Friday, December 24, 2010

A Year in the Wilderness
The picture I left you with in my last post shows the setting for my current wilderness experience.  If you recognize the picture, you may think that I’ve lost my marbles.  The picture is of Kaneohe Bay, a large coastal bay on the windward side of Oahu.  Life on a tropical island…wilderness experience…I don’t get it.  Trust me I understand the disconnect.
The move to a new church on Oahu came as a complete surprise to me.   If God had followed my timing, we would have stayed in Murrieta for at least one more year.  We would have gotten our son through High School, gotten him off to college, consolidated into an empty nest life and then get an appointment in the Hawaii District.  I had hoped, one day, to come and serve here.  Over the years that we’ve travelled and vacationed here I found a great affinity for the islands, the culture and the unique ways that I experienced God while I was here.  I felt a calling to be here.  Now here I am…yet it is not exactly how I would have planned. 
I’m here by myself.  Because we didn’t want to move our son for his Senior year, Sally stayed in Murrieta with him to enable him to finish school.  While several trips have been planned back and forth throughout the year, we have unlimited texting and mobile to mobile and certainly take advantage of the miracle that is Skype, its not the same as waking up each day in the same house.  The blessing in this arrangement is that we must be more intentional about our time together and the ways we communicate.  It has shined a light on the ways that we have taken each other for granted in our family relationship. This awareness has enabled us to claim a deeper love for and commitment to each other.
Spiritually and professionally I came here fatigued.  With all that had happened personally, spiritually and professionally in the last five years I was pretty worn out.  Even though I did have a sense of it, I was so caught up in the maelstrom that had become my life and ministry that I felt powerless to slow down.  I needed to change my sense of self, my approach to ministry and get a better understanding of what God is calling me to do.  I had travelled so far down the road I was on, I simply didn’t see how to make the changes I knew were necessary.  As is always the case, God knew.  I was given a choice. 
The choice involved risk.  The choice involved sacrifice.  While this opportunity was consistent with my heart’s desire, the timing sucked.  Just like the timing of going to Murrieta was not our timing, we struggled with the cost of saying “yes” to this call.  Would we trust God’s hand in this or not?  The short answer is:  we trusted.  I’m here…my family is on the mainland…God is still at work in all of it.  As has been witnessed to through the history of people of faith, God has abundantly poured out grace in our lives.  It hasn’t always been easy these last 6 months.  Because we have been willing to trust, to listen and to faithfully walk, the trend of our lives has been toward healing, redemption and transformation.
I will continue the story in future posts, but for now, I can say unequivocally that God’s hand goes all the way to the bottom of this move.  As difficult as it was to change ministry setting after 10 years and to leave the friends that had come to mean so much, I know why the time had come.  I know why I’m here.  I know what God is calling me to do here.  More importantly, I know more fully now than at anytime previously in my life who God is calling me to be.  The personal brokenness that got in the way of fulfilling that call is being healed.  A new day has dawned.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Spiritual Reset
Needless to say, my pilgrimage with God was not on hiatus the last two years, even though my blog posts were.  Two years ago my personal life took an unexpected turn as the relationship with my father completely disintegrated.  I reached a crisis point with him as the truth about who he is became completely revealed.  I made the difficult but necessary decision that I could not tolerate his toxicity in my life and my family’s life.  I am reconciled to the fact that I may never see or speak with him again.  There is still grief and sadness in this decision even though I am at peace with it.  Through this grieving I realized that the only father I could count on was God.  As I reflected on the scope of my life, I could see God at work in a whole host of ways to sustain my life and faith.  There were many people in my life that served as a means of grace that prevented me from becoming the man who raised me.
Of all the parts of this saga, I had the most difficulty dealing with the truth of how much like my father I had become.  I was raised by a man with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  What this means is that my value to him was based solely on what I could do for him.  I grew up in an environment where my self worth was always conditional.  It was always his world and the rest of us simply lived in it.  In fact, a book that was referred to me by a friend speaks volumes about my upbringing...Why Is It Always About You?  This is a book written to help the families of narcissists make sense of how to live with somebody who has NPD.  By the grace of God I didn’t follow that path.  However, the effects of being raised in that environment couldn’t be avoided altogether.  The Narcissistic Shadow was cast across my life mostly in my relationship to my family.  I was far more like my father than I would have ever admitted when it came to my marriage and my parenting.  The Shadow was also cast across my ministry in times of conflict.  I would look to insulate myself in anyway I could rather than to face the prospect of making a decision that proved unpopular or would have put my standing within the community at risk.
It’s been a long two years.  There have been a good many peaks and valleys along this path.  I have had moments of clarity when I was able to choose differently, make amends and move forward.  I have also had moments when I felt as though I was beating my head against the wall.  I have known God’s grace in extraordinary and life giving ways.  By the healing that God has poured out in my life and relationships I have been able to reclaim my life.  I am continuing to peal away the layers of crap that have accumulated over the years.  I have a new image of what my life and ministry will look like in the years to come. 
One of the most enduring gifts that God has given me through this transition is the grace to know that my ministry has mattered, in spite of what I had come to discover about myself.  As grief stricken and angry as I was with myself because of the choices I had made, I could have easily looked at the last twenty-five years as a waste, forever tainted by the stain of narcissism.  I have reflected carefully over the ways that narcissism impacted my ministry in negative ways so that I might learn.  I have also been able to celebrate the ways that God’s grace was at work in me and through me to make a change in people’s lives as I have led them to deeper experiences and expressions of faith.  This balance has kept me on track through these last two years.
The whole story is of course more complex than a single post can afford, so I’ll need to unpack it more as time goes on, mostly because I’m still trying to get a handle on some of it.  In the meantime there have been other changes along the way; the most significant one will be in my next post.  Here’s a hint:

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Articulating My Witness
Over the course of the last six months I’ve devoted most of my time to understanding and shaping a coherent understanding of discipleship. I’ve tried to balance the interior work of the Spirit, sanctification, with the exterior work of mercy, justice and compassion. This effort has been essentially constructive, bringing together so much of my life and ministry over the last decade. While it has been a painstaking effort, it has also been quite fruitful.
One element that is essential to the life of discipleship is the active witness one disciple can make to the transforming work of the Spirit in and through a relationship with Christ. I’ve spoken of this in terms of making an authentic witness. The definition is that a person bears witness to their own story of how they experience Christ. An individual story doesn’t supplant the Gospel story; instead, it is an extension of the story. A spiritually maturing witness to what Christ is doing to bring healing, new life and hope in a person’s life can be much more effective and powerful than a witness that is given out of a written script. This witness doesn’t eschew the Scriptural witness; rather it effectively re-presents the Good News as it has been revealed in a specific person’s life.
It strikes me today that if I’m going to call my congregation to understand an articulate this sort of authentic witness in the world, I’d better be able to give them an example of how it’s done. So here goes a first draft of my witness:
I’ve spent the better portion of my life pursuing a well defined understanding of theology and scripture. It has been important for me to be able to talk about the God I’ve come to know through the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in ways that are practical, articulate and invitational. I’ve always known that God was more about opening doors to deeper understanding rather than creating obstacles. This pursuit has been more an academic pursuit and a practical pursuit than a personal pursuit. Not that I haven’t been completely divested from a personal involvement and experience of the pursuit. I’ve had throughout my life what I’d consider to be significant “spiritual experiences”. Most of these experiences were more random in nature. They were happy occurrences that came along with any variety of experiences.
What I’ve come to realize is that these experiences were anything but random occurrences. In fact they were bread crumbs along my journey. The bread crumbs led me to the Academy for Spiritual Formation that provided a framework for me to take my interior spiritual journey in a considerably more intentional way. As I have learned to be more intention in my relationship with Christ, no longer am I simply going from bread crumb to bread crumb. Through a more disciplined life of spiritual practices, I’m experiencing a deeper intimacy with God. As I’ve grown in my intimacy with God, I’ve been opened to incredible experiences of healing for hurts that I’ve struggled with most of my life. With the healing has come great trust in the promises of God that were given so completely in Christ: resurrection, eternal life and a life of discipleship. I find myself able to proclaim with a depth and confidence that is far beyond what I once could muster that Jesus is the Christ. I can say that a life lived in relationship with Christ is the pathway to life that is eternal not in quantity only but also in quality.
As Robert Frost wrote so many years ago, it may seem like the road less travelled but I can say that for me…taking that road has made all the difference.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Getting My Cage Rattled
I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised at this point, but I am in awe at how deftly the Holy Spirit is able to ferret out the deep seated obstacles and hurts that get in the way of God’s sanctifying grace. The last three years have been a roller coaster. I know that the Spirit has led me through the painful depths in coming to terms with the nature of my relationship with my father and over the heights of exhilaration as I’ve experienced God’s presence in ways that I wouldn’t have thought possible. Even through the ups and downs, I can say that all is trending up. Most recently in this e-ticket ride I have had to come to terms with the true nature of the narcissism that exists in my life.
I’ve shared before that part of the revelation that has come through the journey toward a perfecting spirituality is the fact that I was raised by a father with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Being raised by a narcissist, my life carried the imprint and the scars of his way of engaging in relationships. By the grace of God, the love of my mother and myriad people that have loved and supported me along the way, my world view doesn’t mirror his. My view of my self was very deeply imprinted by this upbringing. As a result, I have engaged in an ongoing struggle, over the balance of my life, with the narcissistic self-view that has remained firmly rooted. In my best moments, again by grace, I’ve been able to live faithfully and sacrificially according to my faith. In spite of this, I’ve had to deal with the times and circumstances where I acted more out of self preservation.
I’ve been given this incredible gift of faith, healing, resurrection and ministry by the grace of God. I give thanks for the ways that I’ve been able to share these gifts. I lament the ways that I’ve denied this discipleship, caring more for my own well being in ways that have been deeply narcissistic.
At the risk of appearing as if this is self-flagellation, I am drawing a distinction between appropriate self-care and narcissism. There are times in all of our lives where it is important and necessary for us to retreat. These are the times that we need to recharge. From the standpoint of spiritual formation, however, retreat is not about the escape “from”. Retreat is about a movement more deeply into the heart of God that one might know healing and restoration. The narcissistic retreat is the movement into self. It is a bunkering into the indulging of one’s own needs. While the details differ from person to person and situation to situation, the narcissistic retreat is essential a juvenile (if not infantile) collapse in on one’s self.
I can say now that God has been at work for a long time to dig out around this root. This bent toward narcissistic retreat has been a need for healing for a good many years. Even though this realization has been a source of some anger and pain in recent weeks, I can see how God’s grace is at work and how healing is flowing. The final piece of this is that I have also come to terms with the fact that this essentially lifelong pattern won’t just simply evaporate. This is something that I choose to live away from as I seek to engage more and more in a perfecting spirituality. As I choose to fold this part of my life and experience into my relationship with God, I will be able to live more completely into my call and discipleship. I will be a better steward of all that God has given me.
The journey continues…

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Examination of Conscience
I’m finding incredible insight as I begin to lead out the work that I’ve been working through, praying about and preparing for more than six months. Inspired by the book Deepening Your Effectiveness, I’m looking more deeply at a meaningful definition of discipleship and looking more intently at how I can order the life of this congregation to better move people toward deeper experiences and expressions of God’s grace. Using the concept of “core principles” as those experiences and practices that shape our life with Christ more completely, I’m in the midst of introducing these principles and practices through worship and a companion class. This week I’m on the third of the seven principles.
The third principle is “Fully formed disciples of Jesus are committed to living incarnationally according to the example of Christ.” As a way of teaching this concept and drawing people into a deeper understanding of our life with Christ I’m using the image of the Christ of the Maryknoll and Ignatius of Loyola’s Examen. Rooted in John 1, I’m exploring with the congregation the truth of the incarnation. Out of this reclamation and deeper understanding of the incarnation, I’m seeking a deeper understanding of why incarnation matters to modern disciples and how it can be an integral part of our life of faith.
I’m being drawn into a deeper understanding of the Examen. I’ve spent time practicing the Examen; it was one of the more compelling practices that I learned through the Two Year Academy. At the risk of being too hard on myself, my recollection of how I approached the Examen was more from the standpoint of a self-guided tour. I know that I did it prayerfully. I did try and explore the deeper and more difficult elements of my life and practice. At the end, it was still self-led. I’m coming to understand that the Examen needs to be different. It needs to be Christ led.
This is a challenging concept. It could be difficult to do a true self-led Examen, but it could smack of masochism. Alternately, it would be all too easy to gloss over important things that we would need to deal with. However, to give the reins of the journey over to Christ, to have a Christ-led Examen is all together different. It is truly an exercise in living without a net when we let Christ guide us through the reflection of our day, our action (inaction) and our faithfulness. Yet this is absolutely vital to growing into a deeper relationship with Christ. The truly Christ-led Examen is made possible through incarnation.
Incarnation is the expression of faith that bears witness to the depth to which God is present in Christ. When John speaks of the Word became flesh and dwelled among us, he bears witness to a depth and intimacy of God’s presence in Christ. When through faith Christ abides with us and we with Christ, we have before us the possibility of an indwelling experience with Christ that approximates incarnation. When we engage in a Christ-led Examen, Christ leads not from outside us, but from ever more deeply within.
As we engage in the Examen the door is opened to the experience of God’s transforming grace from the inside out. As I have sought to live more deeply into my faith and relationship with Christ, I’ve come to realize that there are stubborn, persistent and deep seated attitudes that are getting in the way of what I seek. What God is revealing to me is that the answers and the healing I seek lay in the practice of the Examen. So, tonight I reenter into the Examen. This time…I let Christ take the wheel.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Connecting the Dots

Over the course of the many months that I’ve shared my pilgrimage with God, I’ve shared about the troubled relationship with my father. I’ve talked about the pain of that broken relationship. I’ve talked about how the imprint of that relationship has impacted my life and ministry. I’ve been thinking about all of this in a slightly different context given what I’m doing currently to lead my congregation into a deeper and broader discipleship. The path that I’m currently following in leadership is one that encourages this community of faith into a deeper and more intentional relationship and experience of the risen Christ in their life. Through this relationship and a deeper desire to live as a disciple of Christ my hope and prayer is that this community of faith will explore and practice incredibly profound ways of expressing that grace in ministry in the world and community.

I’ve come to understand that one of the major obstacles that are part of the journey to a deeper relationship and discipleship is the legacy of pain, brokenness and hurt that is part of the human experience. I’ve come to understand in my own life that for a long time there were hurts that I sought to avoid and even hide (as if that was truly possible) from God. I think about this in terms of that closet that we all have (literally and figuratively). This is the closet that we pour the garbage and junk that we don’t want to deal with, but can’t bring ourselves to take to the curb of our life so that it goes out with the trash. The result of filling this closet is that we created a space that we very easily want to hold back. Out of pain, embarrassment, fear, or some other reaction we hold back this part of our life. Any part of our life that we want to hold back and keep from God becomes an obstacle to experiencing God as deeply as possible.

I found that I was following this course with regard to the pain around my relationship with my father. I was holding back. I was not seeking the healing and grace that God all too freely offered. Partly because I was unaware of just how deep it ran, partly because I was embarrassed because of how I felt. In some respects I thought that to admit failure in the relationship would be to admit failure…period. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. As a result of not being completely and radically open to God’s presence and grace to heal, I found myself challenged to serve and grow deeper with Christ’s call and claim on my life.

Over the course of these last two years, the healing has been slow; at times it was more in fits and starts. This is more about my unevenness in seeking God’s healing than about unevenness in God. As the healing has taken hold and the scars diminished, I have found a deeper passion and experience that seems to be oozing out of every pore of my life and ministry. I’ve come to understand more deeply Paul’s characterization in 2 Corinthians of having this incredible treasure of God’s grace in clay jars. God’s great power seen in Christ’s resurrection doesn’t remove our vulnerability. Our human lives are just as frail as always. However, by God’s grace that vulnerability and frailty is still capable of carrying the extraordinary power of resurrection and eternal life.

I know that this is not the last deeply seated hurt that I will have to deal with. I’m all too aware that this is not the last obstacle that I’ll have to surmount. However, this experience has been instructive and life-giving. It has opened the path of discipleship more widely than before, and into this wider path I feel even more deeply drawn.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Principles and Practices for Discipleship

Fully formed disciples of Jesus are committed to…

an active and growing relationship with the risen Christ.

Our relationship with Christ is the means by which we grow in our understanding of God’s freely-given, unmerited grace. The spiritual discipline of practicing the presence of Christ helps nurture this relationship through the developing a continual openness and awareness of Christ’s presence in our life

openness to God’s healing, transforming and life-giving grace.

God’s grace comes to us to bring the healing of our hurts and brokenness even before we know God. Practicing a radical openness to that grace brings the healing that enables us to live the new life promised in Christ. The spiritual practice of inner healing prayer opens us to the stream of God’s healing grace.

living incarnationally according to the example of Christ.

The Incarnation is the foundation of how God reveals God’s self in Jesus. Incarnation is the principle by which we embody God’s love to others. The spiritual discipline of examen opens us to the deeper awareness of how Christ is at work in our life. It helps us reflect on and grow beyond the practices that are obstacles to a fuller life with Christ.

the disciplined practice of spiritual formation.

By engaging in spiritual practices (prayer, study, worship, fasting, service, etc.) as a means of grace, the Holy Spirit heightens our sensitivity to experiencing God’s grace. The spiritual practice of contemplation wakes us up to the presence of Christ and the movement of the Holy Spirit that is continually at work in our life.

living a shared commitment to a life of discipleship within the Body of Christ.

The life of the Christian is not simply to be a disciple but to be committed to making disciples within the context of relationship and mutual journey. More than simply hanging out with a group of people, the spiritual discipline of community is the expression and reflection of our experience of Christ’s self giving presence invested in the common journey with other Christians.

share the story of God’s grace as we experience it in our relationship with Christ.

As we experience more deeply the power of God’s gift of new life in Christ, the Holy Spirit empowers us to share that grace through our life. The spiritual discipline that supports this sharing is witness. This means modeling and telling others of the difference that our relationship with Christ has made in our life.

living Christ’s incarnational love in the world.

Our commitment to Christ compels us to follow Christ’s example of incarnational and unconditional love lived with all persons, especially the poor, the broken and the marginalized. The spiritual practice of stewardship is the voluntary and generous offering of God’s gifts given to us for the benefit of others. Stewardship is the holistic sharing of our prayers, presence gifts and service for the sake of the Kingdom.