Are All Christians Hedonists?

Art by Emmanuel Garibay Used with permission

Art by Emmanuel Garibay Used with permission

Last week I shared this quote from Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks:

It is as though the materialism that has a death grip on this culture has taken our spirituality as well. Most of what’s called spiritual is actually humanistic if you think about it. People don’t want the adventure of God on his own terms or for his own sake. They want a better world, a happier life, better relationships and all the trimmings that go along with it….. We’re urged to seek God because this human good will come of it. People don’t realize “because” implies that the end is the human good and Truth (God) merely the means” (19)

It keeps coming back to my mind. How often do I pray because I want something from God, rather than because my heart aches for deeper intimacy with God? How often do I use God as the excuse for my own self centred agendas?

Some prayers are so obviously hedonistic they make us squirm when we hear others talk about them – praying for a parking place, or going on a Jesus spending spree where we expect Jesus to guide us to great bargains. But others are more subtle. Even desiring healing of loved ones can have a self centred purpose, after all illness and death disrupt our lives physically, emotionally and sometimes spiritually. If God healed more frequently life would be so much easier.

Or perhaps we want to see people in Africa fed and freed from starvation. We hate those images of starving children, their pain and suffering disrupts our lives. Yes, some of our response comes from the compassion of God welling up from within, but for many the uppermost emotion is: If God would just do something I would not have to respond and I could get rid of my guilt and once more feel at easy in my comfortable materialistic lifestyle. Sometimes these emotions reside in our subconscious rather than conscious minds, and as long as we are too busy to reflect on why we want something to change we are never aware of our self centred motives.

One of the commonest excuses I use and that I hear others use for not taking adequate time for God or with others is: but I enjoy what I am doing. I love my work. Unconsciously what we are saying is – My personal need for satisfaction in my work takes priority over my need to spend time with God.

Sometimes we even rope God into the equation – there is so much need God must intend me to burn myself out by responding to that need. The underlying subconscious thought – without me God cannot answer this need. 

And then there is the excuse – But I have to feed and house my family. Again a very true statement and one that has many of us up at night consumed with anxiety. This believe it or not is one of those legitimate prayers. In the Lord’s prayer we regularly say Give us this day our daily bread. The problem is that we don’t expect God to provide bread for today we expect provision for the next 10, 15 or 20 years and we want to see where it is coming from NOW.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that we don’t save for the future, though that is a way of life that some are called to, but sitting in the place of discernment, trusting that God will show us what we need to know now in order to provide, does not come easily to us. And we get uncomfortable because God might make it very clear that some of what we want for the future – like second homes, bigger cars and expensive vacations – may not be in God’s best plan for us. Even our desire for a bigger church, better paying job or higher profile ministry may not be in God’s plan – especially not if it takes time away from our number one priority – seeking God not for what we want but for what God wants – intimacy with us in every moment of the day.

What would our lives look like if we spent more time seeking God for God’s sake alone? How would it change our priorities, our time management, our use of resources? How would it affect our friendships? These are some of the questions I continue to grapple with. I hope you will take time to grapple with them too.

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MacGyver Magic by Cindy Todd

Today’s post in the series Return to Our Senses in Lent is written by Cindy Todd social entrepreneur, Mustard Seed Village co-ordinator and facilitator for our upcoming workshop Igniting the Divine Spark

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MacGyver Paperclip

MacGyver…now there was a creative guy! Not sure how many of you recall the show, way back in the late 80’s early 90’s.

MacGyver was some kind of secret government agent guy who was incredibly creative at problem solving.

He could make a sound barrier to ward off the bad guys and in the video I’m including today, stops a bomb in the nick of time with a paper clip.

 

The phrase “doing a MacGyver” has become synonymous with innovative problem solving.

I hate to brag, but I did my own MacGyver thing a few years ago. Back in the day, I drove a big tall conversion van. I was at Miami airport with the Operation Mary team getting ready to head to Ukraine. Unfortunately, I took the wrong parking garage entrance and while I was okay height wise to get in, I wasn’t okay to navigate through. Almost, but not quite.

You know the horseshoes and hand grenades story, close wasn’t going to cut it. Departure time was coming close, there was a line of cars behind me…honking, tapping, being generally impatient and so, I put my best MacGyver thinking cap on and figured out a solution…I hopped out of the van and let about 25% of the air out of each tire. It worked! Wasn’t I proud…

And while I’ve never gotten into that type of situation precisely before, when I found myself unemployed and my family sinking financially a few years ago, I had to get creative again. First for us, and now for other struggling families. As Snohomish Soap Company grows, we can work and partner with a whole lot more women. Now I’m working on scaling…developing the model…and stepping out and making it happen.

This type of model, this idea of doing well by doing good isn’t new, although its definitely emerging as a respected, powerful business philosophy.

Creativity is at the heart of it and a much more cohesive business/life/community model is the result.

For the first time, our friends over at the Inhabit Conference will be hosting the Inhabit Enterprise Challenge, a forum and competition for a few of these new types of businesses to present to the attendees.

Get inspired! Get Creative! Get connected to other Parish changemakers in your community…

A good place to get those creative thoughts bubbling might be at our “Igniting the Divine Spark” workshop.


Igniting the Divine Spark

Igniting the Divine Spark

VR.spark.glowMarch 16th in Seattle

The Patches Make It Beautiful by Christopher Heuertz

Today’s post in the series Return to Our Senses in Lent is written by Christopher Heuertz. It is an excerpt from his latest book Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community.  I have just finished reading this book and loved it. Chris describes himself as a curator of unlikely friendships, an instigator for good, a champion of collaboration and a witness of hope. He fights for a renewal of contemplative activism.

Friday March 8th is International Women’s Day. The theme for this year is The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum and I felt that this was a very important story to share in relation to that.

Sari Bari blanket in the making via http://www.saribari.com/

Sari Bari blanket in the making via http://www.saribari.com/

My favourite part of every Sari Bari blanket is the patches.

Sari Bari is a small business initiative that seeks to secure freedom and restoration in the red-light areas of Kolkata, India. It offers dignity-ascribing employment opportunities to women exploited by the commercial sex industry.

The name Sari Bari comes from two symbols. A sari, the traditional garment worn by Indian women, seen by some as oppressive, is an image of what can be reclaimed in a new way. In Bengali, the word bari means “house” or “home”. Sari Bari is a safe home where women who have been exploited in the sex trade can find their humanity restored and experience a new life in the making.

Women are trained to make beautiful quilted scarves, and purses and offered jobs in the Sari Bari community centers as a way out of prostitution. The products they sell are made from old, recycled saris, a symbol or restoration. Tossed-aside or thrown-away saris are recovered and cleaned. Something that appears used up, discarded, valueless is artfully transformed into something beautiful-even more, something valuable.

These products symbolize restoration. The process is a prophetic image of what the Sari Bari community is doing within the sex trade – allowing women who have been victimized and abused to recover their true identity….

Stitched onto every blanket, if you look hard enough, you’ll discover tiny patches cut our of the same material the sari quilt is made from. Some of the little patches are intricately sewn so that the pattern of the quilt lines up perfectly with the pattern on the patch. Other times, the patches stand out, a bold statement of colour that enhances the quilt’s design.

Generously added to some, sparingly to others, these little patches add a gorgeous layer of texture.

One day while with the women, sitting on the floor of one of the Sari Bari community centers, I was admiring their work and pointing out the patches, trying to communicate how beautiful I found them. Upendra, one of the English-speaking staff, overheard my fumbling attempt to get my ideas across and helped translate. He laughed our loud when he understood what I was trying to say.

He explained that each finished blanket is washed before being packaged. After they’ve been washed and dried, there’s a quality control check before they’re shipped. It turns out that the patches aren’t added to make the blankets more beautiful but to cover the flaws and tears on every quilt; they’re an inevitable part of recycling and restoring each sari blanket.

Even more ironic, the women hate having to go back and repair their work. The patches are time-consuming and tedious. Yet it’s the patches that make the quilts so beautiful and unique.

As is the case with us. In our own freedom , we still go about making mistakes, disappointing ourselves and others, living with guilt, shame, regret, or fear that the consequences of our worst moments will catch up to us. any of us have a hard time accepting the flawed parts of ourselves when we’re alone – a struggle that’s even more difficult when we’re in community.

 

 

Resources for Lent 2013

carbon fast via anieszkabanks.blogspot.com

carbon fast via anieszkabanks.blogspot.com

Each year around this time I like to update my Lenten resources. Last year I posts two lists of resources

Resources for Lent 2012

And More Resources for Lent from the Episcopal Church

This year in keeping with our Lenten Theme – Return to Our Senses in Lent I decided to post practical suggestions for Lent that help us to integrate our prayer practices and our everyday life. I am excited at the suggestions people are sending me.

A United Methodist Pastor serving in north central Pennsylvania shared her newest spiritual discipline with me.

Several months ago I felt that I needed to give up internet, especially email and facebook on my Sabbath day. Then when doing a mini-series on Sabbath keeping at church after reading Gift of Rest by Sen. Lieberman, I realized that I needed to add phone calls to that. Sometimes it is difficult to avoid phone calls, emergencies and such but overall I recommend this type of fast. It is not easy. I can think of lots of reasons each week to go online but do my best to avoid it. I shared the commitment with my congregations, adding of course that if they were on the phone and said a spouse was having a heart attack or something like that I would surely pick up and make the visit. I have been amazed at my colleagues and parishioners who respect this fast, even my boss:)

And on the MSA blog my husband Tom has suggested embracing a new discipline of daily laughter.

Ann Voskamp also has a great idea for a family repentance box which she posted a couple of years ago.

If you are like me and looking for disciplines that help us to focus outwardly on the challenges our world faces you might like to consider these resources. I have focused on two challenges I am passionate about – climate change and poverty.

The Oil Lamp  has shared several helpful links to sites that suggest ways to incorporate a carbon fast into your Lenten practices. I particularly enjoyed this link recommended by Archbishop Thabo Magkoba, convenor of the Anglican Environmental Network in South Africa: A Carbon Fast for Lent. They also have some good basic suggestions for a carbon fast here.

Earth Ministry’s LeAnne Beres wrote this helpful article about taking a Carbon fast a couple of years ago which includes links to other great resources.

You might also like to check out these resources for praying for the vulnerable and hungry during Lent.

The ELCA has a great World Hunger Lenten Series available – lots of good information and suggestions. They go for a $3/day diet – probably more doable today then the $2/day we have always attempted.

Bread for the World always produces wonderful resources that challenge us to face the issues of hunger. This year they have worked in collaboration with Women of Faith for the 1,000 Days Movement to develop a series of Lenten activities around the theme of Maternal and Child Nutrition in the 1,000 day window between pregnancy and a child’s second birthday. Check out what is be available here

Episcopal Relief and Development has chosen the alleviation of hunger for the theme of their Lenten Meditations this year too. They are available in both English and Spanish and can be downloaded for free.

And please keep contributing your own suggestions for Lenten practices that help bring faith and life together.

Let Us Do What Is Right – A Reflection On Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King

This morning two images have merged in my mind. This Martin Luther King quote from the Idealist  and another quote from Randy Woodley’s book Shalom and the Community of Creation

When we cease to trust the Creator for our daily provision, evil takes over and oppression occurs. Shalom, with its embedded concern for the poor, the marginalized, the animals, the birds and the earth, is the divinely preferred way for humans to live. Justice and righteousness are weapons to be employed in order to combat evil, once the systems begin to become corrupted. Truth, which I define here as following the natural paths of God’s intentions, is also one of the main weapons that humans have been given in order to fight the temptation towards self-reliance (80)

When we don’t do what is right and trust our God for provision but rely instead on the values of greed, exploitation and oppression, evil does indeed take over. We have seen it in the enslavement and genocide of peoples. We have seen it in the confiscation of native lands. And we have seen it in the destruction of the earth’s animals and habitats. My home country Australia is suffering from record breaking temperatures that have soared to over 50C or 122F. sparking hundreds of bushfires.  The government’s climate commission admits that climate change had contributed to making the extreme heat conditions and bushfires even worse.

Surely there has never been a better time to refuse to look the other way. All of us need to do what is right for those who are still oppressed and marginalized in our world. We need to do what is right to reduce emissions and reduce our consumption to contribute our small bit to the fight against climate change.

As Martin Luther King suggests, our souls suffer along with our bodies and our world when we do not do what is right. I pray that today all of us will catch a fresh glimpse of God’s incredible shalom kingdom in which all humanity is set free, creation is restored and we all live together in peace, harmony and mutual concern.

What do you think?

It Takes a Community to Run a Garden

Gardening together

Gardening together

On Wednesday I started teaching a class at St Andrew’s Episcopal Church here in Seattle on Spirituality and Gardening. I always learn so much from what others share. This time some of our discussion revolved around how overwhelming getting underway in the garden can be. I know the feeling. I used to try to do it all myself and as I got busier (partly because of teaching these seminars) I found that both the garden and my spiritual wellbeing suffered.

I don’t think gardening is meant to be done alone. We all know the saying It takes a village to raise a child. well I think we should create another saying: It takes a community to run a garden. 

On Saturday we will hold our first garden day at the Mustard Seed House and so I have been busy recruiting helpers. As someone commented to me this last week: It is becoming a mini community garden. We want to make sure this year that there is plenty to share not just amongst the garden helpers but also to the broader community. Its a great way to increase our gardening expertise and get a few home grown vegetables for those who do not have their own garden. This will be mainly a planning time & getting ready to plant (inside not out). If you would like to join the team let me know.

This is one way to grow food that can be very effective in an urban area. It is a win win situation – some of us have more room than we can effectively garden, others don’t have any room at all. Some of us have gardened for years, others are novices. We can all learn from each other and have some great fellowship in the process. There are a number of more formal programs like this city slicker farms that teach people to garden in their own yards. Sharing backyards is an organization that helps connect people who want to garden with places to do it. And here is a great article that lists a number of yard sharing organizations

To me, a less inviting but also good option is to offer your backyard for someone else to garden, and get a small share of the produce. (called lazy locavores by some)

Another possibility is to form a garden co-op. Gardening together is always more fun. Get a group of gardeners together, plan what will grow best in each of your gardens and work out a schedule so that you spend time together in each of the gardens involved. This is a little different from a community garden, a term which I think can be a misnomer because people often have their own patches and do very little together.

To live sustainably into the future we need to learn to co-operate and to form community. I know there are a lot of other ways to garden together and would love to hear your suggestions.

Lord Break Our Hearts

I have been thinking a lot over the last few days about ways I should be engaged in helping to alleviate the world’s suffering in pain. I always feel so inadequate in this area and my heart aches for those who live in poverty. Wrote this prayer earlier in the week

God pierce our hearts with your love,
Break them open into greater capacity,
Break them open ,
That we might hold more of the world’s suffering and joy,
That we might share more of the world’s despair and hope.
Lord break our hearts,
As we stand in the gap between what is and what could be,
Break our hearts open to a largeness that holds the possibility of a better future for all the world’s people.

and just came across this TED talk (have not had time to listen yet but I thought some of you might be interested.

http://www.ted.com/playlists/67/the_quest_to_end_poverty.html