Place Matters…a post by Jim

At CrossPoint we often talk about three key components when it comes to taking a serious inventory of our lives. If you want to assess how you are doing in life think in terms of 1) People, 2) Place, and 3) Purpose.

Clearly people matter. In fact, we repeatedly say that the quality of one’s life depends on the quality of one’s relationships (with God, others, and with one’s own soul). If you want a fulfilling life, work on your relational capacity. Work on being able to be more appropriately vulnerable since trust is the currency of relationships.

And we know about purpose. Without a purpose for living people struggle with finding meaning in life. And without meaning things get rather bleak. Purpose naturally involves what we feel God has called us to do. It involves our vocation to a great extent. Hopefully, you feel a sense of purpose in what you are doing for the sake of God’s kingdom.

And now the third ‘P’. Sometimes we dismiss the important of place. Wendell Berry is quoted as saying something to the effect, “We are a displaced culture but we call it mobility.” Wendell is on to something that seems to be important in Scripture. God gave his Old Testament people a place to call home. Jesus said he was going to prepare a place for us (John 14:2).

It is true that from one perspective we are clearly pilgrims, with no place to call home in this world (Hebrews 13:14). But that description is of the foot we have in the ‘New Order’ of reality. The truth is that we still live in the ‘Created Order’ where we need to have a place to call home.

Having a place anchors the soul. My mom’s dad (papaw is what we called him) had 72 acres in East Tennessee which he farmed. He was a poor man in financial terms (his ‘cash crop’ was sweet potatoes!). And he lived his entire life on that piece of property. In some ways it limited him and in other ways it solidified his soul. He knew who he was. He was in touch with his limits and losses. He was grateful of heart.

I don’t live on the farm like he did. After being born in Chattanooga I’ve moved (or been moved by dad and mom) 11 times in my life from Tennessee to Michigan to Texas to Virginia to Illinois to Indiana. But move number 11 brought my wife and me back to Tennessee after 39 years (we lived here the first two years of our marriage). And I can say that there is something grounding about being home.

My prayer is that you have a place to call home, a place that helps you feel grounded, a place that helps give you identity. And I pray that your earthly home will remind you that you are not home. There is a city not made with hands that awaits us.

Even so Lord Jesus, bring us home.

What are you exploring?…a post by Tom

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

– T.S. Eliot

 

What are you looking for? A better sense of self? A better home and garden? More knowledge about the Divine or your divinely inspired pursuits? An idealized Christianity or church to validate a privatized salvation project? To figure out your dysfunctional family system? Untie some knotty existential shoelaces tightened by primal repression so that you no longer trip over fear, guilt, and shame? A well balanced portfolio? Some peace and quiet.

Augustine said somewhere that the heart is restless until it rests in God. We come out of the womb kicking and screaming and often we go out that way. Kickers and screamers in this world seem to be the majority populace and unfortunately dominate the airwaves.  Unless, we happen to come home to God and our true self rooted in endless Love.   This doesn’t seem to happen until we explore and to explore means to fail. We can’t explore without risk or uncertainty. “Where you stumble, there lies your treasure. The very cave you are afraid to enter turns out to be the source of what you are looking for. The damned thing in the cave, that was so dreaded, has become the center.” -Joseph Campbell.

It’s all there in the story of prodigal son, which surprisingly is really about the Father. The son sets out to explore the far country and ends up right where he began, at home but this time knowing himself as the beloved son home for the first time. We come from God and we are returning to God. Jesus said I know where I came from and I know where I am going. His invitation and gift to us is to KNOW this place within us called the kingdom of God for the first time.   The sooner the better for us and the planet.  Still kicking and screaming? Not sure if you have arrived at your arrival? Then go out and explore! And wherever you go, God will be eagerly waiting for your arrival.

The Thrill and Agony of Longing…a post by Jim

Two weekends ago CrossPoint hosted retreat 5 (out of 8) for our current Deeper Journey community. The topic was ‘desire’ and it certainly touched a nerve.

The Bible repeatedly speaks to importance of desire, having our desires met by God, avoiding sinful desires, pursuing our deepest desires. Jesus asked the lame man, “What do you want me to do for you?” The answer seems obvious. “I want to walk so please heal me.” It seems Jesus is pointing us to the importance of naming our desires.

There is the question of what desires are legitimate to pursue and what desires are tainted by sin and should be avoided. But for me the toughest part of the retreat came when we reminded ourselves that we have many legitimate, wholesome desires that do not come true. The frustration, anger, disappointment, and confusion that flows from good yet unmet desires is real. How can we avoid cynicism the older we get?

Seems the answer is found in a living hope. Hope keeps the heart alive and tender. Hope orientates us to what is coming, not what has happened (or not happened). Hope anchored in the promises of our Lord is a sure bet. Yes, all my desires won’t be met in this life but hope says that all my desires (and more than I can possibly long for now) will be experienced in the life to come. Praise be to God.

We cannot out desire God.

Never a Monday Like Today…a post by Jim

Easter weekend is over. It is Monday. Now what?

I can only imagine the despair that the crucifixion brought to those who loved and followed Jesus. Saturday did nothing to change their shock, anger, and sorrow. But an empty tomb, appearances to the women and the followers on the road to Emmaus changed everything. Jesus was alive! His resurrection re-energized their lives in an unbelievable way to do unbelievable things.

In her wonderful book, A Theology of the Ordinary, Julie Canlis highlights the ‘culture (and cult) of the extraordinary’ in American and many churches. The point she makes is that “without an equal emphasis on discipleship in ‘normal life’ where our energy is less than infinite, the gospel can become imbalanced and undeveloped” (p. 2). As the Message translates the first verses of Romans 12, “So take your everyday, ordinary life … and place it before God as an offering.

How do we balance the miracles and revivals of the Apostles and the call to “aspire to live quietly, and to mind (y)our own affairs, and to work with (y)our hands” (1 Thess 4:11)? Are ‘ordinary’ Christians somehow missing something ‘extraordinary’ that God wants to do through us? Are we reacting in exhaustion to living ‘radical’ lives by being lazy stewards of our life and calling?

The answer is found in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. He became human to turn humanity back to the Father. In his death Jesus is our atonement, bringing us back into communion with God. In his resurrection Christ is re-birthing, sanctifying, and making EVERYTHING holy and new. In short, the radical has already happened in Christ. Because of Him ALL of life is now exceptional. There is no sacred/secular distinction. There is no ordinary/extraordinary bifurcation. ALL of life is ALIVE and INFUSED with His Spirit.  

It is good to know on this Monday after Easter that we are radical as we live our ordinary lives IN CHRIST. By His Spirit we are united to Christ, placed in Christ, living the very life of Christ in our ordinariness of life. The Spirit is not taking us out of creation (with all its ordinariness) but bringing heaven to earth, bringing creation under the Lordship of Christ to the glory of the Father.

Blessed Monday!

60 Years Gratitude and Thanksgiving…a post by Jim

This past weekend was as special time for me and my family. My son and his wife and son (my grandson!) as well as daughter came home for Thanksgiving. It was a wonderful day together. But the weekend also included another very special occasion. My wife celebrated her birthday for the 60th time! Consequently, there was another special meal with lots of cake!

Besides the obvious reasons for expressing thanksgiving motivated by a sense of deep gratitude I was reminded of God’s faithfulness through the years. Specifically, my birthday gift to Joy was a slide presentation of her 60 years (550 pictures them to be exact). Starting with a picture of her mother (when she was 18) followed by a picture of her dad as a young man and then their wedding, the slide presentation reviewed Joy’s life from a newborn until a few days ago.

Looking at the pictures made it clear again of God’s gracious blessings on her and our lives. It reminded me of the gift of memory and specific memories. At every stage in life God’s presence was clear, at least when looking back on things.

The Psychology of Gratitude (Robert Emmons) is the premier ‘scientific’ study on the role and benefits of gratitude. Gratitude, the author says as a result of many studies, leads away from criticism, cynicism, despondency, and depression. It leads toward a sense of thanksgiving, fulfillment, appreciation, and the capacity to be present. But the Scripture made this clear many years ago!

My encouragement to you as we begin the Advent season is to cultivate a spirit of gratitude and express it with lots of thanksgiving. We honor God when we do that. And we make things a lot better for ourselves and others as well.

“Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18).

A Thanksgiving Invitation…by Tom and Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Thanksgiving is upon us and with it comes the requisite gatherings with family and friends, or not. These spaces of holiday gatherings can be either interesting or disinteresting.  The usual suspects arrive and tell the usual stories with the usual chatter.  What could make these interactions different or interesting?  The following poem leads us in a beautiful invitation to have an interesting holiday with whomever we are with and most importantly ourself. 

The Invitation

by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon.

I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, ‘Yes.’

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

Silence and Imagination…a post by Rich

A good friend of mine, Pastor Dan Braga sent along to me Andrew Sullivan’s article entitled, “I Used to be A Human Being.”  Sullivan writes,  “The Judeo-Christian tradition recognized a critical distinction — and tension — between noise and silence, between getting through the day and getting a grip on one’s whole life. The Sabbath — the Jewish institution co-opted by Christianity — was a collective imposition of relative silence, a moment of calm to reflect on our lives under the light of eternity. It helped define much of Western public life once a week for centuries — only to dissipate, with scarcely a passing regret, into the commercial cacophony of the past couple of decades. It reflected a now-battered belief that a sustained spiritual life is simply unfeasible for most mortals without these refuges from noise and work to buffer us and remind us who we really are. But just as modern street lighting has slowly blotted the stars from the visible skies, so too have cars and planes and factories and flickering digital screens combined to rob us of a silence that was previously regarded as integral to the health of the human imagination.”

The journey into the practice of silence and solitude or some form of sabbath rest is battered and assaulted at every turn.  I recall my mother lamenting one Sunday morning back around 1960 the elimination of Sunday blue laws in New York that prohibited grocery stores from opening on Sunday. Her words were simple, “We don’t need that.”  She was affirming the reality now erased from our general community consciousness that Sunday was for rest.  Sullivan, in his article particularly charges the arrival of our smart phones only a decade ago as the new and devastating intruder on our space where silence could once live.  

What captured my attention regarding Sullivan’s thoughts was his insight regarding the relationship between silence- sabbath- and imagination.  “But just as modern street lighting has slowly blotted the stars from the visible skies, so too have cars and planes and factories and flickering digital screens combined to rob us of a silence that was previously regarded as integral to the health of the human imagination.” Silence, certainly when practiced faithfully leads to self-integration.  We move past our fragmented and fringed living to an experience where our soul becomes more solid and whole.  We move from the circumference of our being to the center of our soul through silence.  Without silence we live scattered and superficial. We become dulled by a narrowness of noise that over time  deadens the soul. 

Silence before God, which forms the solid soul becomes the pathway to a healthy imagination.  The soul that has space to breathe, to hear, to see, to smell and to touch finds life’s simple realities pointing beyond themselves in their beauty and goodness to God’s presence.  

I am fortunate to live near woods where my screened in porch, my favorite room in our home, allows the singing birds to enter my times of silence. This past summer and now fall season is filled with blue-jays crying out in their unique song. Each time I hear them I remember as a young boy their crying voice among the pine trees of our church camp where our family would spend time in the Adirondack Mountains each Memorial Day weekend. The blue jay’s voice now leads to more. A pathway to memories. A daily reminder of God’s presence over the decades instilling faith that reaches back generations in our family. Memories of ordinary and faithful parents who worked, and gave and loved and worshipped, come along with the jay’s cry. In silence emerges a sense of being that is grounded and anchored traversing along the ordinary to God’s presence here and now. The soul is deepened and then . . .expands. Imagination begins to flourish in the wide open spaces of silence where faith experiences the Trinitarian God who lives and moves and has his being in the blue jay’s cry and beyond in the quiet and calm of the silence. A sacramental consciousness is awakened and nourished. Imagination grows in God and about God.

Sullivan suggests a simple discipline that once a week we find a 24 hour period to put our phones away along with our other electronic gadgets and allow space for the silence.  Not a bad idea if we wish to imagine more.

Home is where the heart is…a post by Jim

Home is where the heart is. Sounds encouraging. And it should be. Home should be the place where our souls are safe, encouraged, and loved. Home should be the best place to be.

But there is another way to think of the phrase, “Home is where the heart is.” And it isn’t necessarily good news. Because the state of our home, especially our family of origin when we are young, has a huge impact on where the heart is emotionally. And if the home system is not healthy or holy we will struggle when it comes to how close we can be emotionally.

Here are 8 Family Systems. What was yours and what do you think was its impact on your heart?

The Functional Family

  • Life is essentially defined by your role within the family system.
  • Persons understand their value and significance in terms of the task to perform and the amount of work they accomplish.
  • The experience of connectedness or intimacy is through the relational bonding that occurs in getting tasks done, and surviving against set-backs and obstacles.

The Dramatic Family

  • Life in the dramatic family system is continuously emotionally intense where someone is acting out some form of drama.
  • There is typically a crisis somewhere, and the family is emotionally structured around enduring, navigating, and occasionally resolving the drama. Only to have a new one emerge in due time.
  • The dramatic family is emotionally exhausting to some, while one or two dominant family members will sustain the drama.

The Traumatic Family

  • The traumatized family is one that is defined around surviving traumatic events be they natural disasters or financial devastation or drugs or disease or death or divorce or the adoption of a child with a Reactive Attachment Disorder.
  • Depending on the nature of the trauma such as sexual abuse a child will be adversely affected emotionally and the trajectory of the relational dynamics will also be deeply scared and distorted.
  • Trauma can serve to bring family together in an effort to overcome and strengthen the relational fabric of the family system or cause it to merely survive and maybe even disintegrate.

The Chaotic Family

  • The chaotic family is marked by confusion and the lack of adult leadership and authority and personal boundaries are not respected.
  • The adults in particular have abdicated their role of establishing order and ensuring that family practices such as appropriate grooming, sleep patterns, meal times, school attendance, proper attire etc. are established and maintained.
  • Often times within these family systems children have to fend for themselves and figure out life by themselves or along with peers.

The Moralistic Family

  • The moralistic family is the family focused on keeping the rules.
  • Without the rules the lawgiver is usually very anxious and if the rules are broken the rule-giver becomes angry.
  • The family typically disregards or dismisses what individuals are feelings. Feelings are typically unwelcome because they are unpredictable and messy. Children in this system are often compliant, at least until teen years!

The Authoritative Family

  • The authoritative family is dominated by an enforcer who is in charge and maintains control. The focal point is not primarily a moralistic framework, but the need to control.
  • So the enforcer may control not by issuing commands on right or wrong, but through anger, blaming, or physical force.
  • The enforcer is not bound to consistency, but may be orientated around his or her personal preferences on any given day or in any given circumstance.
  • The emotional atmosphere is unreliable and unpredictable.

Emotionally Entangled Family

  • The emotionally entangled family is marked by parents who use their children for their own sense of emotional stability and strength.
  • The parent(s) will often confide in their child inappropriate information about their marriage, or family problems. Emotionally entangled families often seek a child to be a mediator between parents.
  • The child will often suffer under the demand of being called upon to address adult needs that are beyond their capacity to hold and manage.

The Mature Inter-Dependent Family

  • Each member of the family is recognized as an individual. Family responsibilities are clear and role appropriate. Adults are adults and children are children.
  • Adults assign age appropriate tasks to children and have age appropriate expectations for teaching personal and family responsibilities.
  • Parents maintain authority, sustain clear boundaries, and demonstrate affection toward one another and all family members.
  • Poor choices have consequences and discipline is consistent.
  • Family members rely on each other for love, support, encouragement, and guidance that is role appropriate.
  • Members of the family understand differences between persons and accept differences.
  • Members of the family understand that no one is perfect. Apologies and forgiveness are extended and received.
  • Disagreements and conflicts are worked through to compromise, mutual understanding or a willingness to agree to disagree. But the fundamental relationships of love and support are not threatened or compromised.
  • Individual members are assisted in discovering their giftedness and encouraged to pursue their dreams and desires.

Thankfully, the Gospel is warm and strong enough to handle all of our defenses and dysfunctions. We come to Christ just as we are and, by his Spirit and his Community (the Church) we find forgiveness and healing. When HE is our home our hearts will be in a good place!

Treasure stumble…a post by Tom

“Where you stumble, there your treasure lies.”- Joseph Campbell

“…but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” -1 Cor 1:23

It seems like much of life is endless energy spend avoiding the failures. Avoiding the stumbling. Avoiding the humiliations. Yet the gospel reveals to us that it is in the very place of our stumbling that we encounter God! The enneagram is a great tool to reveal to us where we stumble…and where our treasure is! Consider the following a treasure hunt.

For the reformer types (ONES) our stumbling block is the anger and resentment over all the imperfections. The gospel reveals the invitation to change this energy into the treasure of serenity.

For the helper types (TWOS) our stumbling block is the pride of thinking we have no needs because we are meeting everyone else’s. The gospel reveals the invitation to change this energy into the treasure of humility honoring our limitations.

For the achiever types (THREES) our stumbling block is the deceitfulness of making things seem better than they are in order to accomplish and look good. The gospel reveals the invitation to change this energy into the treasure of authenticity and genuine honesty about ourselves and reality.

For the individualist romantics (FOURS) our stumbling block is the envy with others when someone else has something more refined or creative to offer. The gospel reveals the invitation to change this energy into the treasure of accepting life just as it is.

For the wise investigators (FIVES) our stumbling block is the greed for more and more knowledge and personal privacy. The gospel reveals the invitation to change this energy into the treasure of a non attached space where we neither cling or avoid.

For the loyalists (SIXES) our stumbling block is the fear over all the things that could go wrong and probably will go wrong! The gospel reveals the invitation to change this energy into the treasure of courageously awaking and taking our stand in the jungle of life.

For the enthusiasts (SEVENS) our stumbling block is the gluttony for new and better options. The gospel reveals the invitation to change this energy into the treasure of a sober joy even with life’s difficulties.

For the asserters (EIGHTS) our stumbling block is the shameless addiction to intensity without boundaries. The gospel reveals the invitation to change this energy into the treasure of mercy.

For the peacemakers (NINES) our stumbling block is the slothful lack of focused energy. The gospel reveals the invitation to change this energy into the treasure of decisive action.

God isn’t surprised by our vices.  Why should we be?  Let’s seize the opportunity to use our stumbling to find the treasure of virtue.

Perfectly imperfekt…a post by Tom

Why can’t anything or anyone be perfect? Why can’t this thing go the way it is supposed to? The long answer involves all the flaws, shortcomings, mistakes, sins, errors, and imperfections in every given person and situation. The short answer is because that every person or thing is not God. Seems like God put Himself in a bind by creating anything because anything created would always fall short of the Creator. After all only God is good. Even without sin entering the picture everything still falls short of the full glory of God!

It is refreshing to know that Jesus, humanly speaking, had to learn about perfection too. Scripture clearly says this in Luke 2:52 and the Hebrews text below. What is more startling is that He learned about perfection through suffering. Suffering what? Everything that wasn’t perfect! Jesus was made perfect through suffering the imperfect thereby revealing His Divine nature, which was that of a suffering God!

This has colossal ramifications for us in that real perfection isn’t a static moral category but a dynamic inclusive one. Perfection is more about being able to include and accept all that is not perfect rather than rooting out and excluding the nefarious negative fly in the ointment. Perfection seems more about relationality flowing from a generous and gracious source rather than measuring up to impossible standards (see first paragraph). Perfection is more about connectivity than ‘correctivity’ (I think I just made up a word). Perfection not about witch hunts but grace hunts. How will I learn this? Through the same way Jesus did. Suffering.

Are you miserable today? You probably are a perfectionist. Is your marriage miserable? Which one of you is the perfectionist and which one has to live with you? What are you demanding in life, in others, and most importantly yourself? Nothing and nobody will ever measure up. Let’s forgive everything and everyone for not being God and then maybe we will actually be like God. Perfect.

“Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” – Hebrews 5:8–9 (ESV)

“Spare me perfection. Give me instead the wholeness that comes from embracing the full reality of who I am, just as I am. Paradoxically, it is this whole self that is most perfect.” –David G. Benner

“The greatest enemy of ordinary daily goodness and joy is not imperfection, but the demand for some supposed perfection or order.”- Richard Rohr