Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks.

Business secrets

Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks by August Turak was the second book that I read last week. To be honest this book frustrated me a little because of Turak’s underlying assumption that capitalism is the only possible business model that works and I felt that at times he justified what and how the monks do things to fit that model.

In spite of that I found the book very helpful. It is well worth the read for any Christian business person really wanting to put God and God’s purposes at the centre of their lives. Hopefully it will also encourage us to ask the seldom asked question: what should a Christian business look like?

The business model that the Trappist monks use confounds all our usual business principles. Turak quotes USA Today as saying: “The monks break every rule in Business 101 except attention to quality.”  They only work 4 hours a day. They do no marketing. They are not profit driven and they don’t feel they need to make more product this year than last.

They are people passionately committed to their mission of selfless service to God and others who happen to have a business. Business success for the monks is merely the by-product of living a life of service and selflessness. (7).

He goes on to say that he feels part of the reason for their success is that they tap into the hunger within all of us for transformation from selfishness to selflessness, believing that it is this longing that produces passionate commitment to a business, transcending profit making as motive. He points out that though many businesses start with this passion they don’t finish with it. The key to 1500 years of success:

they not only incorporate personal transformation into their missions but institutionalize this process through methodologies such as… the Rule of St Benedict. (13)

A colleague of Turak’s commented that the monks have the advantage of free labour. Turak’s response:

The most important issue is why monasteries get this level of commitment from people and our secular organizations do not?

This I think is one of the most important questions Turak asks, especially for people of faith seeking to establish a business. Transforming people from selfishness to selflessness, calling them to something beyond themselves and their own success, putting faith in the process and in the One who has designed it, these are all important lessons that come out of this type of approach. It is not the drive to be successful, to make a lot of money or to be well known that should motivate us. Or in other words:

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else and live righteously and God will give you everything you need. (Matt 6:33 NLT).

 

Why Not Simplify?

Drawing our life journey

Yesterday I mentioned that I am currently at the Overseas Ministry Study Centre in New Haven CT teaching a class on spiritual renewal in the missionary community. I always start my sessions by asking participants to draw a picture that represents their spiritual journey. Each student then has the opportunity to share their journey focusing on the questions: What has made you feel close to God? When have you felt distant from God? and What are you most grateful for in your journey?

For me this is the most enriching part of the course. I always learn new things about myself and about God from the journeys that students share and this year’s class is no exception. One participant mentioned that he felt closest to God in times of poverty because then he was totally dependent on God. Another share that self satisfaction and comfort often make him feel distant from God because then he doesn’t really need to trust in God.

These two comments really impacted me, partly I think because Tom and I are currently participating in The Overflow Project’s 50 Day Challenge which I shared about in my post Simplicity is Not Simple on the MSA blog this morning.

These two converging events has been a great incentive for me to evaluate my own life and the issues I struggle with. The clutter of my life, the accumulation of possessions, the comfort of always having enough money for shelter, food and the essentials of life make it so easy for me to trust in myself and not in God. It is so easy to make the maintenance of those possessions my primary life focus. Time for developing intimacy with God is crowded out by preoccupations with money and possessions. No wonder the desert fathers and mothers withdrew into the desert and made vows of voluntary poverty in order to further their journey with God.

It is important for all of us to regularly and honestly evaluate our priorities and reflecting back on our life journeys is a wonderful tool to use to accomplish this.

My challenge for you this morning therefore is to reflect on your life journey – maybe draw a picture or use words and arrows to sketch it out. Then take time to reflect. Often these types of memories provide the richest material for strengthening our spiritual journeys.

What has drawn you close to God? What has distanced you from God? What are you grateful for in your life journey?

Now take time to consider what God is saying to you through this exercise. How can you use the journey of your past to strengthen your spiritual journey into the future? What practices should you nurture in order to grow in intimacy with God? 

One Size Does Not Fit All – Teaching Spiritual Formation in the Midst of Diversity.

Overseas Minsitry Study Center New Haven CT

I am currently in New Haven Connecticut at the Overseas Ministry Study Center where I teach a course on spiritual renewal each year. This is one of the most enriching and challenging teaching situations I am ever involved in. My students come from across the globe. Methodist ministers from Myanmar and Korea sit together with Anglicans from Kenya and Ghana. Catholic sisters from the Philippines rub shoulders with Pentecostals from India and Brazil.

How do you teach in the midst of such diversity I am often asked? How do you help each student find renewal that suits their needs?

I must confess it can be a challenge. What one student finds refreshing another might find offensive. What is acceptable in one faith tradition is anathema to another. What renews and enriches my spiritual journey may do nothing for someone else.

I learn something new each year not just about how to renew faith in the midst of this kind of diversity, but about how to approach spiritual formation in any context. I thought that you might appreciate some of the insights I have learned.

1. Learning to see with fresh eyes and to hear with unstopped ears. Probably the most important skills we can teach people is the ability to look and listen, not telling them what to believe but opening their eyes and ears to perceive what God’s spirit wishes to communicate through their encounters, their activities and their interactions with God’s created world..

2. One size does not fit all. Whenever I see a piece of clothing that advertises “one size fits all” I know I am in trouble. It will definitely not fit me. Similarly with spiritual practices – one size does not fit all.

I often feel that my purpose in spiritual formation is to provide a rich smorgasbord of spiritual practices and ideas which participants can taste and experiment with. Many of the practices I talk about in my book Return to Our SensesLectio divina, vision divina, prayer walks, breathing prayers, exercises in gratitude and thankfulness, labyrinths and prayer flags are just a few of the tasty dishes that God gives us to choose from. Allowing people to choose what suits their palates without expecting them to eat everything on the table is a liberating and faith strengthening process for all of us.

3. The power of story. In his book A Hidden Wholeness, Parker Palmer talks about using stories that encourage people to come at the truth slantwise. What he means is that we can use stories effectively to draw the truths that the Spirit of God is stirring within a person’s soul. We can use a person’s own story. We can also use as stories that sometimes seem on the surface to have no relationship to what we are discussing yet trigger thoughts and understandings in peoples’ minds.

Jesus used parables in this way. Often they had many possible interpretations, all of which could contain Godly truths and so might speak to people from a broad array of backgrounds. No wonder what Jesus said excited not just Jews but also Greeks, Romans and other nationalities.

4. Enabling people to ask the right questions. I once heard British theologian John Stott say The answers we get depend on the questions we ask. And it is true. New experiences, new encounters, new reflective exercises all raise new questions in our minds. Our purpose in spiritual formation is to give people the freedom to ask the right questions. Not so much why does God allow this to happen but rather what is God doing in the midst of this situation?

These are only a few of the tools that can assist any person’s spiritual journey. We are meant to lead gently from behind, encouraging the footsteps of our followers along the pathway God has chosen for them.

Practicing Resurrection

Celtic cross Iona Abbey

Celtic cross Iona Abbey, Scotland

Its Easter Sunday, for many of us the culmination of our faith, the day for which all of us have waited, hoped and longed for. For many of us this seems like the end of the story, at least that is what you would think by the way we act during the rest of the year. Easter Sunday comes, we give our shouts of Alleluia, sing a few songs of praise, and then we pretty much go about life as usual. Tomorrow we will wake up, drink a cup of coffee or tea, and as I said in a previous Easter post What Have We Done with Jesus, go back to our pre Christ encounter jobs totally unchanged by all that Jesus has said and done.

Easter Sunday is not an end but a beginning. And it isn’t just a single day, it is a whole season that extends until Pentecost. How could we possibly celebrate the wonder of God’s new world which was ushered in by the resurrection, in a single day? And how can we possibly confine the practice of this incredible event to a short church service.

This is the season to practice resurrection, the time to go out and not just shout about the new life we have in Christ but to live it. Jesus resurrection transformed his  disciples. They left homes and families and jobs to live radically different lives. They sold their property and shared it with others. They looked after the sick and cared for the marginalized, and guess what, this small band of disciples became a world wide movement that still transforms lives today. What difference has it made in our lives?

In my study guide Celebrating the Joy of Easter, I ask

What kind of God do we want to incarnate to our world? Is it a God of love and compassion who leaves ninety-nine sheep in order to rescue one that has gone astray, or one who constantly accuses those who do not follow God’s ways? Is it a God who gets his hands dirty by entering, in a very personal and human way, into the pain and suffering of our world, or one who inflicts pain and anguish as punishment for our sins? Is it a God who celebrates life with enthusiasm by turning water into wine at a wedding, or one who strips us of our joy by placing heavy burdens on our shoulders? Is it a God who hears our cries and brings justice for the poor and oppressed, or one who stands aloof and indifferent to our pain?

Easter is the season to show others what kind of world we believe Jesus resurrection ushered into our broken world. It is a season to get out and practice hospitality, compassion, love, healing, generosity and care for creation. It is a season to show by our words and actions that we really do believe Jesus is indeed alive and is transforming our world… through us!

Do not let you left hand know what your right hand is doing by Jamie Arpin Ricci

Today’s post in the series Return to Our Senses is an excerpt from Jamie Arpin Ricci’s book The Cost of Community: Jesus, St. Francis & Life in the Kingdom. Jamie is an urban missionary, pastor, church planter and writer living in Winnipeg’s inner city West End neighbourhood. He is planter & pastor of Little Flowers Community, in the inner city of Winnipeg. Jamie is also forming Chiara House, a new monastic community. He is a third order Franciscan with The Company of Jesus and is founding co-director of Youth With A Mission (YWAM) Urban Ministries Winnipeg with his wife Kim & son, Micah.

StFrancisOfAssisi_3

“When you give to the needy, do not let you left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is don in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:3).

How should we understand these secret works of righteousness? Interestingly, the Greek word used for “acts of righteousness” is not the same word in every manuscript. Some ancient manuscripts that include this passage use the same word for “righteousness” as the one in the Beatitudes, the righteousness/justice we are to hunger and thirst for. Other manuscripts, though, use an entirely different word meaning “almsgiving” or simply “gifts to the poor.” While the best manuscripts use the former meaning (that is, they refer to works of justice), the reason the other meaning is used at times is because the primary “act of righteousness” in the Judaism of Jesus’ day was almsgiving.

The use of both Greek words suggests that Jesus was referring to the Jewish practice called tzedakah, a Hebrew word that loosely means “charity” but has as its root the Hebrew word for justice (tzedek). Rooted in the gleaning laws of their agrarian past, the complexities of the developing economy led to a more sophisticated set of guidelines and requirements about giving to the poor.

However, consistent throughout that development was the central fact that such giving was always to be done anonymously. What we can glean, then, is that while Jesus is commenting broadly on works of justice, most of his listeners would have thought immediately of tzedakah. And given that Jesus continues by directly addressing the practice of almsgiving in the following section, this connection is obviously intentional.

The connection between righteousness/justice and providing for the poor must not be missed or minimized. Its long history in Judaism and Christianity, and Jesus’ clear affirmation of its continued practice, should be more than enough to make us mindful of its significance for the church. As we have explored earlier, it is not uncommon these days for Christians to believe that God calls us to care for the spiritual needs of others, with material needs being of secondary priority (and often a distant second at that). Some even go so far as to say we are not called meet the material needs of the poor at all. However, most would simply minimize such charity as a secondary, less important aspect to the higher spiritual calling of saving souls.

We cannot miss that Jesus makes no such division or distinction between the spiritual and material needs of humanity (thus making us equally “poor” before God). The righteousness and justice we are called to hunger and thirst after, and the shalom we are called to create in the world—even in its brokenness—is absolutely concerned with the whole person, indeed all of creation. The disintegrative nature of sin is being reversed by the work of Christ’s redemption, moving us toward the intended wholeness of creation, reflected in the nature of the Garden of Eden before sin. It was good! Our commitment to Christ and his mission, then, must be equally devoted to the restoration of the whole person and the whole creation.

When we understand the dynamics at work here, we see that Jesus is not teaching anything new in respect to the requirement of giving to the poor (and acts of justice in general), nor are his warnings about doing so to be seen as righteous by those watching us. This was something all good Jews knew to avoid. However, Jesus is not forbidding us from doing works of righteousness before others (which would indeed be a contradiction of his earlier mandate), but rather he is warning us against doing such works for the purpose of being seen by others. Once again, Jesus is forcing us to examine the intentions of our heart, for the true nature of our righteousness is found there, not in the act itself. We must live in the tension between the interior formation of our hearts and the ethical behavior it gives birth to. We should not be surprised that this was such a common problem in his day. After all, which of us does not like getting praised for our good works? This is a universal temptation that we all face.

Jesus calls such people, with their public displays of so-called righteousness, “hypocrites.” This would have been an even more cutting rebuke then than it is today, for in addition to it meaning those whose expressed beliefs that were not reflective of their heart, the people would have recognized it as the Greek word for actors or performers. In other words, they were fakes and frauds, pretending to be someone or something they were not. After all, it certainly was not about the recipient of the giving or the God who mandated it, but rather it was about the giver receiving praise and honor for his or her devout generosity. Jesus tells them that their acts will mean nothing to their heavenly Father, but that the passing, fickle praise of others will be their only reward. It is here we see for whom we should be doing such good works. Like a child running with their crayon drawing, shouting, “Look what I made for you, Daddy!” so too should our main motivation in such acts of service be about pleasing our heavenly Father, whose love for us is the greatest, truest and only reward we desire. And ex- tending from that love of God, we should be moved by genuine love for others.

(an edited excerpt from “The Cost of Community: Jesus, St. Francis & Life in the Kingdom”, IVPress, 2011)

A Hidden Wholeness – A Great Read by Parker Palmer

A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer

A couple of days ago I mentioned how a story in Parker Palmer’s book A Hidden Wholeness changed my perspective of the seasons. This book has been very helpful in other ways too.

As many of you know, here at Mustard Seed Associates we have adapted the Quaker discernment process as the way to run our meetings. Palmer’s book is the most helpful I have read in recent years in relation to this. It is a book written for schools and businesses on the creation of circles of trust. It brings together many of Palmer’s popular themes which I will summarize here is some simple quotes.

  • the shape of an integrated life: Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life
  • the meaning of community: Community does not necessarily mean living face-to-face with others; rather it means never losing the awareness that we are connect to each other….we need solitude and community simultaneously; what we learn in one mode can check and balance what we learn in the other. 
  • teaching an learning for transformation: When you speak to me about your deepest questions, you do not want to be fixed or saved; you want to be seen and heard, to have your truth acknowledged and honoured. 
  • not violent social change: imagine the heart broken open into new capacity…into greater capacity to hold more of my own and the world’s suffering and joy, despair and hope…. broken open to a largeness that holds the possibility of a better future for us all.

I think this is a must read book for any follower of Christ seeking to develop healthy community minded ways of interacting with their colleagues, friends and even families (which I think should be all of us). A Hidden Wholeness  is I think my best read of 2012.

Its All A Matter of Perspective – Learning From the Eagles

Bald eagle, Tsawwassen B.C.

Bald eagle, Tsawwassen B.C.

A few days ago I walked along the beach in Tsawwassen B.C with my friend in Kim Balke. The breathtaking beauty of the mountains, the salty freshness of wind and the barrenness of the trees were all inspiring. In one tree sat 5 bald eagles, majestically surveying the morning scene. Not wanting to disturb the serenity of our walk, I decided to photograph them on the way back.

However as we headed back towards the car, the barren tree in which the eagles perched looked empty. I immediately started making fresh plans to return for a photo shoot.  As we moved closer something remarkable happened however – suddenly the eagles came into view. How they had hidden from view in that barren tree I don’t know, but they had.

How often I wondered do I make new plans because I can’t see what I hope for? How often do I mess up and get ahead of what God is doing because I think I understand? A little like Abraham trying to get a son and not seeing how God could possibly accomplish it. How often is my vision limited because I have not walked far enough along God’s path to see what is there? Impatience, limited understanding, lack of faith, they all distort my perspective and make it hard for me to see life from God’s viewpoint. How often do we all mess up what God is wanting to accomplish in our lives because we don’t trust that God is able to accomplish all that is promised?

Hebrews 11:1 reminds us: Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. So lets all keep walking today along the path that God spreads out before us. Let’s hold onto God’s promises believing that in the right time and in the right place God’s perspective will burst in upon us and enable us to see.

Its All A Matter of Perspective – Lessons from Parker Palmer

Ready for spring planting

Ready for spring planting

Like most of us keen gardeners here in the Northern Hemisphere, I am starting to think about planting the spring garden. Next week I will get early greens and peas into my seed starter kits, shortly after I will get the broccoli, cauliflower and cabbages going and then the tomatoes. From my perspective spring is the planting season. Imagine my surprise as I read Parker Palmer’s wonderful book A Hidden Wholeness a couple of weeks ago (more about that in a later post). He talks about autumn as the season of planting – the season when nature begins her work again by dropping and scattering seed. This is also the season when trees set buds which contain the leaves and flowers for next year’s growth. Winter then is a season of dormancy, a time of hibernation when growth has gone underground, and even what is above the surface is pruned and cut back in preparation for a new spurt of growth.

As I thought about this I realized the power of this perspective, a perspective that is distorted by our man-made cultivator’s view of seasons. Palmer talks then about spring as a season of surprise – when winter’s deaths give rise to new life. It reminded me of how much I love to go out in the garden to see what has sprouted without my help. These are often the strongest seeds in my garden, the ones that give rise to the best and hardiest crops.

This view is similar to the Jewish view of the day which begins at sunset with us going to sleep and God at work inviting us each morning to join the work God has already begun. Part of the strength of this perspective is the understanding that all of us have hidden untapped potential planted deep within our souls, just waiting for the warmth of spring to allow it to emerge. It also reminds us to be patient when we have planted and not seen the growth we had hoped for. Remembering God is at work and invites us to join the work already begun is a heart warming and faith building concept.

You might, as you prepare for spring this year, like to ask the questions Palmer suggests: What seeds were planted when you arrived on earth with your identity intact? How can we recall and reclaim those birthright gifts and potentials?

Making New Year Resolutions that Stick.

Olympic mountain view

Olympic mountain view

It is the beginning of a new year with incredible potential. We have enjoyed the excitement of fireworks and New Year parties. All of us have hopes and expectations for the months that lie ahead. We eagerly make resolutions about what to eat, when to pray and how to live, knowing that most of these will be discarded before the month is out. Sitting here looking out my office window at the beautiful snow covered Olympic mountains, it is not hard for me to believe that this year holds incredible new possibilities. But I know that by the end of summer the snow will be gone and the hope and promise they offered may be gone too. So how do we make resolutions that stick?

For Tom and I, our refocusing prayer retreats which we take every three months are an important part of our yearly rhythm which helps keep us on the path we believe God wants us to follow. The end of year retreat we have just returned from was no exception.

Retreats are not just important for us as individuals, they are also important for us as an organization. Taking a retreat with your staff or ministry team is something I would highly encourage at this season. Over the years,  our MSA staff retreats have totally reshaped the ways we function as an organization. They led us to develop a rule of life, helped us to reimagine ourselves as a community that discerns together the will of God for our organization and pointed us towards the discernment process we use each week in our team meetings. As you can imagine, how we prepare for the new year is a common theme for me at this time of the year. Next week I will share some of the insights I have gained from reading Parker Palmer’s book A Hidden Wholeness but today wanted to repost a revised version of the spiritual audit I have used for years to help me rethink my spiritual journey.

Look back over the last week or month

  • Consolations: what has life gaining and deepened your sense of connection to God?
  • Desolations: what has been life draining and made you lose that sense of intimacy with God?
  • How is God speaking to you through this?
  • What are the major pressures in your life?  Where do you think the pressure comes from and what are the underlying causes?
  • How do these affect your spiritual well being?
  • In what ways could they be harnessed so that your heart could be broken open to new possibilities for a better future?
  • What daily and weekly events set the rhythm for your life?  Which of these contribute to your spiritual well being and which distract from it?

How well are you maintaining your spiritual life:

  • What gives you joy in your spiritual journey at present?
  • Where do you sense God is currently at work in your transformation?  What would give God the most opportunity to continue that work?
  • What do you do on a regular basis to nurture your spiritual life?
  • What are the major distractions that interfere with regular spiritual disciplines?

How has God spoken to you in the last week:

  1. through prayer
  2. through scripture
  3. through the needs of others
  4. through the words of others
  5. through other means

What changes is God prompting  you to make in order to further your spiritual growth:

  1. In your daily or weekly commitments and rhythms?
  2. In your spiritual routines?

How will you ensure that these changes are adhered to?

  1. What is one new practice you would like to institute to help maintain your new resolutions?
  2. What is one relationship you could nurture to provide accountability and encouragement as you walk this journey?

You may also like to revisit some of the other posts I have written in past years that address some of these issues.

Leading Spiritually – A Series on Leading with Discernment

Welcoming the New Year – What Do We Expect?

Tools for Prayer – Moving Beyond Chronic Randomness to Intentionality

Did Jesus Lead a Balanced Life?

The Spirituality of Rhythm

Planning For Transition – Wisdom from the Desert Fathers and Mothers

Seeing with new eyes

Seeing with new eyes

Yesterday I posted this post, about the fact that Mustard Seed Associates is in a time of transition and talked about the impact that Walter Brueggemann has had on my theology and my thinking. There are others that have helped to shape my thinking in this transition time too that I wanted to mention.

The second book I took with me was Christine Valter Paintner’s book Desert Fathers and Mothers Early Christian Wisdom Sayings. What particularly struck me is where she comments:

We often bring unconscious expectations to life. We feel disappointed when things don’t turn out as we had hoped, even when we aren’t aware we had a desire for a particular outcome. Often we are poor judges of what should happen in our lives. We bring a whole set of ego-centered habits and patterns, and we dream from the person we have been , rather than the person we are being transformed into. Our transformed self is always far beyond our own striving.

When we realize we have limited vision and that our planning minds will only take us so far, then we can begin to gently release the pressure we put on ourselves to have things turn out in a certain way. We may begin to approach life in a more open-hearted way, receiving its gifts rather than grumbling about what we would rather have had happen. (60).

When we seek to bring about change that is not a tweaking of what has existed in the past but rather something entirely new, our own planning and limited vision often does get in the way. Letting go does not begin in the planning room, it begins in the place where we seek to listen to God. I am more convinced than ever that unless we can unleash our creativity and imaginations in the realm of prayer and worship, we will never see real change that leads us into the new reality of God’s kingdom, occur. God’s new reality does not emerge fully grown, but as a baby that needs to be nurtured and fed.