An Unfinished Sketch

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IMG_1965I rarely show anything I’m doodling until it’s completely done, but I realized this morning that I haven’t opened my sketch book in a week! This is a piece I started a couple of weeks ago that I need to finish.

I recently made another move in my job with Apple, from retail sales back into the tech support group. It’s a step on my journey into a new role with Apple as I go full-time. I’m one our store’s newest Creative, joining the team that leads workshops and does training sessions. Until I finish my own training for my new position, I’m doing a lot of tech support for mobile devices again, and that can be a stressful job. We work with people in stressful situations. From the failure of a device to incidents of accidental damage, we are helping folks get through some anxiety filled time as they feel the withdrawal pains of being momentarily unplugged from our tech-connected lives.

One thing I do to prepare for each day at work is practice my work mantra on my drive to the store. It goes something like this:

I love my customers.
I am so glad I can serve them.
I love my customers.
I’m going to do my best for them, today.

This mantra helps me get in the mindset of service. It helps me center on the truth that our customers are coming to us with real needs, and my response must focus on those needs. It would be too easy to just become defensive or upset, to reflect back their anxieties and stress. No, I have to let their anxieties and frustrations be authentic and real, spoken and experienced, and let those anxieties and frustrations pass through me and past me without landing in my own spirit. Then, I’m ready to get down to business with helping them determine the best solution for their situation.

My mantra is an action of intentionally deciding what will be planted within me so that I can choose what I’ll be producing from the soil of my heart and mind. This is not just a service industry principle, but a life principle. I must choose the seeds of peace, compassion, empathy and love as what I cultivate within myself if I want to have those things to share with others. This is a daily effort, forever unfinished and being finished. I guess it’s ok to share a doodle before it’s done, as its unfinished state can meaningfully reflect the on-going becoming of life.

AMDG, Todd

Finishing a Month on Civility

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Weekly Grace Jan 31 2016I realized today that with the drama of Snowzilla last Sunday, I forgot to make a Weekly Grace! I mean, wow. I haven’t missed one in a few years. So, I wanted to make sure we finished and finished well this month of intention based around civility.

It’s an election cycle year, and it’s a pretty heated race for all concerned. That’s one reason I wanted to start the year on civility. Another reason is that sometimes it’s so hard to keep my words flowing from love. It’s so easy to let something else step in and drive my speech.

In our focal passage written to the church in Corinth, Paul says that nothing is as important as love. Nothing should be allowed to take it’s place. There’s no miraculous spiritual gift, no self-denial, not even any great knowledge or correctness that surpasses love. This is not a message that religious people like to hear. We are very enamored of our personal gifts and, oh my… our correctness? We often like to stake our very salvation on it or deny another person theirs.

1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 
2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 
If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 
5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 
6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 
7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 
8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 
9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 
10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 
11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 
12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 
13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Paul says that his ability to understand every question and mystery is nothing if he does not have love for others. The capacity to love matters more than the capacity to be right. I won’t belabor this point too long, but come on! I think it’s one of the clearest passages that teach us that we should let our love help us understand more often than letting our understanding teach us to love.

Our civility will grow as we move more fully toward letting love take it’s place of preeminence in our lives. Our words will grow to reflect that we have matured past the idea that our own perceived correctness gives us license to fight, humiliate, defame or condemn. We will listen better, with more desire to understand one another. We’ll ask good questions, meant to free and not to trap. We’ll grow together as we share and understand one another better. This could be a good year, even with a presidential election.

AMDG, Todd

I Feel No Need to Destroy You

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oct 2 2012 civilityI don’t like what you said. I think your ideas and conclusions are flawed. But, I don’t need to hate you. I don’t need to silence you or destroy you. My ideas are not right by how wrong I make you sound, or by how much I manage to embarrass you. I will simply state with conviction my ideas and beliefs, and I’ll let you do the same.

I’m going to pull up a little reminder from my Civility exercise circa late 2012… for us to think differently, believe differently, and even fundamentally be different people, does not necessitate that you be “destroyed.” You don’t need to be labeled stupid, less, evil or a hypocrite, just because we are dissimilar.

Back in 2012 I said it this way, “An opportunity of civility: One who disagrees with you is not necessarily evil or an enemy.”

Here are a few screenshots of what I’m talking about…
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Dang, everyone is being destroyed. Can you guess what verses from scripture this makes me want to quote? Yep…

“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 

If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”

Galatians 5:13-15, NRSV

It’s a thing these days in social media for someone to be destroying someone else, but doesn’t mean we have to participate. I see it online everyday, and I see the term “destroy” used in religious debates, social debates and political debates. It doesn’t seem to be enough for a person to hold an opinion or a conviction, but there must also be some destruction going on.

When we do away with the need to be destroying someone, we open that door of opportunity. Stop and spend a few moments of time imagining ways to be a person of conviction without needing to be a person of competitiveness. Imagine conviction without condemnation (Need an image of conviction without condemnation? Try the story in John 8:1-11.) Imagine your cherished ideas being valuable in their own right, without needing to demean another person’s thoughts or ideas.

The fact is, if I destroy everyone who thinks differently than I do, I become less wise for the effort. I will grow less. I will face fewer challenges, which means I will spend less time reflecting and deepening my cherished ideas. I am simply lessened by destroying (I suppose this really means silencing) people who think differently than I do.

Now, I’m not trying to destroy people who have shared an article lately in which someone was destroyed. I’m asking if we can stop a minute and distance ourselves a bit from the sensationalist wording and headlines? May we also stop and reflect on the need to be so competitive and demeaning in our disagreements? State your convictions. Elaborate on them. Support them. But if you can’t do that without attacking someone else and demeaning them, please consider your ideas and how you formed them. Are they factually based and relevant, or are they simply more of the divisive fighting between “us and them” that we get so much of every day? Are we simply playing a game of who insults and demeans the other the best? I’ll leave that discernment to you.

AMDG, Todd

 

Lift Them Up!

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Weekly Grace Jan 17 to 23 2016One of the uses or blessings of civility is it’s ability too turn things around, to take a bad situation and make it better, to help a person having a bad day begin to have a better day. An important part of civility is acting out of that civil impulse to positively engage and support one’s community.

Do you see someone around you struggling? Do you see someone who needs encouragement? Lift them up! Be a person who spreads joy and increases peace in the world with kind words, encouraging and positive contributions.

The proverb in our Weekly Grace is at once obvious and such a needed reminder. Our words have an effect, so let’s plan for the best effect possible. As children in Sunday School classes we often put our fingers over lips and sang “O be careful little lips what you say!” and I hope we never grow too old for that lesson.

AMDG, Todd

A New Website for Being Human

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Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 9.10.51 AMI launched a website today that I have pondered for a couple of years and worked on for the last week: showsomehumanity.com

The website is a hope and a prayer that we can have some deep conversations about being better human beings in the midst of our amazing diversity. It’s intended to be for everyone, people of any or no religion, of any and all traditions and backgrounds. It won’t be perfect, and it’s starting small, but I hope it grows and becomes a voice for good.

One aspect of the site will be exploring monthly human values. We’re starting off with January’s human value of kindness, and then in the coming months we’ll explore compassion, empathy and forgiveness.

Let’s get real. We won’t wake up tomorrow to find that we all suddenly look, think or want alike. You won’t wake tomorrow to be just like me, or vice versa. We will always have our dissimilarities just as we’ll always have our similarities. We will always be diverse and we will always be one human family sharing one earth. It’s time to recommit to showing some humanity. It’s time to affirm that we love this big human family into which we are born, and we’ll work to make it the best family it can be for all.

You’ll see a lot of my own DNA in the new website, but I hope that changes over time. My daily prayer of loving, learning and serving is being recast there as a “hope” for folks who don’t pray, or a mantra for daily action and life. I still believe in prayer, of course, and it is a prayer for me. But those words may not function as a prayer for everyone. Even deeper is my belief in loving, learning and serving. These are themes that transcend and surpass me and my experience. They are hopes for who I can be and how we can share life together. They are gifts for the whole species, and so however I come to them or you come at them, they are good and needed.

I appreciate your friendships and encouragement. I will appreciate your help and direction in the coming months as the new website is established and grows. I have some guides for making content for the site, and if you’d like to write something, I’ll check it out and help get it posted on the site. General guides are: 1) your writing needs to be brief and concise, as in 500 words or less, 2) if your writing includes a graphic, we cannot break any copyright laws, so don’t just grab a picture off the web; make one yourself or ask me and I’ll help make some orignial artwork, and 3) you should love the people you hope will read your words and write for their benefit. And past those guides, I ask that:  1) the website not become a place to share judgements, 2) that the website is not a place for competition between ideas, religions, traditions or philosophies, 3) that the website is a place to listen, and 4) that this website is a place to ask good questions.

If you’re interested in the way I am processing and thinking about these things, and especially if you’re thinking I’m moving away from spirituality and my religious faith, then I offer a past blog post about recognizing how some things are greater than and transcendent of our frameworks and words. For me, everything I do is religious. Everything I do is an act of faith and an act in faith. In the end, I’m going to be very vulnerable to an accusation of becoming a humanist in the contemporary anti-theistic application of the word. That’s ok, even though it’s not true. I like an older more classical understanding of the term which indicates a general love of humanity and belief in humanity’s potential and goodness. That’s where I am, as a human and as a human who is a Christian.

AMDG, Todd

Our Prayer Intention of Civility

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Weekly Grace jan 10 to 16 2016Civility begins within and then manifests in speech and action. This is true of everything, good and bad, better and worse. Out of our hearts we incubate ideas and expressions that take form in our words and responses. For this reason our God is not just standing around waiting to slap our wrist and cluck at us, but God is working to rehabilitate our heart and inmost being!

Are we open to this? It’s one thing to capitulate and obey a greater power or a higher influence, but are we ready to allow ourselves to be fundamentally changed from the inside out? This is the difference between obeying the great sermon points in Matthew 5, 6 and 7 out of legal and religious obligation or allowing the Beatitude Statements in Matthew 5 to frame a change of our hearts and minds as we navigate the reorienting of life that Jesus presents for us to follow.

This is not Christianity 2.0 or any new innovation or deeper level… this is actually the beginning of religion and faith. Jesus often gave this invitation to people, “Follow me.” This is the invitation of a teacher, mentor and life-changer. This is an invitation to reflect on who we are and how we are, with Jesus’ help. And it’s an invitation to change. 

Want to change the urges and reflexes of destructive negativity in your life? Begin by reflecting on your heart and cultivating a change there… work with energy and consistency to remove the negative things and plant beautiful things in their place. Where their is hurt and injury, sow some forgiveness. Where there is anger, sow some quiet and prayer. Where there is hatred, sow some empathy and hope. Christian saints and mystics often rooted this in their prayers: St. Catherine of SienaSt. Ignatius of Loyola & St. Francis of Assisi.

Even as I begin a new year no longer serving a congregation as pastor and shepherd, I want to renew my commitment to being a spiritual friend and brother to you. And I have to remind you that I need you. Jesus didn’t invite one person or single individuals to follow this path of change, he called us into community, together. Let’s do this together. Let’s chat.

AMDG, Todd

A Weekly Prayer Intention?

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Weekly Grace Jan 3 to 9 2016I’ve been making a weekly prayer intention for several years for our congregation at Church in Bethesda and for myself, but I’ve been wondering about continuing the practice now that I have left my pastoral duties with the congregation. After some thought and prayer I’ve decided to continue.

First, I do hope it blesses someone to have some weekly help with prayers. We all have time and even seasons when prayer is drier and more difficult to start. Second, it does help me to have it in mind and carry it as a daily reminder. Third, it’s a practice of intention, study and creativity that I don’t want to lose. Instead, I’m thinking of ways to expand on the weekly grace and what  it’s intended to be.

This is a Presidential election year… oh my. In honor of the coming strife and internal warfare that we are about to incite, I thought we’d begin the year with another reminder of civility. For people of faith civility is actually at the core of who and how we are to be interacting with our communities, nation and world. Civility is scriptural. Civility is Christian. Civility is a core element of a life of faith.

I’m personally so tried of the arguing around the phrase “politically correct.” It gets used too often, sometimes to minimize our responsibility to one another, the exact opposite of its intention. Some people proudly say that they don’t care about being politically correct as an excuse or a prelude to their incivility, rudeness and meanness. Being non-politically correct has become a badge of honor to many, as they see the need for sensitivity toward others as a type of censorship. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Being sensitive of others is a foundation of civil discourse and a very deep, important spiritual practice. We must work hard to remove racial slurs and demonizing language from our daily and shared conversation. We need to speak and act in ways that welcome the other and invite the other to participate in life with us, even in disagreement and dissimilarity. Christian Dominion, our elevation and dominance in religious, political and social affairs where all others are supposed to be made to conform to speak and act and think as we do, is not a scriptural idea. Truly, our scriptures teach the opposite. We are the world’s servants, broken and spent for the world’s good.

God blesses all. God’s blessings are for all. This is a teaching of our Christ, and maybe one that we by and largely ignore as we deeply fear its implications. (Matthew 5:43-48) The faithful are not the sole object of God’s love and peace… we are invited to share God’s burden of being used to bring more love and peace to the human family and all of creation.

So, as we begin the new year and look forward to electing a new President to lead our country, let’s renew our intention of civility in speech and action. Let us refuse to follow voices of indignity, disrespect and disharmony. Seek the voices that speak to bind us in love and peace. Be a voice that builds others up.

AMDG, Todd