Tag Archives: spiritual

Put Your Mask On First


This post is part of the February Synchroblog “Renewal”

I run across a lot of people who wear their exhaustion, lack of sleep, over scheduled life as a badge of honor and more times than not the excuse is connected to them taking care of others … their kids, parents, friends, spouse, neighbor, the sick, poor, imprisoned, orphaned.

It’s good to care for others but we can’t offer much, for long, if we don’t take care of ourselves first.

When you fly on an airplane, flight attendants always tell you to “put your oxygen mask on first” before trying to help others. Why? Because if you run out of oxygen you will not be able to help anyone else.

Putting on our mask first is a great metaphor for reminding us to take time to care for ourselves so we are healthy enough to help others.

We need to be renewed daily or else we risk becoming burned out, over stressed, anxious or extremely fatigued which can result in physical, emotional and mental health issues.

Two basic things we must do daily is make sure we get enough rest and eat healthy … however, we need more than that to be whole and healthy. Getting enough rest and eating healthy keep us renewed physically but doesn’t meet our emotional, mental and spiritual needs which are just as important to our well being.

I’m a people person so spending time with my family each day helps to keep me refreshed – but spending time with them is not the same as doing things for them – so, each day I try to make sure we have some time to just be together … talking, laughing, sharing a meal together are enough to make a huge difference.

I also try to get together with good friends several times a month. Spending some leisure time with close friends, sharing our stories and listening to one another, laughing together, encouraging each other and caring for one another are all things that renew me emotionally, mentally and even spiritually.

Some other things that are like a breath of fresh air to me include reading a good novel, listening to uplifting music, having a good laugh, being physically active and engaging in a creative activity.

I don’t think the problem is a lack of things that can help us as much as the fact that we get busy and end up not taking the time to do the things that can help us. We have to be intentional about caring for ourselves just the way we are intentional about caring for others.

Part of being intentional includes us taking the time to identify what works for us … to build a menu of things that are like oxygen for us.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

1. Clean, fresh air

2. Exercise/movement

3. Meaningful relationship

4. Fulfilling career

5. Rest and relaxation

6. Spiritual practice

7. Creative hobbies

And remember … it isn’t selfish to take care of yourself first … it is the responsible and loving thing to do. So, put your mask on first!

What is it that renews you?

Be sure and check out the other February Synchroblog posts:

Abbie Waters – It is Well with My Soul

Done With Religion – Renewal

Mark Votova – 30 Ways the Church Can Find Renewal

Jeremy Myers – I am Dying … (So I Can Live Again)

Phil Lancanster – The Parable of the Classic Car

Susan Schiller – Renewal by Design

Glenn Hager – Repurposed

Wesley Rostoll – Why I no longer pray for revival

Liz Dyer – Put Your Mask On First

Clara Ogwuazor-Mbamalu – Renewal of the Spirit

K. W. Leslie – Those who wait on the Lord

Lisa Brown – Momma’s Kick Off Your Shoes and Stay For A While!

Jenom Makama – …Like An Antivirus

Leah – Renewal!

Peggy – Abi and the February 2015 Synchroblog – Renewal

Quotes Worth Repeating – The Guru’s Cat

10257039_10204059223820221_7035561874645616129_n (1)The story of the Guru’s cat by Anthony de Mello is worth repeating:

When the guru sat down to worship each evening, the ashram cat would get in the way and distract the worshipers. So he ordered that the cat be tied during evening worship.

After the guru died the cat continued to be tied during evening worship. And when the cat died, another cat was brought to the ashram so that it could be duly tied during evening worship.

Centuries later learned treatises were written by the guru’s disciples on the religious and liturgical significance of tying up a cat while worship is performed.   – Anthony de Mello

You can find this story and many more in Anthony de Mello’s book The Song of the Bird

Prayer For The Week – Centering Prayer

“For God alone my soul waits in silence Ps 62:1

The practice of centering prayer seeks to still the activity of the mind in order to experience a loving awareness of God’s presence.

1. Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within you. Silently repeat the chosen sacred word or phrase in your mind. It may be helpful to link this repetition to the rhythm of your breath, for example repeating shalom with each in- and out-breath. The word or phrase can also be split, repeating “sha-” while breathing in and “–lom” when breathing out, or breathing in.  The breathing technique should consist of breathing in slowly for a count of 4-7 seconds, then breathing out slowly for an equal length of time while silently saying your sacred word in rhythm with your breathing.  I prefer to use the word Maranatha (Aramaic for Come Lord). Here is an audio example of using Maranatha as your sacred word.  Other suggestions: Jesus, Abba, Freedom, Stillness, Shalom.

2. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed.  You can sit cross-legged; full or half lotus; kneeling with a cushion or bench under your rear; or sitting in a chair, as long as the chair fits you so you can plant your feet with your back supported. All of these are fine. The point is simply to balance the body in an upright posture, so there is no need for adjustments while sitting, and to encourage alertness. Settle briefly and silently, to yourself, introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.  The goal is that silently repeating (or remembering) the sacred word to yourself will lead you to an inner silence.

3. When you become aware of thoughts, sensations, feelings–any perception whatsoever–return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.  Remember the three Rs: Resist no thought, React to no thought, Retain no thought.  You will drift into not needing the word, into the inner silence where you are “resting in God.”  When you realize you’re thinking about something, say the sacred word to yourself and let the thought go. The silence may last a while, or you may stay in the attachment-surrender loop the whole time. The goal is not constant emptiness. As Reverend Cynthia Bourgeault says, “striving for emptiness is a surefire way to guarantee that your meditation will be a constant stream of thoughts.”

4. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes. Before coming out of your meditation, start breathing deeper and more actively and become aware of your surroundings. You might also want to stretch your arms, yawn, sigh or rub your eyes before opening your eyes. You may choose to end your practice by saying a short prayer.

For best results do this 20 – 30 minutes in the morning and in the evening.  If you can’t do 20 minutes at first, do less rather than not doing it, but something happens to the stillness around 10 to 15 minutes into the practice that you will miss. That’s why 20+ is nearly universal. (you can set a gentle sounding timer to let you know when the allotted time is up)

Back To School Week – It sure sounds like a squirrel

A number of folks are blogging about the spiritual formation of children and youth this week – for info, see Brian McLaren’s blog for information on the “Back To School Week” synchroblog.

I have two sons who have grown up going to church … Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, Choir, Mission Trips, Church Camps, Weekend Retreats, Youth Groups, Bible Studies, Concerts and so on.  All in all it was a positive experience.  They made some good friends, received the support of a large community, and learned to serve others.  They were taught a lot about God, Jesus and how a good Christian should live.  But, to be honest, I have some concerns about the spiritual education my sons received through the church.

Before I continue I should share a couple of things. First, I want to say that I have never expected the church to be solely responsible for giving my children a spiritual education.  I believe that Christian parents are mainly responsible for the spiritual education of their children, and my husband and I have been committed to that.  We also believe that there is much that our children can and should learn in a larger community of Christians and believe that the church is in a position to offer much to children and youth when it comes to their spiritual education/formation.  Second, I should share that our family has been going through some sort of spiritual transition the last 4 or 5 years.  We began to question some of the things that were being taught and some of the things that were happening.  We didn’t write the church off, but we began to take a serious look at “stuff”  – what we believed, why we believed those things and how it all fit or didn’t fit with what we knew about God.  In some ways, we tried to start over.  This process has left us with a more distant relationship with the church, and yet we still have love, respect and hope for the church as we continue our quest to be followers of the way of Jesus Christ.

As I look back on the spiritual education that my sons received from the church and, at the same time, look forward through the lense of what I have learned over the years about children, youth, God, Jesus and the world that we inhabit, today I offer just one thing that I believe would improve the spiritual education that the church offers to children and youth.

I believe that the church should be less concerned with attempting to teach children and youth what to believe and more concerned with teaching them how to seek for themselves.  They should be encouraged to be inquisitive, to ask tough questions, to listen to opposing views.

We all know the joke about the Sunday School teacher who was teaching a lesson about being prepared and working diligently….

A Sunday School teacher wanted to use squirrels as an example of prepared workers. She started the lesson by saying, ”I’m going to describe something, and I want you to raise your hand when you know what it is.”  The children were excited to show her what they knew and leaned forward eagerly. “I’m thinking of something that lives in trees and eats nuts …” No hands went up. “It can be gray or brown and  it has a long bushy tail …” The children looked around the room at each other, but still no one raised a hand. “It chatters and somtimes it flips its tail when it’s excited …”   Finally one little boy shyly raised his hand. The teacher breathed a sigh of relief and said, “Okay, Michael. What do you think it is?”  “Well,” said the boy, “it sure sounds like a squirrel, but I guess the answer’s supposed to be Jesus.”

Jokes are often funny when they offer a sense of exaggerated reality – but I’m not sure that this joke is that exaggerated.

Children and youth (and a lot of adults) quickly learn that there are expected and acceptable answers at church.  They quickly learn that they are not supposed to bring up things that don’t make sense to them – like why a loving God would insist on his son dying a brutal death because he was so angry about other people’s sin, or why a loving God would want people to kill other people, or why women can teach children and youth but not men – and if they do bring up such things, their questions will be quickly explained away, or they will be labeled a troublemaker, or worse … their belief in Jesus might be doubted and maybe their eternal salvation will be in question.  Church has not typically been a place where children and youth are encouraged to ask honest questions, to bring their doubts, to share what they really are really thinking.

I believe the church should teach children and youth that not only is it okay to ask tough questions, to notice and bring up conflicts in scripture and belief systems, to have doubts, to share honestly, but that it is the mark of a person who is serious about following the way of Jesus.  The church should teach children that spiritual growth leads to asking hard questions and although we may not always find concrete answers there is value in seeking the answers and sometimes the answer we find might be different than we expect, or different from what someone else believes. They should be taught that there is a possibility that a person’s beliefs may change over time and therefore, it is important for them to remain humble about what they believe and how remaining aware of the fact that they could be wrong about what they believe will help them maintain a more teachable spirit – being able to learn more from God, others and life itself.

In addition to teaching children and youth such things, we should also model these things.  Adults, teachers, leaders and pastors should share their own questions, that they don’t have answers for all of their questions, how they and someone else have different views about a specific interpretation of scripture, how they once believed one thing and now believe something different, that their belief is based on their interpretation but another person might interpret differently.

Finally, children and youth should be taught about living in the tension of having conviction about their beliefs in the midst of uncertainty and doubt and about the idea of seeking the heart of God even when there is not a specific, black and white answer to their question.

The bottom line is that the church needs to stop spoon feeding answers to our children and youth.

After all, if it sounds like a squirrel – it just may be a squirrel.

What do you think would improve the spiritual education that the church offers to children and youth?


Here are some other contributions (send me your link if I don’t have it here):

Beginning A Conversation

Educating Out Of Spirituality

The Wisdom Of Children

BACK TO SCHOOL WEEK: We plant seeds that one day will grow

BACK TO SCHOOL WEEK: The Coolest Adults

BACK TO SCHOOL: A New Way To Frame Science

BACK TO SCHOOL WEEK: High School and Doubts


BACK TO SCHOOL WEEK: Intergenerational Classes



Best “Be Like Jesus” List

John Smulo posted this two years ago on his blog and reposted it recently.  It is the best “be like Jesus” list I have come across.  Every link is worth checking out.

1. Get baptized by the craziest guy in town.

2. Say and do things that are guaranteed to make religious people want to kill you. Repeat again, and again, and again, and again, and again and don’t stop unless forced.

3. Do amazing things for people and ask them to not tell anyone.

4. Hang out with the most despised, marginalized, looked down upon, and shunned people you can find.

5. When possible, forgive and restore people, even if they betrayed you.

6. Live in a way that provokes gossip.

7. Win the most grace competition.

8. Keep the party going.

9. Serve people (note: nose plugs may be required).

10. If you’re sad cry.

11. Empower people to do the extraordinary.

12. Act like a rock star in a hotel temple.

13. Radically simplify theology.

14.Break human-made religious laws. Repeat consistently.

15.Prioritize the most important over the important.

16. Let women with questionable backgrounds pay your bills.

If you would like to copy this and put it anywhere feel free.

What the heck…

This post is part of the December Synchroblog: Darkness and Light as Motifs of Spirituality. A list of contributors can be found at the end of this post.
I almost backed out of participating in this month’s synchroblog. To begin with, I am new at this blogging thing and still have a little anxiety about putting myself out there. In addition, I wasn’t that comfortable with the subject as I have been going through a spiritual transition over the last couple of years and am somewhat hesitant to declare what is light and what is darkness. But then I said, “what the heck”…so here goes:




image found at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamelah/124906800/  some rights reserved: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/deed.en


The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. John 1:5

I went to an old time revival with my mother when I was nine years old and ended up “walking the aisle” and “accepting Jesus as my savior.” I was baptized, started attending church and was satisfied that I would “go to heaven” when I died. My parents were believers but not committed and I went away to college with a shallow faith.

I married in my late 20s, had two sons and got divorced all in less than ten years. When my husband left me I went through a very “dark” time (for the record, my husband and I remarried seven years later and are happily married today). After a lot of emotional ups and downs I did some serious reflection and decided that I wanted and needed my faith to amount to more than “life insurance”. I found a church, began to study the bible diligently and over time became a good evangelical Christian. I was a near perfect attendee, a generous volunteer and a sincere seeker of God. I was committed to following all that I was taught.

Fast forward…A couple of years ago something happened in my life (that’s another post for another time) that left me reeling and asking questions about a lot of stuff, including spiritual stuff. Through the course of processing what was happening in my life I began to realize that I thought some of the stuff the church was teaching was wrong or at least misleading. And that began a spiritual journey that I am still on and will probably be on for the rest of my life.

This journey has been a difficult and unsettling one for me. I was accustomed to having answers, being certain and able to argue my case. It seemed like all of a sudden all I had were questions, doubt and confusion. I experienced anger, sadness, resentment, shame, guilt and loss. I felt displaced and alone. How could I have believed that I was “in the light” when I had obviously been “stumbling around in the darkness?”  How could I keep from being deceived again? What if I was no closer to understanding the light now than I had been before? What was I supposed to do about all the times I had taught the wrong things to others, modeled the wrong things, thought the wrong things, said the wrong things? What was it about myself that made me enjoy the darkness so much that I remained in it for so long? How could I live out my faith in the place I was now inhabiting?

Over time, with the help of many of you in the blogging world, my husband and sons, and a few from my church community, I am learning to cope with the tension of living out my beliefs with enough humility that it doesn’t feel like I am being thrown off a cliff every time I have to come to grips with the possibility that what I believe may be wrong.   

I am learning that sometimes understanding the light means saying “I don’t know,” that light doesn’t always equal clarity and that things usually look a lot messier in the light.  I am learning that light seems to be a lot more about relationships than about facts and precepts, a lot more about love than law, and a lot more about inclusion than exclusion.  And I am learning as Henri Nouwen said:  in all forms of light, there is the knowledge of surrounding darkness.


For thoughts and musings from different perspectives check out these posts:

Phil Wyman Darkness: A Thin Place For My Soul

Adam Gonnerman On Being In Darkness

Lainie Petersen What The Mirror Doesn’t Tell Me

Jeff Goins Walking in the Light with Jesus

Bethany Stedman Light is Coming

Julie Clawson Darkness and Light

Kathy Escobar Light- I’ll Take a Sliver Anyday

Susan Barnes  and here’s a photo of one I made earlier

Joe Miller Discover Light in Darkness

Beth Patterson Advent: Awaiting the Ancient and the Ever New

Liz Dyer What the Heck

Sally Coleman Light into Darkness

Steve Hayes Lord of the Dark

Josh Jinno  Spiritual Motifs of Darkness and Light

KW Leslie Darkness versus blackness

Erin Word  Fire and Sacrifice

Ellen Haraoutunian Holy Darkness


What I Wish The Church Knew About Spiritual Maturity


This post is part of a synchroblog on “Discussing Maturity In The Light Of Our Faith”



Before I begin let me say that I have a long, active history with the local organized church.  I have led women’s ministries, worked in the nursery, planned curriculum, served on the hospitality committee, taught bible studies, helped with vacation bible schools, prepared budgets etc. – all as a lay person.

I still go to church (most of the time) and I still volunteer to do “stuff” at church (some of the time).  I am not mad at the church, I haven’t been hurt by the church (at least not much) and I haven’t left the church.  BUT, I am frustrated with the church about a few things. 

One of the things that I am frustrated with the local church about is its lack of knowledge regarding spiritual growth.  So, when I heard there was a synchroblog on discussing maturity in the light of our faith I figured I would take the opportunity to make a few wishes – three to be exact.

Here goes: 

Wish Number One

I wish the church knew that having questions, experiencing doubts and being uncertain about things that the church is teaching does not necessarily equal spiritual immaturity.  No one comes right out and says that you are spiritually immature because you are struggling with things like the concepts of heaven and hell, or substitutionary atonement, or the inerrancy of the bible, or the sovereignty of God etc … but, when they kindly offer to pray that God will make these things clear to you, what they are really saying is: they hope you settle down soon and get back to seeing things the way they do.  When I began to have questions about what I was believing, doubts about certain interpretations of scripture and uncertainty about the life of faith I was living I felt alone and afraid.  There was no safe place at church for me to embrace this experience because the thing everyone wanted me to do was to get back to where I had been before.  Sure they said things about this drawing me closer to God and God using this to reveal more to me, but when I tried to talk to them about thinking that maybe we had some stuff wrong they didn’t want to hear it.  It was so unsettling and frustrating that I might have ended up leaving the church (at least for a while) if I hadn’t had a family to think of AND if I hadn’t stumbled across “The Critical Journey” by Hagberg and Guelich.  I won’t go into a lot of detail here about “The Critical Journey” (for more info there’s a great chart at Carnival In My Head that you can check out or an indepth article at Theocentric) except to say that it helped me discover that what I was experiencing was a natural part of my spiritual growth.  From there, I have searched out and found support through groups, blogs, books and events – none of which are connected to the local church – to help me as I travel through this leg of my faith journey.

I don’t have a succinct solution to the problem but I think it would help if pastors stopped saying everything from the pulpit with so much certainty, if Christians were taught less answers and trained more in the skill of asking good questions, if the local church would be a little more humble about what they know and hold to be true, so that it would not be considered heresy to think or believe differently in their midst and if more people in the church believed that right living is more important than right doctrine. 

Wish Number Two

I wish the church didn’t think that participating in a lot of programs,ministries and or church activities equaled spiritual maturity.  I was amazed last year when the Willow Creek’s study came out.  I wasn’t amazed at what they discovered – I was amazed that before the study they had actually believed that if Christians participated in a certain set of activities, with higher levels of frequency, it would produce disciples of Christ who were maturing spiritually.  They were shocked when they discovered through a multiple year study that their programs weren’t that good at helping their people grow and develop spiritually. 

People like Dallas Willard have been saying this sort of thing for years.  Increased participation in church activities/programs/ministries does not produce disciples, it just produces people who spend more time at church instead of out in their communities where they could really have an impact in bringing God’s will to earth as it is in heaven.  I think churches would serve the mission of God better and promote spiritual growth in followers of Jesus more effectively by teaching, encouraging and inspiring their members to do the work of the church in their daily lives and jobs, in their neighborhoods and communities.  

Don’t get me wrong – I think there is a time and place for certain programs (so please don’t feel you need to defend the program that you are involved with) but I know from experience that a lot of the things that I have been involved in at church aren’t really that beneficial – mostly because I have done it before in a different format.  You know what I am talking about – it’s the same old bible study being taught, the same old class on how to handle my finances, the same old evangelistic course with a new name etc. etc. etc.  Is it wrong to do something for fun or enjoyment – no, it isn’t.  But our churches are depending on these things to be the catalyst of spiritual growth for me and you – and it ain’t working.

Wish Number Three

I wish the church would realize that presenting a watered down version of the gospel encourages christians to embrace spiritual immaturity. In other words, a gospel that revolves around humans gaining access to God’s presence leads to spiritual formation that is “me” oriented. When this individualistic facet of the gospel is taught, as if it is the whole gospel, we end up with a very self centered gospel.  This self centeredness ends up leaving us comfortable in our immature state.  

What christians, and the whole world for that matter, needs is a more robust gospel – like the one that Scot McKnight talks about (check out this article at Out Of Ur). When we begin to look at a larger, more complex, multi-faceted gospel, we begin to see that the good news of Jesus Christ is concerned with more than giving us a free ticket to heaven. We begin to see that the good news is for all of creation, throughout all time, and that as recipients of God’s great gift of grace and freedom, we are called to work with him to love and care for the world we live in now. This call on our lives spurs us on to cooperate with the spirit of God that is at work in us. This meaningful, worthy, mandate that is born of and lives in love, gives us the courage and the desire to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ. We desperately need a reason to go through the rigors of maturing and I believe that a larger, more robust gospel gives us that reason.

There, I got that off my chest. I feel better.

Now if I could just remember where I put that magic lamp.

Here is a list of bloggers who are taking part in this month’s synchroblog on the topic “Maturity in the Light of our Faith”:



Phil Wyman at Square No More with “Is Maturity Really What I Want?
Lainie Petersen at Headspace with “Watching Daddy Die
Kathy Escobar at The Carnival in My Head with “what’s inside the bunny?
John Smulo at JohnSmulo.com
Erin Word at Decompressing Faith with “Long-Wearing Nail Polish and Other Stories
Beth Patterson at The Virtual Teahouse with “the future is ours to see: crumbling like a mountain
Bryan Riley at Charis Shalom with “Still Complaining?
Alan Knox at The Assembling of the Church with “Maturity and Education
KW Leslie at The Evening of Kent with “Putting spiritual infants in charge
Bethany Stedman at Coffee Klatch with “Moving Towards True Being: The Long Process of Maturity
Adam Gonnerman at Igneous Quill with “Old Enough to Follow Christ?
Joe Miller at More Than Cake with “Intentional Relationships for Maturity
Jonathan Brink at JonathanBrink.com with “I Won’t Sin
Susan Barnes at A Booklook with “Growing Up
Tracy Simmons at The Best Parts with “Knowing Him Who is From the Beginning
Joseph Speranzella at A Tic in the Mind’s Eye with “Spiritual Maturity And The Examination of Conscience
Sally Coleman at Eternal Echoes with “vulnerable maturity
Liz Dyer at Grace Rules with “What I Wish The Church Knew About Spiritual Maturity
Cobus van Wyngaard at My Contemplations with “post-enlightenment Christians in an unenlightened South Africa
Steve Hayes at Khanya with “Adult Content
Ryan Peter at Ryan Peter Blogs and Stuff with “The Foundation For Ministry and Leading
Kai Schraml at Kaiblogy with “Mature Virtue
Nic Paton at Sound and Silence with “Inclusion and maturity
Lew Ayotte at The Pursuit with “Maturity and Preaching