Blessing Janet (and Others in Your Life)

In their book The Critical Journey, Robert A. Guelich and our beloved Janet O. Hagberg write, “Those who have been through this stage (The Journey Inward Stage) themselves and may be specially trained in spiritual direction, spiritual formation, or pastoral counseling are unique people and are to be sought out.”

In 2004 that is exactly what I did. I sought out Janet Hagberg. I wanted to learn from her wisdom, her experiences and her heart. And she responded. I met with her and a friendship was born. Over the last 12 years, Janet has been a tremendous source of encouragement and inspiration. She models the relationship with God I want to have. She has served as a mentor and guide through a transformational way of living. And my guess is she has done the same for you in some way…through this blog, her website (http://www.janethagberg.com/), her books, her teaching, her ministry or through her everyday way of life.

This is my last blog entry for At River’s Edge, so I want to take the opportunity to invite any of you who has been blessed by Janet to return the favor and send her a blessing. The best way to do this is through her website: http://www.janethagberg.com/contact.html. Let her know what it is you appreciate about her or her ministry.

I’ll go first:

Janet,

I appreciate your willingness to help people grow and heal. I appreciate the way you not only listen to God, but surrender to His voice. I appreciate the way you live simply and modestly which opens you up to God even more. I appreciate your listening ears. And I appreciate your friendship and encouragement.

 

Speaking of blessings…

Is it more difficult for you to give a blessing or receive a blessing? Here is what I have noticed about myself when it comes to blessings:

  • It is more difficult for me to receive blessings than to give them. Receiving a blessing has been an area of growth for me. The more I see myself as being loved by God, the more I am able to receive blessings from God and others.
  • Sometimes it is difficult for me to give blessings verbally especially if I think the person is “fishing” for a compliment or acknowledgement in some way.
  • Giving a blessing verbally can feel vulnerable for me.
  • I am much better at giving blessings in written form through cards, emails and text messages than through verbally speaking them. For me it feels safer and the words I write are more thought out and meaningful.

My wife and I used to read to our kids each night from a book of blessings called Bless your Children Every Day by Dr. Mary Ruth Swope. It is full of simple blessings to read over your kids in areas such as courage, abundance, abilities, a free spirit, humility, and much, much more. Our kids ate it up! They craved the times we read from the book. And after a while, my wife and I started making up our own personal blessings for the kids. I highly recommend this practice for parents.

The most common “mistake” made when giving a blessing is when the blessing is limited to praise for accomplishments, achievements and a job well done. It is more important to praise someone (anyone, not just your kids) for WHO they are, not for what they DO. The easiest way to do this is to think of character traits you see in the other person. If you are like me, it helps to have a cheat sheet. Character First is a curriculum that teaches on 49 different character traits. So here is what I do: I cheat. I look at the list of 49 character traits and pick a couple or a few (sometimes I may only see one) from the list that I see in that person. Click here to see the list and definitions: http://www.characterfirst.com/assets/CFDefinitions.pdf

So now I encourage you to practice giving a blessing. Give a blessing to Janet. Give a blessing to your loved ones, Give a blessing to your friends.

In fact, I dare you to try an experiment!

The Experiment

  1. Select one person to bless this week.
  2. Look at the list of 49 traits and pick 3 traits that are exhibited in the person you selected.
  3. Choose a way to deliver the blessing: speaking it verbally; writing it in a card, a note, an email or a text.
  4. Start the blessing by saying, “I appreciate you because you are ___________________.”
  5. Notice what goes on inside your heart after giving the blessing.
  6. Notice how the relationship with that person changes over the next few days or weeks after giving the blessing.

I pray that this exercise is a powerful experience for you.

Barry Thomas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dear Subscribers,

As they say in baseball, “I’m hanging up my cleats” and ending my regular blogging activity. I’ve experienced more than five years of grace in which to write what is on my heart and what God gave me to say. Hopefully I’ve done so with a wee bit of compassion, vulnerability and humor.

Now my work in the realm of spiritual and emotional healing is taking up much of my time and energy.I will leave the past blog posts up and available for people to access, since I get a steady stream of searches for certain posts (the ones on forgiveness, family estrangement, and amends). And you just ever know, you may hear from me in unexpected ways when the spirit moves me:-)

I thank you for receiving my words and for occasionally responding to me either in person or in posts. Thanks for being so self reflective and vulnerable yourselves.Thank you for absorbing the love of God more deeply as a result. God really does adore us…and counts on us to be extensions of his love in the world.

Thanks to all my guest bloggers as well. I’ve enjoyed and learned from your posts. You’re written amazing and heartfelt essays, reflections and poetry. You have made this space shine with your words. Jessica Sanborn, Michael Bischoff, Tracy Mooty, Bobbie Spradley, Barry Thomas, Chelsea Forbrook.

Today the last post is from my friend, Barry Thomas. As you will see he pulled a little trick on me, knowing I was stepping down from blogging. Since I don’t edit guest blogger’s words I am self consciously allowing him to shower me with love–on Valentine’s Day.

So I leave you with deep gratitude and appreciation for this opportunity to reach out to the wider world with God’s love.

Warmly,

Janet Hagberg

 

On God’s Mind

In his book Surrender to Love, David Benner opens the first chapter with a simple exercise. He invites his readers to do this: “Imagine God thinking about you. What do you assume God feels when you come to mind?” What a great question! Simple, yet deep and thought provoking. A person’s response to this exercise is very telling. My experience has been that the word that comes to mind for most people is the word: disappointment. The first reaction of most people is that God is disappointed with them. I believe most people know intellectually that God loves them. Their head tells them God loves them, but their reaction says something different. Our behavior and emotions point to what the heart truly believes. Why is that? Why is there a difference in beliefs between our heads and our hearts?

In John chapter 8, Jesus has some very strong words to say about Satan. Jesus says Satan is a liar and calls him “the father of lies.” Jesus also says that lies are Satan’s native language. Satan uses lies to get a person’s heart to believe something different than what their head is telling them. And he is really, really good at it. Most of the time these lies come in the form of messages that play in our heads: “You’re not good enough”; “You don’t have what it takes”; “You’re not lovable”; “You are bad”; “You are ugly”; “You are stupid”; You fill in the blank: “You are___________”. When a person believes lies such as these, it is difficult for he or she to believe that God’s love and grace is for them (which is another lie Satan gets us to believe).

So what about you? What is your response when you imagine God thinking about you? If the answer is something other than love and delight, then there is some work to do. In order to grow spiritually, most of us Christians need to do some work around the lies we believe: lies we believe about ourselves, about others and about God.

 

Reflection:

Imagine God thinking about you. What do you assume God feels when you come to mind?

What are some of the negative messages that play in your head about you? About God?

What is something that is true about you (that counter acts the negative message)?

How would your life be different if you were to see yourself the way God sees you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Adapted Buddhist Lovingkindness Meditation for Christians

Years ago, I stumbled across a book by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn, and it changed me forever. To my astonishment, nothing in it contradicted my Christian faith and the author’s straightforward and thorough way of explaining spirituality struck me as something I needed, something wholly true, because my own experience could testify to it. . Most memorably, Thich Nhat Hahn was tackling Jesus’ command to “love thy enemy.” I had heard this command all my life, and had done the best I could to be loving towards all, but no matter how hard I tried, I was judgemental, patronizing, and even hateful towards those who held views different from me, those I considered enemies. How could Jesus give us such an impossible mandate without a user’s handbook on how to actually love those who make our lives difficult? And how could the Apostle Paul give us list upon list of spiritual attributes to live up to without telling us how to embody these states of being? For me, I found the answer when Thich Nhat Hahn wrote, “before loving your enemy, you must first understand him. Understanding comes before love.” A lightbulb went off.

I had in my mind hundreds of examples of what it looked like to love from the Christian scriptures: the Good Samaritan, the woman giving her last coin to the temple, Rahab protecting Joshua’s men in her home, Ruth and Naomi sticking together through thick and thin. These were all stories I loved dearly, but oftentimes, when I found myself acting lovingly and generously towards others, I didn’t have loving motivations, and ended up with resentments. How to love in word, deed and in my heart?

In Eastern languages where Buddhism originated, the word for “mind” is the same as “heart.” Much of Buddhist teaching is about thought processes and observing the mind, but in our English translation, we miss that it is also about the heart, about feelings. The Buddha taught that the fruits of spiritual practice would be lovingkindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity. Therefore, if we sit and meditate all day and these attributes are not the natural result, it is not the Buddhist Way that we are practicing. Learning all this, I felt myself inching closer to Jesus’ command to love my neighbor, and even my enemy.

Years later, I discovered the formal practice of “lovingkindness meditation,” also called “Metta.” In this meditation, one practices cultivating a feeling of lovingkindness towards oneself, those one already loves, neutral people in one’s life, and to those with whom one is experiencing conflict. Typically four phrases are chosen and repeated over and over. The traditional phrases are below, but you can adapt them to your liking:

May you be happy

May you be safe and protected

May you be healthy and strong

May you be peaceful and free from suffering

Set aside about 15-25 minutes to do this meditation. Begin by settling into a comfortable position and taking a few deep breaths, relaxing your muscles, and releasing any tension. (As Christians, we can take some time to invite the Holy Spirit into this experience with us.) Then begin to recite the Metta phrases first to someone who is easy to love, someone with whom we have no conflict. Often, it is easiest to start with a young child or a pet because they have a magical way of opening our hearts. Imagine your Loved One in front of you, and you are saying the wishes/prayers directly to them. I like to imagine the Light of the Spirit enveloping them in a warm embrace. Take a few moments to just sit and notice how it feels to love another. Appreciate this feeling, this moment. We naturally return to what we noticeably appreciate. Take this feeling with you throughout this meditation.

Next, recite the phrases for yourself. Remember that Jesus wants you to love your neighbor as you love yourself.  This means that loving yourself is not selfish, but essential in the process of loving others. Let the Light of the Spirit embrace you as you pray with the Spirit. Really take some time to have compassion for your present circumstances. If it is particularly difficult at this time in life, you may want to stay with yourself for several minutes, repeating these well-wishes for yourself again and again:

May you be happy

May you be safe and protected

May you be healthy and strong

May you be peaceful and free from suffering

When you feel ready to move on, let a benefactor come to mind, someone who has helped you in your journey and toward whom you feel gratitude. Repeat the phrases several times for this person, allowing them to be true in your heart with no strings attached. If more benefactors come to mind, feel free to switch to a new person. Remember, the Spirit is guiding the process, so whoever comes to mind is likely just the right person!

Now allow a neutral person to come to mind, someone with whom you have no strong feelings towards. Perhaps this is a co-worker, a barista at a coffee shop, or a stranger you passed on the street today. Send the phrases of lovingkindness and the Light of the Spirit toward them. You will notice that when you practice this in silent prayer and meditation, it will become natural to think these thoughts when encountering strangers, and will result in more loving interactions.

Next, choose someone you are having a difficult time with, perhaps someone from the news, a politician, or someone who cut you off in traffic this morning. It is important to not choose the most difficult person in your life right now. When first practicing, we warm up to more difficult people by first focusing on those with whom we have small conflicts or irritations. It is likely that after repeating these phrases for them, when you see them the following day the conflict will have diminished because your attitude will have changed. When we wish our “enemies” to be happy, we are really wishing for a more peaceful world. We know that those who cause harm and those who feel hatred in their hearts would not do so if they themselves were happy and at peace.

Lastly, we send the Lovingkindness phrases to all people around the world, and then to all living beings, to those with four legs or six legs, those with fins or feathers, and to those with roots and leaves. All living beings deserve to be free from suffering, and in the interconnectedness of all life, we all do better when we are all thriving.

This Buddhist practice has been a great blessing to my life, and has enhanced my Christian understanding of the Gospel in a very close and personal way. When I know I am loved unconditionally by the Creator, love naturally flows out of me to all beings. Taking intentional time to receive lovingkindness and compassion for myself, to send it to others, and to view the entire Creation through this lens of love has transformed my resentful non-love to Metta. I pray that this practice would also be a blessing to you.

May you be happy

May you be safe and protected

May you be healthy and strong

May you be peaceful and free from suffering.

Amen.

Friends

Today I send you a warm mid-winter gift, a energizing song by the Colonial Chorale and the University of Northwestern Choir. Be ready to dance. This was one of our numbers for Martin Luther King Sunday.

Hell or Hellish?

Reflections on the Afterlife and Near Death experiences

 

Hell. Hellish. Gates of hell. Go to hell! Gnashing of teeth. Hell to pay. Hellion. Hellfire. Brimstone. Millstones. To hell and back. To hell with you! Eternal damnation. Unforgivable sin.

 

What is hell and how does it inform our lives? Is it a place or an experience? In the future or in the present? To be honest I don’t know the answer to these questions but I will give a few observations from what I’ve read and then offer my own satisfying explanation that calms the issue for me.

 

I will cite four sources for my observations; Eben Alexander, MD, Fr. Matt Linn, Rev. Flora Wuellner and Rev. Rob Bell. I’ll start with Bell, who brings to light some little known information about the concept of hell. Hell is not uniformly defined in scripture but referred to in various ways, which adds a bit to the confusion about it.

 

*The Greek word for hell is Gehenna which means Hinnon Valley, an actual valley south and west of Jerusalem. It is the city dump, which is constantly burning and attracts wild animals who eat, fight and gnash their teeth. Jesus used this word in some of his strongest language about hell, giving his listeners a visceral image of what happens to people who mistreat others. Matt 5, 10,18 Mark 9, Luke 12,

 

*Peter uses the term Tartarus in II Pet 2, a term from Greek mythology where Greek demigods were judged in the abyss. Another Greek word is hades, like the Hebrew word, sheol, an obscure, dark murky place used in Rev, Acts 22, Luke 10, Matt 16 and Luke 16.

 

*Some would say hell is a holdover from a primitive mythical religion to promote fear of punishment in order to control people for devious reasons.

 

*Others suggest that hell is any separation from God and God’s intentions for us.

 

*Still others experience hell right here on earth—the stories of genocide in Germany, Rawanda, Cambodia. Limbs deliberately cut off. Medical experimentation. Child soldiers. Rape. Domestic violence. We use our freedom to make our own hells. We make our own hells here on earth by not believing that we are loved, and by creating our own suffering.

 

*Bell points out that, in the story of Lazarus and the rich man reaching out to him from hell, the rich man is a warning to people to change their hearts. The chasm was the rich man’s heart. Jesus uses this story to overturn the power structure, to show that the poor will be cared for. The rich man’s torment is that he has not died to his ego, status and pride. Therefore he is in torment.

 

Whatever we believe about hell, Jesus uses very strong language, images, metaphors—millstones around our necks, gouging out our eyes—to point out the consequence of rejecting our God-given goodness and humanity. He appears to want his listeners to ask themselves probing questions about their behavior.

 

But so often the people most concerned about hell are those who want to make sure their enemies are punished and that justice, in their eyes, is done. Bell points out that those most concerned about others going to hell seem less concerned with the hells on earth right now, while people concerned with hells on earth seem less concerned about hell after death. What an irony. Bell’s summary statement on hell: Jesus seems to be saying, hell now, hell later. Take both seriously!

 

 

There is a stronger message than hell consistently offered in the Bible

Bell goes on to describe the most prevalent theme of God in the Bible, not that of punishment but restoration. Renewal, restoration, correction, and blessing. God always has a purpose for his people’s lives.

 

An example is Israel’s exile and banishment, ending in restoration, correction and renewal. God’s intention is always to heal, redeem, love and bring people home rejoicing. This does not mean our behaviors do not have consequences but that God is not a scorekeeper.

 

Theologian and healer, Flora Slossen Wuellner, goes even farther than God’s acts of renewal of his people, to God actually allowing us to experience eternal life in the here and now. She writes about a feeling of an inner wellspring, a sense that, while still wounded, we are also so open to love and trust that we are enfolded into the arms of God now. She uses the story of Anna (Luke 2) who never left the temple but lived in that place of intimate relationship to God all her life, abiding in the One as a branch abides in the living vine and relating to all others as equals loved by the One.

 

My personal experience of God over the last thirty years has been consistent with both Bell and Wuellner, that of a God of love and forgiveness, compassion and faithfulness and divine intimacy. Certainly God feels angst and sadness over what I and others do to ourselves and one another, but the God I know is not a punishing God. The messages I consistently get from God are these:

 

~I am love. I live in love. I relate in love. I love you. You are my Beloved

~Nothing can separate people from my love even when they choose to remain

distant from it

~I am always faithful in welcoming people back to my love

~I would never condemn people to eternal punishment, banishment or hell

 

 

The Life Review: Owning our behavior while being unconditionally loved

In the ongoing research about the afterlife and near death experiences, the concept of the life review (rather than a hell experience) has come up repeatedly with people who have had these experiences and have actually been brain dead for lengths of time. Dr. Eben Alexander writes cogently and convincingly of his own experience in Proof of Heaven. And Fr. Matt Linn leads seminars that cover the recent research on Near Death Experiences, showing that these life review experiences and the overwhelming grace of God in the afterlife are consistent across all people and groups. And there are 600 Near Death Experiences a day.

 

I realize that these ideas fly in the face of much Biblical teaching, but for me, the new research provides a new combination of truths and a new experience of accountability. So when I combine an intimate loving image of God, a conviction that we all need some way to be accountable for our lives, and this new research, it leads me to ponder with stronger conviction, the experience of the extended life review.

 

The life review could be God’s solution to hell, accountability and the afterlife. I embrace the life review as helpful to the way I live day-to-day, to know that my actions, be they good or bad, have consequences and that they are not going unnoticed. I no longer fear that I will burn in hell but it helps me to be aware of hellish experiences I’ve either had, caused or helped alleviate here on earth. The life review also reinforces my view of God as unconditionally loving as well as correcting and restoring. And I have had some experiences of this life review on this side of the grave.

 

So what about this life review, and how we do we experience it as a way of making amends and of making meaning of our lives in the end?

 

The life review, as described by those who have had near death experiences, consists of a period of time in which we relive our entire lives. We relive everything that has happened, not just from our experience but from the perspective of the people involved. If we intimidated someone we feel that but we also feel what it was like to be intimidated. In the process of the review, we are held accountable for everything we thought, felt and did and—at the same time we are completely loved, accepted and understood. We feel what others have done to us as well. The feelings are real and intense. We feel compassion for those who hurt us when we know what affected them so deeply. While this process is not a judgment it is painful and may be even hellish. And there are glorious parts to it as well, the things we did that are exemplary or didn’t even know we did well. And the relief we feel in knowing the truth of our lives, the hidden secrets revealed. I have a young friend who recently had an initial life review experience, during his cancer journey. His first memory on the review, a bully episode, opened up a story of his ancestors’ trauma that no one had yet uncovered. It was a major step in the deeper healing of his family.

 

And after the review is over—it’s over. No punishment beyond feeling the feelings; no retribution, no hell or eternal damnation or fear of hell beyond that.

 

Now that is astounding. For me it’s also a scary to write about because, as I said, it goes so much against the grain of what I and may others have been taught, and what it says in the Bible (see references on page one). In some theological traditions we could even go to hell for believing in the life review! But could it actually be true? Could it? Thousands of people have now reported it to be true. But who knows?

 

Hell or hellish? Which is it? You decide.

 

I end with a lovely blessing for death by John O’Donohue

 

From the moment you were born,

Your death has walked beside you.

Though it seldom shows its face,

You still feel its empty touch

When fear invades your life,
Or what your love is lost

Or inner damage is incurred.

 

Yet when destiny draws you

Into these spaces of poverty,

And your heart stays generous

Until some door opens into the light,

You are quietly befriending your death;

So that you will have no need to fear

When your time comes to turn and leave.

 

That the silent presence of your death

Would call your life to attention,

Wake you up to how scarce your time is

And to the urgency to become free

And equal to the call of your destiny.

 

That you would gather yourself

And decide carefully

How you now can live

The life you would love

To look back on

From your deathbed.

 

 

Janet O. Hagberg, 2015. All rights reserved.

 

 

Reflections on this essay

 

What did you learn about hell as a child? What is your belief about hell now?

 

Do you know anyone who has had a near death experience? How has it affected them/you?

 

How does the concept of a life review affect your view of the afterlife?

 

What are you most afraid of, and looking forward to with your own death?

 

 

 

Resources:

Eben Alexander, MD, Proof of Heaven

Rev. Rob Bell, Love Wins

Fr. Matt Linn, professional talks; plus numerous books by the Linn brothers with

Sheila Fabricant Linn

Rev. Flora Slosson Wuellner, Beyond Death

Holy Scripture

Lived experience, client experiences

 

How Much is Enough?

 

Several years ago I was sitting on a bench in front of one of Minnesota’s ten thousand lakes. This one particular lake sits on the campus of Bethel Seminary in St. Paul. While sitting there I heard God ask me, “How much of my love is enough for you?” I had never thought of that question before. I had thought of God’s love being unending, but I had not thought about how much of that love I needed or wanted? How much of God’s love is needed for me to be satisfied? How much would be enough? I had never tried to actually quantify it before.

 

(Caution: Nerd Alert. Don’t judge.) I then thought, “What if God’s love for me was the volume of this lake?” Now most of the lakes in Minnesota aren’t very big and this one was probably about 60 acres in size (It’s actually 64.5 acres, but I don’t want to come across as too nerdy.). So I looked up the size of the lake on a map and calculated the volume of the lake by estimating an average depth. (Yes, I actually did this.) Next, I estimated the volume of my body. (Yes, I actually did this.) I then asked, “If God’s loved refilled my body every day, how long would it take to drain this lake?” (Yes, I actually asked this.) After doing the calculations, the answer was an astonishing 1,170,675 days! That is 3,207 years! Here is this small lake on a collage campus in Minnesota and it’s only one of ten thousand lakes in the state and it would take over one million days to drain it.

 

How much of God’s love is enough for me if His love refilled me every single day? It is definitely less than the volume of that one small lake. God was telling me and showing me that His love for me was more than enough. There is more love available to me and for than I can imagine.

 

If you could get better at one thing this year what would it be? Would it be something physical like losing weight, exercising, eating healthier, running faster or running farther? Would it be something mental like reading, meditating or problem solving? What about something emotional like connecting, listening, enjoying? What do you want to be better at?

 

For me, it would be to be able to receive God’s love in greater measure. If I was able to do this one thing, it would affect all areas of my life. I imagine I would have more confidence instead of insecurity; peace instead of fear; compassion instead of criticism and joy instead of anger. Overall, I would be able to see myself more of the way God sees me and be able to love others better.

 

How much of God’s love is enough for you?

 

Ephesians 3: 17b-19

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

 

 

 

 

 

The Anti-Resolution

By Barry A.Thomas

 

Since it’s the beginning of a new year, it would naturally be a good time to talk about New Year’s resolutions. What do you want to accomplish in 2016? How do you want to change? However, there is part of me that wants to not talk about New Year’s resolutions since that might be what is expected. So today I’m going to lean into that part.

Don’t get me wrong, I like setting resolutions. I don’t do it every year, but there are times when I need resolutions to keep me from wandering aimlessly. In 2015 I had three resolutions for the year: to read through the Bible, to run a marathon (my first and only) and to write a book. I was able to get two and half of these done. (I won’t bore you with the details.) My point is that without making them goals, I would not have even attempted them, much less accomplish any of them.

And then sometimes resolutions get in my way. They get in the way in a couple of ways:

  1. Resolutions get in the way when I leave God out of the picture. I can leave God out of the picture when I resolve to do something purely out of my own will and power. I can also leave God out when my resolve does not allow my plans to adjust to God’s plans. For instance, I had a friend who was training for the Boston marathon this past year. At the same time, it was his son’s senior year playing baseball. He missed much of his son’s games because he stuck to his training regimen. In my opinion, the resolution got in the way of more important things.
  2. Resolutions get in the way when I depend on accomplishing something to feel good about myself. Personally, I have difficulty with this one. I’m a do-er. That can be a good thing. Being a do-er has served me very well over the years. It has helped me be successful in my career and in my ministry. And I believe that our weaknesses often times are our strengths that are out of balance. This is a huge principle! It’s so important that I’m going to say it again for emphasis: Our weaknesses are often times our strengths that are out of balance.* This doing thing is one of those areas for me because the doing gets in the way of the being. I am reminded of the story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10. Martha was doing hospitality and serving Jesus in her home and it was the doing that kept her from sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to what He had to say.

In light of all this being said, here is my encouragement to you: make resolutions (if you’re into that kind of thing), hold your resolutions loosely and be with God in the process. So I am making a New Year’s resolution for 2016: to be with God. I want to learn how to do this better (pun intended). I want to be with God in the busyness and I want to create space in my life so I can be with God in solitude.

So here is the question I really want to ask: Can you be okay with yourself if you don’t accomplish anything or if you don’t change a single thing about yourself in 2016? How do you imagine God would feel about you if you that happened (or didn’t happen)?

 

 

*Here is an example of a weakness being a strength that is out of balance: My wife and I are both analytical. When making a decision, especially big decisions, we gather as much data as possible and list out all the options and do our best to asses which option is the best one. This analytical process has served us well throughout our marriage. However, this strength becomes a weakness when it is out of balance. When the analytical part is too strong it becomes indecisiveness. The desire to make the absolute best decision gets in the way of making a decision. The weakness (indecisiveness) is a strength (analytical decision making) that is out of balance.

An Inconvenient God

A word that is being thrown around a lot in the media and conversation these days, in relation to Black Lives Matter, is “inconvenience.” It’s inconvenient when bus lines are diverted to go around marches demanding police transparency and accountability downtown. It’s inconvenient that people have to wait at stop lights for seven extra minutes while the throng of protesters file down the street, chanting “Black Lives Matter.” It’s inconvenient when highways get shut down by human chains demanding justice in exchange for peace. And most recently, it has been inconvenient for holiday travelers to have some flights delayed for 45 minutes at the MSP airport, and shops closed at the Mall of America for a couple of hours so that the protestors could disturb the status quo and remind people that Black Lives are inconvenienced every day. Every day a black person steps out of their house, they must live in fear of police violence. Black mothers fear that their sons won’t live past their 18th birthday without ending up dead or in jail. Schools, places of employment, housing, banks, food systems, and the “justice” system are all stacked against Black Americans. The daily stress of discrimination grates on Black Americans to the point of causing higher rates of depression and anxiety, heart disease, and high blood pressure. I’d say that is much more inconvenient that a single incident of tardiness for travelers.

Dr. King certainly had similar conversations with city officials, asking him to “move slower and more gently” but they shut down the bridge in Selma anyway. The bus boycott in Montgomery inspired by Rosa Parks was highly disruptive to the city. White Jim Crow shop owners who had their business disturbed by protestors at lunch counter “sit ins” were outraged at the disturbance of business as usual. (Sound familiar?) If things are to change, we must all of us be disturbed and inconvenienced. 400 years of oppression and discriminatory systems don’t just disappear on their own. They will not go away by people being nice.

While these actions are meant to disrupt and create discomfort, let us remind ourselves that they are being done with the greater purpose of equality, peace, and justice, through a motivation of love. Come to think of it, most love is inconvenient. I just got a puppy, and he has quickly become the love of my life, even though he takes up all my free time and has churned my daily schedule into chaos. Having children does the same. So does falling in love romantically. We make sacrifices for love, but never would we consider doing otherwise, because there is such great reward. And it just feels good.

This week being Christmas, with all of creation groaning in anticipation for the arrival of the baby who brings peace and justice to the world, let us stop and consider the inconvenience of his arrival. First, his poor parents had to travel to another city while pregnant, then flee to a neighboring country because the government was slaughtering Jewish babies because Jesus was threatening the throne. As he grew to be a man, his radical love disrupted many people’s lives. The disciples left behind families and jobs. Pharisees and Sadducees were put “on blast” for their discriminatory religion that barred women, children, the poor, and sick people from entering the temple. Through embarrassing confrontations with Jesus, some of those leaders changed their ways. The disciples were frustrated that Jesus was constantly slowing down and changing their schedules so they could play with children, talk with Samaritan women, and feed thousands of hungry people. The disciples were tired. They just wanted business as usual. They wanted to keep their reputations intact, but Jesus didn’t care about maintaining their egos or schedules of sleep. He constantly went out of his way to show mercy and love to those who showed up in his path, to those experiencing oppression, sickness, and isolation. He asks the same of us.

Black Americans (and other Americans of color) are currently experiencing oppression, sickness, and isolation. And they are showing up in our path. They are refusing to be cast aside, ignored, locked up, beaten, shot, used, and blasphemed. They are saying that their lives matter. This doesn’t mean that white lives (or any other lives) matter less. They are just pointing out that black lives currently do not matter, according to all the staggering evidence of history and current times, and they should matter.

When people get desperate, they reach out to touch the hem of Jesus’ cloak. They cry out “Son of Man, have mercy on us!” They lower family members down through rooftops. They demand loaves and fish. Black America is desperate. Jesus’ merciful hands were so far-reaching that they were threatening enough to be nailed to a tree. His disciples could have gone back to business as usual after his death, had the story ended there. But they saw him resurrected, and with that sight, there was no turning back. What is seen cannot be unseen. What is known cannot be unknown. As the inconvenient prophet Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, we have been to “the mountaintop” and have seen the other side, the Promised Land! With determination, we will have justice and peace! So go ahead, #blacklivesmatter, do your thing. Let’s get uncomfortable in the name of Love.

Chelsea Forbrook

Saturday Morning, 10 AM

Justice and Peace meet at the cafe,

Sit together,

Hands folded around steaming cups,

Heads bent over the paper.

 

They are not taking in

The news of the world

With sorrowing eyes

And the clucking of tongues.

 

They are instead planning their

Itinerary,

Plotting their map,

Looking for the places where

They might slip in.

 

Their fingers touch, release,

Touch again as they read,

Moving with the half-aware habits

That come only with long living

Alongside.

 

They have met, parted,

Met again on countless mornings

Like this one, torn and taken

By turns.

 

They put the paper aside

They brush away the crumbs

They talk quietly

They know there is work to do.

 

But they order

one more cup:

there is savoring they must do

before the saving begins.
They lean in,

Barely touching across the table

For a kiss that makes a way,

A world

 

Rev. Jan Richardson

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