Asking Loving Questions

by Amanda Peterson

Spring is a time of new growth and energy.  With any change, whether that is a change in season or a change in circumstances it’s easy to get caught up in the change and forget the center of Love that guides.   I am always looking for ways to stay grounded in the midst of growing full plate times and share them with you.  Recently I have been rereading books I haven’t looked at in awhile (I highly recommend doing this) and came across a chapter in the book, Shift Happens by Robert Holden Ph.D.

It is a simple practice and some questions that can help bring some breath back into one’s day.  Remembering Love is a wonderful way to enter into any season of life.

He gives these statements to repeat yourself.

“First Love, then think
First Love, then speak
First Love, then look
First Love, then act.
First Love, then choose.
First Love then give
First Love, then live.”

And these questions to ask:

“Am I being loving, or am I searching for love?  There is a world of difference between searching for love and being love.

Am I being loving, or am I busy? What are you chasing? Are you too busy building your future to be loving right now?

Am I being loving, or am I at work? Do not separate love and work.  Work is meant to be love in action.  Be wholehearted at work, and you will attract success.

Am I being loving, or am I trying to get something? Agendas, demands, and expectation lead to pain.  Unconditional love receives, but it does not take.

Am I being loving, or am I trying to win approval? Are you being authentic, or are you trying to impress, people-please, keep someone or win someone back?

Am I being loving, or am I trying to change someone? Whenever you try to change someone, fix someone, save someone, improve someone, or clone someone, there will be a power struggle

Am I being loving, or am I fighting to be right? Do you want to be right or happy?  Do you want to be superior or happy? Do you want a pedestal or a partnership?

Am I being loving, or am I waiting for love? When you wait for love, it’s a long wait!

Am I being loving, or am I playing it safe? You once got hurt, and now you have so many rules, boundaries, and defenses love cannot heal you.”

May your day be filled with love!

The essential practice of Breath Prayer

by Teresa Blythe

Prayer is how we connect most intimately with our still-speaking-God. For the next few months, I’ll be offering you some prayer practices that I hope will provide some variety to your regular spiritual practice. One of the most beloved styles of prayer is the breath prayer.

If we think of God being as close to us as our very breath, then breath prayer is a natural.

Breath and spirit are closely linked in both the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament.  In the book of Job, Elihu tells Job, “the spirit of God has made me and the breath of the Almighty gives me life,” and in the gospel of John, when Jesus appeared to the disciples after resurrection he breathed on them and said “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

We, too, can link breath to spirit with intentionality. One breath prayer that is simple and effective is one that you create for yourself. Follow the steps listed below and then carry your breath prayer around with you for a few days.

  1. Begin with intention. Ask God to help you form this breath prayer.
  2. Ponder your favorite name for God. For some it might be God, others prefer using the name of Jesus, Sophia, Wisdom, Pure Love, Holy Spirit, Source of Life, Ground of our Being, Higher Power—you name it (literally!). Choose the name or image for the Holy One that resonates deeply with you.
  3. Reflect for a moment on what it is you need or what you may want to express in your breath prayer. Come up with a short phrase that fits. It should be short enough to say in one breath.
  4. You will put these two together in any way you prefer. I’ll give some examples of this kind of breath prayer so you know what I mean.

Freedom, in Christ

God, grant us peace

Lord, hear my prayer

Help me follow you, Higher Power

Heal me, Loving God

  1. Once you determine what your breath prayer is, you inhale on part one, and exhale on part two. Allow the breath to carry the words along with it. Say the prayer over and over (silently or aloud), like a mantra. Before long, you will find you are “breathing the prayer.”  Allow the breath prayer to gently lead you to that place of inner silence and calm—the place where you don’t need to say the words any more. This is known as the place of contemplation.
  2. If you want, write your breath prayer on a small piece of paper and carry it with you as a reminder to keep breathing and praying.

You may find that a breath prayer helps you breathe more easily through your day. Feel free to change your breath prayer from time to time to suit your life’s circumstances. Or you may feel so connected to your original one that you use it exclusively to lead you into contemplative silence. You can do what you want with it. God gave you the prayer for the good of you and the world.

Perhaps you need assistance with your prayer practices or would like accompaniment on your spiritual path. Consider spiritual direction—the ancient practice of checking in with a trained spiritual guide who will deeply listen and offer observations, reflections and questions to draw out your own wisdom. For information about spiritual direction as I practice it, check out my website.

A Different Kind of Easter

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

I spent Easter with some dear friends this year. We did the whole usual Easter things like sharing a meal together, going to a chapel for ceremony, gave one another reminders that this life is all about love, and, of course, jousting. Wait… What?

The meal we shared together was with about 25 people. We knew six of them. The ceremony we attended was to see two amazing people get married. The reminders of love came through the voiced vows, tears and generosity of heart.

As far as the jousting, the wedding was held at the Renaissance festival so no one was harmed in the making of this article.

The wedding was kinda spur of the moment to learn it was happening. The invite came just a few days before the ceremony. Being invited to someone’s wedding is an incredible honor. I am of the mind that if someone invites you to a sacred moment like a wedding, it’s a great idea to say yes. So we did and our hearts were made full as a result.

The only pause in attending was that it was on Easter.

Easter is not one of my fave holidays. It hasn’t been for years. It generally reminds me of a more literal version of Christianity that I was shunned from. Easter was always a huge deal in the churches I was a part of from the age of 13 until the age of 21. I had a head and heart connection to Easter and the mood was vibrant and celebratory. When the welcome ended for me in these places, I locked down quite a bit. I was so angry, sad, bitter, and rather destroyed. The churches I knew, in my mind, owned God and if they said I was out, that was as good as from the mouth of God. Ministers have such power. When the rejection comes from their lips, oh how deep it cuts. My heart is still healing from this loss in a lot of ways. It just adds a difficulty to Easter.

Sit with this next part a bit if you can tolerate it. What was a moment for you that you did not see coming? What was a moment for you that felt out of your control? What was a moment for you when you found out what loss feels like?

If I had to describe what that was like for me I would use words
like this:

Lost sense of safety
Self blame
Deep sadness

I know I am not alone with that list. You and I could probably throw in tons of other words that reflect rejection and pain in one form or another. Suffering is part of the relational human condition. We don’t simply desire to be loved and to give love, it actually is a necessity. What that means is, I hurt when you hurt and you hurt when I hurt. It’s risky. It’s vulnerable. Love can feel burdening. It can also feel like the greatest gift ever.

Some realities: Life is to be celebrated and enjoyed. Life will one day end. Life will go on in new forms. The winter to spring change whispers the cycle of life and death to us while Easter Day often proclaims it.

One of the kids I was with today is getting ready to turn 9 in a few days. This kid is amazing for tons of reasons. His brain and capacity for understanding is surreal and he delights in questions. Today he said, “Poor Jesus. He keeps getting killed.” Oh how I loved that sentiment.

This soon-to-be nine-year-old has empathy, he has care, and he has compassion. There’s a real sweetness to him making sense of the world around him.

Here’s the thing, though: when we are young and still attempting to understand the world through shared story and tradition, we often don’t realize that the story serves as the vehicle for our own development and understanding. When it hurts, it’s so hard to shake. It is as though whatever the painful moment(s) were, they are still happening to us now. That means Jesus keeps on getting killed. Poor guy. When’s he going to catch a break?

That list we went through together a bit ago is like the literal “it keeps happening over and over” experience we have in brokenness. We relive it in our minds. It’s not that Jesus was killed, it’s that Jesus keeps getting killed. It’s not that your marriage is over, it’s that your marriage keeps on ending. It’s not that your loved one died, it’s that your loved one keeps dying over and over. How painful. How halting. How human.

Easter is about newness of life and I can definitely use some renewal and life affirming experiences these days. It’s not that Easter is impossible for me to enjoy and feel celebratory in. It is that my heart keeps wanting what was and it simply doesn’t exist anymore. I changed which means I can interact with Easter in a new way. And what a lovely thing that is…

My Easter Day was spent with friends who love me. My communion was at the wedding reception where I broke bread with people I love. The message of love didn’t come from a pulpit. It came from authenticity and vulnerability being offered to those willing to make room to witness it. I saw Jesus today in all sorts of faces and I heard Jesus today in all different tones of voices.

The turning to God where I stand vs the running to find God where I once did is something I have to relearn almost daily. When I remember to do this, though, I receive bountiful gifts in connection with the God of my understanding and the great big world all around me. And instead of Jesus getting killed all the time, I get to delight in a sense of resurrection and new life, if I do desire to turn to it.

And today I did.

A Whole Lens on Life

by Beth Johnson

I walked around for months with my head down and my chubby little seven-year-old hands clasped . . . around a 1950’s Eastman Kodak Brownie Camera, a Christmas gift from my parents, intended to distract me from the death of my older brother, Billy, whose four-year battle with childhood leukemia had been lost several days before his tenth birthday.  Little did they know how symbolic this new lens on life would become for me.

Our family was numb.  Our lives had revolved around Billy’s care, keeping him encouraged, doctored and medicated (at the Cleveland Clinic), and rested.  We siblings brought his school work home weekly from the Edwin Markham Elementary School, and sat on his bed to play board games, willingly giving up our friendship time to support his health.  Our family had purchased one of the first black-and-white T.V.’s for his bedroom so that we could enjoy “The Lone Ranger” and “Howdy Doody” and hope to cheer him up. We had gone to church every Sunday and prayed and done everything right.  Of course Billy couldn’t go because of germs.  He had died despite our heroic efforts.  

Our minister advised that we kids not attend the funeral.  Too sad an event, as if we weren’t already devastated and knew exactly what had happened, as if we might live blissfully onward without a care.  Billy’s leukemia had been, after all, four years of all of our lives.  We stayed home with our grandmother and cried.  Our clergy preached that we should all feel happy that Billy was in Heaven with God, no more pain or suffering.  They seemed to have no concept of the kind of support we could have used to help us work through the deep hollowness that the death brings.  

After my second grade class let out one day, I walked directly to our church and asked to meet with the Head Minister.  I was ushered into the office of the Minister for Christian Education, a woman with a strong intellect and little warmth.  I sat dwarfed in her huge brown leather wing-back chair and asked if she could help my family with our sadness.  She told me to give my life to Jesus Christ and everything would be O.K.  She gave me theology when I needed God’s Love and Sustenance.  She gave me precepts when I needed the warmth of a faith community.

Within a year, my mother had Stage IV breast cancer and a radical mastectomy. I can still picture my eight-year-old-self standing in shock by her bedside as she showed me her railroad track scar and explained what the doctors had needed to do.  From that point our family life struggled.  I listened while  my mother cried herself to sleep many nights out of a sense of guilt and for fear of losing another child.  We were living with the sudden rise of polio and no one knew the causes.  My father traveled increasingly for his work.  We kids buried ourselves in our school work and tried to be the best daughters and sons possible in order to alleviate our parents’ suffering.

One day, as I shuffled my little feet home from school, one of my brother’s classmates asked me where Billy was.  I hesitantly pointed toward the sky.  “No!” he exclaimed.  “That can’t be true!”

At that moment I realized that there were probably many people in my life who had no idea that my brother had died.  A second “aha” came close on the heels of that one – that there were very likely lots of people in the world walking around with smiles on their faces while hiding deep pain.  Because that was exactly what my parents and siblings and I were doing. At age seven, radical empathy was born.

This life-changing experience was the jump-start of my spiritual and moral development.  It became a lens through which I filtered every life experience.  It heightened my sensitivity to people around me, driving me forward with an untamable desire to ease human suffering, especially through the church and God’s Love.  This life lens led me to understand that children, adolescents and young adults within and outside of our churches have deep needs for spiritual and moral support and guidance.  They may not show that to us, but it is there and they need us to love them.  People of all ages and walks of life are doing the best they can and need us to be God’s Love for them.

My experience of my brother’s leukemia and death is something that I rarely discuss but I am very conscious that it was a pivotal experience that has catapulted me into the ministry and the helping professions.  There is no greater pastoral care tool for a clergy person than understanding pain, from the inside.  

You, too, have stories of pain and struggle that have immeasurably changed who you became, as a person and a professional.  That job that you lost, the parent who left, the wayward child, an addiction, a run-in with the law, you know.  Are you embracing your “pain stories” ?  At least to yourself?  Are you recognizing how they have shaped and strengthened you, even though they were extremely difficult?  Even though you’d like to bury many of them in your unconscious mind.   

We bring “our whole stories” (OWS) to life and to church.  It is through the lenses of the “OWS” that we respond to every situation, secular and sacred.  Our assumptions, perceptions, conclusions, fears, and actions are ALL filtered through the lens of the “OWS.”  Furthermore, every other person in your faith community is having the same individualized experience.  We are all looking for healing and acceptance, understanding and deepening, growth and a sense of spiritual peace and goodness, friendship and Love.  We are all looking to become better, more whole people.

Jesus made it very clear that God treasures each of our “whole stories.”  Warts and all.  The woman at the well.  The woman who was hemorrhaging.  The dishonest tax collector. The mad man inhabited by demons.  Our whole stories develop us into God’s people, if we will let them.  Our OWS have Power! Together with God, we can turn them into “POWS” !

Jesus lived authentically and embraced the unbelievably difficult aspects of his life and calling.  He could have backed down during the last week of his life, but he did not.  His “whole story” is what we carry forward as Christianity.  If he had not lived “whole-ly,” there would be no Christianity.  Jesus gave us a lens through which to perceive and experience life and a role model to follow.  The lens is his whole life story.

How have the lenses of your “whole story” informed your development?  How has the lens that Jesus provided helped you?  Far better lenses than my 1950’s Brownie Camera !

“Be ye perfect (whole) as your Father in Heaven is perfect (whole).”  Mt. 5:48

To respond confidentially to this article, you may reach Beth using the contact information on her contributor page.


The Art of Playing Well Together—For Pastors and Church Leaders

by Kenneth McIntosh

We all want our churches to be healthy and effective in mission—but we know that isn’t always the case. Over the past decades I’ve seen that conflicts between pastors and lay leaders—especially church council members—are one of the most common causes of problems in congregations. The sad results of such a disconnect can include church splits, declining attendance, and pastors leaving churches.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so may I suggest that you read on through, and see if some of these thoughts are helpful for you and your congregation?


1. Don’t say “my” church.

I know, “my” church can be a sign of pride—like “my” family or “my country.” But even when used innocently, it can pave the way to a less noble use of the expression. Recall a time when church disagreements have grown serious, notice how talk of our church shifted to my church. The pastor starts talking about what won’t be allowed in my church, the deacon will be darned if such-and-such happens in my church, and by the time it reaches this level of misguided ownership, it goes to heck in a hand basket.

How to prevent such self-centered thinking? It’s better if everyone speaks of our church, so long as we includes everyone in the church and not just a faction. But really it is Christ’s church! Or God’s church, if we prefer. Church decisions shouldn’t be about what suits this person or that person, but about how any decision lead to the creation of the Beloved Community. Sometimes a little word can make a difference, so listen to yourself—do you speak of my church, our church, or God’s church?

2. No surprises!

There is only one exception to this rule, which is a surprise party in someone’s honor. Otherwise, there is never any reason to surprise someone–either with an unexpected meeting, sudden resolution, unscheduled vote, or unscheduled visit by a delegation to an office. The need by any party to bring something up in an unexpected and unannounced manner always indicates some level of distrust or malfeasance—it is prelude to a power play as surely as Caesar’s assassination on the Ides of March. If you hear that a group of people plan a surprise meeting with the pastor, or the pastor decides he has to drop in on someone with a bombshell, beg them to reconsider. If you’re at a council meeting and something gets brought up suddenly, or it’s obvious that a motion is being railroaded, say “this is rather sudden—let’s give it more time for thought.”

Of course, the positive antidote to surprise actions is communication in advance.  As a minister, I consult with the church moderator (or whichever persons will be effected) before  introducing any change. In return, I appreciate that lay leaders know to bring up any matters of substance in advance of formal discussion or action. This sort of “testing the waters” with people builds relational confidence between parties and it enables deeper thinking about decisions.

3. Fight against Common Foes—not Against Each Other

I often use this metaphor for marriage counseling, but it can apply as well to church councils and ministers. Suppose you’re walking together down a dark alley, and a bunch of thugs jump you. Instead of struggling against your attackers, you turn on one another and start beating each other up.

The picture is ludicrous, but that’s what couples sometimes do in a marriage—and pastors and church leaders do it as well. Your church is assailed with all manner of challenges—financial needs, ways to connect with the larger community, straining resources of time and energy, etc. When these foes assail a group, they sometimes turn against one another, beating up and blaming, rather than standing together as a united front and directing their combined energies against the problems. As Ben Franklin put it at the beginning of the colonial revolution, “If we don’t hang together, then we shall surely hang separately.” When troubles confront your church, seek ways to frame it as “all of us united” against the common threat.


  1. Non-Anxious Presence

This comes from Rabbi Edwin Friedman’s classic book Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue. Over the past twenty years I’ve spoken to a number of pastors who agree that this is as close as it comes to a “silver bullet” for surviving church conflicts. There are two parts: (1) “Non-anxious” is self-explanatory; when you sense disagreement do all you can to reduce your own stress; try to look at it playfully and lightly. Even if there is something vital at stake, thinking of it as being of great consequence will not help the situation. Of course, keeping one’s Zen-state when others disagree with us requires considerable spiritual and mental practice. And don’t forget (2) “Presence.” This is also counter-intuitive, but when you know someone disagrees with you stay close to them relationally. When there is heat, we naturally desire to back-away; that is instinctive, but it exacerbates problems.  

Again, prevention is better than cure. The best way to ensure “non-anxious presence” is for pastor and congregants to establish good rapport. It’s easy to think “ministers are so busy, it’s a waste of time to just hang out with parishoners.” But in fact, just talking when there aren’t any heavy issues is a vital use of time. Pastors and lay leaders with well-established relationships are more likely to be able to stay in-sync and weather storms together when they arise.

2. “Watch your life and doctrine closely.”—1 Timothy 4:16

Rabbi Friedman says the primary task of a clergy person is: “take primary responsibility for his or her own position…and work to define his or her own goals and self.” Putting that in mystical terms, I recall the words of a mentor on a personal retreat: “You are the sacrament of the Holy Spirit for your congregation.” The pastor’s  own being—what they do and believe—is, as the Apostle Paul wrote, a critical element for the health of God’s church.

In the United Church of Christ, ministers are fortunate to have two outstanding documents that can aid in this. The minimal statement of a clergy person’s expectations—a list of lines to never cross—is the Ordained Minister’s Code, and particularly the section titled Ethics of Ministry. A teacher in seminary often said, “Every minister has his or her price,” a caution that no-one is above failing ethically, given the worst case scenario. Unfortunately, it is possible to gradually descend into such a worst case scenario like the proverbial frog boiling unknowingly in the pot. A regular reading of the Ordained Minister’s Code is a good way to ensure that the pastor stays far from the boiling point.

On a more positive note, the document titled The Marks of Faithful and Effective Authorized Ministers of the United Church of Christ is a great summary of what the Apostle Paul enjoins when he says “watch your life and doctrine.” Its comprehensive nature can be a bit daunting at first glance, so remember that this is a listing of the ideals for ministry. The Marks of Faithful and Effective Ministers is a great summation of the high call of God so an occasional review of the marks can provide a valuable refresher for active clergy.

3. Bless the “Loyal Opposition.”

This is another excellent suggestion from Friedman. Do you know a member of your parish who always has something critical, snide or oppositional to say? The one whom you think of as the burr stuck permanently under your saddle? Yeah, you have someone in mind when you read this.

When viewed negatively, such individuals can grow to become a minister’s pitfall—like the burr that chafes until it opens a wound and then becomes infected. But there’s a way to re-interpret such a person: they are in fact doing the minister a favor. Social psychologists verify that every group needs a consistent critic; any organization comprised entirely of “yay-sayers” will stagnate. There has to be a voice of correction. Leaders don’t have to agree with that voice, but they do need to hear it.

In one of my churches there was a woman who did not profess Christianity, and who was outspoken in her disagreements. Sometimes she’d come out and say “That’s silly—do you people realize how ridiculous that sounds to people outside of this church?” I came to realize that in some cases her stinging insights were spot on. I would thank her for such remarks, and others in the church picked up on that cue. I came to privately regard her as “our congregation’s B.S. meter.” When she passed away, she donated all her remaining assets to a new church that I was then planting—and then I realized she truly was the loyal opposition.


  1. Never Relay Anonymous Negative Comments

Would you like to know how we can destroy our churches? Ruin our pastors’ health? I’ll tell you how. It’s simple. Just make a point of telling the pastor “People are saying…”and end the sentence with a negative comment—about the music, sermon, outreach ministry–you name it. This puts the minister in a position of fear (what people? How many?) Then the minister looks at people wondering “Is it so and so?” It is double jeopardy because not knowing whom to address, the pastor has no idea how to rectify or approach the situation. No wonder Jesus tells us to confront people directly—to their face—if we must speak words of correction (Matthew 18).

The solution? If you hear someone saying negative about a third party, ask them “Have you spoken directly to so-and-so with your concern?” Especially if “so-and-so” is your pastor. Doing this could save your church.

And a tip for ministers: next time someone comes to you saying “People are saying…” Reply with this: “I’ll address that when the person concerned tells me to my face—until then, as far as I’m concerned, it isn’t real.”

2. Offer positive and specific feedback

Everyone appreciates appreciation, and clergy are no exception to the rule. But even better than gracious sentiments is specific positive feedback. So instead of “Great sermon pastor” you could say “I appreciate the way you applied the Old Testament to this week’s political events.” Rather than, “Our church is doing great,” you could say “I was pleased this week at my Rotary club meeting to hear a city councilman speak well of our refugee ministry.” Statements of this sort provide the minister with a sense of being appreciated and also provide valuable information.

The pastor(s), council members, and ministry leaders of any church are a team, and congregational health depends on their ability to play well together. Remembering these suggestions may help your team to stay successfully in the game, effectively serving God’s Beloved Community.

What’s Your Ikigai?

by Don Fausel

It’s never been easy to be a human being! We have always had to wrestle with strong and painful fears. Now if we face ourselves honestly, or if we merely eavesdrop on the secret murmurings of our heart, isn’t this what we discover—that one of our basic fears, the fear beneath many fears is the dread of being nothing, of having no real importance, no lasting worth, no purpose in life.

It is precisely to this fear of being nobody, having no worth, that our Judeo-Christian-Humanitarian ethic reminds us that our basic value is not something we achieve in competition with everyone else, but something we gratefully accept along with everyone else. We need not become important, we are important. We need not become somebody, we are somebody. No matter what others may say or think about us, or do to us, we are somebody.

As we grow older and become less able to function physically or mentally as we did in our younger years, we need to remind ourselves, that we are still somebody, with the same dignity and worth, with the same God-given inalienable rights. Sometimes when we’re not able to do a lot of the things we used to do, when our body is failing us and our short term memory is not as good as our long term memory, it’s hard for us to accept the fact that we are somebody worthwhile. That’s why it’s particularly important for us Elders to periodically ask ourselves, what is my purpose in life?

Several years ago I discovered a Japanese word that captures the importance of having a positive attitude and purpose in our life. The word is Ikigai, (pronounced ee-ki-guy) the Japanese word used to describe why I get up in the morning, what my sense of purpose is. I love the word Ikigai! I like saying it! I like writing it! Ikigai, Ikigai! I think it was the beginning of my interest in happiness. I realized if you don’t have an Ikigai, you’re not going to be happy. But more about that in another blog.

I was even more impressed with the origin of the word and its application for us elders. Researchers have identified what they call Blue Zones. These are areas throughout the world with a high percentage of centenarians; places where people enjoy remarkably long full lives. Their lives are not only longer but physically and mentally, they are more active than elders in other areas of the world. National Geographic’s Dan Buettner has traveled the globe to uncover the best strategies for longevity found in these Blue Zones. One of those areas is the Japanese island of Okinawa. It was there that he discovered that one of the characteristics for a long healthy life was having an Ikigai. To a resident of Okinawa, Ikigai can be anything from tending their vegetable garden, taking care of great grandchildren, to walking and exercising every day. Whatever it is that motivated them to remain involved, they give credit to their Ikigai. After years of research Dan Buettner concludes:

One of the biggest revolutions in thought in our time is the changing of emphasis from physical health to mental health in connection to longevity. The effects of negative stress and ‘inflammation’ are cited more and more frequently as the cause of early death and lowered quality of life. One of the most important methods for counteracting that is Ikigai, a sense of purpose. … Ikigai is something that brings joy and contentment. It fills a person with resolve and a sense of satisfaction in what they are doing. Most of all, it brings happiness.”

Here’s a TED TALK by Dan Buettner titled Okinawa, Ikigai, and the Secrets of Longevity . As usual, one TED TALK is worth pages of my words.

Finally, I’d like to introduce you to one of my all time heroes, who exemplifies what it means to have an Ikigai. She was known as Granny D. If you don’t remember her, she was a social activist,  whose real name was Doris Haddock, from Dublin, New Hampshire. In 1999, at the age of ninety, Granny D. walked 3,200 miles across America to raise awareness about a campaign for political finance reform. She walked ten miles a day for 14 months. She is widely credited for galvanizing the public support that helped pass the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act in 2002.

In 2003 at the age of 94, she drove around the country on a 22,000 mile voter registration effort targeting working women and minorities. She cut her tour short to challenge the incumbent New Hampshire senator, Judd Gregg, in the 2004 election. Her grassroots campaign earned her 34% of the vote. In her later years she published a book entitled, You’re Never Too Old to Raise a Little Hell. She died peacefully in her home six weeks after she turned 100 in 2010. Former president Jimmy Carter described her as “…a true patriot, and our nation has been blessed by her remarkable life. Her story will inspire people of all ages for generations to come.”

I’m not suggesting that we all need to follow in Granny D’s footsteps, by walking 3,200 miles for a righteous cause, or running for the Senate. But we can all be motivated by the spirit she modeled by following her Ikigai, and in our own way, seriously consider identifying our own Ikigai. We need to know and follow our values, passions and talents–and to share them by example on a regular basis. It might be by living our lives, with our physical and mental restrictions, as a legacy for our grandchildren or great grandchildren, or showing compassion for those in need, who are less fortunate than we are. Whatever we choose to do, it’s our Ikigai. So what is it that gives your life a sense of worth? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Since I retired, my major Ikigai for the past five years or so has been writing. To paraphrase the French philosopher, Descartes, “I write, therefore I am!” What’s your Ikigai?

Are You Resurrection Brave?

by Amanda Peterson

Easter Sunday is filled with joyful celebration of the resurrection.  Yet what I read in Scripture and what I witness at Pathways of Grace is more complex than that.  To be in the presence of a resurrection moment means the willingness to face fears, be vulnerable and courageous.

The first witnesses of the empty tomb were afraid.  Later we read the disciples were huddled in a room afraid to go out.  Those who walk through the door of Pathways of Grace for the first time are often nervous because they don’t know what to expect.  It isn’t often advertised that facing spiritual growth can be frightening.  Especially when it is new.  Saying yes I want resurrection in my life is a courageous statement not a warm fuzzy teddy bear.  In fact being willing to claim resurrection in one’s own life often means letting go of much of what was once comfortable.  That is very scary.

I have witnessed many who stop on the journey because they run into fear.  They are told of course you can do this it is a happy joyful thing and what they experience is vulnerability, change and challenge and feels like failure in the midst of a celebration only gospel.  I want to let those of you who may have had this experienced and stopped because of fear and change that it is worth the risk to try again.  Not for some mountain top high but because it is in the midst of that experience that one really gets to know God in one’s soul.  (and it may even mean coming up with another word or understanding of God).

The good news in the Scriptures and in life is this journey, though individual, is not done alone.  In the Gospels, the resurrection scenes have Jesus there to encourage and inspire.  In our lives today Jesus appears in the form of a book or spiritual director or a new friend or a workshop or a vision or in some other way.  As we get ready to celebrate Easter that is what we are truly celebrating, the fact that no matter how frightening, challenging, joyful or changing this life may be, if we are willing to go to places beyond our imagination we will find God there.

Please consider the offerings at Pathways of Grace the space of encouragement to allow you to enter this scary, powerful, amazing relationship with God.


The Gift of Listening

by Karen Richter

We’re all about listening when it’s children doing the listening and we wise grownups are doing all the yappin’.

We tell them they have two ears and one mouth for a reason.

“Listen” and “pay attention” are just behind the word no in their frequency in young humans’ lives.

It seems we teach our children all about listening because

  1. We teach the things we need most to learn ourselves.
  2. We are so desperate to be heard that we ask children to play the role of listener in our families and communities.
  3. We don’t think that we need to be listening to children.

I came home from my first two weeks at Hesychia School of Spiritual Direction with the overwhelming insight that, in every setting of my life, I talk too much. With friends, over coffee. At work, in the staff meeting. In the car, with my kids. Over dinner, with my spouse. At church, teaching and leading.  Too. Much. Talking.

So Hesychia was something of a remedial crash course in the art of listening to another human (of course it’s more than that too, but that’s where I needed to start). It’s a gift when we focus our attention on another’s story, not to fix or respond or correct but just to be present. We know this… I’ve read some variation on this theme on this very blog before. But it’s hard work and little valued in our culture.

I’m taking little baby steps. The other week in our Lenten study, one of our small groups asked if I had anything to add to their discussion. “No, I’m just listening,” I replied. They were a tiny bit surprised, but continued their exploration.

Another baby step is watching and expecting surprising examples. I was at Wal-Mart the other day and the customer in front of me was telling her life story to the cashier. I don’t know what prompted her sharing, but she spoke very vulnerably about the end of her marriage, her struggles to find her equilibrium on her own, and her sadness that her life was different from how she always imagined it would be.

I smiled, nodded, listened; the cashier did much the same – adding a small ‘hmmm’ at appropriate times. After the customer finished her transaction and left, I asked the cashier about this experience.

“I guess you’re a little like a bartender… People tell you their stories,” I asked.

“Happens all the time,” she said with a smile.

“Maybe people need someone to listen,” I prompted.

“I guess. Folks need to know that they’re going to be okay, that what’s going on with them is normal… I just try to listen, not jump in with advice or get them more upset. I just listen.”

I started to tell her that she was a spiritual director, or perhaps a retail chaplain, but I didn’t want to add to her stress. But what a gift she gave that morning – a compassionate voice, a nonjudgmental presence. It was certainly a gift to me, just observing and now sharing with you.

On Transfiguration Sunday a few weeks ago, the children at Shadow Rock talked about the command from the voice of God: Listen! We discussed how often adults in their lives are like Peter in that story, bumbling about, making ridiculous plans, and missing the point of what’s happening right in front of him. I asked them how often they wanted adults to stop and listen. Their answers were sad and unsurprising.

So in the spirit of teaching/blogging about what you most need to practice, I suggest a Holy Week discipline:

More listening, less pontificating.
More presence, less judgment.
More gentle nodding, less interrupting.
More compassionate silence, less thinking about your own response.

There are holy stories all around us.

The Words that Shape Us: From “Hosanna” to “Crucify”

by Talitha Arnold

Palm Sunday, 2016

It was a mob scene that first Palm Sunday. People lined the road into Jerusalem, shouting, waving branches, throwing their cloaks on the ground, reaching out to touch the man on the donkey, everyone chanting “Hosanna! Hosanna!”

And it was a mob scene five days later, when some of those same people squeezed into the courtyard of the Roman garrison to shout “Crucify! Crucify!” Same man. Same crowd. Different words.

Mobs are like that. They can turn on a dime. One day everyone is shouting happy Hosannas and life is great.\ The next thing you know, it’s all cries of “Crucify” and death.

Throughout Lent, we’ve explored “the words that shape us” as Christians. The story of the first Palm Sunday and the week that followed remind us of the power of such. words. So does our own time, 2000 years later. “Christian values,” “Biblical principles,” and the name of Jesus are much in our news these days. Not because it’s Holy Week, but because we’re in a presidential campaign season, and there are a lot religious words bandied about. Indeed, in some political circles, candidates must claim their Christian credentials in order to garner votes.

At the same time and sometimes in the same breath, there’s talk of banning Muslims and building walls, labeling immigrants as rapists and murderers, and encouraging violence against one’s opponents. As a Christian minister, I find such hatred and fear-mongering the exact opposite of what Jesus Christ both preached and practiced. As we who are Christian head into our holiest of weeks, it might be good to remember what he actually did say and do.

For Jesus, his teachings of “turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, love your enemies” weren’t just feel-good phrases. They shaped his life. Throughout that life, Jesus showed the power of love to overcome fear. He reached out with love to embrace people who were afflicted with leprosy or mental illness who were banished from the community. He crossed the divisions of race and religion, telling stories of Good Samaritans, welcoming people of all backgrounds, and eating with “outcasts.” He respected women, honoring those who wished to learn (Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus) and those called to lead (Mary Magdalene–”Apostle to the Apostles”).

Jesus also knew first-hand how hard it is to choose the way of love and non-violence. There were times when his own anger or exhaustion got the best of him. He got cranky with a woman who wanted him to heal her daughter. The day after Palm Sunday, he zapped a fig tree and overturned the tables of the money-changers. The Gospels record how often Jesus went to a “lonely place” to pray. I think it shows how much he needed, in the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., God’s “strength to love.” We do, too.

Overcoming fear with love “is not for the timid or weak,” affirmed Cesar Chavez, leader of the Farmworker Movement. “Non-violence is hard work.” Jesus knew that, all the way to the cross. At the Last Supper, he knelt to wash the feet of all the disciples, including Peter who would deny him and Judas who betrayed him. Later when the religious leaders came with their band of thugs to arrest him, one of the disciples cut off the ear of a servant named Malchus. “No more of this!” Jesus commanded. “Put down your sword.” Then he healed the man who helped arrest him.

At any point that night or through the next day, Jesus could have called his followers to arms. He didn’t. Moreover, as clearly demonstrated in the fate of a fig tree, Jesus had the power to zap Pilate, Herod, and all the legions of Rome if he’d chosen. He didn’t. Instead he chose the power of love. “Father, forgive.”

The journey of this Holy Week that begins with tomorrow with Palm Sunday reminds all who would claim the name of “Christian” that to follow the way of Jesus Christ is to follow the way of the one who chose the way of life and love. To accept the call of “Christian” is trust the power of love to overcome fear and hatred. And it is to commit one’s self and one’s life to that hard work of love.

The story of Holy Week that we begin tomorrow shows us–and our world–how to express real Christian values. Saying “no” to violence and hatred is a good place to start.

It’s where he did.

View what’s possible: an astonishing experience of the infinite

By Kelly Kahlstrom

I don’t know if you recall the View-master’s from childhood. A “reel” of slides could be dropped into the stereoscope and with a click the slides would change and tell a story. Even the slogan “View-master- View what’s possible” held great intrigue for me. I am asking you to imagine this blog as a story in a View-master.


Title: ChazzyBear: a story in four pictures.


I was in the car driving to Tucson for a weekend with my grandchildren. I hurriedly leave right after work hoping to arrive before they go to bed; a few minutes of Oma time and perhaps a few books before lights out. Just outside of Marana I received the text. Chaz was dead. So many questions I could not address in the car nor adequately from Tucson. I was alone with my thoughts and my time with the kids was frequently punctuated with images of Chaz. Chaz my love…such a short life you had…woefully packed with more than your fair share of demons…Early life trauma begat addictions to food, nicotine, alcohol and pain meds which seemed to manage you for much of your life as did the medical complications that followed…Your anxiety and alternatively your depression seemed immeasurable and endless… You had aged out of services but were not yet ready to fly… You did not fit the gender binary… So many obstacles for one young person to have to hurdle in a thousand lifetimes of trying…The pathology was overwhelming… And then you were gone… a death out of the normal sequence of time…suddenly, regrettably, but sadly, not unexpectedly.  


Now imagine her peer group huddled together in disbelief at this turn of events. It had been 3 days since the news broke of her accidental overdose. Skillfully encouraged by an adult volunteer, her peers offered their expressions of remembrance…Silly, brave, fun, divine, daredevil, genuine, compassionate, funny, artistic, wonderful, thoughtful, mindful, deep, enduring, laughter, real, outspoken, smile, caring, open, sharing, friend, courageous, supporter, leader, sassy, survivor, inspirational, powerful, heartfelt, dancer, joyous, empathetic, rebel, charismatic, non-apologetic, beautiful, challenger, fearless, forward, radiant, sparkle, confident, loved.

To her peers she was a bad-a** woman who was not afraid to own her issues, and who expressed her pain and joy through music and dance.


Flashback, if you will, to a time before photography, at the turn of the 19th century, in the center of cultural life in Berlin. The literary salon; “a simple tea-table with a charming hostess, enthusiasm for reading and discussing literature, sparkling conversation and an atmosphere of friendship”. The Aufklärung, or the Enlightenment, dominated the world of ideas shared in these salons. Reason was fast becoming the primary source of authority and legitimacy. Yet, one member of Henriette Herz’s salon was something of an enigma to the typical salon participant. A brilliant and gifted conversationalist, by all appearances an Enlightenment thinker, but also a cleric who retained his Moravian roots and, seemingly, the antiquated beliefs of the church. For his 29th birthday, the salon participants gave him free reign to “explain himself” to the “cultured despisers” of his day. This is what he said to them:

  1. You think religion is only about priests and rules (or knowing and doing). It is not.
  2. This is what I think religion is: an astonishing experience of the infinite which can be found in the most mundane, finite moments of our lives if we are awake to them.
  3. Learning to “stay awake” must be cultivated and takes practice.
  4. These experiences of the infinite are so cool that they beg to be shared with others. The more they are shared with others the better each of us are at recognizing the infinite when we see it.
  5. There is a social structure already set up to cultivate and talk about these experiences. It is called church. You should try it sometime.  The only differences between the experiences of those inside church and those outside of church is that the church calls these experiences God.

Young Friedrich Schleiermacher was able to convince some of his closest friends to consider this possibility.


Now picture the conference office, fondly called the 917, filled to capacity and decked out in flowers, candles, and pink and purple balloons. A video projector played a loop of the many pictures of Chaz dancing, singing, and participating in the life of this community. Through the outreach efforts of Elizabeth Youngberg, pastor of Rebel & Divine, Chaz’s mother, younger brother and maternal grandmother were present for the service. It was peer led; her friends offered the prayers, the music, the poetry readings, and the remembrances. Simple…Heartfelt…Tearful…Beautiful.

This was the environment that Chaz’s brother stepped into when he stood to say a few words. He was, by his own admission, as shy and introverted as Chaz was outgoing. The dress shirt and pants purchased for the occasion seemed uncomfortably out of character for him. He apologized for his perceived lack of eloquence and then, with quiet sincerity, he shared his thoughts. He was surprised to learn of Chaz’s attachment to this community – a community that we call church. And through this experience, he realized that he had never really known his sister. This led to a request for conversation; an open invitation to all who knew Chaz to share their stories with him so that he could fill in the gaps of his own, and perhaps fractured, experience of her.  


Epilogue: Only Chaz’s brother can say if the service and fellowship afterward constituted an experience of the infinite for him. It certainly was for me. Like the View-master slogan- “View what is possible,” I am continually amazed at the opportunities we have to adjust (and by this I mean broaden) our own perceptions when we actively participate in the life of a community. Especially a community that finds experiences of the infinite so cool that they beg to be shared with others; whether or not they can call these experiences God. ChazzyBear…you left bigger shoes to fill than I first imagined. Rest in peace.