• A Church that Reflects and Supports Lived Spirituality

    blogpic spiritualhealthWhile in seminary in the late 80’s, I remember learning about the predicted decline of Christian churches in the US as we moved into the 21st century. Some also imagined that instead of sending missionaries elsewhere in the world, countries in Africa and Asia would send their missionaries here.

    Both if these predictions have come true. The decrease of participation in religious institutions is obvious to all of us who work in the church, and is well-documented by Pew Research and others. Rebecca Y. Kim, Professor of Sociology at Pepperdine University published a book in 2015 called, The Spirit Moves West: Korean Missionaries in America which documents the phenomena of missionaries who come here to revitalize and evangelize Americans.

    Although it's a great start, the church needs more than to evangelize people into believers and follwers of Jesus. In his book, Religion and Spirituality: Explorations for Seekers, Robert Haight writes, “…religion has as its purpose to reflect and support spirituality. When religion fails in this function it loses its reason for being.” It seems that American Christianity is missing in action when it comes to engaging in activities, services and practices that connect spiritually with people today, especially Millenials. The question that rattles around in my head is, “what would our religious institutions look like, feel like and do if we were effectively 'reflecting and supporting spirituality' as people live it out today?” This goes deeper than worship and music style, opportunities for hands-on mission, and how to engage youth.

    What would church look like right now if it were reflecting and supporting your spirituality? I would love for you to post a comment on the blog and let me know! This is a question I’m going to start asking more often. I started this conversation with my 18-year old daughter and she said that it would address holistic well-being—like healthy eating, physical exercise—an experience that integrated mind, body, and soul together. What would you add to this that would support your spirituality? What would it look like?

  • Being Drawn Instead of Driven

    blogpic lotusflowerinsandBeing drawn instead of driven. I’ve heard this phrase twice in the last month from two different people. When I hear the same thing from different sources, I feel like God is trying to get my attention.

    I was raised with the idea that being driven was a great quality. It meant I was willing to work hard, to go the extra mile, to do my best, to out-per

    orm expectations. Isn’t being driven necessary to meet your goals and accomplish great things in life? It’s part of the fabric of the American Dream – that through hard work, drive and dedication, you can fulfill your heart’s desire. Many times in my life, this has been true. Doing well enough in college in order to attend graduate school, being a dedicated pastor in challenging urban settings, and being an involved, active Mom have all required a certain amount of drive and ambition.

    I wonder now, however, if part of getting older is to move from being driven to being to drawn. My body can’t do what I was able to do in my twenties and thirties and it’s been persistently letting me know that it wants a change of pace. Although I’m quite sure part of my ailment is genetic (on both sides of my family tree), chronic migraines certainly change the pace of my life. In one of Louise Hay’s books, Heal Your Body: The Mental Causes for Physical Illness and the Metaphysical Way to Overcome Them, I read that migraines manifest “a resistance to being driven.” Hhmm. Now I’ve I heard this same message about being driven from 3 sources.

    There is something that feels unnatural about slowing my pace and accomplishing less. At the same time, I also feel pulled toward less scheduled, more contemplative time. While our three children were all at home, involved in several activities and Dan and I were both working full-time, the only thing I felt drawn to was a good night’s sleep! Maybe one of the best gifts of all of us getting older is the opportunity to pay more attention to what draws me in and feeds my soul, rather than to what success and goals I am driven to meet. Such a shift involves listening inward instead of responding outward; reflecting instead of declaring, being instead of doing, accepting instead of earning. It’s a process of spiritual unfolding rather than ego-building. Instead of my mind telling my body what it must do, my body is leading my mind into a new way of being--a way of being that I pray leads to spiritual transformation as well as physical healing.

  • Chipping Away

    blogpic unbecoming quotationWhen asked how he carved David, Michelangelo said, "I just chipped away whatever was not David." Perhaps this is an apt metaphor for becoming our true selves. We don't need to keep adding more and more layers, but rather to let go of whatever pulls us away from or crowds out our inner self.

    This can be a difficult task because first our parents have an idea of who they want us to be and they chip away at whatever is not consistent with their desires. In turn, this is true of friends, mentors, our spouse, society, the media and so on. We are shaped by a plethora of carvers, chipping away to find their desired image of us. We feel pressured to do and be more and more, when in reality we may need less and less.

    Becoming is not about adding layers, but of shedding—of releasing fears, failures, hang-ups, false expectations. It takes courage and the embrace of God's love to let go of others' images and expectations of us. But when we ask ourselves, "In God's eyes, who am I created to be?" we can gain new perspective and the freedom to listen to our inner voice rather than react to external pressure. We can release outward behaviors that do not match our inner identity. We can see any circumstance, whether positive or negative, as an opportunity to become closer to God and allow him to be the master carver.

    This perspective has given me a new way to understand my current health challenges – they are an opportunity for shedding. I can use this time to allow God to chip away at whatever is not in line with who God wants me to be.


    Front Cover PictureI have a book coming out on September 1st! You can receive FREE shipping on all pre-orders through HenschelHAUS publishing until September 1! The cost is $14.95 plus WI sales tax.

    Please order if you can and share with friends! HenschelHAUS Publishing took a risk on me as an unknown writer and I pray they are blessed for their generosity of spirit in publishing my book. A description and a review are below! Thank you for supporting a dream come true!

    Description: Do you ever feel like you've lost yourself or your sanity in the daily demands of parenting? Here is a refreshing view of motherhood as a sacred calling, children as sources of spiritual wisdom and the everyday life of parenting as a ministry, full of spiritual experiences and opportunities for deeper meaning. Motherhood Calling gives a reassurance of a holy presence in the mundane, joyful, and sometimes painful events of life with children.

    Review: With its self-deprecating humor and total honesty, Motherhood Calling is quite possibly my gift of the year for friends. I howled at these stories! I was really sad when it was over. I want to move St. Louis and be Linda's friend, that's how much I loved this book. I felt completely connected, understood, and hopeful. ~Jody Amato, copyeditor.

    Book Cover Design by Peggy Nehman of n-kcreative.com

  • Congregational Transformation

    blocpic congregationaltransformationwordcloudI am working on Certificate of Spiritual Direction at Aquinas Institute of Theology and am writing a research paper on Spirituality and Congregational Transformation. In part, I am wondering what spiritual practices enable traditional church folk to become open to change in their congregation, and engage in relevant mission with Millenials, the “spiritual but not religious”, and others who are disenchanted with institutions in general and organized religion specifically. I interviewed two pastors who have led successful transformations in a congregation, and also worked as consultants to help others do the same.

    Both consultants said that the lay leaders, as well as the pastor need to be engaged in their own spiritual practices on a daily basis. There are a whole variety of spiritual practices across denominations and cultures, but the most important ones include some form of the following:

    • prayer
    • living in the Word or Bible study
    • living in community—like a small group—where honesty and vulnerability are expressed, and genuine love and active care for one another is experienced.

    When the pastor is willing to be appropriately vulnerable in sermons and teaching about his or her own challenges, the lay leaders are more willing to do so in their small groups, committees and teams. This kind of heart-to-heart culture in a congregation is what fosters authentic community, which is the basis for a mission focused on sharing God’s love with others.

    These spiritual practices and the genuine community that grows from them, help people realize that the church is not an institution, a building, a certain way of doing things, a power structure, a place where we consume services, or a place where we get what we want, but rather, the church’s purpose is to share the life-changing love of Jesus Christ in and with their community and the world.

    When congregations are asked what they want in pastor, they usually list off skills: preaching, leading worship, pastoral visitation, teaching, administration, and so on, but they never mention spiritual practices or depth. After hearing this list of non-spiritual functions, one consultant then tells church boards that they are missing the most important question to ask a pastor or pastoral candidate: “What are you doing to deepen your relationship with Jesus, so you can help us do the same?” The board members’ response usually is, “isn’t that assumed?” And the answer is, “no!” Pastors spend a lot of time doing the tasks to keep the institution functioning rather than focusing on their own spiritual life and equipping the laity in deepening their relationship with Jesus.

    It turns out that the only path of congregational transformation is the same as it is for personal transformation in the faith: spending time with Jesus in prayer, in Bible study, and in community so that we are continually drawn out of our self-focus into the love of God, and the mission of the Gospel to transform the world.

  • Images of God & Self: From Doing to Being

    "Our image of God and our image of self are two sides of Taking Mary Moments in a Martha Worldthe same coin" said Dr. Hsin-hsin Huang, the leader and trainer for  Spiritual Companions to retreatants who go through a 9-month experience of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. As we each shared our prayer and spiritual experiences, Dr. Huang continued to pepper our discussion with more spiritual insights on the path to spiritual maturity.

    Our image of God relates directly to how we view ourselves. Our first image of God often arises out of our relationship with our parents. Our early images of God can be rooted in several dynamics: fear of punishment, expectations of perfection or hyper-responsibility, an experience of abuse, absence or unreliability, and maybe even one of love and forgiveness. Just as our relationship with our parents changes over time to a more equal relationship between adults, so also can our relationship with God. We move from fear of God to love of God as we mature.

    If we fear God as a judgmental moralist who demands right behavior, then we see ourselves as an unlovable, bad person who has to do better. We consequently live with a lot of guilt and shame that leads not only to low self-esteem, but also to judgmental attitudes toward others. There are a lot of burned-out Christians today who can never behave exactly the right way for their demanding God, and others in society are also judged for missing the mark.

    The less we fear God, however, the more grateful we are to God for all God does for us in creation, in daily sustenance, in relationships, in talents and abilities, in forgiveness through Jesus. The less we fear God, the more we can love ourselves because God loves us. The more forgiving we believe God is, the more we are able to forgive ourselves and our own brokenness and imperfection. Such self-love, grounded in God's love, enables us to also love and forgive others, letting go of perfectionistic expectations.

    This is the hope of pursuing a spiritual path – that we mature from an belief about God to the felt experience of God loving us. There is a difference between intellectually understanding God and affectively experiencing God's intimate, powerful love for us. We see this most clearly in the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. Jesus invites Martha to move from doing to being – from doing for God to being loved by God in the presence and person of Jesus.

    I have always been a "Martha" – with a hyper sense of reasonability to and for the well-being of others. When I began the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola in the fall of 2013, the first prayer exercise was to "behold God beholding me and smiling." For the first 56 days, I did this exercise, but it was an intellectual exercise – I held a picture in my minds' eye. But on day 57, I felt a physical shift in my body from my mind to my gut – I felt loved. I was a little startled and said out loud to God, "you really do love me, don't you?!" And I smiled. (I had been ordained as a pastor for 24 years and had been serving a God with very high expectations of me).

    Dr. Huang offered another exercise to help us identify childhood images of God that affect our relationship with God today: write about each of one's parents, describing them in about a page. Take a break and come back 30 minutes later to notice what, if anything you have written about your parents describes your image of God. What brings you deeper in your relationship with God and of what can you let go that hinders you from experiencing how much God loves you? Then practice "beholding God beholding you and smiling - a Mary practice in a Martha world.

    Visit The Bridges Program to learn more about how you can experience the Spiritual Exercises!

    Photo used with Permission - https://vimeo.com/41702334 2012 Awaken Church Pastor Nate Witiuk, Clarksville, TN