look at my friend whose business is prospering and conclude that he must be close to God. It just doesn’t work like that.  Yes, there is a sowing and reaping, but it’s dangerous to look at the physical and make spiritual judgements.

In my own journey, when I relate the peace of God with my own prosperity, I tend to want to fix the physical in order to address the spiritual.  I create “places of peace” that are really nothing about following God.  They are merely my own “happy places”.  I create peace in my life when I plan, work and succeed.  Am I saying this is wrong?  Please hear me on this:  This post is not about good and bad, nor is it about right and wrong.  I am merely doing a bit of sorting.  What is spiritual and what is physical?  What is peace and what is God’s spiritual peace?  Nothing wrong with creating happy places in my life, but I don’t want to confuse them with the Peace of God that is present even when I’m not in a happy place… In John 9, the disciples asked Jesus why a man had been born blind… well, not quite.  What they asked was whose sin caused him to be blind.  They were connecting his physical condition to his spiritual condition.   Jesus rightly called foul on their presumption. Just because I do A and then get B does not mean my doing A causes B.  In fact, that line of thinking leads to superstition and superstition merely confuses the situation.

On Grattitude

Continuing the sorting process… Later today, a podcast of Speaking of Faith on prayer got me thinking of multiple levels of thankfulness and grattitude.  A little girl read this poem by Mary Oliver (emphasis is mine)

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

erin-grass.jpgHow wonderful to stroll through the fields, to play in the grass all day.  I could be thankful for that.  But the grass must be tended to.  What about mowing the grass?  Can I be thankful for that too?  What about the daily work and grind that saps all my energy and seems to be for nothing.  Can I be thankful for that? There must be multiple levels of grattitude.  For instance, there’s a “childish” grattitude for simple things (generally selfish) and a deeper “adult” grattitude for what’s behind those simple things.  I say “adult”, but it doesn’t come automatically at any age.

I have such fond memories of Christmas meals with my dad’s family in West Virginia.  So much family in one room that you could hardly move.  The aroma of more wonderful dishes than you could imagine.  So many that you could hardly taste taste them all in just one sitting.  I was thankful for that even then… and I am thankful for the memory of those gatherings now.  But I had no thought for (and hence no grattitude for) those who did the work to cook those meals and plan the evening and clean the house and… It’s only as an adult that I can see that side of it.  Only as an adult, do I realize that the events like these that set the stage for great memories take great planning and execution.  They do not merely happen.  That doesn’t lessen my childish grattitude.  In fact it enhances it and in a sense, completes it.  I can only be thankful for what I have some understanding of.

So, yes, I can be thankful for a walk and a tumble in the grass… and I can be thankful for the ability and the tools that I need to mow that grass.  I can be thankful for the family times and thankful that someone has put the energy and planning into creating these times.  The more I know, the more I can be thankful for.   As I write those words, I hear the dryer tumbling freshly washed clothes and I realize that if my sweetie hadn’t taken care of that, I would be doing laundry instead of blogging.  Thanks Honey… Happy Monthiversary… thirty years and 2 months!

Heart’s Desires

whisper1.gifI wonder if it is a coincidence that the word “heart” begins with “hear”.

I learn by taking things apart. When I was a little boy, I took my toys apart to see how they worked. As an “old guy”, I still take things apart. Now instead of making my toys into a mess, I tend to take my thoughts apart to see what makes me tick. Sometimes I get all worked up and emotional and it leaves me wondering if the world is really the mess I have made it out to be. Thankfully, the One who put the wonder in me, who put the take-things-apart in me also built me with a reset button (called a good night’s sleep). You see, I started writing this over two weeks ago when it was heavy on my heart. I was feeling all mixed up inside and felt like I just had to get it out. I got as far as writing an outline then the distractions began… It was time to go out shopping for a while. When I came back home, I sat down to finish it and my web server was missing. It took all weekend to finally get the web hosting folks to admit that there was really a problem and that they would fix it. By that time it was Monday with all the distractions of the work week. Two weeks later, my internal reset button has evened all out those knotted up emotions, but the topic is still very real…

I feel like I am just learning to hear my own heart; my “heart’s desire”, the longings that are deep inside me. Although my squelch knob usually catches them before they become part of my outside voice, my heart frequently expresses itself to me in extremes like a toddler. You always listen to other people but you never listen to me! I know that it’s not true exactly. I can think of lots of times I have listened to my heart over the years, but it feels like something new to me. Maybe I’m beginning to listen better.

So what happens when a 50 year old codependent mess–a guy who likes to take things apart begins to listen to his heart? He watches things unfold and learns from what he sees and feels. There’s another thing you need to know about me. I am a learner. When I take things apart, I am learning about them. The learner is deep inside my soul. Here’s what I have learned about hearing my heart. There are at least three ways I can discover my hearts desire…

  • Having what I want
  • Not getting what I want or getting something I didn’t want
  • Seeing someone else get what I wanted

Having what I want – When I have what I want, I am content with it. Contentment is an easily ignored emotion. Things are good. They are just the way I like it. I’m happy. No need to take this one apart. Except… I want to be more aware of it. I want more of whatever has me feeling content. It’s a clue to who I am. The places I find contentment are not likely the same places you find contentment.

contentment.gif This reminds me of the way the mind works as described by Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee in On Intelligence. The mind is constantly taking in information and predicting the future. As long as what it predicted is what happens, the mind ignores it. For instance, my mind expects the letters to appear on the screen as I type these words. I don’t even think about it because it happens the way I expect. (Of course I’m hyper-aware right now since I’m writing about it). Think about all the sounds we tune out like the hum of our computer. Have you ever turned of your computer and only then realized how loud it was? We tune them out because we don’t need to be aware of them. Our minds predicted those sounds and so it ignores them. If there is a unexpected, loud noise, or suddenly there is silence, we become instantly aware. Why? What we predicted didn’t happen.

Getting what I want is like that. It is what I want to happen. I’m satiated, comfortable, relatively pain free. So this is not a particularly effective way of learning what I want. Unless I intentionally focus on what is causing me to feel content, I won’t know. Funny isn’t it? The most pleasant way of discovering my hearts desire is the very one that is easiest to ignore.

Not getting what I want or getting something I didn’t want – Unawareness is definitely not the problem with this method. I am usually painfully aware when I didn’t get what I want… although I might not understand the pain I feel. As I am thinking of examples, I realize that it is not so much about getting things. I have more than my share of things to be sure, but tangible things is not really what I’m talking about. It’s less about that one special gift I didn’t get for my birthday and more like finding out my friend isn’t going to make it to my party after all… or I won’t be able to make it to their party. The feeling of disappointment doesn’t care why.

miners.gif I feel a bit of disappointment and that disappointment tells me that there was something that I wanted. It doesn’t tell me that someone is against me, nor does it tell me that I should have it. Mining these emotions is not about letting the emotions have their way, it is about learning what they are trying to tell me. The emotion is a clue to my own hearts desire. Unless I am intentional about reflecting and examining them, I am likely to react to my feelings of disappointment by trying to fix them; to make the feelings go away and make me feel better. When I do that, I miss a great opportunity. Not only does it not help the situation, I miss a great opportunity to mine for gold. There’s gold in them-thar desires! God has put great desires in my heart and He is for me! I want to know more and more about what these desires are. Not so I can get everything I want, but to know who God has made me to be.

Seeing someone else who has what I want – Again, for me this is not about coveting a nicer house or fancier car. I figured out a long time ago that every time I own something new, it owns me even more than I own it. I just got a new computer when the old one called it quits. As much as I love my new computer, in the couple of months I have had it, it has already taken many hours of my life that I will never see again. First there was the whole weekend I spent setting it up and learning things I never wanted to know… (like Money 2004 won’t run on Vista and the new version of Money called Money Essentials won’t open files created from any other version of Money). Then there was the weekend I spent trying to figure out why it decided to reboot itself over and over for no apparent reason. My things serve me well… when I’m not serving them.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not above getting more stuff… even coveting every once in a while. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a nice digital SLR camera… of course that means the images will be larger than my current cameras, so I’ll need a bigger hard drive and…

greeneye.gif So if it isn’t about stuff, what is it about? Frequently it is seeing someone living in their strengths which happen to not be my strengths. I see God in them and I admire them. Who am I kidding? I feel jealous. When my friend Curtis asks one of his penetrating questions that cut straight to the heart, I am impressed, thankful for his gifting and a little jealous. When I see my friend John meet someone and connect with them in such an engaging way that they are immediately talking about important things, I am amazed… and jealous. When I experience the artistry and courage of my friend, Dave to step out and follow his dream of painting hot rods, I am impressed, inspired and jealous. I really don’t want to be Curtis or John or Dave… but my heart’s desire is trying to come through in my emotion.

man-behind-curtain.gif Warning, I’m going to open up a little more than is comfortable and let you see the silly man behind the curtain… A few years ago, Jeanie and I went with Dan and Hope to see Chicago and Earth Wind & Fire in concert. When I was a young trombone player, I wanted to be James Pankow… understand me… not just be like him, but to be him. So here I am, a middle aged guy in the audience, ostensibly singing the horn parts… but in my heart, I was on that stage. I was playing those trombone parts just as clean as Jimmy P ever did. I danced his dance. I laughed with the band. I received the applause. I felt… jealous! Not too long ago, I told someone I love, “We see things in the lives of others that we want, but it’s just one small facet. We don’t get to see their whole lives. If we could wave a magic wand and trade places, it would not be fair to trade for just the good stuff. You’d have to trade everything for everything. My life for theirs.” Do I really want to be Mr P? Not likely. No other whole life would be worth trading for. I don’t know James Pankow. All I see is a 60ish guy who looks like he’s having the time of his life on stage… My emotion is not really about wanting to be him. It is about something that I want from what I see. It’s my hearts desire… and I believe deep down it is good.

My heart’s desire is not ultimately about my comfort. It’s surely not about leaving my family to go on the road with a band. My heart’s desire is a clue to who God made me to be. I don’t know exactly what it will look like when he’s done with me, but it will be somewhere in the middle of loving God and loving my neighbor. For me, the journey itself is the destination. The taking apart, hitting the reset button, learning and applying what I can along the way is what it is all about. My prayer is that living my journey “out loud” will help others find their way too.

My Spiritual Journey – Part 3

This is literally the first day I have felt good in February. Thanks to those who prayed for me. It feels kinda selfish to ask for prayer from God for a cold when there are so many big problems out there; war, famine, big ugly dreadful diseases, broken relationships… In any case, I’m grateful to be feeling better. On to my journey…

jim-bible-school.jpg As far back as I can remember, my family went to church every Sunday. Our home church was Deer Park Baptist. I “gave my heart to Jesus” at Vacation Bible School there. I must have been about 7 or 8 years old. The associate pastor called me into his office, which was quite intimidating… it felt sort of like going to the principal’s office. I had raised my hand when the teacher asked if anyone wanted to give their heart to Jesus and the next step in the process was a trip to his office. He asked me a few questions about sin and who Jesus was and what He did for me. I answered all the questions correctly and we prayed together. He told me that I was now a Christian.

I have some reservations today about the one size fits all formula in which we answer a few questions and we are “in”. Seems more like joining a club than a crucial life decision. In any case I took my decision seriously. I believed what my teacher taught me and I wanted to go to heaven when I died. As I wrote those words, I just remembered something my dad told me the day I was baptized. He said that he noticed that I was more serious than the other kids. I’m glad I remembered that. Thanks for saying so, Dad. I knew writing this would be good for me.

As the years went on and I learned more about God at church, I grew more serious about wanting to follow Jesus. At some point, the repetitious Sunday School lessons weren’t doing it for me anymore. If I had been smart, I would have talked to someone about my journey, but I was a loner and I was pretty sure I could figure it out. In my mind, everyone needed to go through the same steps of learning and growth in series; 1, 2, 3…. Because of that, it was important for me to get them in order so I wouldn’t mess up or miss anything. I knew that they had these racks in the vestibule of the church filled with tracts and I reasoned that this was where I would find out the next steps to take. What I found in the tract rack were pamphlets on how to become a Christian in three easy steps and why the Mormans or Jehovah’s Witnesses were wrong and what to say to them when they came to your door. I didn’t find anything like what i was really looking for; the next steps after giving your heart to God. How to grow closer to God.

4-laws.gif The church that I grew up in emphasized evangelism. Nothing mattered more than “The Great Commision” from Matthew 28:19-20 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” It was our job to share Jesus. For a painfully shy little fellow, this was like asking me to walk on hot coals. I reasoned that the main thing was getting the message out. So, I took the tracts that told about how to become a Christian and distributed them liberally. Once on vacation, we stopped for gas and I went to the restroom. While I was in there, I unrolled the toilet paper and re-rolled it with tracts so they would fall out when the next person used the toilet. As we drove away, Dad had something to say about it. It seems that he was the next person to use the toilet. I was so embarrased!

When I was a young teenager, I had a Sunday School teacher, whose name is gone from my memory. He was a short blond firecracker of a man. He really loved Jesus and was full of excitement. He was as anti-speaking in tongues as he was on fire for Jesus. I don’t know why that was such a hot button for him. His teaching was my only knowlege about speaking in tongues and my only perspective about the matter. Whatever speaking in tongues was, he was worried that we’d get involved with it. I took his teaching as gospel and learned chapter and verse why “speaking in tongues was of the devil.” There was no way I was going to get involved with that! In his class we also studied a popular book called “The Late Great Planet Earth”. This was the first popular book I had ever read about what to expect at the end of time. Mostly what I remember about it was that Jesus was coming back in 1988! Whoops.

In the group of four boys that were my age at Deer Park Church, three of them went into fulltime ministry. I alone pursued a secular vocation. Many times I have asked myself what happened to me. For some reason, even then it was important to me that I should be able to be serious about following Jesus without earning a living as a minister. That is not a criticism of anyone in ministry. It is a value I hold dear, not just with regards to ministry, but also taking leadership in groups without being given a formal leadership role. To me, that’s the way the world ought to be. So many people wait to be told what to do instead of using the gifts and talents that God has built into them. There’s a reason we are all different. We need each other.

My Spiritual Journey – Part 2

Gran-Great

naomi-lewis-1964.jpg The next logical part of my journey is my relationship to those who came before me. I was blessed to know all of my grandparents and three of my great granparents. I was pretty young when my great-grandparents died. My dad’s mother’s father (M. C. Lewis) died before I was born. I barely remember her mother, (Naomi) but I called her Gran Great (my grandmother was “Gran”). Mostly, I remember an old lady who I would “perform” for. At Christmas, we had a gathering of my grandmother’s family (the Lewis’s) at which all the kids were expected to say a piece for Gran-Great. My parents tell me that one of the pieces I recited for her went like this… “The chimney’s small. Old Santa’s fat, but he get’s down in spite of that.” I guess for a little guy that was pretty good.

Great Grandpa & Grandma Anderson

rom-bertha-anderson-1967.jpg I knew both of my dad’s, dad’s parents (Rom & Bertha Pearl Anderson). We visited them many times and I remember my dad telling me each time that this might be the last time we would ever see them alive. The fact that I remember hearing this more than once testifies to their longevity. It also tells me that the sadness I felt cut pretty deep. Many of our memories that stick do so because they are attached to strong emotion. This photo is just how I remember them. I even remember being that wallpaper, which struck me because of its “oldness”. Everything in their house seemed so old. It even smelled old. My great-grandfather liked to put me on his knee and tell me bear (pronounced “bar”) stories. His voice was airy and soft and he had a gentle laugh that I liked.

Hymns

My great grandmother was impressed with my singing hymns when we visited. I do not remember this, but my mom tells me it is so. My mom sang hymns a lot when I was little and, being the little musician that I was, I picked them up and sang them too. I still remember most of the standard hymns very well. I suppose it is because of hearing them so much when I was growing up.

Interestingly to me, I do not “treasure” the hymns the way I hear from so many people who grew up in the church. So many times I hear people my age and older wish we sang more of the the old hymns in church today. To my mind, they seem distant and old fashioned. It seems as if I should cherish them and hold them dear since they were clearly such a huge part of my childhood, but they do not. The reason, at least partly is because my musical taste and my love of variety are not met in the old hymns (you don’t get much new and avant-garde with hymns). It could also be that I unconsciously associate hymns with a “by the rules” religion that I attach to my grandparents’ generation… a religious attitude that I find repellant. For whatever reason, the fact is that I loved hymns when I was a youngster but today, I do not prefer them.

I was sharing this dicotomy with a friend the other day and he reminded me of some of the “remakes” of old hymns to a more modern sound. I like very few of them. The ones I like are the ones in which they make interesting harmonic changes instead of merely “changing the beat”. Most of these remake productions lack depth musically speaking. They are merely rock and roll facades on old hymns. It isn’t that I consider what they are doing sacreligious. It is hard for me to imagine that any musical style in and of itself is unpleasing to God. I believe to my core that God is mostly concerned with our hearts.

The Attitude of the Heart

Samuel, in the Bible, says when choosing the next king for Israel, “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Sam 16:7. This is a principle that I hold very dear. God is more concerned with my heart than my actions. I once knew a man who loved to perform gospel music ( good-ole hillbilly, bluegrass gospel music). He didn’t love Jesus, but he surely loved gospel music. Something about that bothered me. To sing for Jesus when you don’t love Him, just doesn’t make sense to me. I believe that as a musician, I can perform secular music with an attitude of worship to God that is pleasing to him. Likewise, I could sing a hymn with a poor attitude and I do not believe it would be pleasing to God.

Thinking about God’s looking on the heart also reminds me of Jeanie’s and my philosophy of raising children. When our daughters were little, it was very important to us to try to discern the reason they did something wrong. Did they have an attitude of defiance, or was it a childish mistake? Were they truly sorry, or just embarrased that they got caught? Once I was so exasperated with Danae that I shouted at her. I said, “Why don’t you stop acting like a three year old?” This broke the spell for me long enough to laugh at myself… because she was three years old at the time.

Way over here at the other end of the parenting continuum, I have also asked my daughters many times to judge me by my motives more than my actions. As a parent there are many times that I have just not known what to do or say. I know what I want, but I don’t know how to get it. I have made some real hum-dingers of mistakes with my words. Hurt feelings, miscommunications. I am blessed that my family is so forgiving.

A Prayer Request

I have had a cold for the last week and a half that has wiped me out. Just sitting up and writing for a while is draining all my energy. Please pray that I will recover quickly. I am sick and tired of feeling sick and tired… if you know what I mean.

My Spiritual Journey – Part 1

Beginning

ps145-4.pngEverything is spiritual… so how can one write about their spiritual journey without writing about everything? My purpose in this series is to explore what I believe about God and why I believe it to be true. It will be a very personal journey. My purpose is not to say that I am right and why, but to say, “This is who I am.” Like everything I write on this blog, my purpose ultimately is for my friends and family, to know me better. The unexpected gem for me is how much I learn about myself in the process. If it is encouraging to others, so much the better.

I expect it will be mostly chronological, but not completely. As I get into some particular thread of thought, I may chase it through time. You will undoubtedly meet a few people who helped to shape my spiritual thought from Mom and Dad to my own children, from my Sunday School teachers and Youth Leader to a few very influential pastors and friends. Much of my journey has been shaped by trying to please others. A desire to please others is good, but it is also flawed. The simple fact is that I cannot make anyone happy. I can do acts of kindness, but whether the recipient truly receives them is not my choice. Whether it is enough to make a difference is not my choice. I hope that in the process of exposing the unhealthy addiction to making others happy, I can be freed to explore my own heart deeper… and continue doing acts of kindness, but with no expectations.

Before the Beginning

At least, before my beginning… It occurs to me that as a chronological journey, I should tell what I know about the spiritual journeys of my ancestors. It isn’t much…

Gathering at Pine Grove ChurchI know that my Dad’s family was from West Virginia. He was born and raised in an area on the Kanawha River nine miles from its intersection with the Ohio. The area was called “Nine Mile”. His father’s family (Anderson) had bounced all around West Virginia and even into Kentuky and Tennessee having children as they went. They made a living by building or fixing up a house then living in it a while, selling it and moving on. When they arrived at Nine Mile, they stayed to have several children. My guess is that the nomadic lifestyle was a bit much with a lot of children. No matter why they chose to stay, they took up farming and became part of the Nine Mile community. They attended church at Pine Grove Church, which is now gone. There is still a cemetery there where many of my ancestors are buried (none of them are Andersons though). Pine Grove Church was a Methodist church, I believe.

Another family in the Nine Mile area who also attended Pine Grove Church were the Lewises. Bernice Lewis was my grandmother. Her father, Miles Clement Lewis, was a school teacher and a devout Christian. He spoke in church on at least one occasion, for which I have published his notes here. Bernice Lewis and Preston Anderson met at Pine Grove Church where both of their families attended services. They told me about going to social events there for dates. Anyway, that’s not the point of this entry. The ancestors I spoke of were from the Lewis side of my grandmother’s family.

They married and made a life for themselves very close by that area. For their whole life, they were members of the United Methodist Church. They believed in God and raised their two sons in the church. Their younger son, my uncle, is a Christian pastor and a great mentor to me. He comments frequently on my blog. Their older son is my father and also a great influence in my life. He has occasionally left his mark here too.

My mother’s family came from Alabama. I believe they were Baptists, but I don’t know much about that. Her parents moved to Charleston, SC when she was a young teenager. Her father became a machinist in the Charleston Naval Ship Yard. They attended Charleston Heights Baptist Church, which was very near the Naval Base (that little fact will become important soon).

My dad joined the Navy when he graduated high-school. He had high hopes of attending the Navy School of Music. He had passed the entrance audition and was well on his way when life took a different turn for him. In his physical exam, they determined that he didn’t have enough teeth to be a navy musician. I can only imagine how dissapointing that must have been. The Navy sent dad (of course he wasn’t my dad yet) to Charleston. While there, he went to Charleston Heights Baptist Church to worship. Guess who he met there… yep. He and my mom were married about a year later.

Mom and Dad took my brother, Ken, and me to church in the Baptist church as long back as I can remember. Some of my very early memories were of my dad directing the music at Highland Creek Baptist Church in Hanahan, SC. I remember singing from the hymnals and feeling embarrased when one of the ladies would look at me and smile with that “isn’t he cute” smile. When my mom was recovering from having my brother, she tells me that I would go to church with my dad and I would sit on the front pew very still and good while he directed the singing. Then he would come sit down with me for the rest of the service. People would just rave about how good I was. I liked that attention and I’m sure it had a big impact on my being “good”.

So there you have it. It’s a beginning… not an earth shaking beginning, but it is the one I have. Next time, I’ll talk a little more about my childhood experience in church, what I remember of it and move into the teen years. Until then…

Reflecting and Thinking Ahead

streamer-3.gif Looking at my post on January 1, 2007 , I expressed hope that during 2007 I would be come more of myself and more Christlike at the same time. I believe I have experienced some of that transformation. Now that I understand it better, I want to continue to live it on purpose. Jesus said that the most important thing is for me to love God and love my neighbor as myself. With God’s help, I plan to do that.

I went for a walk today and stopped on a little footbridge over a stream. The water was running hard from the recent rains and there were rocks in the stream that the water had to get through on it’s journey. The stream was bubbling and churning and the sound caused me to stop for a moment. The moment became two moments and three as I thought about all the great things that happened this year. I had some really fun times, but the great things that happened weren’t all pleasant… in fact the very best ones were downright unpleasant. These were best because, as my uncle recently reminded me, those unpleasant conflicts are where the real growth happens.

Thinking forward to this year, I was thinking about the futility of planning. I don’t have control of my life. There are so many things that happen to me that I have no choice over. My choice comes in how I respond or react to the things that happen. But reacting and responding is not planning. I know that I can plan. I can set goals that are worthy and yet unattainable. That seems futile… (read don’t want to go there). I can set goals that I know I can do because I will do them anyway. That is cheating for no reason. So with all that in mind what I want to do is set a few SMART goals. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. These characteristics are pretty much self explanatory, but the last one is worth a comment. Timely, to me, means that the goals are not just for the sake of getting things done, but they are to help keep me headed in the direction I want to go. With that in mind, here are a few “cheaters”. They are already on the calendar, or very close to it.

  • streamer-1.gifHelp out at the Brian McLaren event at Area 15 (I gotta blog about Area 15 sometime)
  • Trip to Montreal with LaClef in February
  • Personal Coaching Training in February
  • Pass my 10 year anniversary with Wachovia
  • Turn 50
  • Celebrate 30 wonderful years with my sweetie.

And here are a few wishes that I want to turn into SMART goals. They aren’t completely there yet, but they express my desire for the next year.

  • Move my spiritual journey from one of “learning about” to intentionally expressing God’s love in a tangible way to people who are in need. (hurting (everyone), poor, hungry, homeless…)
  • Invest the time that Wachovia allows for community service work around Area15. (They actually allow me to invest an hour a week-on the clock-in community service work. Isn’t that cool?)
  • Become more involved with Area 15. (Outside of the community service time. Just hang out there and see where I fit in)
  • Blog about my spiritual journey. (Kinda like my Work Experience Series)

streamer-2.gif These are wishes and not goals because they don’t have a deadline (beyond saying that I want to do them within the next year. Anyway, it is a start and that’s all I’ve got right now.

A wish, a hope and a prayer.  I wish I could spend quality time with each of you every day to know you better and to love and encourage you the way God does. I hope your new year takes each of you further in the direction that you want to go, and I pray that each of you feels the Love of God in your life in a special way today and the next day and the one after that…

The First Step

jimbo-first-steps.jpgWhen I started posting about my “crisis of faith”, I realized that I was taking some people into deep water. Some of my readers are experiencing similarities in their journey of faith. In fact they have let me to other bloggers who are asking similar questions…

While I want to avoid simply searching out reading material merely to validate my experiences, I do sense that in general, there is a movement of Christ followers who are pushing back against the structures of church that have been built for many many years. I have lots of thoughts on that subject that I hope to blog about at another time. But not tonight. Tonight, I want to focus on some questions that Beckster raised in her comments on my last post. Beckster and I go way back and I am impressed with her honesty and the depth of her questions.

…how does one go about living outside of the box in faithfulness and in truth? What are the first steps? It is very scary to step out on faith and trust the Holy Spirit to guide me, but I would be willing to do it if I just knew what it was that I should do. What is it that God really wants?

I would like to hear from you, my readers… Both of you. Do these questions stir you? What are your thoughts? How do we get started truly stepping out in faith? Trusting the Holy Spirit?

Before I turn you loose, I want to ask a question. Isn’t that a cute little feller walking with his mama? Ok, it’s your turn now. Ready… Set… Go!