Dance, Dance, Wherever You May Be

by Teresa Blythe

Lots of congregations sing “Lord of the Dance” on Sunday mornings, but really, what would most of them do if someone lost their inhibitions, took the song literally and began to “dance, dance,” right there in worship?

It is so rare to see a real outburst of spontaneous celebration of God’s Spirit in most established (especially white) churches that when it occurs we generally go in one of two directions. If we are inspired by it, we then want to control it ending up with predictable liturgical dancers—eyes and arms lifted toward heaven (in case we don’t understand that they are glorifying God)–or acceptable movement such as a little swaying and clapping. If we are embarrassed by it, we avert our eyes, ignore it and hope it goes away.

We could instead embrace it. Understand that we do not “have” bodies, we “are” bodies and sometimes those bodies want to move or otherwise express themselves in worship. We could, as they say, let the children, young adults and those with nothing to lose lead us toward a more embodied worship experience.

Embrace that Swing

Several years ago I had the privilege of working part-time at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson—one of the few multicultural progressive churches in Arizona. On this particular Sunday, children’s time had just ended, but, as was the custom at Southside, the children were not yet dismissed to their respective church school classrooms because the choir had not yet sung. With the children sitting on the flagstone floor of the Native American-style kiva sanctuary, the choir sang a rousing gospel rendition of the old favorite, “Love Lifted Me.”

In the middle of the song, with not a shred of inhibition, a six-year old girl leaps to her feet and starts free-form dancing. Now we’re all familiar with the one or two children in the church who enjoy making a scene during children’s time. But this little girl wasn’t in it for the attention. The motivation appeared to be pure adoration and praise. Most of the adults in the congregation were smiling—some had tears in their eyes—at the freedom the girl felt to “dance, dance, wherever she may be.”

When the song ended, the pastor, John Fife, stood to say, “That’s the difference between children and adults. She was inspired, so she got up and began dancing. Many of us were inspired as well, but we just sat there and let her dance all by herself!” Since then, when people at Southside feel so moved by the choir, they stand up and move.

That 6-year old dancer has a prophetic message for the larger church. On a base level, we have to understand how music moves the body and soul. I’m talking about music with full-bodied rhythm—and let’s be honest, most people just don’t feel like dancing to the pipe organ. Yes, saying that can start up a “worship war” in your congregation, but it doesn’t change the truth of the matter.

What this girl demonstrated was that if our churches want to be welcoming and attractive to people younger than your average church member, we had better be alive and ready for anything to happen in inspired worship.

(Which is why it thrilled me this past Sunday at First Congregational UCC Phoenix to turn around during a high-energy gospel song and see one of the young adults who was running the media center in the back moving and dancing to the music the way God intended! I only wish everyone there had turned around to see how much fun he was having at church.)

Embrace the Awkward Illustration

Sometimes spontaneity is thrust upon us by those who have long ago lost the usual societal inhibitions. I once visited a Presbyterian church in Albuquerque as a wild-haired, scruffy older man in a heavy coat had a burden to share in worship. Rising during announcement time, he proceeded to the pulpit to confess to a number of “sins of the flesh.” The young pastor appeared to know this man, and was not exactly surprised at the pop-up confession but was at a loss for what to do. So, he let the man speak.

As fate would have it, the sermon that morning—from the lectionary—was the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Jesus saying that the one who “beat his breast” saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner” was justified. What a brilliant sermon illustration! Unplanned and awkward, yes. But, frankly a bright spot in the liturgy.

Was this celebrated as a happy coincidence? Or even a Godly moment? Hardly. No mention is made of the event after the man is escorted away from the pulpit, because his interjection is seen as an embarrassing disturbance.

We’ll need to shed this self-consciousness and a desire to control if we want God’s spirit to blow around in worship. If something bizarre but meaningful happens in worship, let’s make the most of it. It sure beats the Easter Sunday I spent at a mainline church in the Bay area where I counted at least three people in their twenties fast asleep during the sermon.

Let’s embrace the crazy outburst as important data for discerning when and where God’s Spirit is moving within the congregation. How can we follow it more closely? How can we stay open to those times when worship goes slightly awry, seeing what those moments have to teach us? Savor them, in all their ickiness, and you’ll soon become more comfortable with the unusual, the ecstatic, the surprising.

Honoring the Body

Church leaders could start to honor the body in worship by incorporating call-and-response music, drums, incense and a variety of simple prayer postures. Make worship a feast of all five senses, not just the ear and eyes. Instead of bringing on the approved liturgical dancer why not go into the community and hire a professional contemporary dancer to do an original dance illustrating the theme of worship that day? Lift our eyes from the bulletin by posting what we need for worship on a screen or even an old-fashioned poster board up front. Leave us on the edge of our seats by writing sermons with cliff-hanger endings, like the serial dramas on TV do each week. Ask us to yell out “Amen” to your sermon when we feel it. And then entice us with God’s word so that we want to.

Making room for the spontaneous will not be easy for people set in their ways. It requires an attitude of hospitality that says whatever is done in authentic response to the Word or the Spirit is OK with us.

It requires being brave enough to admit that if our music, preaching and prayer aren’t filled with enough of God’s Spirit to move people in some pretty significant ways, we’re in trouble and need to plead for God’s mercy. Remember, boring people in worship is a sin.

The good news is that the Lord of the Dance is the one who saves us.

Are we Still the “Land of the Pilgrim’s Pride”?

by Ken McIntosh

I remember when I was a child and Thanksgiving was all about the Pilgrims. At school we watched “Mouse on the Mayflower” and grainy film reels with the Mayflower II sailing past Plymouth Rock. We made conical Pilgrim hats out of different colors of construction paper and big yellow paper buckles that went on our shoes. At home, Mom always made a ceremony of setting out a large wax sculpture Pilgrim couple—the centerpiece of our table.

Now it seems that Thanksgiving weekend is all about ‘Black Friday’ morning sales and college football. Pilgrims? The Mayflower? Meh…not so much (the exception this year being a pair of revisionist histories on TV).

On previous Thanksgivings I’ve thought that the eclipse of the Plymouth Plantation myth was probably good and merited. For Native people, it was another step toward the end of their relationship with the land. Already wracked by European disease, the treaty that Chief Massasoit made with the Pilgrims ended in the time of that chief’s son Philip; the ‘King Philip’s War’ resulted in over 5,000 deaths, and three-quarters of the slain were Natives.

A decade ago I had a strange experience while visiting Plymouth Plantation. Part of that historical recreation is a Native village staffed by Wampanoag tribespeople who dress in 17th century attire. A visitor to the village addressed one of the Native interpreters and said “You look like just like real Indians.” The man replied, with admirable lack of irritation in his voice “I am a member of the Wampanoag tribe, the original people of this land, who met with the European settlers.” And the tourist said, “Oh, I get it. You’re acting like a real Indian.” The Native interpreter continued to educate the man in a polite manner, but the whole exchange was painful to watch.

More recently, in Flagstaff, my wife was away for the Thanksgiving Holiday and I had to stay for a church function, so a Navajo friend invited me to his sister’s house for turkey dinner. I was the only white person at a large gathering of my host’s extended family, and thus the butt end of good-natured white-people jokes. The irony of it all was not lost on me.

So, considering the sad history of my ancestors’ conquest of this country, celebrating Pilgrim pride didn’t seem like such a brilliant idea. At the same time, it was hard to escape the influence of the Pilgrims once I became the pastor of a Congregational church. Of the 102 settlers who came from Holland on the Mayflower, 35 were members of the Puritan Separatist Church. They fled England where the State Church forbade their manner of worship for refuge in Holland where there was broad religious toleration. Fearing that they would lose their cultural ways, they then chose the risk-filled voyage to New England, a region chosen because they mistakenly believed it to be uninhabited.

Perhaps the most abiding aspect of Pilgrim heritage in the UCC today is part of Pastor John Robinson’s farewell message of 1620, in which he said “if God should reveal anything to you by any other instrument of his, be as ready to receive it as ever you were to receive any truth by my ministry; for I am very confident the Lord has more truth and light yet to break forth out of his holy word.” He clarified by lamenting that Lutherans proscribed their beliefs to the writings of Luther and Calvinists to the writings of Calvin. Today, the UCC is characterized by the phrase “God is still speaking.”

This year, however, I’ve decide that I do want to re-appropriate the Pilgrim story. It has abiding value—or at least value for 2015 and the foreseeable future. I say this for two reasons. First, the story of the Pilgrims and First Nations people of that land cooperating for their mutual benefit is a true one—albeit short-lived. The Wampanoags showed Europeans how to grow crops and survive; Europeans in turn brought crops and technology that was helpful for the Natives.

That peace was short-lived. I think of it like the 1914 Christmas truce in the trenches of WWI. We know that was followed by the hells of Verdun and poison gas attacks, but at least for a brief time it happened and we can still be inspired by that glimmer of peace. Likewise, we have the example of the daring risk that this Native community took by welcoming strange and dubious-seeming people, and trying to seek a future of mutual benefit. At a time when America seems to be growing more xenophobic, this beginning attempt at mutual trust may still serve as a positive example. Their betrayal by our race can also be an abiding cautionary lesson.

But there’s another ‘Pilgrim lesson’ that I had drummed in during grade school, and I think that is the most important lesson of the Mayflower journey for America today. Countless schoolchildren were taught during the 1960s, ‘The Pilgrims came to these shores seeking religious freedom, and that is why we continue to value everyone’s religious freedom.’ That story can be historically critiqued—it may be that the Mayflower Separatists only valued Christian religious freedom, and we know that the Puritan groups who came in succeeding waves were intolerant of religious dissenters in their own ranks. Yet the elementary school lesson was as clear as it was succinct: our ancestors came here because they wanted to worship freely, and we should pass that privilege on to others.

So when, a few years later, I saw a group of men installing our neighbors’ swimming pool, and they all stopped their work at the same time and bowed down on mats and prayed, I was not shy to approach them afterward and ask “Why did you do that?” And when they told me they were Muslims and they prayed toward Mecca five times a day, I said “Neat!” Up to that point my experience of religious diversity was Methodists, Lutherans, Unitarians…and one Jew. But I was happy to see a new kind of religion in my town…part of an unfolding story of religious freedom that defined us as Americans.

I have to wonder; all these people wanting to refuse new neighbors because they came from another culture and they might follow a different religion: were they not told the story of the Pilgrims? If they were told the same American legend that I received, they somehow missed the whole point.

“Land of the pilgrims’ pride,
From ev’ry mountainside
Let freedom ring!”
…for everyone who wants to live in safety, and to worship as they please. Let it ring!

Photo is with permission of my publisher Anamchara Books

Living in Sodom

by Tyler Connoley

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how similar my country is to Sodom. However, not for the reasons you might think.

We remember Sodom as the town that hated strangers so much they almost raped and killed two angels who came to visit. They also threatened Lot, Abraham’s nephew and a recent immigrant. In the Biblical narrative, the Sodomites are the ultimate xenophobes, intent on secure borders, threatening monstrous acts against those they should have been welcoming.

(Note: If you think the story of Sodom has to do with gay sex, please go and read Genesis 19. You can also read the book I coauthored with Jeff Miner about homosexuality and the Bible.

What we forget is why the Sodomites might have been so afraid of strangers. For that story, you have to go back to Genesis 14. In that story, we’re told the kings of Sodom were convinced to join a coalition of the willing, including neighbor Gomorrah and three other cities, in an attack on the cities of the north. However, the battle was actually a wild goose chase (or maybe a trap?). When the kings were away, the northern armies swept into Sodom and Gomorrah, ransacked the cities, raped women and children and men, and carried everyone off as slaves. Since this is our sacred Scripture, we mostly remember this as the time our hero Abraham saved the day by rescuing his nephew Lot — along with all the other Sodomites who were captured — and all ended well.

The happy ending, hides the trauma that preceded it. All of the people of Sodom found themselves carried off and brutalized. Who knows how many died? Who knows what they suffered? Who knows how they continued to carry the trauma of that event for years after?

Genesis 14 is the story of Sodom’s 9/11.

Now, we understand why the people of Sodom would act the way they did in Genesis 19, when two strangers came to their city and ended up staying at the house of that newcomer Lot. When we read the story, we see two angels and our hero Abraham’s nephew. The people of Sodom saw a possible spy ring or a potential terrorist cell. Knowing that, we can see how they thought they were justified in the way they treated these threatening strangers.

This is why I compare the United States to Sodom. Living in this country, I’m well-acquainted with an atmosphere of fear and trauma that leads people to condone terrible acts. The story of Sodom is a warning to us when we slam our doors to refugees, or condone extra-judicial drone strikes, or cheer on war, or yawn at the thought of Guantanamo Bay, or accept any manner of evil because we’re afraid of another 9/11 and think our government needs to keep us safe.

The Sodomites were not monsters. They were people like you and me. I’m sure they had lovely houses, and above-average children, but that’s not what we remember them for. We remember that they let their fear and trauma get the best of them, and they did monstrous things as a result. Let’s learn from their lesson, and not be Sodomites.



by Amanda Peterson

Gratitude is an important practice of anyone who wishes to walk with God. Seeing all things as gift can change one’s entire life. Expressing gratitude can literally change the world. Religious leaders, mystics and scientists all agree that those who practice gratitude attract a fuller and happier life. Those who dwell in negativity and lack attack more negative things into their lives.

Keeping a gratitude journal is a powerful practice. If you are experiencing hard times I highly encourage you to keep a gratitude journal that each day lists all that you can be grateful for. Even if it just states that the day is finally over!

There is an abundance of blessings in our lives, if we only look. Yet often there isn’t any discussion of gratitude and challenges. A grateful heart is not always a “happy” heart. That is why I believe it to be one of the most sacred spiritual practices. Gratitude lifts us into the Presence of the Holy. One can be grateful and grieve or grateful and overwhelmed and grateful and frustrated. This poem below addresses that. After you read it what are you thoughts about being gratitude and your spiritual walk? What are your reactions to the poem? Too simplistic or spot on? How does God and the comma connect with gratitude in all thing? This Thanksgiving, whether you are surrounded by an abundance of friends and family you love and/or avoid or you are alone, how can you let the day be one truly filled with gratitude?

Be Thankful

Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire,
If you did, what would there be to look forward to?

Be thankful when you don’t know something
For it gives you the opportunity to learn.

Be thankful for the difficult times.
During those times you grow.

Be thankful for your limitations
Because they give you opportunities for improvement.

Be thankful for each new challenge
Because it will build your strength and character.

Be thankful for your mistakes
They will teach you valuable lessons.

Be thankful when you’re tired and weary
Because it means you’ve made a difference.

It is easy to be thankful for the good things.
A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are
also thankful for the setbacks.

GRATITUDE can turn a negative into a positive.
Find a way to be thankful for your troubles
and they can become your blessings.

Author Unknown

Why I Need You to Survive

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

Last week was awkward and hard. It really was. It was one of the weeks where nothing seemed to synch up for me. From attempting to greet an acquaintance with a hug, but instead elbowing them in the nose to forgetting about a meeting I was supposed to be at while I was just chilling at home as though I hadn’t a care in the world. I set my alarm for 6pm instead of 6am not once, but twice. I woke up with this pit in my stomach and sense of dread, but it wasn’t connected to any thought. It just constantly felt like something was wrong and I couldn’t put my finger on it.

I wasn’t the only one feeling this way last week. I have two friends that I talk to every single day over text regardless of rain or shine. Sometimes it is lengthy, sometimes it’s short, but we always connect. As I texted my, sometimes humorous, often complaining texts to them last week, I received very similar responses. Each of us said at some point, “What the heck is going on? Is something in the air?” Nothing was synching up.

I was avoiding things that week. I was eating less, not much of an appetite. I was walking under a plume of strangeness without knowing why. I caught myself walking very quickly through my living room as I came home, a sense of urgency to get into another room. I noticed it and wondered what the heck was wrong with me. Why am I feeling compelled to avoid so much? I walked back into my living room and realized the source of anxiety was the TV. It was the news anchor. It was the images. It was the terror in the world.

And I cried.

This thick pall that I was in the midst of was the sense of helplessness in the face of unimaginable suffering. I felt shame for the human race. I felt absolute rage for the vulnerability that is exploited and crushed. I was avoiding the pain of living in this world. There isn’t even a starting place that makes sense to me to begin to hold what is happening in the world around me. So I check out entirely. And when I do, I step out of the flow of life. My fears increase, my reasoning decreases. I am ill-tempered and checked out. I am withdrawn. All of this leads to me living out of synch.

My pastor, Rev. Delle McCormick, said something incredibly profound the Sunday after the attacks in Beirut and in Paris. She used the phrase “unsettled ache” repeatedly in her sermon and that resonated very strongly with me. The reality is I am impacted by all of this pain and violence in the world. The reality is you are too. Even if we are avoiding knowledge of it or attempting to distract, it is the thing that greets us when there is a quiet moment. It’s just on the edge of our awareness more often than not and it impacts the way we interact with the world around us.

My starting point to engage in the world again was the awareness of this very simple point: you impact me and I impact you. We do not exist in a vacuum. We do not live the individual lives that we are constantly trying to tell ourselves we are living. This is a global community.

We say something to each other at Rincon Congregational UCC that I have never said to anyone before. Often after service, during the benediction, we are encouraged to look at one another and say, “I need you to survive”. Regardless of what word you put the emphasis on in that statement, it is true and powerful. I need for you, my dear one, to survive. I also need you, my dear one, for my own survival. We are connected. It is unsettling. It is life.

image credit: Roy DeLeon


Syrian Refugees and the Teaching of Jesus

by Ryan Gear

At last count, 30 governors, 29 Republicans and one Democrat, have issued statements that they will not allow Syrian refugees to settle in their states. Never mind that governors probably don’t have the power to enforce state borders, their statements have come under fire from many, including evangelicals who usually support conservative political leaders.


Because this latest example of xenophobia conflicts with the details of Jesus’ life a little too closely.

First, Jesus and his parents were Middle Eastern refugees. The nativity scene, after all, is about a Middle Eastern family looking for a place to stay. Matthew tells us that after his birth, Mary and Joseph fled with the baby Jesus to Egypt. Turning away refugee families right before we put up Christmas decorations is too ironic even for those who often miss the irony of their political views and professed faith.

Second, Jesus gives an ominous description of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25 that directly speaks to the issue of welcoming the foreigner. In Matthew 25:40, Jesus declares, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

Conversely, “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

While one could argue over the definition of “brothers and sisters,” Jesus is known for universalizing the love of neighbor. It is perhaps one of Jesus’ unique contributions to moral teaching in human history. In his depiction of the Last Judgment, Jesus is the King, and He clearly states that how we treat who He calls “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” is how we treat Him.

Who are “the least of these?”

In verse 28, we learn that one category of “the least of these” is the “stranger.” How does Jesus define “stranger?” Matthew was originally written in Greek, and the Greek word that we translate as stranger is xenos. Xenos can be translated into English as “foreigner, immigrant, or stranger.”

In other words, when we don’t welcome the foreigner, Jesus takes it personally.

Let us acknowledge that even though it’s an unpopular thought in 21st century America, Jesus says that those who reject “the least of these” will face eternal punishment. Needless to say, that statement should give pause to all of those who claim to follow Jesus Christ, yet quickly reject the stranger.

We are wise, of course, to ask questions about public safety and the possibility of terrorists embedding themselves within refugee groups. I understand the apprehension that some feel who are sincerely concerned about the safety of U.S. citizens, and I do not dismiss their concerns as trivial. There is another view, however, for us to consider.

In addition to Jesus’ warning about the afterlife, conceivably there are earthly consequences to not welcoming the stranger. Perhaps not welcoming refugees would create more terrorists who would seek to harm the United States. Turning away families in their time of need could prove to be a powerful recruiting tool for ISIS. If a mother and father seeking a safe land for their children are denied hospitality, they will not feel goodwill towards the country that rejected them. Furthermore, if their children were to die because of hardship, why would be surprised if grieving parents were to act in revenge?

Finally, one could easily make an argument that rejecting the refugees allows the terrorists to win. Their most powerful weapon is, well, terror. If we fear an attack so intensely that we are willing to deny hospitality to refugee children, who could argue that the terrorists haven’t won? Not only have they taken human lives, they will have succeeded in taking away our humanity.

Many Christians, including conservative evangelicals, realize that Jesus speaks clearly on this matter. No matter how many governors claim there is no room in the inn, the teaching of Jesus is simply too relevant to the current situation for Christians to ignore.

…Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

by Dr. Don Fausel

Back in the 1960s, I was the director of a summer camp for girls in the beautiful Adirondack Mountains in New York State.  For eight weeks, a hundred and fifty campers would have three meals a day in the “mess hall”, and at every meal they’d sing:  

If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands, clap, clap, if you’re happy and you know it then your life will surely show it, if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands, clap, clap.

I suspect that some of you might know the other verses. The song went from clapping your hands to stamping your feet, then your knees and on and on.  Well, it seemed to keep the campers happy, but that’s not the type of happiness we are going to pursue in this blog. Not that there’s anything wrong with frivolous happiness, but that’s not what Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he wrote The Declaration of Independence.

My last blog, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Stuff, described how “our obsession with Stuff is trashing the planet, our communities, and our health.” This blog will focus on Sustainable Happiness.  Before we look at the Science of Happiness, I found it nostalgic and beneficial to briefly recall the ancient philosophers who were grappling with the concept of happiness over two thousand years ago.

First there was Socrates, a Greek philosopher and scientist who lived between 469-399 BCE.  He held a unique place in the history of happiness…as he was first known to argue that happiness is actually attainable through human effort“. He was also known for saying, that he was convinced that “…the unexamined life is not worth living”. Oh, and yes, there was the “Socratic method” (a process of questioning designed to expose lack of knowledge and clear the way to knowledge). The price he paid for his honest search for truth was death. He was convicted of corruption of youth and sentenced to die by Hemlock poisoning.

Aristotle lived between 384-322 BCE and was a student of Plato.  He is considered to be one of the greatest thinkers in the history of western science and philosophy.

One of his most influential works is the Nicomachean Ethics, where he presents a theory of happiness that is still relevant today, over 2,300 years later. The major question that he seeks to answer is what is the ultimate purpose of human existence? Aristotle’s answer is “that nearly everyone would agree that happiness is the end which meets all the requirements”.

Epicurus (341-270 BCE) was considered a renowned figure in the history of science and philosophy. He believed that “…the most pleasant life is one where we abstain from unnecessary desires and achieve an inner tranquility by being content with simple things”. His position was that our beliefs should only be those that could be verified by empirical evidence.

True to his philosophy, Epicuris spent the last few days of his life in pleasure. Although he was physically sick, he wrote this letter of his friend Idomeneus:  

I have written this letter to you on a happy day to me, which is also the last day of my life. For I have been attacked by a painful inability to urinate, and also dysentery, so violent that nothing can be added to the violence of suffering. But the cheerfulness of my mind, which comes from the recollection of all my philosophical contemplation, counterbalanced all these afflictions. And I beg of you to take care of the children of Metrodorus, in a manner worthy of the devotion shown by the young  man to me, and to philosophy.”

Even in one of the most miserable conditions I can picture, instead of dwelling on his pain, he is able to achieve happiness.

Moving forward to the present era, John Locke lived between 1632-1704 CE. He was a major English philosopher, whose political texts, “…helped paved the way for the French and American revolutions. He coined the phrase ‘pursuit of happinessin his book An Essay Concerning Human UnderstandingThomas Jefferson took the phrase and included it in the people’s inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence.

Locke writes:  “The necessity of pursuing happiness is the foundation of liberty. As therefore the highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness; so the care of ourselves, that we mistake not imaginary for real happiness, is the necessary foundation of our liberty. The stronger ties we have to an unalterable pursuit of happiness in general, which is our greatest good, and which, as such, our desires follow, the more are we free from any necessary determination of our will to any particular action…”.

Buddhist Monk and the Secret of Happiness

Matthieu Ricard is French writer and Buddhist monk. He has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from the Pasteur Institute under French Nobel Laureate Francois Jacob. After completing his doctoral degree in 1972 he gave up his scientific career and concentrated on the practice of Tibetan Buddhism. He is the author of several books on Buddhism, including a dialogue with his father, Jean-Francois Revel entitled The Monk and the Philosopher, which was a bestseller in Europe and translated into twenty-one languages.  He has been called the “happiest person in the world” by the media. He also volunteered as a subject in a study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on happiness, and scored above the average of hundreds of hundreds of volunteers. Here is one of his numerous TED Talks, entitled The Habits of Happiness

The Science of Happiness

Martin Seligman was one of the first psychologists to convince his colleagues to investigate more positive moods with the same enthusiasm which they had for pathologies. At that time, in the late 1990s, there were only 40 books published on happiness. In 2008 alone, 4000 books were published on happiness. Seligman is credited “… as the father of Positive Psychology and its efforts to scientifically explore human potential. In his book Authentic Happiness (2002 p. 61) he explains his three dimensions of happiness: 1) pleasure and gratification, 2) embodiment of strengths and virtues, 3) meaning and purpose. Here is an article where he explains each dimension and gives much more information about positive psychology and happiness, than a blog can offer.

I also think this TED Talk by Seligman entitled The New Era of Positive Psychology will be helpful.


Slow Churches in the Lead

by Amos Smith

I just finished reading Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus by C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison (much of the writing below is paraphrased from the book’s Introduction).

The authors of Slow Church explain that the industrial revolution made us obsessed with speed—fast cars, fast food, fast computers, and “the fast track.” In resistance to this, an international “Slow Food” movement arose. The Slow Food movement has inspired other Slow campaigns. Cittaslow (Slow Cities) was launched by a group of Italian mayors in 1990 and now includes more than 140 communities in twenty-three countries, which are committed to sustainable agriculture, local food cultivation, local land use, and hospitality.

Other manifestations of wanting to down shift sometimes, rather than stay in high gear, are Slow Gardening, Slow Parenting, Slow Reading, Slow Design, and Slow Art. There is even a World Slow Day, which some playful Italians recently celebrated by issuing fake citations to pedestrians who were walking too fast or taking too direct a route.

Canadian journalist Carl Honore describes “the cult of speed.” Fast and slow, Honore writes, do not just signify rates of change; they are shorthand for ways of being, or philosophies of life.

“Fast is busy, controlling, aggressive, hurried, analytical, stressed, superficial, impatient, active, quantity-over-quality. Slow is the opposite: calm, careful, receptive, still, intuitive, unhurried, patient, reflective, quality-over-quantity. It is about making real and meaningful connections—with people, culture, work, food, everything.” (pg. 13)

Many church growth models come dangerously close to reducing Christianity to a commodity that can be packaged, marketed, and sold, instead of cultivating a deep, holistic discipleship that touches every aspect of our lives.

“Following Jesus has been diminished to a privatized faith rather than a lifelong apprenticeship undertaken in the context of Christian community.” (pg. 14)

Congratulations to churches that foster sustainable community that is primarily about relationship to God and relationships with each other. Congratulations to churches that understand that the quality of relationships is more important than the numbers of bodies in the chairs on Sunday and the number of dollars in savings.

Do the Little Things

by Kenneth McIntosh

Some years ago I and my wife were employed by a publisher producing a series of school books titled “North American Indians today.” We traveled around First Nations recording interviews. Doing so, we repeatedly heard traditional Natives say “Our sacred way involves all of life—not just Sunday mornings.” I always wanted to say “There are many white Christians who practice their faith throughout the week…” I never did say that, though. For one thing, I was doing journalism—certainly not doing missionary work of any sort. Furthermore, after the second time hearing this, it occurred to me that when someone holds a stereotype there’s often a good reason for that.

I’m afraid that for many Christians, faith is indeed compartmentalized. On Sunday morning we hear Jesus’ radical words to redistribute wealth, serve the poor, and eschew violence; but then we go with the flow of a profit-based, status-oriented, violence-ridden culture throughout the week.

Is there an antidote to compartmentalized faith? I see one antidote in the spiritual practices of the Celtic Christ -followers. Their way of life, from the 5th to the 11th centuries, can provide valuable lessons for Postmodern Christ-followers. This is especially true inasmuch as they eschewed the Imperial (homogenous, globalized) branding of Christianity that held sway over the rest of Europe at that time. One of the most valuable perspectives of these ancient believers is that all of life was sacred—all day, all week, all through the seasons, in ever setting—just like Native American indigenous practices.

Saint David (AKA Dewi Sant) brought the Good News to Wales in the 6th century. He had a famous saying, which has made it into modern-day Welsh parlance, “Do the little things.” It was his constant reminder to disciples that becoming a saint, working for justice, and ushering in the Reign of God didn’t consist of big steps and dramatic actions as much as it was comprised of consistency in the every-day, every-hour routines. How they greeted one another, how they cooked the vegetables and how they milked the cow—these were the proof spiritual life. If all of life is sacred then little things matter greatly.

Another example of the importance of little things in Celtic Spirituality is a collection of old prayers and chants called the Carmina Gadelica. In this book there are chants for awakening in the morning, for washing one’s face, for milking, for farming, for fishing, for making a fire, for life transitions, and etc. Whatever a person might do in the day, there were simple chants to sing and prayers to recite throughout the day.

Could you try to connect prayer with “the little things” you do daily? Perhaps a brief prayer for every time you switch on a light bulb, “Light of the world, let me shine in my little part of the world today.” Perhaps a simple grace whenever you raid the cupboard or refrigerator or water cooler for a snack or a drink. Say a quick prayer whenever you encounter someone—in person or via computer—“Christ, may I see you in this person.” Prayers when you leave the home, the office, the car…and so on.

As we live out our faith in the little things, it could have a big impact.

Icon of Saint David at Saint David’s Cathedral, photo by Ken McIntosh

Consistency in the Spiritual Life

by Amanda Peterson

As I watch TV shows on parenting or even raising pets the most common challenge that I notice is inconsistency.  Parents (myself included) know the importance of follow-through and a consistent message. Then there are the times, due to tiredness, guilt, or for some other reason, the consistency stops.  The behavior increases and surprised the questions comes, “How did this get so bad?”  I am currently working with my dog, Grace, who does not have good manners with other dogs.  This is a polite way of saying she overwhelms them with her energy and if they are not a strong dog bedlam ensues.  I now live in a neighborhood that has lots of dogs and she is getting lots of practice learning how to say hello.

Consistency in the Spiritual Life
Consistency, or a cookie?

The reality is that I am the problem, not Grace.  I need to be honest about that and if I care about Grace, I will do what is best for her, not for me. I need to work with Grace.  I have tried using one technique or another and guess what…as time goes on it gets better.  Yet I find myself some days just wishing she wouldn’t be so aggressive and then pretending all is well now.  Wishing and pretending doesn’t help.  I can’t ignore it one day and expect a different result.

As I was thinking about this, I notice a similar pattern in my prayer life and in the prayer lives of others.  Why does God seem so far away?  Why does something that used to be so easy now feel overwhelming?   The spiritual life takes just as much consistency as anything else that is important to us.   We can’t expect to pay attention, develop a relationship with the Divine one day and then not pay attention the next day and expect a deep spiritual life.  The spiritual life takes just as much consistency as anything else and honestly some days it is really hard work to show up.  That is why community support is so important.

A contemplative life is an honest life and a consistent life.  Not necessarily to the same practices in the same way every day.  It is a consistency in the choice to show up to a relationship with God.  It’s that easy and that hard.


What is your spiritual practice? Are you consistent or does it go in stops and starts.  Pick a spiritual practice and try to be consistent for 2 weeks.  How did it go?  If it didn’t, why?  Do you need a different practice?