Spiritual Practice: Finding Your Tribe

backlit dawn foggy friendship

When I say tribe, I’m not referring to a group of people you were born into, as in a Native American tribe, but in the popular understanding of the word: a distinctive or close-knit group, a group of kindred spirits, people you feel safe with.

Sadly, these are not always the same people as the tribe you were born into, though it is for some lucky folks. Also, your tribe will change over time depending on where you live, work, play and grow as a person. Sometimes, a change in beliefs or political understanding will move you from one tribe to another. Sometimes a job promotion or increase/decrease in your standard of living will propel you from one group to another.

The important thing is, we all need a tribe — people that “get us,” people that are safe. I recently met a young woman who had developed a great group of friends. Later, something happened that showed her they were not her tribe. They betrayed her deeply and gossiped horribly about her. She was devastated and is now having trouble trusting anyone else. That is a hard thing; betrayals can stick with us causing us to withdraw and put up walls of protection around our hearts.

My husband and I went through a tribe change when we started standing with the LGBTQ community. Our faith tribe, some family members, and many friends could not understand this decision and we felt exiled from that tribe. It was a very painful thing. But it was also freeing. We had been tiptoeing around on eggshells, trying to avoid rocking the boat in our tribe, and when we left, we could walk more freely. Suddenly, it was as if we could breathe, we could be ourselves, and we could advocate for justice. We remained close to many of our longtime friends, but it felt as if our tribal allegiance had undergone a seismic shift. Eventually, we found likeminded people with whom we could be more candid with about topics that were previously difficult to discuss. It took a while but we are now enjoying exploring a new tribal identity.

 

photo of a person wearing printed crew neck t shirt

How do you find a tribe?

  1. Look for people who might have the same interests as you. Perhaps in a church, community organizing group, book club, hiking group or political action group.
  2. Look for people you feel comfortable around.
  3. Try sharing a bit of yourself and see how that part of you is handled by others in the group. Are you welcomed or held at a distance?
  4. Not everyone you meet will fall into the category of tribe-worthy. We all have friends, acquaintances, and family members that we love, but that does not automatically make them part of your tribe. Don’t put all your energy into forming a tribe at work. Jobs can disappear and your tribe along with them.

Why do we need a tribe? Life is hard, and we are all busy. Having a small group of people you can be yourself with is important. You don’t have to agree on everything to be part of a tribe. The best tribes can challenge and disagree but continue to love and be connected. The best tribes can bring in new ideas and expose each member to new things. But tribes don’t just happen, they need to be cultivated. Meeting with people regularly is the only way to develop a tribe. Weekly or monthly gatherings, dinners, or any event where you can talk deeply with one another can lead to a tribe. You must take risks to form a tribe. Tribes can be healing. As we share our pain in the safety of a tribe, we can heal.

five women laughing

When we left our former tribe, we started a new one called “Shalom.” It was to be a place of healing for people from the LGBTQ family who had been hurt by the church. This became a tribe of safety and love, but it took over a year before we could all trust each other. After five years we officially dissolved the group, not because anything bad had happened, but because it had met its purpose. Everyone in Shalom, including us, had found safety and healing, and life had gotten better and busier for everyone. Everyone agreed it was time to stop our meetings which had gone from weekly for three years, to monthly for the last two. We will still be friends, but it was time to let the tribe scatter.

How do you know it’s time to move on from a tribe? Sometimes it is just natural as life and priorities change. But tribes can also become toxic, as what happened to the young woman I mentioned. If there is gossip, lying, or intolerance of who you are, it might be time to leave. If you find yourself avoiding the folks in your tribe, you might need to reevaluate. A tribe is somewhere you are not just tolerated, but celebrated.

Do you have a tribe? How did you find it? Have you ever had to switch tribes? I’d love to hear your stories.

 

 

Photos: Top pic 

Man in shirt pic

Women laughing pic

 

Spiritual Practice: Healing Burnout

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I listened to an interesting audiobook the other day called, The Burnout Generation. It talked about millennials and how they are increasingly facing burnout. Why?

  1. They graduate from college with an average of $35,000 in debt hanging over their heads and then get jobs that don’t pay enough for many years.
  2. They are the first generation where it is not assumed they will have better lives than their parents.
  3. They are priced out of the housing market.
  4. Cell phones have made work difficult, if not impossible, to leave “at the office.” They are expected to be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  5. Many suffer from anxiety and depression.

It was a harsh reality to read about. I was from the last generation of folks who could, “work their way through college” and graduate without debt. My undergraduate classes were about $150 a semester and books were another $50. Now a single textbook can cost $350!

We tell people that they need a degree to get meaningful work, but the jobs they get aren’t paying enough to even make minimum payments on the debt they stack up. It’s overwhelming for me to even think about it.

tried buisnessman

 

I believe America is headed for burnout. Many things are contributing to burn-out. Working too much, taking on too many volunteer activities, working with emotionally intense populations, being a single parent, parenting in general. It’s a difficult issue, rooted in some systemic problems, like the college student loan situation. But, mostly it’s the American culture, even the Christian culture, which seems to celebrate busyness as a virtue. There is nothing Biblical about that. If we look at Jesus as a model of life, he even left his healing ministry while there were still people waiting to be healed, and went off for some alone time with God. (Mark 1:35ff) God created Sabbath rest because we need it, yet how many of us really take a day to rest?

adult beverage breakfast celebration

So, how do we begin to heal burnout? It’s a complex problem, but here are some ideas.

  1. Intentionally limit your time on social media. The stress of constantly comparing yourself to others’ “online” personas is exhausting.
  2. Limit your time on the news stream. It can be toxic.
  3. Set your phone to silent, not vibrate, but silent. You can check your phone for messages, but the constant vibration and buzzing is stress-producing. I’m not sure how to turn off notifications on a watch, but I hope there is a way.
  4. Intentionally put short getaways into your life. Take a weekend to walk by the ocean or in the forest and reconnect with God through creation. I try to do this monthly. Try turning your phone to airport mode for a few hours of these trips.
  5. Allow yourself five minutes to sit still in silence each day. As your thoughts quiet, priorities can become clear.
  6. Learn to take naps, even if you don’t fall asleep, just lie down for fifteen minutes and rest. I’ve been trying this one. I rarely sleep, but it is nice to rest.
  7. Make choices for a simpler life. My husband and I have always lived simply, which led to no debt, paid off cars, house, and no credit card bills. We live way below the standard of most of our friends who have more very attractive luxuries. But we are debt-free and happy.
  8. Find a group, a tribe, a community to help support your “less busy” lifestyle. Invite folks over for potluck dinners, or game nights, where all the phones get put in a basket upon entry.
  9. One of my favorite things from The Burnout Generation was the story about a church that was raising money to help pay off student loans. What a wonderful idea! What freedom that would bring to those individuals!
  10. The book also mentioned the importance of therapy. As a therapist, that made me happy. If you have insurance or can afford private pay, a therapist can help with the anxiety, depression, or PTSD that contributes to burnout. They can also help you assess your quality of life and offer solutions to life problems. Life Coaches and Spiritual Directors can help with that too.

I’d love to hear how you have dealt with burnout in your life. Maybe together we can figure out how to turn America from a “Burned out nation,” to a healthy one.

 

Photo credits: Matches,    Tired Businessman

Fireplace Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

 

Spiritual Practice: Finding Your Calling

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I used to think that “calling” involved a specific word from God about your life. As if there was only one thing on earth you were called to do. For instance, when I was in full-time ministry, I thought that was my calling. But what happens if, like me, you leave the ministry? Are you suddenly “out of your calling?” Are you, “between callings?” This led me to a lot of questions. What if I’m working in a gas station, is it a calling? What if I’m housebound by illness? Is there still a calling?

Recently I’ve been reading, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old by Parker Palmer. I love Parker Palmer; he is warm, engaging and funny. My copy of his book is now marked with smiley faces where he has made me laugh. In this book of essays, he brings up the topic of calling or vocation. In it he says,

“The way I’ve earned my keep has changed frequently, but my vocation has remained the same: I’m a teacher-and-learner, a vocation I’ve pursued through thick and thin in every era of my life.” Pg. 85

This thought rocked my world. I was feeling “calling-less” until I read those words. Then, the lights came on. Learning can be a vocation??? Oh my, that is me; I LOVE to learn. Learning something new is what drives me to get up in the morning. It’s why I read, it’s why I write, it’s why I listen deeply to people. I love to learn. I didn’t understand that calling was more about who you are than what you do. It’s more internal than external.

But, unlike Parker Palmer, teaching was not my vocation. I had to think hard about how to describe the other part of my calling. I realized it’s communication, and, specifically, communicating hope. The tag line on my website is “Infusing Reality with Hope.” Hope is in all my books, it is reflected in how I do counseling, it’s in my spiritual direction practice. It’s evident every time I speak, teach, or train. It’s just who I am.

parker plamer

So, my calling is learning-and-communicating hope. What is yours? Here are some ideas to consider when trying to discover your calling:

  1. I think most callings have an inward and outward expression.
  2. I think these callings are innate within you already, from the time you are born. They are part of your inborn personality, or as the Quaker’s say, a birthright gift.
  3. I think they are evident no matter what you are doing for a job. You’ll be able to see these gifts across your lifetime whether you’re scrubbing toilets, teaching kindergarten, or living as an AIDS worker in Africa.

Why is it important to find your calling? For me, it was a freeing exercise. Once I left the ministry, I felt “calling-less,” and I tried to think of my next jobs as callings, but they just didn’t fit. Realizing that your calling/vocation is about who you are, relieves a lot of pressure on the things you do for a living. I like to write, but if writing was my calling, it would feel very weighty and it would lose its lightness and fun. If I put the burden on something I “do,” it feels heavy. If my calling is something I “am,” it feels natural. So, what is your calling? Let me know if you think you find it. This should be fun!

 

 

 

Spiritual Practice: Being a Light

Lantern-Light-Festival

 

I have a dear friend who is often housebound by one of those horrible autoimmune diseases. She told me that once in desperation, she cried out to God, “What can I do for you, I can’t even leave the house?” God answered, “Be a sunflower.” The image of being a sunflower, of turning your face toward the light of God is beautiful and doable. She thought, I can do that!

Poet Mary Oliver, in her poem, The Buddha’s Last Instruction, suggests the Buddha’s last words were, “Make of yourself a light.” Mary Oliver’s poem is about the sun coming up and filling the land with light. In one stanza she writes,

“And then I feel the sun itself

 as it blazes over the hills,

like a million flowers on fire –

clearly I’m not needed,

yet I feel myself turning

into something of inexplicable value.

 

sunrise

 

The light does this to us. It shines on us, in us, hanging and healing us, so that, as the Buddha says, we can be a light to others.

John Donohue, a beautiful writer, and prayer of the Celtic tradition of Christianity wrote,

“May the light of your soul guide you. May the light of your soul bless the work you do with the secret love and warmth of your heart…May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light, and renewal to those who you work with and to those who see and receive your work.”

When Quakers pray they say, “I’ll hold you in the Light.” I think that is beautiful.

sunflower

It seems clear to me that our job is to be a sunflower, turning our face to the light of God’s love. As God’s love fills us, it guides us, blesses our work with love and warmth. Then, it does as the Buddha suggests, it makes a light of love and healing to a hurting world.

How have you experienced the light? How does light flow through you to others?

 

Photo credit: Sunflower Lantern FestivalSunrise  

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: Seeking Wisdom

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Let’s be honest, when push comes to shove most of us go to other people for wisdom. We ask friends for advice, we read books written by experts, we search the scriptures and holy books, but we often forget that wisdom lies inside each of us.

Why is it so hard to believe that we have wisdom inside? Why is our own inner voice often the last place we look for advice? It is partly because it takes more time, more effort, and more silence than most of us westerners are comfortable with. We want the quick fix, the fast food, the easy answers.

But, if we believe like the Quakers and the Benedictines do, that the holy resides within each of us, then it would be logical there is great wisdom within us just waiting to be sought. One of my favorite verses from the Bible says, If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5.

So, how do we listen? How do we get still enough to hear the wisdom within? Here are some easy steps.

I know I sound like a broken drum about this, but first and foremost, we must cultivate a life that allows for times of silence. Sitting in silence allows the dust to settle and clears away the noise, helping us to hear our God-given wisdom.

And this is the harder part: Wisdom comes from the school of hard knocks. Christine Valters Paintener says,

 “Wisdom comes through navigating life experiences that stretch us, push us to our edges, all the while staying as present as possible without running away.” (pg. 117 Illuminating the Way: Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics).

Let me highlight the line, “while as staying present as possible without running away.” This one is tough. Most of us want to run as fast as we can away from hard times and difficult feelings. We want to numb those painful events with drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, denial or whatever works. Wisdom comes from the maturity to stay present and learn from the experience. Yikes!

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

We learn about this concept in yoga when the instructor says to “stay in your breath,” through a difficult pose. This is a tool we can take with us when things get hard and we are tempted to run. Just breathe.

Spiritual practices will keep us centered and growing in wisdom. This blog is full of practices, but I also enjoy some help with my spiritual practices. I meet monthly with a spiritual director, whose purpose is not to give me answers, but to help me find them within, by listening to God’s voice inside me and by trying new practices. You can find a director through Spiritual Directors international.

So next time you need wisdom, resist the urge to run to a friend, authority, or book. Try seeking the wisdom within and let me know how it goes!

 

Photo credit, top

Spiritual Practice: Pilgrimage

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The idea of Pilgrimage is an interesting one to me. Four of my friends have completed the El Camino de Santiago, which leads to the traditional burial ground of the apostle James. People take pilgrimages to seek wisdom, find God, or visit a thin place where earth and heaven seem very close to each other. There are three principal Christian pilgrimages: Jerusalem, Rome, and El Camino.

I have made only one of these pilgrimages: Jerusalem. Many people go there to “walk where Jesus walked,” and for those that can’t go there, the stations of the cross were created. The stations take you through Jesus’ path to the cross, and you don’t even have to leave home to do it.

I still consider my summer living in Tel Aviv, Israel, one of the highlights of my life; but I think it had less to do with the location and more to do with displacing myself into another culture, where I didn’t know the language or customs. That kind of pilgrimage sort of breaks open the walls we build to keep ourselves safe; we come face to face with our shadow side, and we have an opportunity to heal.

Displacement is a shortcut to this kind of growth and healing, and you don’t have to leave town to displace yourself. Just immerse yourself in a different cultural group. Hang out with people in a church, synagogue, or community group that is different than yours.

The idea of pilgrimage goes deeper than traveling somewhere to visit a holy site. In her book, Illuminating the Way: Embracing the wisdom of Monks and Mystics,” Christine Valters Painter suggests that we each have an inner Pilgrim —

“The part of ourselves drawn to make long voyages in search of something for which we long. This inward geography of the journey, one where we may physically travel only a few feet or miles but where the soul moves in astronomical measure.” (pg. 100)

We are all pilgrims, trying to find our place in the world, in the universe. We look for wisdom, and we search to know God. How can we do it?

  • Travel to a holy place; it doesn’t have to be sacred to your religion, displace yourself into someone else’s holy place and see what you find of God there. I would desperately love to go to the Island of Iona, a thin place in Scotland; it’s on my bucket list.
  • Try walking with Jesus through the stations of the cross. As a non-Catholic, I find this an enlightening exercise. Many churches and Catholic retreat centers have these open to the public, or you can google one to try online.
  • Take yourself on an inner pilgrimage without leaving home. Many good books will lead you into a deeper place you long for. You might follow Phileena Heuretz on her pilgrimage to El Camino in her book “Pilgrimage of the Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life.”
  • Take a pilgrimage into your own emotions. We generally want to flee from difficult emotions like anger, fear, or sadness. Instead, welcome them, sit with them, explore them, and see what they have to teach you.

I’d love to hear about any pilgrimages you have taken and how they have affected you!

Photo Credit Top Pic.