Tag Archives: discipline

Love under the umbrella: Helping leaders keep us dry

I like sharing an umbrella with someone. It gives me an excuse to get close to them in our special safe place, cared for and caring. Maybe I need to like it, since I often forget to carry an umbrella! (It is hard being a native of California).

I also don’t like walking in the rain next to someone who I don’t think wants to share their umbrella, them dry, me not. And I don’t much care for sharing a tiny umbrella that deposits run off down my collar. (You can tell I have experience with all this).

A leader’s “umbrella”

I am thinking of umbrella’s and rainstorms because the metaphor of existing under the umbrella of someone is a relatively common way to describe how people function in a group. They are often protected by someone else’s greater power; they are “under their umbrella,” so to speak. Some people think of this picture as being about authority, I think of it as being cared for and caring.

To think about being under a leader’s umbrella, let’s start with the Apostle John, the master teacher on community in the early church. His time period was so tumultuous and threatening, he might relate to Jon Snow.

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.  They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.   But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. (1 John 2:18-20) As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. (2 John 1:6)

John’s three letters provide a lot of guidance for sorting out the intricacies of relationships in the body of Christ, especially relationships with leaders. The leaders have a limited but crucial function in keeping the church together and moving ahead while it faces all the opposition it always faces. As a leader, John seems to be having a tough time with people who push the boundaries – they say they don’t sin, they leave the fellowship to start communities based on the perverse understandings they call the truth, they don’t walk in love, and more. It looks like things have not changed that much, have they? We are still having trouble dealing with people who brazenly sin. We are never sure what to do with beloved friends who decide to set up shop just outside the boundaries of our church. We are not always sure whether they or us are not walking in love – or even if we like thinking about they or us. We are always sorting things out.

under one umbrellaAn image that helps do some sorting is about being “under the umbrella” of someone. In John’s terms, being under his umbrella, would be under the “anointing from the Holy One,” and showing that an individual “belonged to us.” He is writing to “dear children” so he undoubtedly thinks of them as under the protection of his parent-like love. When you have someone sharing your spiritual umbrella they have a special, intimate place you provide for them. Some of John’s friends used to be under his umbrella as he is under Christ’s umbrella. He is in pain as he writes his letters, since they are now out in the rain. It is even more painful that they call the rain sunshine! The whole point of his umbrella was to keep people spiritually dry and they are all wet.

When under a leader’s umbrella seems too special

One time we had an intense discussion among some leaders about how certain people seemed to function “under the umbrella” of a leader (particularly people who seemed to be buddies with a pastor). We were sorting that idea out. Some people seem to get special treatment. When they sin (sometimes repeatedly), the patience shown them looks like it is too patient. It is like they get a “bye,” when other people get opposed. Some people even get elevated into leadership through less-than-typical ways because another leader facilitates that. It can make a person wonder how that happened when others go through a lot of scrutiny and function with a lot more accountability.

It was an important discussion. I had a couple of immediate reactions:

1) When the church is not having a vibrant mission — that means it is not including new people who need to be fed with truth and love, people turn to the niceties of their structure and start wondering about injustices. When the “umbrella” is not expanding, people begin to squabble about getting wet.

2) Pastors and other leaders in the church are allowed personal choices and preferences about who shares their limited umbrella space. Intimacy is not unlimited and is usually subjective. It is not necessarily something one can demand. A leader might have a special interest in someone, have a history with them, or have a deeper knowledge of them than they have of others. They should not show favoritism, but certain people might be under their “protection” in a deeper way than others — that’s OK until it’s not. It is a blessing that we all care for one another — and we have many leaders, not just one pastor. So having a special place with the pastor is not the main marker of one’s value.

Image result for under umbrella

Umbrellas take some discernment

As I thought about the conversation some more, I felt a lot of sympathy for people who feel “out in the rain” and for leaders with an umbrella strapped to them:

1) I feel for people who innocently enter the church with hope and trepidation and become subject to the whims of inconsistent leaders. Leaders can often be so blind and we can so often be oppressed by their blindness. They forget that what they do usually teaches more than what they say or write. When their friends get special, even undeserved treatment, the rest of the people they oversee don’t feel much like friends. If they don’t even know that they turn a blind eye to an influential friend’s weaknesses, the whole church can feel dangerous.

2) I also feel for leaders who get monitored for any hint of injustice by people who never do the difficult things they are doing. Before one can criticize someone for protecting someone in a perverse way, they should probably have someone under their umbrella themselves! John called people “dear children”  — the people he had nurtured in faith are like family to him, so of course he is concerned for their protection. Such care is a beautiful thing; we wouldn’t want to turn it in to a commodity that should be equally available to all from the “pastor store.” We should all be producing that love ourselves, not just demanding it.

It is no wonder that people have deserted the capital-C-Church in droves during the last decade. In general, the leadership is likely to be inept, unconscious or experimenting with things John would call antichrist. It is no wonder that people who manage to stay connected often resort to being nice but a bit remote, lest they have to deal with the intricacies of love in a missional community. John knows it takes the anointing of the Holy Spirit to persevere and truly walk in love.

I hope we stick with it. The deep-level discussion among the leaders encouraged me. It’s not like it is typical for regular people to worry about how to help the person needing discipline while attending to the desires of people who need someone to be disciplined! We are so not antichrist! Though our relationships can get so sick, they are also the places God is making us so well. I hope we keep praying, with John, that the Holy Spirit enables us to walk in love and keep sharing our umbrellas.

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Slow, reflective, imaginative: the spiritual discipline of Lent

These are a few basic thoughts distilled from our Ash Wednesday ritual. Lent begins on March 5 this year.

Slow down

We need silence to find the spiritual place where Jesus is with us in our suffering and we are with Jesus in his suffering. Lent is the season of silence and solitude — and suffering. Some people will even “give something up” to cause some small suffering to give space where they can experience something more than their usual anesthesia, avoidance or denial. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of our yearly, disciplined journey of repentance and renewal, the beginning of the concentrated season of self-denial and self-giving that feels like suffering but points us toward joy  Wednesday we enter the great forty-day fast with millions of other Jesus followers – those living and those who have gone before. God bless you as you take your steps along the way of Jesus this year!

The interior journey too
The interior journey too

Let’s go as slowly as possible. We need to be quiet, thoughtful, and restful. We must not be impatient. We must not worry if we don’t feel or understand things right away — there are no expectations of Lent except that we seek after Jesus, explore the meaning of his death, and die with him. Paul shares our goal: I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.  Lent in not the imposition of some demanding God, but in solitude God’s presence will be compelling. One of Job’s friends has it right when he says: God is wooing us from the jaws of distress into a spacious place free from restriction. Let’s see how much we can cooperate.

Continue reading Slow, reflective, imaginative: the spiritual discipline of Lent

Lent Did It’s Job

risen sunIt has been a wonderful Lent.

At times, I felt a little guilty, because my self-imposed suffering was bearing delectable fruit: some of it tasted new and some of it tasted of well-loved flavors I had been missing. Meanwhile, some people were blowing off the discipline…for what? At times I felt like I was having a feast while strangely invisible to starving people.

I hope you find it acceptable for me to tell you a little about my Lent. One thing I experienced during the season is this reality: any number of my comrades feel that saying anything about ourselves is proud or self-referencing or coercive, so they never give a testimony of God’s work and , as a result, no one gets to know Jesus. Waking up to that shocked me and reformed me, so I am giving my testimony. Lent helped me realize how they had somewhat squeezed me into their tiny, dishonorable mold. They made me afraid.

I’ll be brief, though. I’ll organize my thoughts around the PM Plan, where it quotes Jesus calling us, in Mark 12, to “surrender to loving God with our entire beings.”  Jesus speaks of a whole being as four parts: heart, soul, mind and strength. A whole being can never actually be separated into parts, of course. But these are good categories to help us mentalize: think and feel about what we  think and feel — a basic Christian skill for which Lent was priceless.

We say in the PM Plan that the “heart” is: Our ordinary awareness, primarily. The center of our ego, our sense of being a person. Feelings, desires, passions, reflection, moral conviction.

During the Patrick Day Retreat I encouraged us to note our three levels of awareness: ordinary, spiritual and Holy Spirit. It helped me take note.

That retreat was symbolic of my reorientation. I’ve been discouraged, on and off, for a while. The congregation and the whole network have been missionally stalled, in some ways, and I am a missionary. Lent rekindled my fire, got me excited, helped me let go and change. Our focus on the Jesus Prayer spurred my contemplation, so I was hearing the inner voice. And, as you can probably tell, I felt convictions that I, and we, have an important outer voice.

We say that the “mind” is: Our ordinary awareness, primarily. Where we are conscious. Our understanding, ethical awareness, inclinations, attitudes.

During the Justice Conference I was stricken by what caring people can do. And I was also stricken by what Circle of Hope, as caring people, has done. We are the lost poster child church of the Justice Conference. I felt the same way when we were speaking to the Atlantic Conference of the BIC about our Compassion Teams. We demonstrate remarkable, authentic passion. I love who God has made us!

But sometimes I have felt concerned because it seems like our radicality, our incarnational mentality, and our covenant intensity, just wear people out. I get afraid that people might lazily let it all go. But when I saw “pop” church popping up in our region I got competitive for reality. What’s more, my trauma study helped me see that learned helplessness is a constant threat when people are oppressed; you might have heard about that in this blog post. The church is floundering and pandering; the world is demanding and deceiving. I feel called to be an antidote, if I can.

We say what Jesus means by “strength” is: Not only bodily strength, but primarily. Our ability, capacity, potency. The power we are given to exercise.

I feel better when my Lenten fast has the corollary benefit of reducing my weight and making me aware of my body. When I am feeding myself in a healthy way and requiring my body to match my morals, I feel better and act with more freedom, I am more open.

I forced a personal retreat into my busy schedule at one point during Lent just because it needed to be done. I damned the consequences. The fact that I did that made me stronger. And the consequences weren’t that big a deal anyway. I also regularly force spiritual direction into my schedule and it makes me a stronger counselor and director myself. My doctoral studies are also way too much to do, but have also proven to be too strengthening not to do.

We say that the “soul” is: Our spiritual awareness. Where we most deeply connect with God. The life in us that transcends time. The place of accountability. The seat of sorrow, joy, suffering.

This is where Lent was most valuable, as you might expect. I am desperate for hours in “Holy Spirit awareness.” And although my heart, mind and strength propel me there, it is in my soul that I am most allured. During Lent, I felt remarkably, consciously relieved of lazy habits of self-protection and self-soothing. I think a lot of that was due to my study in trauma and revisiting my psychological character style. For instance, at one of the Holy Week observances I described my childhood home as “unsafe” — an admission I don’t usually allow. My friend’s response was so kind that a flood of emotions surged up. I was getting healed some more. During the Way of the Cross walk and during the vigil I realized the erosive benefits of Lent. I might long for something to knock me “off my horse” all the time, but the regular disciplines of exercising my spiritual awareness form me as they save me. The fact that I went on the walk helped me become aware of Jesus and walk with Him.

As I decided what to put into this testimony it was such a joy to realize that there is so much more to tell! It was a rich season in a rich life. God was with me and I was with God. I was in a body that is a real church and God was with us. I had put my hand to the plow and the way forward was challenging, but exciting — and I did not want to look back or elsewhere. One the main convictions I received was that I needed to talk about all that. So I have begun. Thanks for walking with me.

I’m sure you have a lot to tell, yourself. Right now at Circle of Hope Daily Prayer we are having the first of our quarterly times to talk back, reveal ourselves, and tell each other what God has been doing from January through March. That is hardly the only place you could give witness to God’s work in your life through Jesus, but it is a good one.

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Five Reasons Holy Week Might Be Hard For Us

Walking with Jesus will be hard this week. It is hard to walk Spirit to spirit every day, but this week is the “discipline week” that often brings up everything that makes it hard to walk with Jesus every day. You may not think Holy Week is going to be hard, but I, and most others I think, will be struggling a bit.

At a conference full of evangelicals last week the worship leader started out a plenary session with “At the Cross” (an example sung robustly here). It reminded me of my childhood experience of Christianity. I can’t really defend our skeptical reaction, but my sister and I always lampooned this song when we sang it (robustly!) in the front row of the Baptist Church. We were tickled because of this line, “At the cross…it was there by faith I received my sight and now I am happy all the day.” Even then, we knew that most of the people in the room were not happy all the day and that the song made promises it wasn’t keeping.

What I mean is that the story of “At the Cross” should have stuck with Jesus and not included somewhat narcissistic declarations of how happy Jesus has made his followers as evidence that his work has efficacy. The burden of sin has rolled away, but I am still rising from my tomb. Dying is still easy and living is still hard. Everyone who knows me, especially my intimates, can tell you that I am generally a happy-all-the-day kind of guy who still shoots himself in the foot all the time. I will be happy to limp through Holy Week, following after Jesus, who saved me and is saving me, with whom I am suffering as he is suffering with me. That’s harder and better than pretending “it’s all good.”

We offer a Holy Week observance that is harder and better and I think that is good. I need it.

Now, I am not writing this to make non-participants feel stupid or bad. The school district has made this week a vacation and some people will take advantage of that and miss the whole thing. Some people work at night, when we are holding our meetings, and there are not that many jobs to be had. Plenty of people have not figured out how to have spiritual disciplines that actually help them connect to God and aren’t merely more things to do; they don’t need more obligation. So don’t take this the wrong way.

Paolo Veronese, c. 1550 "Christ with the Doctors in the Temple." We mark this on the Monday of Holy Week.

I am just writing to you in the spirit of Jesus, who tells people to follow him even when they make a lot of good excuses why they can’t do it. He meets people who are honest enough to admit that it is hard to follow him, and Jesus is honest enough to tell them that he knows it is hard and they have to do it anyway. We need to die, too, in order to live. Paul says he wants to share the Lord’s death so he will share the Lord’s life. Our audacious determination to follow Jesus through his last week, in whatever way we can, hopefully using the community’s observances, is the kind of focus serious disciples keep. I think it is life-giving.

Five reasons that it will be hard. That’s OK:

1) You might be called in to work or have classes. There are very few people in power and probably no corporations or universities who will recognize your obligation to follow Jesus through his last week, especially if it costs them any of your time or devotion. They are against such divided loyalty to their money. They will make it hard. The younger you are the harder it will be because the unemployment rate for the young is something like 14-20% according to Sunday’s Inquirer. Holy Week calls for focus on the master, so it brings up the other masters on whom we are called to focus.

2) We will have to work on it. Having devotion that calls for scheduling outside our “ruts” for an entire week is work. That’s why we do it. Some people honestly love the whole thing and not only look forward to Lent but also Holy Week all year. Most people don’t. Most people think good things happen to them, or not; they don’t feel like one should work for them. Their marriages disappoint them as soon as they are “work,” so do their churches, jobs, whatever. Holy Week breeds agency – a sense that we have value, that we make a difference when we show up, that doing something can build something.

3) We will do it together. The way we observe Holy Week, a lot of the process is communal, not just individual. That makes it even more inconvenient and even more subject to being messy and inept. New leaders will lead the meetings and they may be great or awful. We’ll have to deal with that. Jesus, after all, is visibly making himself subject to humankind throughout the week. We need to do that too — we’re even going to follow him as he carries his cross through our neighborhoods and experience what it is like to be observed by the neighbors! Being spiritual as people among other people is one of our greatest challenges. Holy Week breeds humility and patience.

4) The whole idea requires surrender. First, it requires surrender to love. Like David Benner says: “It is possible to know God’s love personally, beyond simply knowing about it. The fact that I am deeply loved by God is increasingly the core of my identity, what I know about myself with most confidence. Such a conviction is, I am convinced, the foundation of any significant Christian spiritual growth.” Living in that love means surrender of time, surrender of attention to other things, other pursuits, maybe even surrender of wages or visits with important people, or pleasure.  Holy Week breeds waiting expectantly for the fullness of love.

5) It is all about Jesus. That makes it hard, in itself. Holy Week makes it plain that following Jesus is not an ideology one can hold in one’s brain, it is an embodied faith that happens in real time. Jesus did not die in the abstract; he died in time and space. We are called to die daily, too. During Holy Week we enact faith that is about our whole lives. Being deeply involved in doing something that is all about Jesus, that is devoted to relating to Jesus and being like Jesus, that even leads us to be public about following is hard and very good for us. Holy Week nurtures a character that can be a true self day by day.

Focusing on the master, showing up because what we do makes difference, developing humility and patience in community, learning to wait expectantly, nurturing a character that reflects our true selves – all those are good reasons to do something hard. I am trying to talk myself into it. Jesus already came to town last night. I don’t want to miss the whole thing for the nothing I somehow consider more important.

Under the Umbrella or Not

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.  They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.   But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. (1 John 2:18-20) As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.( 2 John 1:6)

John’s letters are great for sorting out the intricacies of relationships in the body of Christ. He seems to be having a tough time with people who push the boundaries – they say they don’t sin, they leave the fellowship to start communities based on the perverse understandings they call the truth, they don’t walk in love. Things have not changed that much, have they? We are still having trouble dealing with people who brazenly sin. We are never sure what to do with beloved friends who decide to set up shop just outside the boundaries of our church. We are not always sure whether they or us are not walking in love – or even if we like thinking about they or us. We are always sorting things out.

An image I have ben pondering is about being “under the umbrella” of someone. In John’s terms that would be under the “anointing from the Holy One,” of course, and showing that one “belonged to us.” He is writing to “dear children” so he undoubtedly thinks of them as under the protection of his authority and love. When you have someone sharing your umbrella they have a special, intimate place you provide for them.

 The other night we had an intense discussion (that is not code for “argument”) among some leaders about how certain people seemed to function “under the umbrella” of a leader (particularly people who seemed to be buds with a pastor). We were sorting that idea out. Some people seem to get special treatment — when they sin (sometimes repeatedly), the patience shown them looks like it is too patient. It is like they get a “bye,” when other people get opposed. Some people even get elevated into leadership through less-than-typical ways because another leader facilitates that and one has to wonder how that happened when others go through a lot of scrutiny and function with a lot more accountability.

It was an important discussion. I had a couple of immediate reactions:

1) When the church is not having a vibrant mission — including new people who need to be fed with truth and love, they turn to the niceties of their structure and start wondering about injustices. When the “umbrella” is not expanding, people begin to squabble about getting wet.

2) Pastors and other leaders in the church are allowed personal choices and preferences about who shares their limited umbrella space. Intimacy is not unlimited and is usually subjective. It is not necessarily something one can demand. A leader might have a special interest in someone, have a history with them, or have a deeper knowledge of them than they have of others. They should not show favoritism, but certain people might be under their “protection” in a deeper way than others. It is a blessing that we all care for one another, and we have many leaders, not just one pastor.

As I thought about the conversations some more, I felt more sympathy:

1) I really feel for people who feel subject to the whims of inconsistent leaders. Leaders can often be so blind and we can so often be oppressed by their blindness. They forget that what they do usually teaches more than what they say or write. When their friends get special, even undeserved treatment, the rest of the people they oversee don’t feel much like friends.

2) I also feel for leaders who get monitored for any hint of injustice by people who never do the difficult things they are doing. Before one can criticize someone for protecting someone in a perverse way, they should have someone under their umbrella. John called people “dear children”  — the people he has nurtured in faith are like family to him, so of course he is concerned for their protection. Such care is a beautiful thing; we wouldn’t want to turn it in to a commodity that should be equally available from the “pastor store.” We should all be producing that love ourselves, not just demanding it.

It is no wonder that people have deserted the capital-C-Church in droves in the last ten years. In general, the leadership is likely to be inept, unconscious or experimenting with things John would call antichrist. It is no wonder that people who manage to stay connected often resort to being nice but a bit remote, lest they have to deal with the intricacies of love in a missional community. John knows it take the anointing of the Holy Spirit to do that.

I hope we stick with it. The deep-level discussion among the leaders encouraged me. It’s not like it is typical for regular people to worry about how to help the person needing discipline while attending to the desires of people who need someone to be disciplined. Our quarterly Love Feast encouraged me even more. It was such a celebration of what John names belonging and remaining! It was so not antichrist. Though our relationships can get so sick, they are also the place we get so well. I hope we keep praying, with John, that the Holy Spirit enables us to walk in love.

Meeting Fatigue

meeting fatigue

One of my friends told me, last night (at the public meeting), that he wasn’t at a meeting we had mutually agreed to attend because he’d “had enough Circle of Hope meetings” that week. I thought his decision seemed pretty realistic. But it was also true that he had counted a birthday party, a personal conversation with someone with whom he was working out conflict and dinner with friends one night as “meetings” too, I think.

It can be pretty discouraging when your life turns into a series of meetings! When a toddler’s birthday party turns into a “church meeting” and puts you over your meeting ration for the week, I think a new conception might be in order.

The syndrome called “meeting fatigue”

Perhaps we need a new psychological term for this syndrome (maybe there is one): meeting fatigue. The symptoms might be:

  1. the inability to say no to a social event,
  2. the inability to talk to your loved ones about why it is you are not going to attend the first-birthday party or the game night,
  3. the inability to find one’s date book and strategize the use of one’s time.

I think I know quite a few people with meeting fatigue among Circle of Hope. If it weren’t for being part of the church, they would not feel obligated to spend so much time in marginally useful or satisfying meetings. The basic meeting structure of our church is pretty simple: 1) connect and worship on Sunday, 2) be part of a more intimate cell. That’s it. The rest is purely voluntary. But once people get connected, they can be included in many other social and missional enterprises. Incrementally, they can end up attending brunch every weekend, countless birthday parties, baby showers, weddings, move-ins, protests, team meetings, concerts,  and who knows what else? One’s function in the body can seem like it is happening in an endless series of meetings.

There is a way out: change your mind

Like many psychological issues, change can happen when one’s mind changes. I am not a picture of mental health, but I don’t feel obligated to attend my life as if it were a meeting. For instance, I am going to see the Phillies whup the Cardinals tonight with Jacob. It is not a meeting. I was actually at the public meeting in Camden last night, but I saw it more as an opportunity to connect and serve, not as a mere meeting I was obligated to attend, lest I get into trouble (I suppose there would have been some kind of trouble if I’d stayed home to watch my Netflix and didn’t offer the speech I’d prepared, but you get my meaning).

I often want to say to someone (and sometimes I do say to someone) who feels burned out on meetings, “Get over yourself. The world is not revolving around you. You are not being spread too thin or stretched in a million directions, like you are a finite piece of wonder everyone wants a piece of.” But that sounds kind of mean, doesn’t it? And I don’t always have the right to be so blunt. More often I say, “If you are that worn out, I give you personal permission to not come to any meeting I’ve organized. You’ll probably just be a drain on it anyway because you’ll feel rebellious about sharing our love the whole time we are giving it to you.” But that’s kind of angry sounding and I don’t always feel it will be heard in the right spirit. So I have most often said, “Let’s go over your schedule together and see what can be adjusted. It looks like you have too much to do.” That isn’t always so well-received, either, but it might be the most useful help I could offer.

I think we rarely have a time issue as much as we have a strategy issue. We don’t know why we are doing what we are doing. And if we do know why, we have not had the courage to organize ourselves and do what we’ve decided. It is a lot easier to be mad at someone else for making us do something we don’t feel good about than doing what we think we ought to do and letting the results be what they are. It is worth considering: What toddler needs you at their party if you are contributing your “obligation” to them? Spare them.

Suggestions for what to do about your apparent  fatigue

When I am done being angry and reactive to people who are in meetings with me with their love hidden under their resentment and their passion muted by their rebellion, I can have more sympathy for the psychological state they are in. They need a new conception. If one sees their life as 50-60 hours of work with night classes tagged on, getting kids to school, being at their mother’s birthday party and then “going to” church, it can begin to feel like an unmanageable mess, like meeting fatigue. When does one mow the lawn? Much more, when does one sit down to plan the schedule? My father used to call it a “rat race.”

I have one small suggestion for anyone with meeting fatigue. Forget all the other meetings until you get the most important one set. Have a daily meeting with God at the beginning of the day. Get up as early as it takes to do this, even you are tired for the rest of the day, until you get used to having this “meeting.” Learn how the Lord sees your day ahead. Take your planner with you and let Him start sorting it out with you. I think God can offer a conception for what is happening that will work for you. Plus, I think He’ll build up the strength you need to do what makes sense rather than being pushed around by nonsense. Most of all, I think he’ll deepen your love so, no matter what is going on, you’ll be bringing something from Him to it.

I need the desert

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice
(TS Eliot in Ash Wednesday)

jesus-in-desertI have been looking forward to Ash Wednesday. I live in a societal atmosphere, among many recovering evangelicals, among the high-flyers of Center City, where depression is constantly repressed and the sunny face of an optomistic false self is plastered over everything in order to sell it. I need a good excuse to be my completely needy self — no economic recovery, no fulfilling my promise through education, no making a name for myself professionally, no perfect children, friends, experiences or body, no religious self-justification, just Jesus and me in the desert. Just Jesus and me honestly facing temptation.

I have been looking forward to being driven by the Spirit into my yearly desert of discipline to help me enter a deeper atmosphere of interior silence where I might hear the word again. It will be hard to stay there — but I am going to do it on vacation, I am going to do it at the birthday parties, I am going to do it when people think Lent is silly or inexplicable, I am going to do it when no one cares if I do it or not, or when they care too much about whether I am succeeding at it, or when they are irritated or embarrassed to be with me. And since I am the pastor, I am going to do it whether anyone shows up to start it with me, or anyone reads the books I suggested, or anyone comes to the PMs.

Jesus needed the desert. I need the desert.