A Socratic Path to Online Serenity

by Greg Gonzales

The Socratic Filter might be one of the best tools we have in this world of information overload. Each and every day, we’re bombarded with more information than we could ever memorize, use, or discuss later on. That information gently drops upon our brains, like a drop in a pond which ripples and changes the whole life of the pond ever-so minutely, so it’s important to mindfully decide which bits get our direct attention, and that includes our interactions with people with disagree with online. We could ignore those people, but we can also question them until they don’t have a good answer. Luckily, Socrates gave us a couple of techniques to break down beliefs and build bridges across disagreements.

One day, a friend visited Socrates to offer up some gossip (and I’ll abridge the story here for length). Before letting his friend speak on it, he asked, “Have you ensured that what you’re about to tell me is true?” The friend said no, he’d only overheard the gossip. Socrates then asked, “Is what you’re about to tell me something good, or kind?” The friend said no, quite the opposite. “So you don’t know it to be true, and you don’t know it to be good,” Socrates pointed out. “So is what you’re going to tell me useful or necessary to know?” Deflated, the friend said no. Socrates concluded, “If what you’re going to say is neither true, good, nor useful, please refrain from speaking at all.” At least one must apply, or it’s not worth sharing or listening to.

We should all be so discriminate with our words. Facts and truth are something we ought to share because we live in a democracy and because we all ought to learn more about the world we live in. Same can be said for the good things in life, even if they aren’t necessarily true, because we can grow and heal from them. For example, if a discovery next year proves Socrates was merely Plato’s invention, his stories would still bring us the same joy and wisdom they do now. Useful words ought to be revered, too, for their applications in our own lives. Not all useful ideas are good or known to be true, but they can still hold utilitarian value. To share something true, good, and/or useful is a service to all, whether through art or through a comment at the bottom of a hotly-debated article.

Socrates’s world and our world aren’t all that different when it comes to social and societal challenges we face on a daily basis. We understand that the world isn’t controlled by a set of incestuous gods now, but we still find ourselves shocked by support for flat Earth conspiracies and the millions of U.S. adults who think chocolate milk comes from brown cows. Those ideas are known to be false, they’re not good, and they aren’t useful. When faced with ideas that don’t pass the Socratic Filter, we just need to remember that “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing,” and begin questioning from there.

What I mean by questioning is Socratic Questioning, a technique of inquiry used in philosophy and even cognitive-behavioral therapy to break down beliefs into evidence and assumptions, to build complex thoughts and stronger viewpoints. The same technique can be applied online and for brewhouse debates, to deescalate the situation and even build a bridge through in-depth understanding of a fellow human.

Though there are multiple kinds of Socratic Questioning (six, actually, outlined here; they add up to a few main principles. The main idea is to question fundamental beliefs. We all have assumptions that build the foundations of our ideas and beliefs, but they should be questioned and recognized as such so they can be changed when reasonably challenged. If I think chocolate milk comes from brown cows, you might ask, “Then how does the chocolate get into the milk?” If I have to explain myself, I’m likely to uncover something absurd, and change course. Another principle is to never let any part of a person’s position or reasoning or evidence be a given. Everything has a source, and can and should be questioned. If someone claims an idea is true “because it’s in the Bible,” then we ought to ask why they think the Bible is unquestionably true. The second is to get the other person to consider and even explain other viewpoints. This gets the conversation outside the social safety bubble, off defense, outside the pop-culture framework, and into the dynamic marketplace of ideas. We ask how, we ask why — we investigate the views of others, rather than lambaste them for being wrong — and everyone walks away with a truer and more interesting version of the world.

Though I don’t pretend that all lines of questioning will result in Hands Across America 2, it’s pretty obvious that questions are better beginnings to cooperation and sanity than insults and silence.

Erasing Illusions of The Other Not Easy, but Possible

by Greg Gonzales

Comments sections provide a blank, free speech forum where we can discuss an article, get into the nitty-gritty production details of YouTube videos, and share great ideas to transform the world — that is, in another universe. In this world of all possible worlds, the comments sections are reserved for posturing, political parrots, and pointlessly insulting others. Part of why people do this comes down to what David J. Pollay wrote: “Many people are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment. As their garbage piles up,they look for a place to dump it. And if you let them, they’ll dump it on you.” Our nation’s trucks are overflowing — its people are overflowing — with rage, loss, and confusion. When we get caught up in an online argument, we’re not changing the world, but instead letting people dump their garbage all over us. Luckily, so-called “internet tough-guys” tend to hold normal conversations in everyday offline life. The best thing is to ignore the trash, and make real human connections outside the internet, where we can see each other, read body language, and face people directly.

For me, in March of last year, one of those places was at an airport bar, waiting for a flight. A fellow patron and I watched Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump paraded across CNN’s feed for a few minutes. We exchanged work stories and duties, and it turned out he was a Border Patrol agent. Of course, the conversation quickly turned to politics, as the news ticked on about Trump’s border wall proposal. The agent told me his decision was between Sanders and Trump, but he said he liked Trump for his sincerity and lack of political entrenchment, where Sanders is a career politician. Then I asked about the wall. “Trump isn’t going to do it,” he told me. “It’s just rhetoric.” As a border agent, he was against the wall, saying the barriers down there are about as effective as a physical barrier can get. Then we discussed other solutions, like tech and immigration policy (which he agreed were better solutions, after years on the border), until he had to get on a plane and never see me again. What I assumed would have turned into a bicker-fest actually helped us find some common ground. While we didn’t change each others’ minds, we did learn each others’ views, which is a big step in unifying two people with conflicting ideologies. We didn’t fight, we didn’t bicker, we just explained our views and moved on with life, both happier for having learned something.

It’s not easy to convince someone of a mistake, or a character flaw — change is hard, and we can’t force someone to change, but the world sometimes reveals the truth in astounding, painful ways. Allen Wood, a retired Army Sergeant who fought in Vietnam, wrote in a Facebook post about how he was taught to hate, growing up with a father in the KKK in southern Georgia. “I grew up in a racist society and I willingly participated in it. I cannot deny that I used the ‘N’ word many times. Maybe you grew up the same way. That was my world and I had to belong in it.” However, one day, he changed. “The truth came on a very very hot morning in Vietnam when we were ambushed by a small group of local Viet Cong irregulars,” he wrote. “A man almost gave his life to save mine. He did not stop to ask if I was white, black; Christian or not. I was his friend and buddy and he willingly placed his life between me and certain death.” Turns out his hero was a black soldier, but in this moment of crisis, preconceived notions of race didn’t matter. Wood’s arm suffered an injury, and his new friend, George, suffered an injury to his side. As Wood tended George’s wound, their blood mixed right there on the battlefield. “There was no hatred, no distrust. Just two men in a bad situation and wanting to survive. …. After that singular incident, watching his blood mingled with mine, I looked at the world totally different. George and I talked about our different worlds and were constantly struck at how, in truth, they were the same worlds.” Sometimes, to let go of hate, we have to see that we all share the same dark-red blood as everyone else.

Without a doubt, we all live in the same world, even if Socrates was right that “The only wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” Reality may differ person to person, depending on individual brain chemistry and impressions and histories. After all, the world we see is relative to the tools we have in our heads and bodies. Even so, through careful conversation, through shared experience, we erase the illusion of The Other and find common ground. Take a breath, smile, ask for your fellow human’s name, and then ask more questions.

Love and Politics

by Amanda Petersen

Love has many different definitions and ways of looking at it.  As I look at some of these definitions of love one consistent appears.  Love is about expanding.  Expanding compassion, expanding perspective, expanding One’s heart, expanding circumstances, expanding vulnerability, expanding risk, expanding complication etc. etc.  In order to love there is some invitation to expand.

It is taking a world possibly built on safety, security, and knowing, and being thrown into the unpredictable, vulnerable, and stretching space.  This is the case whether one loves themselves, a puppy, partner, God, or a total stranger.  And this may be the challenge of why so many would rather not love.  Love is messy and it takes the person into uncharted territory.  How can one do something they don’t even understand or know about?

The conversation of love comes up a lot at Pathways of Grace.  The most consistent way it is brought up is in regards to the current political climate.  Some wonderful hard questions are coming up.  “How do I stand up for what I feel is important and right without making those who disagree ‘the Other’?”  In other words “How do I love?”  It also comes out in others ways.  “How do I stay with my faith community and stay consistent with where I believe God is taking me?”  “How do I take care of myself when it will disappoint those around me?”  “How do I get started with a relationship with the Divine?”  All of those questions hold a piece of “How do I Love?”

As a spiritual director, I have no answer for the questions other than keep showing up and lets listen to your inner wisdom together.  The energy of love I have observed isn’t in the answers but in the willingness to expand into the unknown of Love.  Somewhere in the willingness to show up to love, God’s love mixes in and does something amazing and beyond whatever the individual could dream up.  The Universe’s love mixes with the desire to love and something beautiful comes out. Love may not be about answers but the willingness to explore.

Right now I am seeing the need to come together and wrestle with the messiness of love.  To be open and allow the something bigger of God to mix in and open our hearts to expand in ways we never imagined.  A place of unpredictability, vulnerability, stretching and Divine Love.  If you are looking for ways to expand in love this week try coming to Dinner and Conversation on Friday or Quiet Places with Sandy Kenger on Sunday.  If you are looking to have a place for someone to hold space as you show up to Love we have amazing spiritual directors and other practitioners.  Pathways of Grace is committed to providing a safe place to practice and explore what it means to be a loving presence in the world.

This week look at your own “Love” life.  Spend time showing appreciation for those who gave you the space to learn to love and expand.  Take the time to connect with the Source of All Love with a heart of gratitude that the expansion of Love is endless.

Please share your thoughts on how you love.

What’s in the Sauce?

by Karen Richter

Sometimes I feel like I write a SWC post for this blog and half of the sentences end with question marks. Today is going to be one of those days.

One of our greatest gifts is the capacity to wonder, to ask questions, to remain curious and open to new knowledge throughout our lives. Right now, at Shadow Rock, we’re talking on Sunday mornings during education and spiritual formation time with activists in the community. It’s great to find out more about different issues, of course, but we’re asking wondering and exploringmore about their journeys…
what brought them to the field in which they’re active, how they stay motivated, what they do for self-care. I don’t yet know if we’ll find that activists in different fields have common experiences.  Maybe we’ll know more by the end of the month; in the meantime, we are listening lots. 

Yesterday’s guest, Kelley Dupps from Arizona Planned Parenthood, was passionate and thoroughly engaging (and much appreciated!).  He used an interesting word to describe his work in education, LGBTQ equality, and reproductive healthcare: COMPULSION. He gave a sense of something beyond passion for social change: a feeling that he was engaged in this work because he couldn’t do otherwise.

In the same session, a participant relayed their frustration at conversations with closed-off, closed-minded relations and acquaintances. Some people, we all agreed, simply were not able to listen to new information and hold their own opinions loosely. These folks’ abilities to entertain another person’s point of view and consider the long-range effects of their own views were, at the least, disused and rusty from neglect.

How does this happen? What kinds of experiences make us who we are and when do these experiences happen?

This is a fun thought experiment, something that those of us with curiosity about such things like to discuss over coffee. But the stakes are high, my friends.

As our congregations work with childrenwonder child and youth, it behooves us to find that secret sauce that forms our young people into curious, open, faithful humans.

What’s in that secret sauce? I’m working on it, y’all*. I suspect that the recipe includes some of the following, in different ratios for different families and in different congregations:

  • Training and real practice in discernment
  • Consistent exposure to spiritual disciplines of meditation and centering prayer
  • Connection to creation
  • Involvement of faithful adult mentors
  • Experience with the joy of service and justice work
  • Safe space to talk about all of the above!

The world needs our theology of inclusion and grace more than ever. Let’s keep talking about the best ways to pass that gift on to the next generation.

*When I’m feeling particularly earnest, my Southern accent comes out… even in writing.

Helpful or Not?

by Karen Richter

I’ve been mulling over the words sacred and secular lately. Just yesterday a member of my congregation described themselves as “a pretty secular person.” I’m sure I blinked, eyes wide because I have zero poker face skills. How could this person – no matter what theology or philosophy – who I have experienced as chock-full of passion and integrity, be secular? And now that I think about it, how could a person whose faith compels them to act in ways contrary to justice, compassion, and peace be sacred?

What do these words even mean? Is the distinction helpful any longer, if it ever was?

In high school choir, we sang sacred music.  Just a side note, because surely you were wondering, my favorite piece was John Rutter’s For the Beauty of the Earth.

We also sang secular music. Here’s one I remember that you probably recall as well.

Why is a song about connection and longing and common humanity labeled secular just because God isn’t mentioned? And surely, if we thought about it, we could think of religious songs that are so soaked in nationalism, exclusivism, and fear that the word God sours in our mouths as we sing.

I’m always suspicious about either/or choices, and the sacred or secular choice is no different. Questions worth asking always have more than two potential answers!

In this holiday season, we so often get pulled into irrelevant discussions about what is appropriate as part of our Christmas celebration and what isn’t. Mistletoe and holly, yule logs, decorated trees, candles… these treasured traditions all originated in pagan winter celebrations. Contemporary questions abound as well… Santa during church events? Starbucks cups? Church on Christmas day?  How do we choose what to affirm and what to discard? What goes and what stays?

It all stays. It all belongs. If incarnation means anything at all, it means that the false dichotomy of sacred and secular is revealed as illusion, forever broken down, shattered completely, and re-formed as part of a blessed whole.

You belong too! Merry Christmas and peace in 2017!

Answers Will Vary

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

I heard the whispers. I saw the quiet exchanges between the ones in the know. I watched this play out among the most powerful of my peers. They knew something and I was going to find out what that was. Information is power.

I waited.

I knew it was just a matter of time until one of them slipped up and told me what they knew.

Yeah. That’s right.

This wasn’t my first rodeo.

I mean, did they think I was born yesterday?


They gave in within an hour and I didn’t even have to ask them anything. They came to me as I sat in my converted office which doubled as a jungle gym what with us being in the second grade and all.

The secret was a good one! It. Blew. My. Mind. Each word they shared was better than the last. Ready for the secret?

The answers to the odd numbered math problems are in the back of the textbook. Just sitting there, waiting for us to use them. Talk about a #lifehack, this was golden.

Take a minute to catch your breath. That was a lot to take in.

As a kid who turned in every math assignment with several worn holes in the paper from my  baffled work that had to be erased and gone over again and again, this was music to my ears. This was evidence that I was obviously on God’s good person list with this piece of info! I was blissful.

I put this new knowledge to use immediately, finishing my math word problems assignment in 2.25 minutes, just a mere 27.75 minutes from my usual. Nothing suspicious here.

I marched up, handed that work to Mrs. Johnson and waited for her accolades. I was baffled when I saw her put that red pen to use. She handed it back with a big fat “0” at the top of the page. Looking back I should have likely been suspicious when most of the problems shared the exact same solution which was: “Answers Will Vary”.

Sigh. I may have peaked in the second grade.

There’s a joke meme that I have posted on my Facebook page in the past that reads “It turns out being an adult is mostly just googling how to do stuff.” Most people read the first three sentences when they search something on Wikipedia and that’s it. Most of us take in absolutely overly simplified explanations and act as though we have a PhD on the topic.

Seven-year old me just wanted the boring parts over with so I could get back to doing what I wanted to do. It was a very basic thinking pattern. Math boring; must stop. I can do that by copying all the answers in the book and move on from this moment.

This type of thinking makes sense in a seven year old, but far less sense in a 37-year-old. And yet when I was 37, I found myself wanting the quick answer while I was waiting to hear if I got a position I had interviewed for and very much wanted.

I turned to the internet like it was a magic 8-ball and knew everything. I searched online using this question: “Am I going to get the job?” And I searched this on several different search engine sites as though each may reveal more of my future… the things we do in lieu of feeling always surprises me.

I knew it was silly as I did it. The questioning allowed me to do something with all that nervous energy and I found it amusing. That was the payoff of doing this search. What it didn’t do, though, was yield a definitive answer or help me in anyway.

In my life, I have observed many times that the insistence of an immediate answer leaves me feeling empty when I get it. This is usually because I wasn’t asking the true question that would assist in meeting my needs. I was just trying to distract myself until I knew the outcome. It is a fear-based way of being for me.

Ultimately, the thing I was looking for most that day was an assurance that I was worthy of such a job and that I would be okay if I didn’t get it. Evidently the internet has yet to produce the self esteem and affirmation we long for, available by clicking a link. Give it a year. The internet has been busy with the election, after all.

I am a person of faith who has chosen to walk a Christian path. That’s never really varied for me, even when I lost a faith community after coming out as a queer, gender diverse person, I knew this was still my path. The way I understand and live into the call as a Christian has changed but my willingness to walk a Christian path has never wavered.

I spent most of my early life developing a belief system that I had all the answers and humanity needed me to tell them. I had the solution and they needed it. I have spent the last 16 years of my life letting that go and opening myself to the mystery and wonder that comes with living and being in the world, among each other, seeking love, seeking life, seeking Spirit.

When I do not have the answers, I get to do some things that are pretty great: I get to replace the closed-fisted certainty with an open handed wonderment. I get to hear your experiences and allow them to expand my sense of who God is and who we are in relation to God. I get to stop faking it when I just don’t know what to do with suffering. I get to be authentic and a person of faith.

I used to think that faith was the goal God laid out for me, as though the searching would give me an object to hold up and say “See what I got? Isn’t it shiny? Isn’t it amazing? I win!” Faith was to be obtained.

There was such a massive arrogance to how I thought about the role of faith and my call in that. A few minutes with me back then would have you asking, “Is it getting smuggy in here?” Yea. I brought the smug.

My faith was aggressive absolutism that I lived in as though I was waiting to get to the afterlife and say, “See, I told you!” I have learned that when the motivation is to be right the action I am taking is likely wrong.

Parables are the original word problems for Christians and none yield a direct answer. Jesus used juxtaposition regularly to get us out of the data and into the questions. Faith isn’t the ultimate answer to who God is and who I am to God. Faith was never the destination. Faith is the vehicle of how I get to live with you in the world and how I get to understand what love is and what love isn’t. It’s not to be obtained, it is for us to make use of in  our seeking God.

What a mistake we make flipping furiously to the answers. What a mistake we make thinking the supplied answer was ever the point of the work. What a mistake we make when we allow an answer to snuff out wonderment.

I have had such a sense of relief when I realized the whole point of this assignment of life isn’t in deriving the answer and arriving at faith.

Faith is the pencil.

Faith is the paper.

Faith is the eraser.

Faith is what we get to use to figure and wonder at the questions that come in living.

I want answers often, especially recently for this season I have lived in. Here’s where I hurt myself in that wanting of answers: when I mistake having a stark and clear answer for a spiritual solution, I am left empty. Answers aren’t all that filling or satisfying when I hunger for relationship with God and with others. When I can replace answers with wonderment my spirit is strengthened and bolstered. Wonderment is life giving.

I have found my most honest words and thoughts I have had when faced with life’s questions are on paper riddled and marred with my attempts, stained with all my tries and mistakes. That is the clearest evidence of my willingness to engage in the questions. Those questions are all the same in front of each of us. All the big life questions cut across all aspects of humanity no matter the culture or language. We are all grappling with making sense of the world around us. That’s the work. That’s the living. And I guarantee, if we really do the hard work, our answers will vary. They were meant to by design.

Review – Nomad: A spirituality for travelling light

by Ryan Gear

Brandan Robertson has written a book, just released in the UK, that any spiritually searching, thoughtful person can appreciate. This includes evangelicals, the expression of Christianity with which Brandan identifies. Contrary to some who have questioned their faith, Nomad is an honest story of a spiritual journey that has not left the author cynical. Brandon can’t be smugly written off with a label. There is no hint of academic elitism in his writing. He has not forsaken the Bible or become “just another one of those liberals.”

It’s clear from reading Nomad that Brandan loves God and the Scriptures and that he simply brave enough to say (or write) what many evangelicals are too afraid to admit… they have questions.

I first heard Brandan’s story when he shared it on a Sunday morning with the church I founded, One Church in Chandler, Arizona (onechurch.com). I can personally attest to his humble spirit and the grace that he writes about so beautifully in chapter 13. Brandon is not angry or vindictive. He is a loving, open-minded, young man who is an inspiration to anyone who wants to work out her or his salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).

In the early chapters, Brandan tells his story of coming to faith in Christ in a high-octane fundamentalist KJV-only church when he was a teenager. He was so hungry to grow in his new relationship with Christ that he watched Charles Stanley before going to school in the morning. The church was a new family for him that modeled some level of love and healing in contrast to his hurting and dysfunctional family. Searching for belonging, he took on the same Bible-thumping ethos as his newly adopted church family. He began a teen evangelism, winning souls for Jesus and preaching against the Religious Right’s common enemies, abortion and homosexuality.

But then…


Chapter 6 is the turning point of Nomad and of Brandan’s life. I love Brandan’s description of his first encounter with doubt while watching a History Channel Easter special at 13 years old (58). He was terrified that Jesus may not have been raised from the dead, but at 13, sobbed with relief at the fact that the Gospel of Matthew reported otherwise. Still in early teens, Brandan absorbed his church’s commitment to biblical inerrancy, but the doctrine would not go unquestioned forever.

Brandan addresses the common conservative evangelical conundrums of biblical contradictions, Bible class questions, and the favorite apologetics buzz phrase “absolute truth.” I was reminded of how tortured I felt as a teenager trying to make the Bible a cohesive document, like a term paper dropped out of heaven.

He identifies with so many serious-minded young evangelicals who learn to become intellectual circus acrobats as they try to harmonize Bible verses that clearly contradict one another. In fact, the term contradiction carries negative connotations, while the Bible is actually a collection of books, a library, and no one expects every book in a library to agree on every topic. The biblical books are more like a conversation, sometimes even an argument, than a term paper.

Later in his teens, Brandan bravely and honestly acknowledged his questions. He writes, “The beliefs that we once held to be absolute and certain suddenly become subjective and unclear. The answers that we once held to so tightly dissolve and new, terrifying questions emerge” (56-57).

In my own experience, once a crack of intellectual honesty appears in the dam, it won’t be long before a flood of questions rush through, breaking apart what was once thought to be an immoveable concrete wall. Honestly acknowledging the first question begins the journey of the spiritual nomad.

Brandon then relays his story of discovery, becoming acquainted with church history and the ancient rhythms of a spiritual life that were ignored in his conservative evangelical church. He studied Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Anglicanism. He became aware of a new world of Christian history, belief, and practice.

He points out what many evangelicals are becoming aware of, that Christianity is much larger than one particular Baptist-y megachurch, and in fact, evangelical megachurches are still a minority in global Christianity:

“In the churches I grew up in, there was absolutely no sense of tradition or a broader narrative we participated in. Instead, we focused on our communities’ autonomy and God’s unique work in our midst. We were rarely connected to other churches in the area because all of us were focused on creating our own unique style and brand of Christianity” (83).

In chapter 11, the second major movement of Nomad is Brandan’s discovery of his fluid sexuality in his late teens. Of course, this is the current hot button issue in the U.S., and within American Christianity, one’s full acceptance or non-acceptance of LGBTQ persons is the litmus test of one’s orthodoxy.

Sadly, there will be evangelicals who write off Brandan’s spiritual journey due to their judgment of his sexuality. This is tragic, and one that will ultimately count as their loss. Brandon is a sweet-spirited, grace-filled evangelist who will likely lead a megachurch in the future. His humble and loving presence will win over many detractors, but unfortunately, some will not even give Brandan or Nomad the chance.

Those who do will discover an inspiring leader and communicator who does his best to live out his understanding of the Eucharist in chapter 12. It is one of the simplest and best descriptions of the Gospel you will read:

“The first was that at the Table of the Lord where the Eucharist was served, all people are equal… For one moment of time, all of us stood on level ground. All our prejudices and biases were forced to fade into the background. We came together as one broken but connected body in need of grace” (113).

“The Eucharist also reminded early believers of a second truth – the pattern of life that they were to live. When Christ commanded us to do this ritual ‘to remember and proclaim his death until he comes again’, he was asking us to remember the way of life that he lived and to follow him in it” (114).

The remaining chapters of Nomad, “Grace,” “Journey,” and “Wonder” offer practical examples of how Brandan attempts to live this eucharistic lifestyle. He tells a stirring story of reconciling with his abusive father after his father’s arrest and release. Brandan finishes his story with an invitation to journey through the questions, citing that the narrative arc of Scripture is one of a journey, and the only way to travel is with an attitude of wonder.

At its heart, Brandan’s honest sharing of his journey is an invitation to all readers, not to necessarily begin a new spiritual journey, but to be honest about the journey they are already on.

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!

Getting a Handle on Life

by Amanda Peterson

I purchased a card once that had a man sitting in the middle of the desert, looking disheveled, holding a handle in his hand, and the caption read, “I used to have a handle on life but then it fell off”.  With the beginning of the New Year there can be this sense that if the handle fell off in 2015, now in 2016 it might attach again.  Yet what we find happening at the end of year just moves with us into the New Year.  There is a sense if only one could find the right device, the handle on life would be securely in place, and whatever happens there is a means to manage it, understand it, and have some control in it.  A means to ride the tiger in a sense, without getting thrown off and eaten.

The handle is a very important part of life. Often the emphasis is on what the handle connects to. The situation or person that needs to be opened or changed or moved.  How does one move this stone?  How does one get a handle on an overwhelming issue? How can someone feel life is manageable and not just a series of uncontrollable events?  How does one put a handle on fear?

What if, rather than a way of controlling and managing life, the handle is what connects us to ALL the energy of life.  What if the handle is God?  Looking at it as how one chooses to hold on to God as a way of getting a hold of the person or situation.  That makes whatever is on the other side of the handle less influential than the means of connecting to it. The question becomes less about how does one roll away the stone and more about how does one’s faith and relationship with God connect to this stone?  The handle is how one connects God to the situations in life.

Over the next few weeks, we will look at these questions as a way to begin 2016, using these questions as a way to engage our faith life rather than make life manageable.  May God be your connection to all this New Year brings!!

Values stink.

by Karen Richter

Why do you bring your children to church? Why do you think there are children sitting in the pews of your church?

If you ask parents this question (or if just now, you answered this question for yourself), you might hear answers like this:

“It’s important for me that my child learns the values of our church community.”

“I want my kid to be a good person.”

“Church provides my family with moral guidance.”

Values stink. by Karen Richter, Southwest Conference Blog southwestconferenceblog.org United Church of Christ
Can we agree than authenticity is better than shiny and happy?

Nope. Sorry – nope nope nope.

Church is not about values. Not only are there OTHER places in our society to expose your children to good values, there are BETTER places in our society to teach good values.

Scouting, team sports, community theater, chess club, school-based values curricula, VeggieTales… these are excellent sources for parents to teach their children the importance of fairness, teamwork, honesty, and cooperation. The kiddos will make friends along the way – it’ll be great!

Church MUST be more than values instruction. I’ll risk overstating my point (and annoying my readers): if we structure programs for children in churches with the goal of teaching good values, we will lose. Not only are the organizations I listed above doing great things with kids, the Gospel of grace always trumps morality.

What then takes the place of values instruction? In progressive churches, we’ve somewhat abandoned old-timey instruction. I haven’t seen a good fill-in-the-blank Bible worksheet since I was 10 years old. We’re working on abandoning a school-based model and even in some churches we’re getting rid of a star-earning, funfunfun carnival model.

What’s left? Just two principles guide children’s ministry in the post-modern era, and the earlier a child can communicate and internalize these, the better.

“At church, people love me just as I am.”

This means prioritizing relationships and connections over curricula and content. This means children participating in worship – not as cute props for adults to coo at, but as full members of the worshipping community.

“At church, I can ask questions.”

Values stink. by Karen Richter, Southwest Conference blog southwestconferenceblog.org United Church of Christ
Our kids can be like Jesus: more questions than answers!

Whether it’s a deep question like this one I got during Advent, ‘How do we know that Jesus was God’s son? What if he was just a good person?’ or it’s a question from the Our Whole Lives question box or just an everyday ‘Why?’ – questions are at the heart of the spiritual journey for every person. When our churches are safe places for questions, doubt, experiential pondering, they will thrive.

In fact, what would our churches look like if every person at every age and in every situation can express these same ideas:

“At church, people love me just as I am.”

“At church, I can ask questions.”

So, yeah, values stink. The Good News we have is so much better, deeper, and wider than values.

Peace to us all in 2016.