It Takes a Village

Typically we think of the phrase “It takes a village” as applying only to raising children. spiritual giftsBut, I’m pretty sure the apostle Paul would have said that we all need a village, and, in fact, that the Divine has given each of us different gifts so as to ensure we band together as a village. Except Paul used the analogy of the body. He said,   “The body is one, even though it has many parts; all the parts – many though they are – comprise a single body…God put all the different parts into one body on purpose. If all the parts were alike where would the body be? (1 Cor. 12: 12, 18)

(For the full audio version, click here.)

This is sort of a no-brainer, but then Paul nails us with the “traps” that keep us from having that kind of village.

The first trap is believing that we’re not good enough to be part of the village. “I don’t like being a foot… I wanted to be a hand… hands are so much better, they can do so much more.”

We’ve all been there, done that.

The first trap goes hand-in-hand with the second… that we’ve been conditioned to believe that some people are worth more than others and some skills are better than others. Therefore, that some people have worth and others don’t. We want to be more than we are. We want what others have, and so deny the strength, purpose and value of, not only ourselves, but the whole village.

I listen to our wonderful pianist, Sue, I SO wish I could play like that. But I could play the same piece 50 times (and I’m sure I have) and never be able to play it as well as she does on the first try. She has a natural musical skill.

At times I’m jealous and envious. And I recognize that I probably have less appreciation for what I can do, because I’m dwelling on the fact that I don’t have what seems to be a much more fun, exciting gift. Simply put, some days I feel like a bellybutton when I want to be a glamorous eye!

I’ve worked with so many people over the years who wanted purpose and meaning, but felt the same way. “I’m just a belly button (sigh), what can I do?”

This gets even more difficult the older we get and the more physical ability we lose. A true community will still see that person as valuable for the different gifts that age offers… perspective, wisdom, storytelling, compassion, and so forth.

In the past I was just as grateful for the volunteers who folded weekly bulletins, cleaned out the pews, or visited the shut-ins, as I was for the lay leader and church council chair. We needed them all, though some were considered more important than that others. Paul is clear that all gifts have equal value, because all are needed for the body to be whole and function well.

I look around our little community on Sunday mornings and I am in awe of the number of gifts that the people bring not only to Sacred Journeys, but to their families and the greater community. I watch how everyone interacts and I don’t sense a hierarchy, and it is a beautiful thing to see! Seriously. To watch everyone come together to help one another, or to go on a mission trip, or to solve a problem, or to help Sunday mornings function… it is simply beautiful. Our God-given gifts at work without ego or a need to control. Just a desire to benefit the common good.

That’s a great feeling. That’s what being a community is about.

It all gets us back to figuring out what our gifts are and learning to use them. What do you love to do that can benefit others? No matter how “small” you may think it is. Where does your energy and passion lie? And how is the Spirit moving you to share it? Pay attention, as the Divine continually puts opportunities in front of us to use our gifts.

Love & Light!




Gifts? Me?

The apostle Paul had quite the challenge with the folks in Corinth. They argued about which

hand supporting abstract glow of light and stars

Christian teacher to follow (Paul, Apollos or Peter), about what meat they could eat for their “love feasts,” about the role of women, and the hierarchy of spiritual gifts. For three weeks we’re going to focus on the concept of spiritual gifts, because, frankly, I think people just aren’t very good at identifying, claiming and utilizing their gifts.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

Paul’s response to the arrogant insistence that certain gifts were better than others was to tell them point-blank that all the spiritual gifts come from the Spirit to be used for the common good. These are the nine gifts that Paul lists: prophecy, healing, speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues, miracles, discernment of spirits, faith, wisdom in discourse and knowledge.

It’s easy to read this ancient list of gifts and say, I don’t have any of those. The archaic language and expectations feel unrealistic and like we’re trying to fit into a pair of shoes that we outgrew a long time ago…. you know the flashing princess and spiderman shoes? (OK, maybe those were our kids, but you get my point.) However, many churches today, to maintain Biblical literalism, insist we must continue to have those gifts! Sigh.

To this end they employ some sort of Spiritual Gifts Inventory to convince their parishioners that they really do have some meaningful gifts. In my “research” for this message, I took a few of these. In the one for the United Methodist Church, my top four gifts were: prophecy, speaking and interpreting tongues, and healing. Really? Then they went on to share modified understandings of these terms, which is all well and good, but perhaps it is time for our own list.

It seems sensible that we simply define spiritual gifts as those traits and skills that can be used for the common good – to lift up and build up, to help and to support. The list we came up with Sunday included: patience, kindness, generosity, empathy, compassion, listening, loving, teaching and open-mindedness. Very intangible traits that we typically don’t see as anything special in ourselves, but appreciate greatly in others.

When we’re trying to figure out our more concrete spiritual gifts (talents), it is important to follow the energy and passion in our lives. What do we enjoy doing? What do we have a great deal of energy for? All of these can be used for the common good. Here are a few examples. Art… to make the world more beautiful and to bring different perspectives. Knitting, quilting… to keep people warm. Numbers… to help budget, save, plan. Sports… teach others and bringing them together as a team. Gardening.. . to provide healthy food, to share, to beautify. Baking/cooking… to feed others. Nature… to protect, honor, share. Cars… to help fix other’s cars, to teach others to fix them. Health professionals… to promote health, living abundantly, to aid in healing and recovery. Justice… advocate for social change.

Here is your HOMEWORK for the week: identify your gifts? If you have a hard time with this, ask a friend what they see as your gifts – tangible and intangible. Let a friend know what gifts you see in them (“I really admire your patience.” “You are such a good listener.”) And then the big question: How can you use, or how are you using, your gifts for the common good?



How to walk in the dark

Have you ever taken a cave tour where they stopped you in the middle and turned owalking-aloneut all the lights so you could experience complete and utter darkness? You know, the kind where you can’t see your hand two inches in front of your face. It can be frightening and disorienting. Or have you ever woken in the middle of the night only to lay awake for hours with your mind conjuring up worst case scenarios for everything and everyone in your life? We seem to lose our rational perspectives in the middle of the night and feed foolishly off a distorted sense of reality.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

These same things happen when we enter into dark times in our lives. Illness, loss, anger, fear, anxiety, depression, loneliness, hopelessness, emptiness… there are many, many forms of emotional and spiritual darkness. They can leave us fearful and horribly disoriented, stumbling around in the shadows of our minds in broad daylight. This is the negative power of the darkness, and it typically has us putting up walls to hide from the fear and pain. Or we find ourselves running, hiding or ignoring whatever we’re struggling with as best we can.

Go to the Light. Live in the Light. Be the Light. These are the common messages of the church. But these messages dismiss the positive power of the darkness, and leave us feeling like we’ve failed if we find ourselves in the dark for too long.

If we can find the courage to turn into the darkness – the same way a boat needs to turn into big waves to avoid capsizing – and ride through the storm, perhaps we’ll be able to experience some of the positive power of the darkness. Darkness is restful, rejuvenating, creative and generative. Honoring our darkness, facing the truth of our sadness, pain and struggles, can bring learning, growth, healing, and positive change. Yes, it is uncomfortable. Yes, it can still be scary. But blocking, running or ignoring it will not make it go away or get better.

Here are a few practical tips for walking in the dark:

  • Don’t isolate, find someone to talk to who will be honest and offer gentle perspective (do NOT talk to those people who are going to tell you to “buck up,” “God only gives you what you can handle,” “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” “Just smile,” “God has a reason for this.” Find the person who will love you, hug you and ask, “What can I do?”)
  • Recognize when you need more than a friend – seek professional help when needed. This is not failure, this is wisdom.
  • Ask for help or allow help when someone offers
  • Give yourself permission to be less than perfect.
  • Be gentle with yourself – don’t push, berate, or judge yourself
  • Know what feeds your soul – alone time, music, nature, writing, painting, gardening
  • Try this mantra: one day at a time… one moment at a time…
  • Do not make major decisions (remember your perspective is off-kilter)
  • Do not let yourself get sucked into the downward spiral of worry and fear that happens in the middle of the night. It never looks as bad in the morning.
  • This too shall pass. Sounds like a cliche’ but you’ve made it through before. There is historical precedent for making it through again.

Spiritually, it can be extremely difficult to trust the Divine during times of darkness, because He/She/It feels absent, or at best very far away. But trust and faith are about believing when it is hard to. Isaiah 43 says,

I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the seas, I will be with you;
When you pass over the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
Walk through fire, and you will not be burned;
Walk through flames and they shall not consume you…
Have no fear, for I am with you…

It doesn’t say that we won’t ever feel up to our necks in water, or that we won’t ever walk through fire. But we are assured that when life gets difficult and scary, God is still there. Even if it doesn’t seem like it. And if we ground ourselves in the Divine Love, we will not be completely overwhelmed and consumed. We will get through.

Remember, in a lunar model of spirituality (see last week’s blog), light and dark wax and wane. They have equal importance and equal ability to teach us, heal us and bring us to wholeness.



Stars come with the darkness

It’s pretty typical for pastors (and maybe normal folks, too, but I haven’t been that kind of normal for a long time)… I crashed after Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, I love the season, the frenzy, the presents, the candlelight, the music, the kids… sirius-z1even the family… but then I had nothing left. I was all out of nice, I was tired… worst of all, I felt empty. Honestly, I hate to even admit it. What happened to the illuminating, calm, peaceful presence of the Divine I’d felt just a few days before? It seemed like the light I’d just help usher back into the world had gone out.  I just wanted to sit in the darkness staring at the lights on the Christmas tree and fill the emptiness within me with Christmas cookies.

(For the full audio, click here.)

Then yesterday was Epiphany, another celebration of the light come into the world. Epiphany is the story of the magi who follow the star to the baby Jesus. A visit to recognize a child who would bring illumination to the darkness. Yet, a week ago, I felt like there wasn’t any way I’d be able to preach my way out of a paper bag, much less wax poetic about the Epiphany. I was steeped in darkness during the two weeks where we celebrate the coming of the light.

And, frankly, it didn’t help that Christianity has never had anything nice to say about the darkness. It has been a synonym for sin, ignorance, spiritual blindness, evil, death. Society, too, has its fair share of negativity about darkness. We’ve been programmed to think of darkness in terms of fear, weakness, hopelessness, despair, depression, grief and anger. Not to mention images like the cowboy in the black hat, the shadow side of ourselves, Voldemort, Darth Vader and the dark side of the force (“Stay away from the dark side, Luke!”)

Nope, we much prefer the light. The church is all about being in the light. 1 John 1:5 says, “God is light and in God there is no darkness at all.” Jesus is the Child of Light, the Light of the World. If we are to be close to, or become more like God and Jesus, we need to be light only.

It’s enough to evoke a good dose of guilt in us when we feel lost in darkness and separated from the light.

What do we do when darkness falls? We want to force it away. We want to pretend it doesn’t exist. When we have problems (especially in our relationships) we don’t tell anyone. When our past sneaks up to bite us, we push it away and try not to think about it. I’ve had people tell me they won’t come to church when they were down because they didn’t want to put on a happy face. They believed that church is a place you are supposed to smile… it is only for people of the light.

Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book “Learning to Walk in the Dark,” calls this understanding “full solar spirituality.” It focuses on constantly remaining in the light of God and not allowing oneself to have any negative thoughts about life or God. She suggests you can always tell a “full solar church” by its emphasis on the benefits of faith, which include always being confident of God’s presence, God’s guidance in your life, that God will always answer your prayers, as well as being completely certain of what you believe.

The churches have lived in the duality of light and darkness where light is good and darkness is bad. So, instead of being taught how to walk in the darkness; instead of being given resources for getting through the challenges in life, people have simply been told to avoid the dark. But that is simply not possible.

But what if it is balance between light and darkness that is needed for a healthy spirituality? Taylor calls this “lunar spirituality,” where we recognize that the times of light and dark wax and wane, ebb and flow throughout our lifetimes. But one is not good and one bad. This is simply life, God there regardless, and both offer the opportunity for learning and growth.

Og Mandino said, “I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.” 

Joan Chittester, in her book “Between the Dark and the Daylight,” expounds, “The stars that come with darkness are the new insights, the new directions, the new awareness of the rest of life that darkness brings. Then at the end of the struggle with it, the spirit of resistance finally gives way to the spirit of life.”

To bring us back to the metaphor of the Epiphany story, if the magi hadn’t been fascinated with the night sky and astrology, they would not have followed this strange new star and discovered the child who would bring insight, new direction and new awareness to the world. But, they not only had to be interested in looking at the stars, they also had to be brave enough to walk in the dark.

There is the tension of fear and expectation when we truly enter and engage the darkness. We sense that what we find there may be terribly uncomfortable. Maybe we’ll have to really engage and look at our loneliness, our anger, our emptiness, our memories, our grief, our failings. But if we don’t, we won’t ever see the stars of understanding, awakening, healing, and inner peace.

I don’t expect or want us to be a full solar church. In fact, I hope and pray that we are a lunar church – one in which we understand that the light waxes and wanes in our lives, and that is normal. I’d like us to be a safe place where people are comfortable being, no matter their spiritual, emotional, mental or physical state. I’d like us to be a community that is not afraid to journey into the unknown, like the magi, seeking new insights and new awareness. I’d like us to not feel like we need to flood the darkness with security lights, but to look deep into the night sky where stars await us.