Because God is, I am.

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For the past six months I have served as a counselor in an addiction treatment facility for men. While many people stigmatically look upon these men with pity…I am learning it is not these in recovery in need of pity. They know their struggle. Most readily admit their weaknesses. They are self-aware. They live everyday confessing their need of strength and grace…while knowing full well those gifts must come from outside of themselves. Though they are given the label of “addicted,” in truth, they are often more free than most.

Being daily submerged in such a confessing community exposes the “outside” lives as the ones in need of freedom. The truly enslaved are those fooled into thinking they are free.

Richard Rohr says, “There are two ways to be a prophet. One is to tell the enslaved that they can be free. It is the difficult path of Moses. The second is to tell those who think they are free that they are in fact enslaved. This is the even more difficult path of Jesus.”

Only when confronted by our own enslavement does our real journey begin. The Christian journey of finding our True Selves (our identity in Christ) requires honest awareness of how ingrained we are in the pattern of self.  Without ongoing confession of these patterns, we are fooled into self-holy thinking that creates a comfortable rhythm of non-growth.

What happens when we are made aware of our enslavement? It’s then the work begins. We must begin the painful process of “dying to self” (Rom. 6-8), “putting off the old” (Eph. 4), “leaving the former” (Is. 43), and “decreasing” (John 3:30).

I am daily reminded of this spiritual formation work as we continue rebuilding our old house. Every swing of the hammer has served as a spiritual metaphor for me. The house, like our lives, must be stripped down to the skeleton core. All of the wall coverings have been removed to expose the true structural integrity and the foundation examined and reinforced.

These hidden pieces, the foundation, studs, etc., are what sustains the house. The house cannot last without its core essentials. So it is with us. Our identity must be securely rooted in the image of God…the aesthetics matter but only in relation to the well-being of the structural core.

So today, I post these journal words as a reminder of who I am in Christ.

Resting on the foundation and formed by the image of God; I am loved and enough.

So are you.

Free

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Written on the top of the page are these six words; “You have no obligation to Pharaoh.”

Those conversation notes are almost a year old, but yet, when reviewed, spoke to me again today. I don’t remember all the details of that particular spiritual-direction session, but I do remember the feeling. The tension of anxiousness and despair. The gift of freedom delivered in gentle prophetic words.

“You have no obligation to Pharaoh.”

Perhaps every person hears it with a slightly different tone. For we are all, in our own ways, charmed by the character of Pharaoh. 

However, it’s shortsighted to only see Pharaoh embodied as those “in power.” For that is not the point. “Pharaoh” need not be a specific person…it is a posture of power. It is the lure of anyone or thing who disregards human dignity and worth. And, lest we miss the obvious point of the gospel narrative, God is not idly content or controlled by these imitation powers.  God has already declared, “Let my people go, so that they may worship me.” (Ex 9:1)

Perhaps addiction is the best present-day description of Pharaoh. For in every addiction there is a hidden human desire being sought and satisfied. Like in our addictions; comfort, security, and basic worth is being met in Pharaoh’s rule. And although we recognize its abusive power, we surrender our dignity for the sake of being served. The thought of freedom to choose now becomes a fear itself.

As Gerald May wrote in his book Addiction and Grace, “Once attachment is fully entrenched, our motivations become so mixed that freedom to choose is seriously compromised.”

It’s easy to see the character of Pharaoh at work in the obvious attachments of drugs/alcohol/crowds. But the daily heart-and-life addictions of the Pharaoh culture we live within are more difficult to confess.

  • We begin to expose the attitude of Pharaoh when we examine our addiction to being right. Our addiction to our own way of thinking. The curse of individual certitude. The judgement of others that condemns only ourselves.
  • We acknowledge the scarcity-driven anxiety of Pharaoh when we confess our own addiction to consume without regard for our neighbor or creation. Our insatiable want. Our willful covetousness of more than enough.
  • We expose the insecurity of Pharaoh when we confess our own tribal behavior, our racism, our neglect of the Imago Dei (Image of God in Genesis 1:27) of every human.

These are a few of the heart-and-life patterns we have become entrenched within. Perhaps, to find freedom from the attachment to the culture of Pharaoh, we need to hear those words again…

You have no obligation to Pharaoh.

Eating is a Resurrection Act

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Luke 24:13-49

As I was reading through the Gospel passage for this week I couldn’t help but read a few extra verses. It seems Luke’s story of the disciple’s reaction to the presence of the resurrected Jesus is about more than their shock.  Perhaps it also foreshadows the reaction of those who grow accustomed to having Jesus around, those who think they already know what Jesus is all about, who then get interrupted by the unexpected twist of Jesus’ priorities in the resurrection life.

This verse captured my attention today: Luke 24:41 – While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”

Eating was an important “bodily resurrection” proof I suppose, but it seems more. Think on this: The night before dying, Jesus institutes the table as his own ongoing memorial. After resurrection, Jesus is first recognized as the gardener. Jesus then breaks the bread on the Emmaus road. And now Jesus is asking “Where’s the food?” And not long after he is again telling his disciples to “feed my sheep.” In Jesus’ final days before death and first days of resurrection…Jesus was strangely focused on eating.

As I read the passage, Wendell Berry’s famous statement ofeating is an agricultural act came to mind. Berry has famously written on how food, and its inherent economic/work/enjoyment/community effects, is always near the center of our humanity story. The Bible reader should already know this; for the Bible starts in a garden and ends with a banquet feast. But Berry’s phrase came to mind when I read Jesus’ question, “Have you anything here to eat?”

Why was Jesus asking for food? I won’t pretend to know…but I like to wonder. Perhaps, rather than fixating on the disciple’s disbelief and awe in the act of resurrection…Jesus points us back to the fleshy resurrected reality of the everyday.

We too, like the disciples, might need to refocus on Jesus’ priorities. We tend to look to the sky thinking God is far off. We spiritualize incarnation. We idolize worship-service feelings or huddle in fear wishing for an end-time rescue. But Jesus interrupts this disbelief and calls us back to the reality of resurrection…the everyday, the ordinary, the life-on-the-ground neighborly reality of today.

Perhaps we could say, “eating is a resurrection act.” For eating represents what the resurrection life is about…the preparing, planting, nurturing, harvesting, and enjoying the making of all things new. The resurrection life is about good work, the circle of followers around the table, the ongoing storytelling of Jesus’ ways, and the continued works of restoration and hope. It’s the heaven-come-to-earth kind of life.

“Have you anything to eat?” – Jesus

Shut Doors

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While studying in the lectionary passages for this Sunday, I paused on this sentence; “Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” (John 20:26b, nrsv).

On a daily basis we are surrounded by “shut doors” – defended and defensive lives. In truth, we all experience the “shut door” of our own ego. Thomas was not just behind the closed door of a room, but the closed door of disbelief. I often see the same “shut door” in myself. I see it in those whom I work with everyday. For that’s what addiction does – hardens and harasses our will, our spirit of life and joy – and robs us of the openness and vulnerability required to recognize the Presence among us.

But the “shut door” isn’t just reserved for those whom I work with in my role as an addiction counselor. Richard Rohr states, “Most addictions are not substance addictions (alcohol, drugs, food, consumer objects, etc.), but process addictions (patterns of thinking and reacting). Spiritual traditions at their higher levels discovered that the primary addiction for all humans is addiction to our own way of thinking. That should be obvious.”* (underlined emphasis mine)

The addiction to “our own way of thinking” seems epidemic these days. But, in truth,  it’s always been that way. We humans tend to shut the door of our lives to the new thing God is doing and give ourselves over to fears and doubts of our own making.

Rohr says it again in his book, Breathing Under Water.

“Stinking thinking” is the universal addiction. Substance addictions like drugs and alcohol are merely the most visible forms of addiction, but actually we are all addicted to our own habitual way of doing anything, our own defenses, and most especially, our patterned way of thinking, or how we process our reality. The very fact we have to say this shows how much we are blinded inside of it. By definition, you can never see or handle what you are addicted to. It is always “hidden” and disguised as something else.” **

Thomas’ addiction to his own experience, his own reality, his own thinking…was disguised as doubt. Under that doubt is the addiction. The same one we all suffer with…to our own way of thinking.

The good news is there too. Jesus shows up. In spite of our defensive and closed doors, Jesus keeps showing up and revealing our “stinking thinking.” Jesus keeps offering the same words, “Peace be with you.” A different Life, a different Way, seen and experienced through the Truth.

*From Richard Rohr’s daily email.

**Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, pg xxiii

Implored 

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Yesterday I received a text from a friend with a simple message; “Shane, I implore you to write.” With one sentence, he spoke many. This friend receives words as a sign of love and life. He was not asking just for his sake, but also for mine. What a gift! So, Nathan, I will seek to offer words in this Easter season. 

Last Easter Sunday, our family squeezed into the spaces between our remaining belongings and headed east. We thought we knew a general direction for our journey, but we had no way of knowing what was ahead. Easter to Easter has been a “sabbatical year” for us. It has included weeks of silence, days of rest, moments of desperation and celebration, ordinary days, many death stories (dying of our “selfs”), and beautiful resurrection stories. It has been a journey of relinquishment and experiencing the gifts of relinquishment

Today I looked up the words I wrote the Monday after Easter last year:

“Along the way, we will have to remind ourselves why we started this journey; to listen carefully to the calling that pointed us toward a new future and a different kind of life. Every day will be full of moments when we must remain determined to walk faithfully on the path before us. Undoubtably there will be doubt, and in those moments we must look for the trail markers left by our guide that say: Be a target of grace. Practice non-anxiousness. Pursue the joy set before you.” 

The gift of the last three sentences (and the stories behind them) continue to implore us toward new life.  It’s true, words can be a gift of life and love. 

Remember

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As I stood beside his gravestone and looked across the valley to the fall-colored mountains, I recognized the moment. This moment was supposed to happen. Serendipity. Providential. Whatever it may be, it was right and good. As I read his words to those gathered, it was a familar sense. Words from an age before that when loosed into the air again have power to shape future. Prophetic words. Offered with the palatable taste of a poet. Once spoken, their influence works deep within the soul; stirring new realities from an old story.

——

Remember: A collection of words by John W. Hawkinson

“The persistence of memory is an exalted thing. Memory is like a wonderful picture show; go ahead, choose your era. Imagine it. While 1828 is far the best, try 1928 right now…

It’s a balmy night in 1928. Without any promises to keep, you’re traveling up old route 9W on the west side of Dutchman’s river, headed north. You’re roaring ahead in a Model L Lincoln Phaeton or a Packard Roadster with its well-engineered purr of mighty cylinders from motordoms golden age.

The road is all yours, as is the night itself, pierced by rays from two huge nickeled brass drum headlights. Your passenger is not only accustomed to, but thoroughly at home with, a strong rush of cool air whipping through her golden tresses, resembling a maiden of the mist, a madonna of freedom and youth.

The road takes me past the Catskills, past the towns of congenial taste and the stave, quiet, dark timbers of estates; past farms and apple orchards; through the smell of fresh morning hay; the sound of cricket’s music with all the ways of life that seemed to fit.

The night ride continues on into the darkness, beyond the little glowing lights like a symphony of pre-determined harmony. You knew no matter where you were headed, you HAD already arrived. For materialism, if you’re going to have to have it, should be at its best. That’s how it was in those days. In 1928.

But today, this is the shifting era of too much, too much of everything. What once was so good is being suffocated, stifled, drowned, broken and buried for want of more. Not through wild political notions or insidious forms of government, but through want alone man has defined his own purpose; and through want alone man will lose their identity, their freedoms, their elbow room and that wonderful sanity in being part of a well-ordered harmony.

What is this world becoming? Too many people, with too many goods, commodities and services. Over-production, greed, vanity, gullibility, strategic insanity, technological ignorance, religious paranoia, lack of compassion, forgotten humility, and an inability to see the poor and meek.

It may be that through want alone the world will end, not with a bang, but a whimper of want.

So, may we remember the simpler way of 1928 and choose to live toward it today. Uncluttered, with the simplicity of less; the enjoyment of quality and refined congeniality. And when we can’t see it clearly in the present; may we remember.”

May we remember John W. Hawkinson.

Toward

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Last Monday our family of five decided to pray in two specific ways. First, we would gather each evening of the week and write down 100 “gifts.” We took turns speaking aloud the names of people, things, and the stories for which we are thankful.

It seemed it would be a healthy and easy task to name 100 gratitudes each evening. But it wasn’t easy. The first evening went fairly quick…but as we started the second, we discovered it was going to take effort to not repeat ourselves. This was not for lack of things we were grateful for…but a lack of practice to recognize and name the gifts around us. We slogged our way through the evenings, writing down 100 thanksgivings each night.

Our second prayer was simple: “Friday at 3.” Why Friday at 3? No particular reason. Perhaps it represented the end of the work week or the time our children are dismissed from school…but more likely, it represented the end of our effort. 

It was sixteen months ago when we committed to this journey. Sixteen months of wandering, healing, praying, listening, job-applying, proposal writing, growing, reading, praying, scrambling, hoping, praying, and…doubting. We began wondering if we had missed a turn in the trail. We began to doubt the path of calling we were following. We felt the shame of foolishness. We heard the whispers of our observers.

Every day we confessed our fears to one another in order to arise with hope and trek forward again the next day. But last week, we had reached the end. Our self-mustered courage was exhausted. Our meager provisions gone. Our adventurous spirit crippled with fear. Our knees too weak to remain standing in the emotional storm. Our map was too tear-stained to know where to go next. 

Psalm 3 became our model for desperate prayer; “God, get up and do something! Show yourself to be God.” 

It would be impossible to detail all the events from last Friday at 3. The perfect job. A life-changing gift. A farm. A home.

It’s as if the voice of calling who once said, “Go, and in your going I’ll show you where you’re headed” finally spoke again. This time the voice from elsewhere said, “Yes, continue toward the call.”