Tag Archives: spirituality

Communio: A Poem



There are times when the words and symbols spark
Lighting up our world, illuminating the dark
And in our mundane world magic appears
To strengthen resolve or to calm our fears
With a community of saints on holy ground
Where the remnants of ancient faith are found
In those rare times, you can almost feel
The mystery hiding behind the real
Where good and evil struggle and strive
And God and the devil are still alive
Where water and wine and flesh and stone
Unite us together. We are not alone
Where God’s presence has come to earth to dwell
And deep runs the water in the spiritual well
Where hope emerges from the pain
And the drought ends in heavenly rain
Where we see again the world made new
And the magic returns to me and to you

Church in a Risky Environment

Unstable environment

I had the privilege to be a part of a pair of lectures by Diana Butler Bass last weekend at my synod convention which really helped me get a better view of the spiritual climate change going on within the country. There has been a lot of press given to the decline of the mainline denominations, which includes the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America which I am a pastor within, and there have been a number of ‘self-help’ approaches to the problem trying to create better programming, better worship experiences, better outreach, better stewardship and the list can go on and on. It is not that the people doing ministry today are less skilled than people doing ministry in the 1950s and 1960s when many congregations were experiencing their peaks, but the reality is that they are trying to be church in a risky and changing environment. This first post will deal with some of the more depressing information, but be patient-I actually found a lot of hope in the midst of what I learned.

Over the past five decades the percentage of the population that identifies itself as Christian has gone from 97% to 73% with the largest drop being among white Protestant Christians, which have dropped from 66% of the population to 48% between 1960 and 2012. Most people would assume that when you split the Protestants into Mainline Protestants (typically more moderate to liberal including the United Methodist Church (UMC), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), Episcopal Church, American Baptist Church, the United Church of Christ (UCC), Disciples of Christ and the Reformed Church USA) and into Evangelical Protestants (which are too numerous to mention but for the purposes of study included groups that identified as Evangelical, Fundamentalist, and Charismatic) were declining at the same rate. This seems counterintuitive since there are most mega-churches are evangelical in their leaning, but the reality is that they are predominantly absorbing members from other congregations. Another surprise was the fastest declining denomination was the Southern Baptists, which in the current culture should not be surprising, but nobody has been talking about the Evangelical decline until fairly recently. Catholics are holding steady, primarily because of immigration and black or Hispanic communities of faith are either holding their own or growing as a percentage of the population. This has also been the time where the ‘nones’ which include atheists, agnostics, nothing in particular and spiritual but not religious went from registering as roughly 1% of the population to 20%, 1 in 5.

One of the most common reactions to changes in the environment around any person or group is fear, and fear has definitely been a driving force for many Christian groups in the recent years. There is almost a militant reaction against the current culture by some of the more conservative religious organizations and individuals. Especially after the last Presidential Election Campaign was complete there was a lot of evidence (which I will share in the next presentation) that they no longer were the decisive block that could determine who would remain in power, and as they look at the manner in which their cohort is aging the news gets worse. Sometimes this has even turned to rhetoric claiming that they are being oppressed for their religious viewpoints because not everyone will concede that their viewpoint is correct, when the reality is that they are now one within a much more varied religious landscape where there is no clear majority and no one group has a monopoly on defining religion and spirituality within the current culture. For some people what I have shared today is incredibly bad news, as will be some of the information I share in some upcoming posts, but it also represents an incredible possibility to re-imagine the way we are church in a changing culture and how we have a dialogue about issues of faith in our culture.

purple rose 01 by picsofflowers.blogspot.com


Creativity, Spirituality and Shame


As I embark on the thought experiment I call the creativity project which will not be in any way systematic, but a set of explorations from various perspectives around topics of creativity, spirituality, and imagination I am going to start in what many will initially think is an unusual place: shame. Brené Brown’s work on shame has been one of the most revealing perspectives in what limits or destroys our capacity for creativity. Shame as Brené defines it is:

Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance or belonging. (Brown, 2007, p. 4)(emphasis author’s)

Shame is that emotion that tells us that we are unworthy, unloved or unloveable, it can allow an action or another’s perspective to define who we are in our own eyes. It shouldn’t be surprising that this incredibly powerful fear can dampen if not kill creativity for an individual or an organization and that it can also by extension powerfully effect spirituality.  In Brené Brown’s book I Thought It Was Just Me she makes this insightful comment which is well worth the two paragraphs it spans:

I did see important patterns and themes in terms of how women experienced their faith and spirituality. For example, the women who talked about feeling shame used the words church and religion more. The women who talked about resilience used the terms faith, spirituality and beliefs more. At first I wondered if there was a connection between “organized religion” and shame. I didn’t find one. At least half of the women who used the terms faith, spirituality, and beliefs attended church and were members of an organized religion.

What did become clear to me is this: It is the relationship that women have with God, their higher power or their spiritual world that often serves as the source of resilience. The essence of resilience, in a spiritual sense, is about relationship, spirit and faith. For many women, spiritual connection is essential to shame reliance. In fact, over half of the women, who, as children, experienced deep shame around religion developed shame resilience by forging new spiritual paths. They may have changed churches or their beliefs, but spirituality and faith remain an important part of their lives. Another pattern that emerged is the belief that faith is about nurturing our best selves and shame moves us away from that purpose. The sources of shame seem much more connected to earthly, man-made and interpreted rules and regulations and social-community expectations around religion (Do you go to church regularly? Are you loyal to your family religion? Are you raising your kids a certain way? Are you breaking rules that might shame the family or the community? Do you know your place as a woman?). (Brown, 2007, p. 259f)

Brené’s later two works, The Gift of Imperfection (Brown, 2010) and Daring Greatly (Brown, 2012) (which I blogged about in the posts Daring Greatly, Cultures of Scarcity, and Shame on You) she moves to the concept of vulnerability as the characteristic that people who feel loveable (and are able to move beyond their shame) share. This vulnerability allows people to be courageous, compassionate and connected with others. In contrast fear, disengagement and yearning for more courage may come out of an environment’s or an individual’s shame. For example when shame is a management style “engagement dies. When failure is not an option we can forget about learning, creativity and innovation.” (Brown, 2012, p. 14)

As we think about the type of community’s that will nurture creativity and spirituality for the coming generations we need to pay close attention to the ways shame, fear, manipulation and coercion are used. Do we have communities where people are valued for their conformity or for their individuality? Do we have communities where people feel they need to fit in (shame is the fear of being disconnected)? Can we be a place where not only failure but forgiveness is an option? Do churches begin to reflect the culture of scarcity we experience in the world around us or can we dare greatly and trust greatly in the abundance that is found in our own faith?

The reality is that many if not all communities and individuals have a long way to go in nurturing a climate of acceptance, connection, resilience and support, faith and spirituality. It is a journey that we must undertake if we are really going to be about helping people in their relationship with God and with one another. The likelihood is that on the journey there will be many failures, many times where we will need to be forgiven for returning to shame for motivation, and hopefully on the way we may all grow both more courageous and more vulnerable and more resilient to the shame which dampens our creativity and spirituality.

I’ve included another of Brené Brown’s talks and I love the comment she makes that “Faith-vulnerability=extremism, that faith is the vulnerability that flows between the shores of certainty…spirituality is inherently vulnerable.”

purple rose 01 by picsofflowers.blogspot.com


What I learned about myself, life and God from my son on the autistic spectrum: Part 2

Autism by 1 footonthedawn(deviantart.com)

Autism by 1 footonthedawn(deviantart.com)

This is part 2 of a reflection in honor of Autism awareness month.

3. We live in an incredibly complex world and human communication is even more complex. Because of what I do, as a pastor, I am constantly interacting with other people in various formats. I, like most people, took the process of communicating for granted because I naturally picked up the ability to read eyes, body language, vocal tone and inflection, pay attention to the environment selectively in addition to paying attention to the words being said. I am actually a fairly gifted watcher and listener, and this comes in particularly when I am counseling people (so much so that some people have remarked I am almost clairvoyant in reading not only messages but people). The entire process of communication involves knowing what to pay attention to and what not to pay attention to, and as I tried to understand the process of communication from my son’s perspective I began to realize how many incredible functions my eyes, ears, other senses and ultimately my mind was taking in, sorting and analyzing and responding to. For example, Aren has difficult understanding many types of verbal humor because it involves the way something is said as much as what is said  One example of how easy it is to misunderstand communication came up when he was in elementary school and we went to meet with Aren’s teachers because Aren felt he was being picked on by one student when this student had been wanting to play with Aren and Aren never responded (he is quite happy being on his own) and the student, who couldn’t understand this at this point, kept asking to play with him. This has made me more sensitive to the polyvalent character of communication, one group of words can have several sets of meaning based on context, environment, vocal inflection, body language and so much more. As an interpreter of texts, I have become increasingly aware of how important the reader’s predisposition is to what is actually being said, and we necessarily impose meaning on words to give them a broader picture. When I was growing up, one of the churches I attended tended to approach reading the Bible in a way that was flat and conveyed no emotion, so as not to impose meaning on the text (unfortunately they did impose meaning on the text, but it was a meaning that it was flat, dull and emotionless). People also have very different abilities to hear and to communicate, some have a natural talent for this and in general women are better at reading and responding to communication than men-yet everyone has something to contribute.

4. Spirituality is a function of imagination. This is a huge statement and something I am wrestling through and before people get up in arms about it let me explain what I am attempting to say. Spirituality (not religion, per se) involves the ability to wonder and to try to understand the world in a way that is not based entirely on empirical observations. A person in the modern world can understand the world, their existence and their values based entirely upon a scientific worldview and feel no need for anything more (this is not a new phenomenon). I find it interesting that both atheism and religious fundamentalism there is a huge need to convert others to their dogmatic view of the world and I believe that part of the common issue is a need to lock everything within a concrete system which often leaves little room for questioning and wonder. My son struggles with the concept of God (which is interesting and at time challenging as a pastor) but I also am aware of many autistic children and adults who are fundamentalist Christians who find great comfort in the dogmatic worldview. There is a desire for simplicity that is simply not there in the world (nor the Bible for that matter) and there tends to be less openness to a sense of spirituality which can doubt, question and wonder. I am by no means an expert at the relationship between imagination, wonder, doubt and the ability to ask questions that challenge preconceptions but my theory is that they are related. (Perhaps something to explore, another good question) We live in a world where imagination is viewed as a function of childhood, and therefore something which is not highly valued, but I believe that imagination is more vital part of our lives than we often understand. What I do know is that it is difficult for my son to understand and approach the world in the way I have learned to do, especially in the last couple years. This doesn’t make him any less valuable than me, but his view of spirituality will be different than mine (like the manners and ways in which he expresses emotions, love and communicates). My spirituality and the imaginative act of understanding God and the world doesn’t force me to be confined within my understanding. I have also learned to value those who feel more comfortable within a more rigid view of the world, much like the compression my son needed for emotional and cognitive stabilization when he was a child his worldview provides comfort for him in his life.

More to come…

purple rose 01 by picsofflowers.blogspot.com