Monday, September 24, 2012

Searching and Fearless

Step 4 - is a searching and fearless moral inventory - or a struggle.

The story that i used in preaching this week was Jacob wrestling with the angel/man/God in the night. And the word of the week was struggle.

I struggled with the whole idea of the searching and fearless moral inventory. To look deeply at ourselves takes a lot of courage. Richard Rohr wrote: "I am convinced that some people are driven to addictions to quiet their constant inner critic - it only gives them another thing to hate themselves for!"

And so a searching and fearless moral inventory seems to invite judgment against ourselves that can so easily lead to despair. What do I do with the mess that is me?

This weekend i was blessed!!!! to go to a workshop led by Richard Rohr. He is truly one of my great mentors in his writing and his lecturing and traveling will stop in March. So Friday and Saturday was a gift beyond compare. He spoke - without notes for the most part - Friday Night and 4 times on Saturday. He was wise, funny, and extremely real.

One of the things he talked about was how so many people's idea of God has not grown past - "Santa Claus" - making a list and checking it twice and going to find out who is naughty and nice. And that kind of theology means that some people are in and some are out and you better watch out! With that God my inventory will be superficial and fearful.

But I have grown to understand God as the complete source of love and grace. And that our task as humans is to receive the love that God is giving us and then to give it away. That is our source of happiness. In fact, sin then - is what we do to block receiving the love and giving the love away.

With a God who is all love, it is a lot easier to do the necessary struggle of self examination. Richard Rohr calls this "shadowboxing" as we have glimpse the parts of ourselves that we do not want to see - "our unacceptable self by reason of nature, nurture and choice."

What I loved about this "searching and Fearless" moral inventory is that it is about seeing. Seeing what we may not want to see about ourselves -and "if you see rightly the actions and behavior will eventually take care of themselves."

I find such hope in this. And I trust that as we continue on this journey through the 12 steps that God is giving us the courage to see and to trust that God can help us to become less blocked, less defended, more whole, and full of love and spirit.

Two further thoughts from Richard

From the book:
"The goal is actually not the perfect avoidance of all sin, which is not possible anyway, but the struggle itself and the encounter and wisdom that comes from it."

From the workshop:
"Grace increases by usage....say yes to the first grace, you open yourself up to more grace. if you will not allow God to love you in your unworthiness, you do not grow up - becoming merciful and gracious. You never meet love and you never become love."

It is a lot to ruminate on.
But it enables me to say and live by this:
God is Good all the time
All the time God is good.

Monday, September 17, 2012


This was my week of exploring the third step of AA - or spirituality anonymous.

The third step is made a decision to turn our will and life over to God.

And the word for that is to "surrender." Which is not at all a welcome idea. Richard Rohr writes: "Surrender will always feel like dying, and yet it is the necessary path to liberation."

I had that experience that sometimes happens to me - that when I care deeply about the subject, I have a lot of trouble putting it into a sermon. I have first hand experience with "surrendering" and I know that it is easier to talk about than to do.
And when I think about the times that I have finally given up - and it is often giving up my ideas of how things should be or how I should be. and they are often wrenching and painful but they invariably lead to freedom.

What was interesting to me is that in all of the books I am using for this series - they talk about codependency at this juncture of the program. If we are going to turn our will and life to God we stop trying to control everything and everyone.
And stop trying to meet everyone's needs. Again, I have first hand experience with being codependent and I know that often we are the last ones to recognize our own controlling nature.

So, the bottom line here in this whole idea is that we have got to get in touch with what is going on with ourselves. And that, of course, is the whole point of everything - not just AA - but the Christian journey. If we are serious about it, we will continue to allow God to show us what we need to see right now.

When I was on Silent Retreat, I spent some time with Mary - a statue of Mary in the beautiful grotto at Our Lady of the Pines. She surrendered. To say yes - to giving birth to anyone is a surrender of your whole life. Let alone this story of God's angel who tells this "favored one" that the holy spirit is going to come upon her. She surrendered to giving birth to Jesus - or another way of saying it - she gave birth to love.

I shared this prayer with the Sunday night discussion group. I received it from Debbie Brenneman at my peer group meeting. It is written by Jeremy Taylor.

Love Prayer

Oh God(dess)
Grant me Love!

Please make it simply
Make it crack and melt the hard places
Where I am so sure of myself.

Make it stiffen and enliven the weak places
Where I am uncertain, ignorant,
and secretly afraid.

And please make it horribly "inappropriate"
So I must really know you in myself,
Myself in you,
To give up everything that it not love
(Because it is so hard to do it willingly....)

I pray this
Knowing it will ruin me.

Let me be ruined by love,
So that I may come back to you
Without pride, or stupidity,
- or pretense, or opinions -

or any sense of separation -
Like a lover
Hungry and ecstatically full
All at the same time!

Final quote by Richard Rohr
"We have been graced for a truly sweet surrender, if we can radically accept being radically accepted - for nothing! is easy to surrender when you know that nothing but Love and Mercy is on the other side."

Monday, September 10, 2012


I started a sermon series on Sunday on the 12 steps of AA as it relates to our spiritual journey. And it certainly does.

I have been interested in the 12 steps for a long time and at one point was part of a 12 step group - "CoDependents Anonymous" which was helpful to me at the time.

Keith Miller wrote a book called "Hunger For Healing" which was about the 12 steps as we approach our "sin" or separation from God and I did a small group on that in Bowling Green and here at Karl Road. I also did a group about 6 years ago on a book called "Addiction and Grace" by Gerald Miller and now I am using "Breathing Under Water" by Richard Rohr.

A verse in the Bible that has always been pivotal to me was from Romans 7:

8 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

To me this captures completely the dilemma of being human and wanting to do one thing and doing the exact opposite of what really makes us happy or is healthy for is. It feels like "powerlessness"

And that is the theme of this first week - identifying areas in our life in which we are powerless. And of course, that is most of them. But we sure like the illusion of control. That we can control more than we can.

Anyway, this is a beginning of going deeper into self awareness that might lead to greater faith and even changes within our lives. This first step is definitely the hardest - But the truth of our lives is that when we contront and accept our powerlessness - we are able to turn ourselves over to a higher power and really find peace in the midst of what used to be turmoil.

There are a couple of quotes from the book that I wanted to put in my sermon - but they did not fit. They are:

"Until you bottom out, and come to the limits of your own fuel supply, there is no reason for you to switch to a higher octane of fuel."

"To finally surrender ourselves to healing, we have to have three spaces opened up within us - and all at the same time: our opinionated head, our closed down heart and our defensive and defended body. That is the work of spirituality - and it is work."

And so we begin by praying about our powerlessness - that leads us into trusting God and finding that God is trustworthy.

Richard Rohr writes:
"Let me sum up, then the foundational ways that I believe Jesus and the 12 steps of AA are saying the same thing but with different vocabulary:

We suffer to get well.
We surrender to win.
We die to live.
We give it away to keep it.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Awed by God

This is a title I could use for so many posts - because I truly find myself living my life awed by God.

It is Sunday morning and I am getting ready to go to church for Labor Day worship. I am not preaching - instead Melissa and Sarah Beth will talk about "Faith in the Workplace" - how their faith affects their life at work. I look forward to it.

We can start there. Tuesday morning - which is always the beginning of my week - I looked ahead to the freedom of not preaching and the extra time that it gives during the week and wondered who to visit, whether to go to my regional minister's mother's funeral on Friday, what the week would look like

It was at 9 am that I looked at my cell phone and heard a message from Sharon Daniels that Bob was dying. Sharon is a former parishioner in Bowling Green and over the years since we lived there has remained a friend. She and Bob have gone on cruises with us and Bob and Chuck talk and golf. Sharon's minister was going on vacation - taking his oldest to college this weekend and Bob was dying and what was she going to do.

I called the minister and we decided that I was going to do the funeral. It has been almost 9 years since I served that church and it seemed right. And for me and Chuck it began a very holy week. I worked at Karl Road Church Tuesday morning and we drove to BG (2 hours drive) and arrived at hospice literally a moment after Bob took his last breath. The whole family was there and their good friends Marcia and Ernie. We were able to just be with Sharon during those next 5 hours. I remember when my mother died and how strange it is immediately afterward - just to know what to do. Because in many ways there is nothing to do - you have to eat and start to tell people and just process that this has happened. And that is what we did. We went out to eat and watched the video from their 50th anniversary and looked at pictures and talked a little about the funeral. We laughed and cried. I was just glad to be present. And grateful for Chuck who was with me. We returned home Tuesday night.

There was some planning of the funeral over the phone and via email. Thursday night we drove to Catawba where Mary Ann and Bill have a condo on the lake and it was what I needed and Chuck needed. Mary Ann and I walked every morning for years when I was in BG and we had not seen each other for about 5 years. To say it was a blessing to be with her and Bill is an understatement. It was a gift - and I thank God for her hospitality and her love.

Friday I went to BG and met with the family and started to work on the funeral. I went back to the church where I served for 13 years and worked in the secretary's office. It is all very strange to go back to a place that was home that is different and yet the same. I saw a number of people and was able to catch up. Everyone was so happy that I was doing the funeral and so was I. Even the funeral director was surprised because when I left I had been clear that I was unable to come back for anyone. But these circumstances seemed to be God led.

Bob Daniels was really an ordinary man - in that he did not graduate from college, worked at the phone company, retired at 52. He came from a large and poor family.
And Sharon shared how very difficult their first years were for them financially.
However, Bob had a big heart and really loved to help people. He loved baseball - actually all sports - and coached and traveled. They were members of lots of organizations. Anyway - over 400 people came to the calling hours and over 200 to the funeral. And at least 150 at the funeral lunch that was an hour after the funeral. It was an outpouring of love.

I actually wrote the funeral address gradually - beginning it in Columbus, working on it Friday afternoon at the church and finishing it Friday evening at Mary Ann's.
And I felt - as I often do - that God was guiding me throughout it. What really struck me at the end was the "poverty" of the beginnings of Bob's life and the enormous "wealth" - in love and friends at the end.

And then Saturday at the luncheon both Chuck and I were so happy to see so many people that we knew from our years in BG. Everyone was older - including us - but we all told each other how good we looked. I heard a lot of stories of what has happened in the meantime and felt blessed by the way people shared their lives with me. For some folks - it was clear - it was really good to touch base with me and what we were together. I felt overwhelmed and blessed by the afternoon.

And at the end - of course - exhausted by it all.

But in reflection I see God's hand through it all - bringing me to people that needed me, bringing me to people I needed, giving me words that gave comfort and clarity, bringing a community together to help a grief stricken family and to celebrate a life that was lived well.

I say this so often - I am awed by God and the way that God leads us and feeds us and comforts us.