Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Lenten Practices

I've been thinking about lent and the practice traditionally of "giving something up for lent." I don't really know where this originated, and I don't know how much people do this anymore. I know it was once popular, but I'm not really sure why. The lenten season is for self-reflection, traditionally focused on repentance and baptism. But, it's interesting because I've been thinking about lent - journeying through Christ's last days on earth and what that means. I don't suppose Jesus ever imagined millions of people retelling this story over and over again, and looking into their own lives to think about the ways they have failed and need to repent. It seems like we spend a lot of time on things like that in the church. Jesus' life and journey were what they were because he was convinced of what he was doing, compelled in some way to make his journey and face the powers that be, which he knew would bring his demise. But, I don't imagine he really wanted his followers to sit around thinking about what they hadn't done right, or to focus on the ways they had failed. I imagine he would want his followers to go forward and live our lives in love as he commanded. So, why do we spend so much time thinking about these things? Why is it that most people of faith still feel like they somehow have to earn God's love and grace, or do something to be worthy of it, or self-denigrate because....why? I've been thinking about the movie "Pay It Forward" and the simple idea of the young boy in the movie to do three things to help people. His idea would be that instead of paying him back they would then help three others, who would help three others, and on and on. If I remember the movie, he helps folks but then he gets too tied up into how successful his help was, and he feels defeated. Of course, as the movie goes on we see it all works out - his efforts pan out and the movement he began spreads in ways he couldn't imagine. In fact, in reality did you know there is a "pay it forward foundation" with a website - google it and you'll see! So, I wonder if Jesus might have a message to us during this time that's more like "pay it forward" and don't worry about the outcome?! I don't think Jesus ever felt that the road he took was something that people would have to "pay him back" for. If he indeed saved the world, he did it as gift and not as something expecting reward or whatever it is we call what we do. I imagine he would say give love and grace away, my gift has been given and I don't need to be paid back. Pay it forward - give it away, love the people I created, and the world I created, in every way you can. But don't be discouraged by the response - you can't be tied up to the outcome. I think the movie also shows another reality in the death of the young boy at the end. If you think being good or having faith will save you from difficulty or even death - it won't. Life is life and even bad things happen to good people. But - real faith - it seems to be isn't about "paying it back", but giving away God's gift of love and grace and reaching out in whatever small or large ways we can to "pay it forward."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Quantum Theology

I've been reading a book titled "Quantum Theology" as an assignment for my spiritual direction training. I've loved quantum theory for a long time, I just don't always understand it as well as I'd like. This is the field that "Process Theology" evolved from. In what I've read so far, I see process theology in what I'm reading about quantum theology. It's very complex, but basic in some ways. If you look at it from the scientific view, you can see radical changes in how we think. In classical science everything is sort of black and white. You recognize the terms; cause and effect, deterministic, reductionistic, rational and objective. The classical worldview was (and continues to be) neat, efficient and easy to comprehend. Quantum theory terms aren't easy; transcends external objectivity, energy flow is the primary essence of reality, wave-particle duality, collapse of the wave function, nonlocality, and practical usefulness. Quantum theory dramatically alters the way we look at the world - it isn't as black and white as traditional science suggested. Scientists are making the switch and new things are learned everyday. In fact, the potential for learning is unlimited and it is impacted by our interaction. There is no such thing as objectivity. Everything is in relationship and everything is connected! In process theology the past always impacts the present with God in the midst creating new possibilities for the future - for the good of all creation. Wow - imagine a theology based in relationship!! One of my struggles as a pastor is embracing a theory that is post-modern and being excited about the new, while dealing with leading congregations that are stuck with old paradigms. The church is always lagging behind what is happening in the world - there is huge resistance to changing because there is so much fear surrounding change. But change is what must happen, not for the sake of declining memberships or rejuvenating churches. Change must happen in order for us to understand ourselves in relationship to God (however the Divine is named), to others, and to all that God created. Our scientific, objective, cause and effect classical science has so impacted our faith traditions that it will be difficult to break out of those constraints. We like things that are solid, black and white, easy to follow and understand. Do this and you'll get that. Faith and relationship simply do not work that way - and yet that paradigm has been around for so long it's deeply ingrained. How do I lead a congregation to the new? How do I counter what has been taught and accepted for so many years? People who are hungry for the new are seeking it outside of the church, they are going elsewhere to find their spirituality. How do I create change? For the sake of the world, and the created order, and for the sake of relationship, we must indeed change.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Remember that you are dust....reprise

Last night the news reported that the young man found frozen in the snow in Chaska had died. This story tugs at my heart in many ways. It reminds me of Ash Wednesday and the reality that death can come to any of us at any time, in ways we don't often imagine. "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return." But more than that it tugs at my mother's heart. This young man was only nineteen years old and no one knows for sure why he died. A snow plow driver found him early in the morning and he was unconscious and partially frozen. The news story said the injuries they found were consistent with a fall. I hear lots of sad news, but for some reason this young man's story tugs at my heart. I don't really know why. It's odd that I heard the story after taking my walk in the storm. Thinking about it, I could easily have fallen, I've fallen before walking on snow and ice. And when I have fallen I haven't been hurt in the past. What an odd thing - a fall possibly having knocked him unconscious from an injury to his head. What time of night/early morning was he out walking? Why was he out walking? Did he argue with a friend or girlfriend, or a family member and leave his house angry? Had he been partying close to home and decided to walk home? Why would a young man be away from home wearing a watch and ring (which they showed hoping to identify him) and no wallet or identification? So many questions that will never be answered. Yet this young man lingers in my heart and mind. Maybe it's because I have children. I raised three girls, so I never experienced nurturing a boy. But I have a grandson now, who is three, and I cannot imagine the heartbreak of losing him at any time of his life. He is so different than my daughters, and his two sisters, and he has been teaching me many things about what it means to be male and I am so grateful to have him in my life. I cannot imagine the pain this young man's family feels because this tragic death seems to have no meaning, no resolve, no answers. No one saw him and no one knows what really happened. I've held him in my heart and prayers, as well as his family. But I am struck again by the vulnerability of life and how little control over death that any of us have. Maybe that's what troubles me most, my helplessness in the face of the reality of death. This young man's death tells me there is nothing I could do to stop death should it choose to visit my life and any member of my family. That's a truth that I have a difficult time embracing, while at the same time I know it's validity. My lenten journey has surely been deepened by this young man, and I pray that he is engulfed by the love and grace of the One who created him. And I pray that his family might find peace.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


I just finished reading another good novel by Gail Godwin today entitled "Queen of the Underworld." I liked the title which is why I bought the book, but I've read others by Godwin and I like her writing; her characters, attention to detail and ability to spin a story. Actually, this is the fourth book I've read by her and I liked the other three better. Whenever I read a book I feel like I enter the story so completely that at times I feel trapped in two different realities; the one I live and the reality of the life of the story - often the life of the main character of the book. In this case, the main character is a writer with a vivid imagination! As I read this book, and many others in the past, I am always struck by the question "what does it take to write like this?" Certainly it is part imagination, intuition, free floating associations, but there is also some work to it which includes history, research, geography to name a few. My issue doesn't seem to be lack of ideas alive in my imagination, I have plenty of them. My problem is that even though I can "think" a story, I have a hard time writing the story. I imagine I've created hundreds of book titles over the years, and ideas of what the story would be about, but I haven't put them on paper and so they are like asteroids traveling in outer space; they fly by and burn themselves out as they travel along. I truly wonder what is the secret of being a writer? In the novel I just read the main character talks about freezing up and her thoughts not flowing. That's what happens to me when I sit down to write - no matter how fluent I am in my mind and how detailed and interesting the story - I simply lose the ability to allow the story to flow from my mind onto paper. I suspect part of my problem is how I have learned to write for education and preaching - I am constantly editing in my head so I have dulled my ability to just allow things to flow when I sit down and attempt to write out my thoughts. My "internal editor" is so active it contributes to my freezing up. So, this simple task of blogging is an attempt to sit down every day and write something - no matter how trivial or uninteresting. It reminds me of writing "morning pages" with a difference - I know I am allowing others to read what I'm writing, and I'm consciously writing on some topic rather than free flowing. I'm trying to develop the ability to allow my mind to flow with a story. And I'm trying to listen less to the internal critic. So far I'm meeting with limited success, but I hope as time goes on that I will just sit down and write what comes forth rather than having to "think" about something to write and then "try" to make it sound interesting.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Walking in a storm....

Today I spent most of the day reading a good novel. But by this afternoon I felt lethargic and decided to take a walk. I don't know what it is about being in the elements, but I always feel much better after taking a walk. It had been snowing for awhile and we already had about three inches. However, out in the open the snow blows around, so in some places there was one inch and in others there were six! It made walking a little more difficult. We live on the edge of town, and my normal 2.4 mile route is away from the town and toward the country. It was great, not too cold and the wind wasn't too bad until I turned around and headed back. Guess I should pay more attention to the direction of the wind! As I was walking into the wind I wondered what had possessed me to go walking out in a storm. It certainly wasn't bad enough that I'd get lost. Visibility was good. But as the wet snow hit me in the face it stung a bit, so I ducked my head and watched my feet, looking up only once in a while to see if there were any oncoming vehicles. And then I started thinking again about the nostalgia I felt in anticipation of the storm. Maybe that's where it began, the desire to be outside in the snow. I haven't walked in the snow for years. If you know me then you know that my idea of a good time in winter is sitting in front of the fireplace reading a good novel. But there was something about the memories that were stirred, as I wrote about the approaching storm yesterday, that created a desire to relive something, or renew my acquaintance with winter. When I was a kid we'd play outside for hours after a big storm, my brothers and sisters and I. We'd climb onto the garage using the walnut tree next to it as a ladder. Then we'd jump from the roof of the garage into the 12-15 foot snow drifts. Over and over again we'd climb and jump until we tired of the game or got too cold and went inside to warm up. There was always something exciting and refreshing about the new snow. I felt that freshness as I walked today. Everything coated freshly in white and all the drab, dark, dirty snow covered. The whiteness so brilliant it lightens everything. Then there are the bodily feelings I was aware of. The feel of the snow under my boots, with sometimes the awareness of the slippery ice coat from the rain in the beginning. The cold against my cheeks, and the wet snow on my face. Most of the time it was fine, but when I walked into the wind it stung. I was aware of the warmth from the exercise of walking, and my upper body felt warm the entire time. However, I felt the sting of cold on my legs under my jeans, especially when the wind was blowing strong toward me. I kept thinking about running a warm bath, putting on some soothing music, and lying in the tub to warm myself up. In fact I didn't do that, but shoveled the front walk when I reached home then made myself a cup of hot tea. It's still snowing and will snow throughout the day tomorrow. I'll probably stay inside.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Waiting for a storm....

Funny, isn't it, how much anticipation one feels when waiting for a storm? For the last several days the predictions have been coming in. Of course they keep changing. And, according to the last time I heard any of the weather reports the oncoming storm seems to lessen in severity. It hasn't started snowing yet, but the wind has picked up. It reminds me of the good old-fashioned blizzards we had down in the snow belt of southwestern Minnesota when I was a kid growing up. It wasn't uncommon to have a snowfall of over a foot several times during January. And I remember the howling of the wind. The house we lived in was over a hundred years old and certainly not the most well-built, it was cold and drafty and the wind seemed to rattle not only the windows but the entire house on it's foundation. There were times after a storm that our neighbor had to come shovel out to the front door so we could get out of the house. The house was obviously built before two exits were required. We could have been stuck inside all winter if not for the kindness of our neighbor! In bed at night trying not to move to retain the heat my body had generated in the small space I occupied, I would listen to the howling of the wind. It wasn't frightening to me, but more mysterious and exciting. Who knows what could happen in a wind like that? And I was safe inside the house, away from the sting of the snow blowing around. I was also aware there would likely be no school the next day, which was always a reprieve not to have to get up and go out into the freezing temperatures. I'd spend the day sitting as close to the furnace as possible, and if the storm hadn't subsided, listening to the howling of the wind as the storm railed on. Somehow when you're inside and warm you lose touch with the reality that a storm like that can easily take lives. Listening to the sound of the wind, which I always found pleasant, never brought fear to my mind. But, I don't suspect the storm that is coming will be that kind of storm. The last time I remember a good storm was the Halloween blizzard that hit Minneapolis and dumped over 30 inches. At any rate, we're hunkering down and waiting for the storm. No need to go out all weekend, we have everything we need. Who knows how much snow we'll get and how bad the wind will be. One thing is for sure, I am thankful for the warmth of a home and the ability to stay put when there is a storm threatening. But it does make me think about all those who are homeless in the Midwest and where they might go to be safe from a storm?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Remember that you are dust.....

"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." Having worked with the dying over the last several years, I am deeply moved in the moments when the minister makes the sign of the cross on my forehead with ashes and speaks the words. No matter how much I try and convince myself that life will be full and I will live long, these words speak truth. Life is temporal and we all will die. To live in the light of that reality is to embrace the spiritual quest of living. The "dying to self" that we undertake during the Lenten season isn't a bodily death, it is a time spiritually to die to the things that just aren't important. I reflect during this season on what I have focused on as important in my own life. How easy it is for the unimportant to invade our lives. It begins simply, then grows daily. My journey this Lent will be on focusing again on what is important. At the heart of what's important is faith and compassion. Faith without compassion, it seems to me is empty. And so I seek to grow in compassion, in love, in acceptance and to lose my tendency toward judgment and arrogance.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Stalking Spring

Today the temperature was 45 degrees when I decided to take a two mile walk. It was wonderful - air was fresh, breeze was cool, and the sun kept trying to lose the clouds. This is the kind of day that makes me feel as if I am stalking spring. You know, just making myself obvious to her, wooing her, trying to persuade her to stay around and warm my life. I know of course that it's futile. It is, after all, Minnesota on the 21st of February and it is not realistic to think it will remain warm. There is snow in the forecast for the weekend, and the temps are going down. But, oh, how much I long for spring to be here to stay. To usher my sluggish body into awareness and out of the deeply ingrained desire to hibernate! I loved the feeling of exercising my body outside in the fresh air, absorbing the sights and sounds of the neighborhood as I internally process thoughts on varied subjects, letting my mind roam where it will while my body roams the streets. I'll go forward with hope, knowing that sooner or later spring will be forced to stay with me, at least for awhile. Until then I'll take whatever opportunity to stalk her that I can - hoping to somehow convince her to stay.