Archive for the ‘Different Books’ Category

With All Your Mind…

Long ago, I discovered the spiritual connections and benefits of staying connected to neurological research.  Many of the same things have continued to provide helpful connections in personal devotionyouth ministry, and as we’ve grown in areas of parenting, and especially parenting a child who had experienced trauma before arriving in our home.   It doesn’t make us experts, and these are not magic, but they certainly help give us a better understanding as we seek to be faithful with all God has given us.

So it is no surprise that I loved discovering the “Healthy Mind Platter” developed by David Rock & Daniel J. Siegel, M.D.  It was discussed in Sissy Goff’s newest book “Raising Worry-Free Girls“.  It makes sense, especially as we increase our understanding of how connected our neurological health is to every other aspect of our body & being.  Many of us were raised knowing we needed to pay attention to a healthy diet: a specific amount of grains, meats, fruits/veggies, dairy, etc.  But with a better understanding of our brains, comes an understanding of “diet” we are feeding our minds as well.  The creators don’t suggest a specific amount of time for each category, but the understanding is that each individual may have particular needs for their own health.   Each category comes with its own benefits, and our brains (& neuro-chemistry) respond accordingly in ways that help bring long-term health conditions that impact our entire being.  They’ve broken the categories into (in no particular order):

  • Physical Time (exercise):  Aerobic activity helps increase the oxygen levels in the blood, which contributes to brain health in important ways.  “Exercise releases endorphins, which are neurotransmitters produced in the brain that reduce pain.  Exercise also increases the serotonin…which is often known as the “happy Chemical” (Goff, 2019)
  • Time In (introspection/silent prayer/mindfulness): Reflect on what has happened, what is happening. This is time without screens on, where there is space to be aware. Time here could also be spent reading and/or writing.
  • Focused Time (learning/purposeful): This is time to grow or nurture a skill or study a subject.   This helps build focus and makes or strengthens new connections in the brain.
  • Connecting Time (in-person/ eye-to-eye contact): Especially in a “virtually connected” world, this can be important for social development, as well as neurological health.  At every age, our “mirror neurons” help contribute to our understanding of others, our ability to be compassionate, and even our self-understanding through the eyes of others.
  • Sleep Time: Healthy and consistent sleep patterns are more valuable than our production/profit-driven world often gives credit for.  This gives our hippocampus time to process memories into long-term storage, restore and organize thoughts/feelings, and reminds us spiritually that we’ve been “set free” from the brick-making patterns of Egypt.
  • Down Time: When’s the last time you let your mind wander in a healthy way?   To gaze into the falling leaves, watch water flow downstream, enjoy watching the kids play nearby, or simply lay back on the couch breathing slow?  When your mind (or the kids) say “I’m bored” – let it be cause for celebration, in our overstimulated world.  It allows time for recharging the brain’s batteries, inspires creativity, and allows contemplation.
  • Play Time: Not practicing an athletic ability, but truly “playing”.  Here we have the opportunity to exist with lowered stress levels, build problem-solving, and remember to exist child-like.  Go mini-golfing, play Chutes & Ladders, bust out the old Atari, forget who wins, and enjoy the game itself.

You can follow the links or read the books to dive deeper into any of this, but I wanted to share it simply here.  We are called by Jesus to “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” (Luke 10:27)  I hope and pray that growing in these areas will help me to be faithful with what God has given me, help me to improve as a father, as a pastor, and as a friend.  May these things be a blessing to you as well…

On a Changed Mind…

In reading Bob Goff’s “Love Does” to our children recently, I was reminded of his words urging us not to be “Stalkers” of Jesus. He points out that we often spend so much time personally, and even in our gatherings studying about Jesus/Holy Spirit/God.  But how often are we focused on simply “being with” this Triune God?  As a pastor, as a father, and especially as one who recognizes the power of God’s Love – I want to consciously spend time, and invite others into times, of being increasingly aware of the fullness of God’s Love & presence.

Recently there was a book published that contains an amazing amount of scientists, researchers, and history of people all wanting to do something similar.  The main title is “How to Change Your Mind”, and a conversation with the author on NPR caught my attention.  As someone who’s studied biblical Greek, I remembered that Jesus often called people to “repent” using the word “metanoia” which literally means “having a changed mind”.  The unpopularity of this book in Christian circles might be caused by its subtitle, “What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence”.  The awkwardness of my preconceptions of psychedelics pushed-aside, I went ahead and read it anyways.

Wow.  The history of these substances and the opportunities for research beginning to resurface has a great deal to offer the brokenness of humanity.  Researchers are just in the past 8 years, finally and slowly/clinically, beginning to proceed cautiously again.  There are potentials in treating addictions, anxiety/depression, PTSD, and a great many of maladies in between.  Unfortunately, many of these substances were misused/abused in unsafe ways/levels back around the ’60s, and so most of us have a cloudy understanding of all these things.

But most interesting to me were the accounts of the early scientists/philosophers/divinity students who experienced these substances simply as a way to experience an “altered state of consciousness”.  Complete skeptics who viewed everything through a scientific lens came away skeptical of their own need to understand only that which is understandable.  Religious people came away feeling as if they’d “finally” had an experience of the divine.  There were so many great connections to those of us who are willing to see it, and I cannot process everything or share all the great quotes here.  But one thing in particular screams to be noticed:

What is striking about this whole line of clinical research is the premise that it is not the pharmacological effect of the drug itself but the kind of mental experience it occasions – involving the temporary dissolution of one’s ego – that may be the key to changing one’s mind.” Michael Pollan, How to Change Your Mind

It doesn’t take a Bible scholar to see the connection here.  Pick a verse! Look at Ephesians 4:22-24 if you need one.  Scripture talks about “dying to self” in order to come alive with the New Life of Jesus Christ over and over again.  Followers of Jesus since ancient times have wrestled with and expanded on what all of this involves.

What happens in story after story throughout Pollan’s book (the “good” trips at least) are individuals who carve out time and space purposefully for an “otherly” experience.  They are talked to by a “guide” who comforts them, and reassures them of their presence.  They close their eyes, turn on some music, and are guided verbally while the substance takes its effect.  Once you shed some of the hallucinatory aspects, what often leads to transformation/healing in the individual is coming away from such an experience aware that an “other” way of existing is out there.  An immediate realization of a unity that flows through all of creation, and the beauty of color, sound, etc.

One of the things that commends travel, art, nature, work, and certain drugs to us is the way these experiences, at their best, block every mental path forward and back, immersing us in the flow of a present that is literally wonderful – wonder being the by-product of precisely the kind of unencumbered first sight…”  Michael Pollan, How to Change Your Mind

This is not too far off from experiences we’ve heard of happening in worship.  This is not too removed from experiences of “guided prayer” even I have helped lead others into/out from.   It reminded me of another book I’d read recently, “Merton’s Palace of Nowhere“.  Merton has written extensively on prayer, on dying to the “false self”, and on meditation.  He was even around during many of these early “trials” in the 60’s, so I wondered his perspective of these things.  In a letter from December 1965, he writes:

“..my impression is that they are probably not all they are cracked up to be.  Theologically I suspect that the trouble with psychedelics is that we want to have interior experiences entirely on our own terms.  This introduces an element of constraint and makes the freedom of pure grace impossible.  Hence, religiously, I would say their value was pretty low.  However, regarded merely psychologically, I am sure they have considerable interest.” Thomas Merton, The Hidden Ground of Love

I find myself agreeing with Merton.  The grace of God that arrives in our moments/lives of sacrifice and other-centered Love is not something we can carefully plan for/measure.  They should not be contained in a moment or require the assistance of substances.  Even the neuro-chemical responses of emotional worship experiences can be addictive in ways that make us desire more of those moments on terms we can manufacture.

Only when we are able to ‘let go’ of everything within us, all desire to see, to know, to taste, and to experience the presence of God, do we truly become able to experience that presence with the overwhelming conviction and reality that revolutionize our entire inner life.” James Finley, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere

It’s not as simple as saying “Drugs are bad, mmkay?”  But it is as simple as saying an authentic and sustainable experience of God that transforms and brings New Life is possible for anyone, anywhere, at any time.  We live within a creation that proclaims the awe-inducing beauty and goodness of God,.  We are surrounded by a fellow humanity that was created to bear the image of the Divine.  God is not so far away as we often imagine.  The divine invitation to repent, to “metanoia” (have a changed mind) is something we do not seek to control, but submit ourselves to by pausing.  We offer ourselves in unceasing and moments of prayer, and a life with patterns of Sabbath.

To put it another way, we “come away/apart” or “retreat” to a solitary place as Jesus did, but also in moments joined together in relationship with others.  We prayerfully and vulnerably confess our false selves and seek to live in ways that shed/deny that self for the sake of others.  In living with these patterns, embracing people and moments with the precious validity of what could be (rather than what we assume will be), we position ourselves to receive the grace of a God-given Now.

On a closing note, I do believe these substances are able to “force individuals” into an awareness of the Divine (though not always).  However, we don’t need a substance in order to reveal to us different ways of perceiving this world exist.  What Jesus invites us to recognize is the power of compassion to accomplish even more.  Compassion means literally “to suffer with”.  When I choose to enter into the sufferings of another (person, people group, etc.), my vantage point enters into their own.  When this happens, we experience a “metanoia” that empowered by the Holy Spirit can lead to freedom from the chains we’d previously been bound by.  From a Christian perspective – when I “die to self” to come alive as Christ, I enter into a Holy Spirit-sourced compassionate life for those whom Jesus Loves (everyone…yes, even/especially them).  Such a life is the arrival of New Creation, where former things (false self) have passed away and all things have become New.  Not once, and not in a moment, but as a way of Life.

But beware.  As anyone who’s traveled to a foreign country can affirm, a daily existence where everything is “New” can be incredibly exhausting both cognitively and physically.  We may find ourselves depending on the power of God and needing to return to His presence…often…

…the Good News is, He is here.

 

 

A Wrinkle in Parenting (spoiler alert)

We’ve just returned from the theater, only to verify once more – the book is always better than the movie.  It sounds like such a great homeschool policy – “We’ll only go see the movie if we read the book together!”  Yet every time – the movie ends up falling flat.  It just doesn’t stand a chance.wrinkle.jpeg

Pushing that aside for a moment, I do love the book and so much of the imagery and themes througout: Light fighting back the darkness. Strength discovered in weakness.  You cannot serve two masters.  Hope even in places where we’ve made mistakes.  There are even direct quotes from scripture used imaginatively throughout.

L’Engle presents a Universe much larger than we usually envision, and the invitation for each of us to become warriors on behalf of light.  This doesn’t mean strapping on our weapons, and polishing our armor – it means offering ourselves in places and situations where we aren’t assured of the outcome.  It means loving the other, even when there’s no visible sign that such sacrificial love will be received well.

One of my favorite scenes is toward the end, as the lead character realizes she has been self-centered in her relationship with her Father:

          “I’m – I’m sorry, Father…(tears came to her eyes, their hands together)..I wanted you to do it all for me.  I wanted everything to be all easy and simple…So I tried to pretend that it was all your fault…because I was scared, and I didn’t want to have to do anything myself–“
        “But I wanted to do it for you,” Mr.Murry said.  “That’s what every parent wants.”  He looked into her dark, frightened eyes….
         “No.” Mrs Whatsit’s voice was sterner than Meg had ever heard it. “You are going to allow Meg the privilege of accepting this danger.  You are a wise man, Mr.Murry.  You are going to let her go.”

So many layers to this.

We love our children, and want great things for them.  But we must remember, for them to grow and develop they must be allowed to experience the mystery of holding Gods’ hand into the unknown.  As John Ortberg has written, “Persons of excellent will, judgment and character are formed by having to make their own decisions.” (Focus on the Family, April/May 2018)

We see this same love as God invites humanity with free will to respond to a crucified Messiah, an image of self-sacrificing Love that doesn’t force, demand, or overthrow.  An infinitely compelling revelation of a path we’re invited to follow, not with the promise that all will go well – but with the promise that this is the path of New Creation Love.  This is the way of proclaming Jesus as Lord.  This is the way of light breaking forth into darkness.

So what is the wrinkle? If we want to invite our children to step forward into a faith-filled unknown – we must be prepared to respond to their obvious questions.  “Really mom/dad?  You’re doing this?”  Where are we following Jesus into areas of unknown?  Where are we trusting Him to do something, without which we would sink into the waves of a stormy sea?  Where are we experiencing this as a home/family?

This isn’t meant to be intimidating, but encouraging/inviting.  This isn’t saying every family should sell all things, move into a tiny home in the bad part of town, or other side of the world.  This is simply saying – great distances can be traveled by small and simple acts of sacrificial love.  Great rifts can be overcome by a humble dependence on a Love that reflects the brightest light that has ever shown.

This is how Christ began the ultimate victory.  This is how we continue to proclaim & establish it, empowered by His Spirit even now.   Not by our own power to Love, but as we are transformed by His…

the makers.

I remember learning about the concept of “pax” back in college.  The fact that “peace” was not believed to simply be the cessation of violence, but active sharing/pursuit of right relationship.  That has come up again in both my reading and my parenting.

IMGP8574I’m naturally a “lover, not a fighter” (aka – a wuss).  I remember attending one wrestling practice with my big brother back in high school, jus to check things out.  The amount of grunting, sweating, and sizing each other up to see who could best who…for some reason wasn’t appealing to me.  To brag about how much you can lift, curl, crunch, or how many times you can pull yourself up on a bar….yah, I never understood that.  But someday when the zombies attack and I’m eaten first, all the jocks will be able to say “I told you so.”

I generally find myself agreeing with the kinds of things that pacifist Mennonite and Anabaptist writers might say in regard to conflict/war/etc.  But I was reminded recently by Jurgen Moltmann is his book “Ethics of Hope“, there must be something more.  That it’s not simply about allowing swords to do their thing, and retreating into ploughshares; but rather reforging swords into ploughshares.  Moltmann says:

“Nonviolence, like the forgiveness of sins, is only a negation of the negative, out of which nothing positive as yet proceeds.”

Or the more obvious quote:  “We are not told: ‘Blessed are the peaceful’ but ‘blessed are the peacemakers'”

It makes sense.  I don’t want my girls to simply shy away from an inflammatory situation.  Especially in our drama-rich culture that celebrates the ability to reduce your opponent by well-placed physical or emotional blows.  It can be easy for someone who’s been taught humility and gentleness to simply bow out, quietly walk away, and keep to themselves.  Certainly I hope they know when it’s wise to walk away.  But that’s not always the best response.

I want to raise my daughters to be filled with the wisdom, hope, and Love it will take to diffuse a tense moment.  To help bring healing and reconciliation when two of their friends are conflicted.  To mediate arguments, and offer solutions.  To speak up for the voiceless, and reveal the underlying and uniting Truth beneath the facade of drama.  To enter the places where swords are drawn, and bring redemption for the sake of all involved.

Oh snap.   It sounds like I want my daughters to be like Jesus…

 

love does a book review.

Recently I read an article in “Relevent Magazine” that pointed me to an author.  My thought was “Wow, even if I don’t end up liking his book, I really like some things about this guy.”  As it turns out, his book is pretty great too.  He’s written “Love Does – Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World.”  I took the book with me as “light reading” on a trip to Atlanta last month.  It ended up being the perfect companion to traveling the midwest on a “Megabus” (that’s another post all in itself – imagine the smell of urine, awesome people from Africa, a home-land security drug-bust, and the smell of pot at 1am).  It was filled with great reminders of this mysterious element he calls “whimsy” throughout his book.

I’ll admit, many of his stories left me thinking, “Yeah, but what would that kind of love look like without that kind of money?”  But the foundations behind many of those stories are infinitely transferrable.  Too often, life gets into a routine of the expected.  Even in the lives of we who actually talk with G-D on a regular basis. (hold on a sec….read that again….we TALK.  with G-D. whimsey enough for you?)  We lose sight of the beautiful, the magical, the whimsical.  We don’t look much beyond what is expected.

But Love does.

His book is full of example after example of how Love looks beyond what has been done already.  Love is compelling.  Love is looking for new ways to be communicated and felt.  Love lives open-palmed, sacrificing itself for others.  Reading this book will make you want to write a love poem for your wife.  It will make you want to do a fancy tea party with your daughters.   It will make you want to talk to the lady that barks (thought it was a sneeze at first….nope…totally a bark….like a small dog.) across the aisle from you on the Megabus as if she’s an infinitely-loved child of God.  Because….she is.

One story in particular came at a great time.  We’ve applied for grants for this adoption.  We’ve gotten denied.  There are a lot of people applying for these grants…and not everyone can get approved.  We’re doing a fundraiser this month, and it seems a difficult season to find people who are able to join us.  It’s a discouraging season.  But we still believe this is the direction we’re called and moving.

In Christian-speak, we say of moments like these, “Perhaps God is closing a door….”  It helps us walk away from potential with dignity.  But Goff talks about moments like these if a different way.  He experienced something similar when applying for law school, and because he believed God had led him that direction – he wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.  You should read the book to get the whole story, but in the end Goff points out that sometimes God allows a door to close, just so he can see us kick it down.

Another cool thing about God using that story to encourage us?  I called Bob Goff to thank him.  I left a message. (His number is probably pretty busy, since it’s published in his book.)  He called me back, and we talked about God moving in my family’s life.  He said, “When I hear about the DRC, I’ll think of Wick.”  I believe he just might, and with all of his work in Uganda – he may hear of the DRC often.

I look forward to calling him back when the door is kicked down completely…:)  (if you wanna help kick it, click here)

shameless plug.

So in case you’ve been following the blog for a while, or stumbled upon it by accident – I’ve also written a book! I’d love for you to check it out, and send me your thoughts!!

On that note – my daughters wanted to help me tell you a bit about the book…they’re pretty good little ad copy writers…

wright writes an alright book. :)

I just finished reading a recent book by one of my favorite authors, “Simply Jesus” by NT Wright. In this book, Wright takes a look at who Jesus was, what Jesus was saying, and why it matters – in a way that smashes right into our homes and local churches. With incredible insight into what the theological and political climates were in those days, Write reveals Jesus to have arrived not at just a random spot in human history – but the amazingly appropriate place in time and space to launch a brand new Kingdom of God!

This book would make a great read during your 40 days of Lent (preparing to celebrate Easter) if you haven’t already selected one. The book leads to the final chapters of what Easter means for God’s people, and what it looks like when we speak and live as if Jesus truly is ruling even now.

I underlined so many bits of his book, I couldn’t begin to share them here. But because this is a largely “parenting” blog, I will talk about one section I enjoyed quite a bit.

In Chapter 11, Wright explores how Jesus impacted the three elements of “Space, Time, & Matter”. As we’re talking to our children about God, one of the things I naturally fall into without even thinking is this mentality of “heaven” being somewhere “out there”. Historically, “neither ancient Jews nor early Christians believed that “heaven” was a location within our present continuum of time and matter.” – Wright

In the Old Testament, God promised to dwell with them in the Tabernacle (portable temple), and later set up his residence in the Temple itself when they settled in the promised land. This was the physical space where they believed God lived (not simply visited) – the place where heaven and earth came together. God’s space and our space, joined.

When Jesus came as God’s embodied presence, all of a sudden this “place where heaven and earth come together” was walking around, and the overlap continued to grow and move as his disciples went out accomplishing His work in His name. Finally, to the glory of God, Jesus gives us his Spirit so that the activity of Jesus can continue even today! Lives are transformed, sins are forgiven, and the Kingdom work is being accomplished!

Here’s the cool thing: Believing these above statements leads to the conclusion that when the work of Jesus is being done, empowered by the Holy Spirit – THERE is where heaven and earth are becoming joined together! The fact that as our homes become places where the activity of Jesus becomes a regular occurrence, they also become places similar to the Holy of Holies in the Temple…..whew. 🙂 Kinda makes you want to look for more opportunities for our families to get involved in Kingdom activity and living out His Lordship in our daily walk, eh??? 🙂

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