Category Archives: Spiritual Emotions

“My own congregation”

Christ the Servant 170630

Christ the Servant Lutheran Church in Vadnais Heights, MN

I am wrapping up my second interim this week and will probably start another interim later this summer.  What a joy to serve among the people of Christ the Servant and I am excited to see how they move forward in ministry with the leadership of their new pastor.

On Saturday, I was conducting a funeral and had a brief conversation with one of the attendees.  She commented on what a lovely congregation Christ the Servant is and how I must enjoy serving there. I told her yes it was a joy. I continued, “I am the interim pastor and tomorrow the congregation will vote to call a new settled pastor.”  She said, “Do you like doing interim ministry?”  I responded, “Yes, I do.”  Then she said, “Well, don’t you want to have your own church?”

Her question plucked a emotional string within me.  At one time in my ministry I definitely wanted to have “my own church.”  The thought appealed to my ego and my desire to be in charge.  However, when I had the opportunity to lead a congregation, I discovered that though I liked the title and some of the challenges in leading a congregation, my heart was restless and troubled.  Upon prayerful reflection, I learned that I was “over-identifying” with the congregation and tying my personal worth into the successes and missteps of the congregation.  When the congregation felt good, I was good; if the congregation felt down, I was down.

When I stepped into interim ministry I was able to detach these emotional strings that I had created.  As an interim pastor I have a “lighter” touch on the congregation, relying heavily on the lay leadership to guide the congregation.  I am both a consultant who comes from the outside and can observe the current behavior and mission of the congregation while also being a pastor who steps into the community to shepherd them during the interim. As my trainer said, “An interim pastor has one foot in the system and one foot outside the system.” Also my heart is not as restless and my mind is more fully engaged in the community.  I believe that this is my calling from God for this stage of my ministry.

I am thankful that God has provided a variety of gifts within the church.  I am thankful for those pastors, deacons and lay professional who can faithfully serve many years in one congregation, guiding them into deeper levels of vital ministry. I am also thankful for the calling I now have, to guide congregations through the transitions between such settle pastors.  The body of Christ needs all the gifts to be healthy and vibrant.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, and there are varieties of services but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but the God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit in everyone.  1 Corinthians 12:4-7

How are you using your spiritual gifts?

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Reflecting on the Election

Tuesday evening, I sat down to watch the election results.  I had voted several weeks earlier and was expecting Hillary Clinton to win.  The polls, the main-stream media, my thinking all said, “It may be close, but Hillary will win.”  But as the night and morning unfolded, it became clear that Donald Trump would be our next president.

questionI felt a wave of disappointment, sadness and surprise flow through my body.  I recognized my body’s reaction and simply sat with those feeling for a while.  I also noticed my thinking racing to all kinds of scenarios, “How will President Trump handle Vietnam (where my son’s company does business)” “How will he handle health care, Syria, national disasters, immigrants, global warming, women’s issues?” . . . on and on.

As I stepped back from my stream of thoughts, I realized that nothing has actually changed as of right now.  President Obama is still our President and will be for two months.  President-elect Trump will be making decisions in the future that will change our country and my life, but until he actually makes the changes, it is not helpful or healthy for me to be consumed with worry.  I have had a habit of catastrophizing or magnifying the importance of things and situations out of proportion to reality.  In the past, my thinking would focus on the election of Donald Trump as the possible end of the world. It is not.  It is not what I voted for, but it is not a disaster.

As I write that, I realize that President Trump will have tremendous power and the potential to do much harm (as well as much good) for  people.  Some of his campaign rhetoric greatly disturbed me.  But right now they are words and not policy or legislation.  I will need to be vigilant as to what policies and legislation does come forth, but to be consumed with anger or anxiety at this moment seems unproductive and unhealthy.

I know that many of my fellow Americans are responding differently.   I am mindful that my response is not for everyone.  I am mindful of St. Paul’s pastoral advice in Romans 12:15-16  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.   I realize that some of my friends and colleagues are rejoicing in this election with the hope of change while others are weeping at the same prospect.  I am not wise enough to know how to help all of them other than to be a peaceful, loving presence in the midst of great confusion.

I continue to pray that God’s Kingdom will come and God’s will be done.  Amen.

The Super Bowl of Emotions

Cam Newton dab

SEATTLE, WA – OCTOBER 18: Quarterback Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers celebrates. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

One of the story lines leading up to the Super Bowl was the enthusiastic play of Carolina’s quarterback Cam Newton.  Every time he scored a touchdown he had a special dance that he enjoyed performing.   Some people took offense at his display of exuberant emotions, but others saw it as a part his passionate personality.

Cam Newton sulking cmp

Sunday showed a different side to Cam.  He barely responded to questions from the media after the loss.   He was clearly in a lot of emotional pain and he walked out of the news conference early.  He was not the model of what many would call a “good loser.”

I am writing about this not to drawn any moral judgment to Cam Newton, but rather to how emotions can rule our lives.  Cam Newton strikes me as a person who rides the roller coaster of emotions to the fullest extent.  When he is happy and excited, he revels in the emotion.  When he is disappointed or crushed, he let it all hang out.

This is such a sharp contrast to what I learned growing up.  I was taught (in both overt and in subtle ways) that to show any emotions was not appropriate.  I came out of a stoic Norwegian culture that emphasized staying in-control.  It was not appropriate to ride the roller coaster of emotions; keep an even keel and a pleasant smile.   Don’t let my highs get too high, nor my lows too low.

What I have come to discover is that neither path works very well.   I have at time chosen to ride the emotional roller coaster, but the ride can overwhelm my inner being and good judgment.   I have done and said some rash, harsh things to friends and family in “the heat of the moment.”   I have allowed self-pity to rule my days in destructive ways.

But to ignore my emotions can be just as destructive.  To bury my anger or ignore my disappointments can be just as destructive.  They tend to cause internal stress that calls for attention.

More recently I have practiced a middle way.   I acknowledge whatever emotion I may be feeling: anger, disappointment, hope, joy, fear, sadness, but I do not let it rule my judgment.  I observe how the emotion may be affecting my body, my breathing, my outlook, but I hold it at a distance.  The emotion is certainly real, but it is not in control and it will dissipate over time.  I step back and observe what my “reactive behavior” might be and discern whether that behavior would be helpful in the long run.  It usually will not be.  I don’t bite my tongue, but I certainly hold my words for a moment.

This is a practice of mindfulness.  I imagine it as part of my dressing myself in Christ.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Col  3:12)

How do you handle your emotions?

The Serenity of the Serenity Prayer

The Serenity Prayer begins with three requests:  the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,  the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

When I first prayed this prayer, I wondered if the order should not be changed.  I wanted the courage to act, to move, to change things.  I sought the power to DO God’s will and to ACT in God’s name.  Should not courage come first?

Serenity in Winter

Serenity in Winter

Instead the prayer starts with the serenity to accept things that cannot be change, to be at peace with the way things are before any changes come.  Four years ago I wrote about the Serenity Prayer and the challenges of accepting Minnesota winters.  The weather is definitely something I cannot change (though I can change where I live).

The weather is not the only thing I cannot change.  On a more profound level – and where I think AA and Al-Anon see the prayers connection to their program – I cannot change other people’s behavior or attitudes.  Oh, I can love and care for, cajole and advise other people.  But I cannot change them.   A spouse or parent is unable to change the addictive behavior of a loved one.  A family intervention might help a spouse or child seek rehab but ultimately the alcoholic or addict must seek healing for themselves.

Backpack Tent 2014

I carry a one man tent when backpacking

But it does not need to be as dramatic as alcoholism.  In marriage, husbands and wives need to able to love, accept and support each other as they are.  When I first married Carolyn, I thought I could change her to share my love of backpacking.  I thought that I simply had to get her in the right setting and she would see the light.  I was wrong.  Though we both enjoy day hikes and the beauty of God’s creation, she does not share my fascination with sleeping on the ground in sweaty clothes after eating dehydrated gruel.   At the same time, she has come to accept that she will not expunge my fascination with carrying a forty pound pack up and down trails for days on end. Instead we accept each other as we are while enjoying the passions we share.

One passion that Carolyn and I share is our love for our grandchildren.

One passion that Carolyn and I share is our love for our grandchildren.

The prayer uses the word serenity as the heart of this acceptance.  Serenity is NOT the grit-your-teeth-and-bear-it attitude, but rather the calm, internal state of mind that sees reality for what it is: reality.  I remember experiencing such serenity when my father died twenty years ago.  He had contracted pancreatic cancer and then had a debilitating stroke.  When I sat by his bedside during his final hours, I felt sadness that the father I loved was dying, but also serenity that this was his reality. I could not change it.

To develop such serenity takes practice.   We may have moments of instant serenity, but to have consistent serenity takes the practice of prayer and meditation. Saint Paul connected prayer and peace.

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7)

How have you experience serenity?

Lord Jesus, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.

Superior Hiking Trail – Day Four

On my final day of hiking, I sent a leisurely morning in the motel, waiting for the morning fog to burn off. Late in the morning I hiked in rare sunshine back up to trail on the outskirts of Silver Bay. The Superior Hiking Shuttle would not arrive until 3:00 pm so I had time to hike back up the trail that was so foggy and wet the day before.

Looking Southwest from the ridge near Silver Bay.

Looking southwest from the ridge near Silver Bay.

After reaching the ridge, the views were quite spectacular. I could look down into the Beaver River Valley and even spot the Beaver Bay trailhead five miles distant. The railroad and pipeline reminded me that this is mining country with ore trains bring raw taconite to the Silver Bay processing plant.

The clear views also made me pause for some spiritual reflection. The day before I had hiked over this terrain totally oblivious to the views around me. Yesterday I had to walk by faith, trusting in the trail to lead me safely to Silver Bay. Now I was given the opportunity to see some of the beauty and wonder surrounding me. Many times in our walk with God we are walking in the fog , trusting in God’s love to guide us. Then comes the occasional glimpse of how God is marvelously weaving our life path into a beautiful tapestry.

IMG_20130531_123626_171I hiked back down to the trail head with plenty of time to meet the shuttle. I was the only passenger that afternoon as the driver drove me back to my car at Castle Danger. He told me that not only was the late spring a great time to hike the trail, but early fall (mid-September to early October) was a fantastic time as the leaves change color. Now I have a new incentive to return and explore another section of the trail.

Lord Jesus, thank you for all life journeys.

The Path Chosen

I subscribe to other blogs and two recent posts caught my attention. Both had stunning pictures and described walking in a kind of spiritual wonder and beauty.  I appreciate each photo and  written reflection.  They described paths I yearn to follow.

The first is from Jacob Schriftman.

Morning Walk in Heaven

I love to walk beside the ocean.  One of my most memorable runs was along Seven Mile beach in c, Jamaica.

The second photograph is from Sister Pat Farrell, OP,  a Dominican Sister of San Rafael.

Muir Woods Trail

I also love to hike forest paths.  I am looking forward to a hike this summer on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Yet today, on the first day of spring, my morning run in St. Paul, Minnesota, was on snow and ice. I felt somewhat deprived. I grumbled and complained as I ran. This is not path I would have preferred.    Then I watched a video on the beauty of trail running even in snow.  (It is only two minutes in length, yet inspirational.)

Show me your ways, oh Lord, teach me your paths.  Whether snow-covered or not, teach me to walk, run, and dance with you though all circumstances and situations.

American Optimism And Christian Hope

ImageAs I mentioned in my sermon yesterday, title Abounding in Hope, our American culture promotes optimism for a better future. To use an old proverb, we tend to promote the idea that the glass is half-full, not half-empty. To quote President Ronald Reagan, “Well I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — America’s best days are yet to come. Our proudest moments are yet to be. Our most glorious achievements are just ahead.”

Part of our American optimism comes from our predominant Christian heritage. Hope is a central virtue of our faith in Jesus Christ. But there is at least one key distinction between American optimism and Christian hope. American optimism places our basic trust in ourselves and our ability to solve our common problems. We see a challenge, roll up our sleeves and get to work, whether it is placing a man on the moon, fighting terrorism or recovering from natural disasters. As Americans we believe in the possibility of creating a “better life” for ourselves, by overcoming obstacles and challenges.

Christian hope has a different focus. Our Christian hope is not in ourselves, but in our God who loves us and saves us from ourselves. We believe God is at work in the world, calling all people to God’s rule of justice and peace. We know that there will be struggles and difficulties. Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him (Mark 8:34). The cross is hardly a symbol of optimism.   Paul goes so far as to say that he boasts in his struggles.

we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (Romans 5:3-5).

As an American Christian I do not reject an optimistic glass-half-full attitude. There are many problems in our world that need a positive can-do attitude — poverty, hunger, and racism to name a few. However I also know that as follower of Jesus Christ, there will be times and situations that I cannot overcome. The primary ones are my sin and my death. No amount of optimism and self-encouragement will help me here. My only hope is Jesus Christ; his death and resurrection are my source of hope today and forever.

How do you connect or distinguish American Optimism and Christian Hope?

Lord Jesus, continue to fill my heart with hope in you.