Spiritual Practice: Truth Speaking

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Warning: This is not a “how to win friends and influence people” post. You may actually lose some friends by speaking truth, but you might also gain some new and very interesting friends.

I’m not talking about truth-telling as in pointing out to your friend that she has lettuce in her teeth. That is a common courtesy, although awkward, depending on the depth of the friendship.

And I’m not talking about a fundy, stick your nose in my business, “Just speaking the truth in love, brother, you shouldn’t be dating her.”

I’m talking about the kind of truth-telling that happens when one looks at the world, at the dominant culture, and realizes that “we” have gotten off track. Telling the truth in that situation is much harder. People don’t like to hear that kind of truth because we don’t like to admit we’re hurting people with our words, actions, or laws. But that is exactly the kind of truth we need to tell in order to get back on track. It’s a prophetic voice.

*In his book, The Prophetic Imagination, theologian Walter Brueggemann writes, the dominant culture, now and in every time, is grossly uncritical, cannot tolerate any fundamental criticism, and will go to great lengths to stop it. It is the role of the Prophet to help “nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and a perception” alternative to the dominant narrative.” 

I had this experience when I began to align myself with my LGBT brothers and sisters, which cost me my job with a large evangelical ministry. I was not trying to be a prophet or rattle any cages, but the very act of standing with my rainbow family was apparently enough to challenge the power structures of the dominant Christian culture. Once you see an injustice, you cannot un-see it and the way the “church” was treating my gay friends was clearly wrong. I felt called to stand up against this injustice and consequently was booted from my spiritual tribe. This was an excellent opportunity to know what it feels like to be a gay Christian. In the aftermath, I gained a wonderful, supportive rainbow family, and found a new spiritual tribe among affirming churches, parents of LGBT children, and others standing with them.

 

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Our job as truth tellers is, to tell the truth, then stand in that truth. My spiritual director once told me that staying in a difficult place was a form of intercession. The good news is, we are not responsible for the outcome, we are just called to stand firm. It can be hard and it can be lonely, but it is always worth it. Here are some ways to sustain your energy during times of truth-telling.

  1. Give yourself radical rest. This in itself is a statement to the dominant busy, consumer culture we live in. It is a radical thing to choose to stop and rest. Rest, Sabbath, silence, and solitude will restore your soul and sustain your activism.
  2. Meditation/prayer/yoga: These things help connect your body, mind, and spirit which can get burnt-out and disconnected during times of cultural upheaval and chaos.
  3. Dance with your friends. I love to watch Grey’s Anatomy, where the characters model a “dance it out,” way of dealing with stress. We also see this modeled in scripture. When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, away from slavery and into freedom, his sister Marion whipped out her tambourine and led the women in a dance. When David returned with the Ark of God, he ripped off his clothes and danced. Dancing in the midst of pain, heartache, and push-back is a testament of hope, a celebration of battles won, or a prophetic statement that we believe they can be won despite evidence to the contrary.

What has helped you in your quest to speak the truth? I’d love to hear about it or stand with you as you find your voice against injustice.

 

*This quote and many of these ideas are from Christine Valters Paintner in Illuminating the Way: Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics

 

Photo credit: protest

 

Spiritual Practice: Hospitality

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Well, I failed miserably with the fasting practice I chose for the last two weeks; I just completely forgot about it. I guess that happens sometimes, life encroaches and then there was Harry Potter World, and butter bear, and the beach… but, anyway, it’s all about grace, right?

This week I wanted to talk about the spiritual practice of Hospitality. It’s funny, I used to be really into those, “spiritual gift tests,” and when I took them, the gift of hospitality never came up for me. Still, it has always been a value of our family’s, and very much modeled by Jesus, whom we follow. He talked and modeled welcoming children, the marginalized and he told many a parable about the importance of hospitality.

Once I asked my adult children what was the most memorable thing about growing up in our household and how our faith had impacted them. They both talked about the people we invited in: the pregnant teens that lived with us, the international students who came for all the holidays, the exchange students we adopted. These were memories they cherished and values they wanted to continue.

You can see why moving from a 2200 square foot house with a large dining room and two-family rooms, to a 1200 square foot house with no dining room and one small living room led to some mourning on my part. It changed the way we do hospitality. We’ve had to scale down. My daughter now hosts the large gatherings we love and we have smaller groups of friends over. But, hospitality is not all about food and parties.

I’m again struck by the story of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15:11-32. In Nouwen’s book by that title, he talks about the father’s welcome of the son, saying that the father, welcomed without question and blessed without condition. Isn’t that a fantastic definition of hospitality? The son had taken the father’s money and gone off to squander it on wild living. But, when he came home the father didn’t ask one question about any of that. I would have wanted at least an ounce of blood and a tearful confession. The father just welcomed him home and threw a party. He blessed him as a son and gave him the full benefit of that blessing as if nothing had ever happened; it was completely unconditional! I would have been all, “You can come home but you’d better shape up mister! “

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What would the world look like if we went about welcoming people without question and blessing them without conditions? We would be hospitality, not just do hospitality. And the world would be a kinder, gentler place. That’s what I’m going to try for the next two weeks. Hopefully, I’ll do better this time! Want to join me?

For more spiritual practices check out my book: The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening.

Photo Credit: Christ the Redeemer,  

Prodigal Son Blog

Spiritual Practice: Reading Icons

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Review: Last time we talked about The Welcoming Prayer. It has been really good for me to practice this discipline. Since I’m not eating sugar or drinking wine, sitting with and welcoming my difficult feelings has been a daily activity. How has it gone for you?

This is an ongoing series on trying different contemplative prayer practices leading up to the release of my new book, The Retreat: A Tale Of Spiritual Awakening.

Today I want to talk about Reading Icons. I think about this as, “praying icons,” but the ancient practice says that icons are not painted, they are “written,” and therefore meant to be “read.”

People that write icons go through years of training and it is a very spiritual process for them. Icons tell a story, but they contain deep truth about God. They were a way for non-literate people to learn about God, and for us now they can be a window or doorway into the presence of God.

First, you have to understand why they look, how they look. When I first saw icons, I thought they were just ugly paintings. Then someone explained to me that icons are written with an inverse perspective. We are used to a perspective with the vanishing point in the distance, things get smaller to show depth in a painting. Icons are the opposite. The vanishing point is set out, behind us, drawing us into the painting, inviting us in.

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Consider this famous icon: Rublev’s Icon of the Trinity. It is two things: The story of Abram entertaining angels at the Oak of Mamre, and it is the Trinity, father, son, and spirit, inviting us to sit with them at a table.

There are deep and intricate explanations of this icon on the internet. For brevity’s sake, I will share only a few of them here. The Father is on the left, wearing heavenly colors, a staff authority is in his hand, and the other hand is blessing his son. The Son is in the middle, wearing earthy and heavenly colors, a staff of authority is in his hand, and he is blessing the chalice. The spirit is wearing the colors of water and heaven and he also holds the staff of authority. His hand invites us to sit at the table with them. See the opening at the table where we are invited into this holy communion? Notice how their heads incline toward one another?

I invite you to sit and read this icon. Put yourself at this table and let yourself feel what it is like to sit with each member of the Trinity. You might have one reaction to the Father and a completely different one to the Son, or to the Spirit. You are welcomed in. How does it feel to be there? Let me know if you try it and how you relate to the different persons of the Trinity.  If you enjoy the experience of reading an Icon, this book really helped to guide me through reading others.

The Open Door: Entering the Sanctuary of Icons and Prayer by Frederica Mathewes-Green 

Photo Credit Partial Icon, Full Icon

Being Fired from a Church is like a Messy Divorce

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I was talking to my spiritual director about the “deep well of sadness” that occasionally surfaces since being asked to leave my former employer (eighteen months after being asked to leave). She said, “It’s like you’ve been through a messy divorce.” No words ever felt as true or helped me so much.

It is like a messy divorce. When you’ve been connected to someone or something a long time (okay, my entire adult life) you are very intertwined with them: you have the same friends, you share kids, all of your best and hardest times involve these folks…how do you separate that? I mean, I hear myself still saying “we” when I discuss this organization, as in “We got a new president!!” Really? It’s time to move on, we are not a “we” any longer.

Since I (thankfully) have not been divorced from a marriage, I chose the “phone a friend,” option for help. My friend has some fantastic ideas to help me begin the separation process.

  1. First, she said, it’s important to name your feelings. Sometimes all the feels get mixed up and it’s hard to discern what you are actually experiencing. Name them: Am I sad? Am I mad? Frustrated? Angry? Furious? Bitter? Hurt?
  2. Second, look at the divorce from the other person’s perspective. If he/she was explaining why you broke up, what would they say? Be honest, what parts of what they would say are true? Then, you might need to forgive yourself for your mistakes or make amends.

This was a really helpful step for me because I tend to think I was the one who got “left” in this relationship. I felt like I wanted to stay married, but they divorced me. During this reflection exercise, I realized that the things they would say were true. We had a long term, beautiful relationship, but we began to see things differently, they drew a line in the sand about a policy, and I was clearly on the other side of that line. I can own that. I’m the one that changed, not them. And, in retrospect not only is that true, but I’d do it again. I don’t need to forgive myself, because I feel like it was the right side of the line to be on. This was incredibly freeing. I’m SINGLE! I need to start acting like it.

  1. The next part was to do the same process with how you saw the breakup and forgive them for their part.
  2. Next, pretend you are the mediator between these two sides. What would you say to them?

This is a helpful process to decide what to do next to disentangle yourself, for instance:

  1. Who gets to keep the friends in the divorce? This is a tough question. But, clearly there are sides that get taken and I needed to let go of some folks who took the other side and sort of disowned me. Why was I hanging on to them? To emotionally unlatch from some folks, I went through my Facebook friends and unfollowed a lot of them. I didn’t want to unfriend anyone, I still care about them, but I don’t need my feed to be filled with updates from that ministry either. That helped.

I’m working on what it means to be unattached to someone/something after so long. There are some times I’m sure I’ll slip and say, “we.” There are still kids and friends we have in common. But, I’ve taken a good step forward towards “SINGLE!”

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How have you unattached yourself from a long-term relationship or organization you needed to leave? Share tips so was can learn from each other.