Category Archives: stuff from books

Open Space

“To keep the heart space open, we need several things.  First, we almost all need some healing in regard to our carried hurts from the past…  And to be fully honest, I think your heart needs to be broken, and broken open, at least once to have a heart at all or to have a heart for others.” (Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water, p. 11, 12)

These quotes pretty much explain my spiritual journey since college.  I probably came to the second part first.  Rohr talks about the importance of re-aligning the head, heart and body. In my head-centered religion, I realized during college that my heart was not open.  I remember singing the praise song, “break my heart for what breaks yours,” and realizing that my heart didn’t break for much of anything.  And then my friend Nicole died (14 years ago yesterday), and my heart broke.  I began to FEEL instead of just THINK.  A little bit to avoid feeling, and a little bit to get better at feeling, I went back to Kenya and worked in a children’s home, where I met a young girl named Wamaitha who broke my heart a bit more.  Sitting on the bench in the children’s dorm, a crowd of kids tugging at my hair to braid it, and Wamaitha sitting next to me–holding my hand and rocking back and forth singing sounds and words that only she understood–my heart broke open just a little bit more.  When I came back to the States and got involved in a community that didn’t need me to think my way to spiritual maturity, I sensed my heart opening to those around me, and more deeply to a Spirit that is mysterious and beyond comprehension.

At times along the way, I have also realized the need for healing in regard to past hurts.  This has meant counseling and spiritual direction, where I have been able to sit with that inner 8-yr. old who was dropped off at boarding school and give her some space to name her fears and tears in new ways.

I can see the difference it makes as my heart space becomes more and more comfortable being open.  It’s overwhelming and scary–because an open heart space inevitably means the possibility of pain.  Not just pain others might cause me, but I find myself feeling the pain of others…of our culture…of the world more deeply.  Maybe that’s what Rohr means when he talks about a broken heart leading to a heart for others…

the space between us

My Lent devotional this year has been A Way Other than Our Own, by Walter Bruegemann.  There are several quotes throughout the book worth pondering, but here’s what he says about Maundy Thursday that has me thinking today:

“The drama of the towel provided an example for the disciples to replicate:

  • Replicate the truth that you have come from God; you are not on your own.
  • Replicate that the truth that you will go to God; your future is assured.
  • Replicate that the space between you and others is filled with a towel.
  • Replicate that as you travel with towel and basin, you will be safe in vulnerability, treasured in obedience, and free from anxiety” (p.88)

What do I make of this image of the space between me and others being filled with a towel?    The towel is the symbol of vulnerability and humility.  If the space between me and others is filled with a towel, we are open to that vulnerability–both in ourselves and in the other.  We are mutually serving each other…at each other’s feet.

That means not only am I serving my neighbor, but I am open to being served by my neighbor.

Deaconesses (and others) use this image of basin and towel to describe our call to the world.  We receive a basin and towel at our Consecration service.  So I can intellectualize and spiritualize this ritual with the best of them.  But, personally, I am all too aware at how easy it is to keep distance between me and others that is not filled with the towel of service and vulnerability, but is filled instead with fear, criticism, and self-protection.

So what would difference would it make to see the space filled with a towel?

I imagine it would make quite a difference.

As Bruegemann says, as we travel with towel and basin, we will be safe in vulnerability, treasured in obedience, and free from anxiety.

Safe.  Treasured.  Free.

Yep.  I imagine it would make quite a difference.


Redemptive Violence and 24

A few weeks ago I listened to a Robcast about the “lie of redemptive violence.”  In this podcast, Rob Bell explains how this idea of redemptive violence–that violence in retaliation for wrong-doing can be justified–is deep in our society…and even in our theology.  But it’s really a myth, and he goes on to talk about how the “Jesus narrative” provides a powerful alternative to this myth of redemptive violence.

So I had this podcast in my mind and was pondering this concept of redemptive violence, when I had a brief window in my regular schedule of television shows and was looking for something to watch.  So (don’t judge me) I settled on the final season of the show 24.  In this final season, counter-terrorism expert Jack Bauer is called on once again to save the U.S. from the threat of a terrorist attack.  Jack Bauer spends the next 24 hours trying to neutralize the threat in order to preserve peace.  And, of course, in quality mediocre television drama fashion, lots of people are tortured and killed in the race against time.  And at the last minute, the president of the United States has to decide what lines can or cannot be crossed for the sake of a signed document called a ‘peace treaty’.  To the show’s credit, it does not tie all the pieces together nicely at the end, and the whole thing ends with a bit of a question about who exactly ‘won’ after all that fighting and revenge.

Continue reading Redemptive Violence and 24


The 2nd sermon: “Remember who you are”

In pondering the sermon for this Sunday, I discovered that I actually had two sermons.  This is the one that won’t get preached.

Text: Matthew 5:13-16

In the movie Lion King, Simba is born into greatness.  A descendant of the king, he is told from a young age that he will one day rule over the pride land.  He doesn’t do anything to deserve this honor.  It’s just who he is.  It’s his identity—not because of who HE is, but because of who his father is.  And Simba is raised to be confident and comfortable in this calling.  He can sing and dance with his friends, saying, “I just can’t wait to be king,” because his calling is clear to him.

But then he starts listening to other voices.  After a serious accident, Simba listens to his uncle who tells him he has failed at life and must run away.  And Simba does.  He runs away and loses sight of who he was born to be…he loses sight of his calling.

Continue reading The 2nd sermon: “Remember who you are”

The Boat…

My congregation is doing a 6-week sermon/study series based on the book by John Ortberg, If you Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat.  I’ve been familiar with this book for quite some time, but I don’t think I’ve read it.  The book is based on the story of Peter walking on water, and the basic premise is that to really experience the fullness of what it means to follow the call of Jesus, we need to step beyond the safety and security of what they know and walk directly into the storm.

So this first week we were invited to ponder what boat we are in that maybe Jesus is calling us out of.  Ortberg says, “Your boat is whatever represents safety and security to you apart from God himself.  Your boat is whatever you are tempted to put your trust in, especially when life gets a little stormy.  Your boat is whatever keeps you so comfortable that you don’t want to give it up even if it’s keeping you from joining Jesus on the waves.  Your boat is whatever pulls you away from the high adventure of extreme discipleship” (p. 17).

As I was pondering this for myself, I began to wonder…what if the church (structured religious institution) is my boat?  What if I’m missing out on something bigger because all I can see is what I’m doing now…which is good and important and genuinely matters.  But is there somewhere beyond this to which I am being called? Continue reading The Boat…

The power of pain and love

I have an unfortunate love of watching TV series…straight through on Netflix.  I don’t do this often, but every now and then I have a stretch of time that isn’t highly scheduled and I find myself spending more time than I’d like to admit clicking “watch next episode,” saying ‘just one more, and then I’ll get up and be productive.’  Just one more turns into…well…more than one more.

One thing I notice when watching shows back to back like that, is that the themes and messages underneath the story-line are a lot easier to pick up.  Right now I’m in the middle of catching up on the show “Once Upon a Time,” and I’m struck by how the show is trying to figure out why love is so powerful, whether good will really ultimately conquer evil without compromising its goodness, what makes a true hero or villain, and whether or not people can really change.  Throughout the multiple story-lines in this show, the questions of love, power, redemption and sacrifice are really striking.   Continue reading The power of pain and love

The plight of the mystic

“It isn’t so much that people leave religion, I think as it is that, like Olympic runners on a mission, they come to a moment in life when they go beyond the system to the very source of the light.

It is the plight of the mystic to enter the universe of God alone where no charts or maps or signs exist to guide us and assure us of the way.  It is a serious and disturbing moment, one after which we are never quite the same.”

Continue reading The plight of the mystic


Advent week 4: Pentecost and Community

Every now and then, I have a conversation with someone about the importance of engaging in a faith community of some kind.  Sometimes the sense is that folks want to get ‘other things sorted out first’ before focusing on things like spiritual development or faith community.  I hear things like, “I need to get organized with school,” or “I need to first find a job and get my finances a bit more stable.”   Continue reading Advent week 4: Pentecost and Community


Advent week 3: The power of proximity

The people of the Judean hill country know enough to realize that this means that God will be summoning him to something special in which, due to their proximity to him, they will almost certainly be caught up” (Gooder, p. 90).

This week’s Advent focus was on John the Baptist, whose circumstances around his birth made it clear that his life would not be ‘the usual,’ but that he was called by God for a special purpose.  Gooder draws connections between the birth of John, the birth of Samuel and the birth of Samson to show that it was clear from the beginning that God was up to something with this kid.  This caused fear in those around him, Gooder says.   Continue reading Advent week 3: The power of proximity

Worthiness and Poverty

I recently began reading the book “When Helping Hurts,” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.  I’ve heard about this book in the context of reflecting on attitudes and methods used in “Christian Outreach” that are…less than helpful.  I’m reading it to increase my capacity to engage a conversation about the attitudes and methods of ‘mission’ in my local context and in other environments.

A few chapters in, the authors are offering a ‘theological framework for poverty.’  I’m not sure I agree with everything they’re saying, but much of what they say is not untrue:  poverty is not just material, poverty is spiritual, relational, emotional, etc…and any ‘help’ that’s given that only addresses material poverty ignores the other dimensions.  And “until we embrace our mutual brokenness, our work with low-income people is likely to do far more harm than good.”  I don’t disagree.

But then here’s the question posed at the end of the chapter:

Continue reading Worthiness and Poverty