Category Archives: Spiritual Direction

Suicide is Preventable

A friend of mine committed suicide recently. He was highly intelligent, quite skilled at his profession, and helped a multitude of people in his life. He was also bipolar. During his manic phases, which could go on for months, he ran up debts and got involved in very toxic relationships. In his depressive phases he saw himself clearly and could not understand why others would reject him for being mentally ill. He was in therapy and on medication. 

In the wee hours of a cold winter’s night, he stepped in front of a semi on the freeway. Some are colluding to spin his suicide as an accident. It was not. It was thought out, planned. 

I am, sadly, familiar with suicide. My son took his own life, as did my maternal grandfather. We do ourselves and others no favors by denying suicide, by speaking of it in euphemisms and denying it with revisionist stories. I understand why we do so. 

We are still ashamed of suicide. We think it indicates something wrong with us as family, friends, or coworkers. We imagine that it somehow puts blame on us because we didn’t prevent it. Light heals. Truth frees us. Even hard truth and burning light. Facing uncomfortable truth is the path to healing. Suicide is preventable. Talk about it.


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A New Exodus. Audio. Isaiah 43

Strength to Love. Audio. Isaiah 41&42

Call Your Mom. Call Your Dad.

One of the saddest things I’ve seen as a pastor, chaplain, counselor, and spiritual director is grown-up children who reject, rebuff, ignore, or dismiss their parents. Sometimes, of course, it is inevitable, even healthy. If a parent physically or sexually assaulted a child and continues to deny any responsibility or show any remorse, the adult child is best to distance themselves. Those are extreme cases. More often the rejection involves subtitles that need not cause a rupture. 

Children reject, ignore, and rebuff their parents in various ways and for various reasons. Regardless of the methods or the causes, it hurts. It not only hurts the parents. It hurts the adult children in ways they may not recognize for years.

Invariably, it’s all tied up in stuff that happened as the kid was growing up and parents were trying to figure out how to be parents. And, undoubtedly, if all parties were motivated and willing to work with a team of systemic family therapists in whole-family sessions (or at least parent-adult child sessions) the underlying issues would surface into the healing light. Sadly, few are both willing and able. 

Children nearly always see the rupture as mom or dad’s fault. Parents usually blame themselves. Occidental society eschews the aged and venerates the young. Whereas once the norm was a house occupied by three or four generations (remember the Waltons?), now the norm is “assisted living,” “skilled nursing care,” and “memory care.” Whereas once couples stuck it out for the sake of kids, now divorce is widespread and custody battles are ubiquitous. And, even when there’s no court battle, there’s often a battle for the hearts of the kids. If the kid chooses me, it reinforces my belief that I’m right. I am relieved of responsibility for marriage failure.

I’m not condemning anyone. I was less than attentive to my aging mother. I was too busy “serving God” to connect as deeply as I wish I had with my children. My oldest children were hurt deeply when their mother and I divorced. It’s a mistake to underestimate the effect divorce has on children.

So, no judgment. But, know this: when kids of any age rebuff or ignore their parents, it hurts deeply and it affects how your own children will feel about you. Do unto others …

Unless your parents were cruel or abusive, take the initiative to forgive and reconcile. Your folks may even have wisdom you could use.

To paraphrase Philo: Be kind. Everyone you meet (including your aging parents) is fighting a great battle. 

Sometimes, the most profound lessons are the ones from kindergarten: Be nice.

Don’t Let Judgmental People Condemn You

Many sins are quiet and respectable, and therefore go unnoticed in our culture. How many sermons have you heard on gluttony or the evils of wealth?  But when a person, especially a clergyperson, sins, most especially if that sin involves sexuality, and it becomes public, many people are offended, shocked, and enraged. Some of them feel quite justified in not forgiving. Some even feel God has appointed them bringers of justice. 

The repentant weep in brokenness, guilt, shame and sorrow. They try to facilitate reconciliation. They ask those they know they have offended to forgive them. They take responsibility. They try to repair any damage done. They do their best to make amends. If reparations are in order, they try to pay the debt. 

We long for everyone to forgive us. Ultimately, however, none of us have control over whether others will forgive us or not. 

Ultimately, all sin is against God. It is God’s laws we broke. It is God’s love we wounded. And it is God who tells us, “Son, daughter, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven.” It is God who from the Roman gibbet prays, “Father, forgive them.” 

It seems audacious. “Who is this who forgives sins?” I sin against you; you forgive me. You sin against me; I forgive you. But who can forgive you for sinning against someone else? I have no authority to forgive the Nazi who oversaw the death camp. His victims can forgive him, but I cannot. God, however, can. 

God, the maker of the law we broke, God, the loving heart we wounded, forgives all who come to him. There is nothing God cannot or will not forgive except the stubborn refusal on our part to be forgiven. 

Why would we not accept forgiveness? Perhaps we feel our sin is so heinous that we must be punished; we must suffer. Perhaps we cannot imagine forgiving ourselves. Perhaps we take to heart the unforgiveness of others, the rebuffing of our efforts to reconcile. 

None of that affects the eternal reality. “If we confess our sins, he (God) is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Though it hurts to know there are offended people out there who condemn, they are not our judge. God is our judge, and God has acquitted us, pronounced us forgiven, cast all our sins into the deepest sea, and separated all our transgressions as far as east is from west. 

Precious is the flow

That washes white as snow

We cannot control how others feel or act. We take God’s edict as our truth. Forgiven. Restored. Many regrets, things we would do differently; but, here and now, we are accepted in the Beloved.

In God We Trust?

How Deep Will You Go?

How deeply will I allow the Spirit of God to penetrate my being?

Spiritual direction involves spiritual formation that goes well beyond understanding foundational truths and developing spiritually healthy habits. 

Seeds on a well-trodden path, among thorny weeds, on rocky soil, germinate but produce no leaf, flower, or fruit. Ploughed, disked, tilled, raked, fertilized, blended with vermicomposted organic material, slowly nurtured in nature’s womb – rich, fertile soil welcomes the seed, and, with the gifts of sunshine and rain, produces bud, leaf, flower, sustenance for bees, butterflies, birds, deer, and people.

The process of spiritual formation seems arrested in many of us. What hinders the seeds of divine love? Often, it is a fundamental, innate, unconscious worldview that has become the lens through which we see. We begin with assumptions that we absorbed from our families of origin, our ancestral cultures, and the zeitgeist. The seed hits our assumptions, our masks, our cultural identity, and stops growing.

“Enough! Don’t challenge my beliefs, so neatly folded, organized, and catalogued in the drawers of stifled thought. It’s plain to see I am right.”

It takes energy to think. We evolved to conserve energy so there would be enough to hunt for prey and run from predators. Our natural inclination is to shift into neutral and watch television.

Religions rest (non sequitur) on dogma. Secularism assumes (likewise, non sequitur) that reality consists of only what it can see. Paul Simon put it succinctly: “Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” 

Whether biologically or culturally derived, humans share a collective unconscious, primitive shared memories imprinted from ancestral biology or experience. That collective unconscious is reinforced by myth and those myths shape our personalities and institutions.

Jung believed that all humans have in innermost longing to be connected with God, their Source, and are unfulfilled until they do so. He identified four subsystems of the personality, which he called archetypes. 

1.     Persona, the masks we wear in order to conform to society, peers, clans, faith-communities, etc. 

2.     Anima/animus, the feminine side of males and the masculine side of females; the anima begin devalued in a patriarchal culture. 

3.     Shadow, our animal side, similar to Freud’s concept of the Id – our base survival instincts to eat, drink, breathe, stay alive, reproduce, and so on.

4.     Self – the inner, real person we were created to be; our innermost core, authentic being. The goal of spiritual formation is to intimately know, love, and follow God. The secondary goal of spiritual formation is actualization, selfhood, discovering and becoming our authentic selves, the people God intended us to be.

Fundamentalism, in religion, politics, or education, is made up of personas. Masks, smoke screens, rigid belief systems – rightness, absolute morality and ethics, a culturally crafted view of history, infallible texts. No room for deviation. Those masks become hard impenetrable ground. Certitude crushes humility and generates judgmentalism. Love-seeds can’t germinate. 

The fundamentalist enjoys a truncated worldview in which all is explained, all is neat and tidy, all is safe. He lives in a box, safe from new ideas, safe from thought. Some folks are content with just enough religion to (hopefully) get them into heaven; others with enough dogma to persuade others to “make a decision for Christ.” 

Theological systems may attempt to stuff all truth about God into neat boxes. “The one true church.”

Nationalistic and tribal myths shape our perceptions. “Land of the free; home of the brave.”

Along comes a seed that would, if it germinates, disrupt the worldviews and the myths. To allow it to sink in and bear fruit, I have to let go of the assumptions, give up the personas. That feels like death. It disrupts who I thought I was and challenges my identity. It may put me at odds with family, tribe, or faith community and lead to rejection. My neatly built belief system may unravel, leaving me with a chaotic tangle. My natural instinct is to reject the seed. The thorny weeds want to survive. 

Humility includes teachableness, a willingness to change. Jesus began his ministry echoing the words of his cousin John: “Repent!” The word means to change your mind. It has little to do with guilt or regret, even less with self-deprecation. Change your mind – be willing to think differently, to challenge deeply held, tribally sacred, myths. Dying to self has been wrongly associated with asceticism. It is instead a willingness to let go cherished beliefs. The true disciple welcomes the unraveling, scary and uncertain as it may be. 

It is so scary that I will not even begin unless I am first thoroughly convinced that God is in very fact, Unconditional Love, and will never forsake me. Only when I am secure in divine love can I risk questioning the unquestionable. Only when I am secure in my belovedness can I risk the rejection that might come from individuals and institutions. It hurts to be rejected by friends and family, or be shunned by your church. Once deeply convinced of God’s love, I can begin to look at my assumptions, cherished myths, and hitherto sacred ideas. It becomes ok to doubt and question, challenge, and scrutinize. 

My world is rocked. I am deeply ploughed. The very content of my inner “soil” is transformed. Little sprouts appear. Someday, please, God, they will be beautiful flowers where swallowtail butterflies can feed.

Confessions of a Recovering Pharisee

I sincerely pray that all the people I’ve hurt in my life will forgive me.

I really thought I was being faithful to God when I kicked people out of church and Bible college because they had an affair.

I thought I was being true to God’s Word when I condemned LGBTQ+ folks from the pulpit.

I honestly thought God favored the United States of America above other nations.

I thought I was speaking on behalf of God when I proclaimed militarism, championed gun ownership, and waved my nationalism.

I was a hypocrite. 

I am so sorry.

God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Change Your Mind

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Ash Wednesday

Beginning of Lent

George Washington’s Birthday

Lent is all about change. Forty days of reflection and repentance. Repentance means to change your mind, to see things in a new way, to gain understanding, to see things through God’s eyes.

A fighter jet can turn on a dime in three dimensions at high speeds. A massive oil tanker takes miles to turn. Nations, corporations, clans, and cultures are more like the tanker than the jet. Founded on a course with a set of values and goals, some conscious, some not, they lumber along and take a long time to change.

The United States, for example, began with European imperialists colonizing pristine land that had been home to indigenous people for tens of thousands of years. Colonization, land stolen from murdered and displaced native people, worked by African slaves and their descendants, a nation born in bloody conflict, militarism, and rebellion – it’s first president a genteel Virginia Anglican slave and plantation owner, a general, a man of war. Not the best foundation on which to build “the last great hope of the world,” with “liberty and justice for all.”

Major energy corporations founded by robber barons in a gilded age of opulence, which raped the environment and exploited workers to make a very few people phenomenally rich so that “our American way of life” could be exported. 

My ancestors – a mixed bag of ordinary people mostly just trying to survive by drifting along with the status quo, some of them acquiescing in various degrees to segregation, war, and capitalism.

I am not suggesting that nations, corporations, and clans can’t change. Nor am I implying that they don’t also do good things. The United States freed its slaves and opened its borders to “wretched masses yearning to breathe free.” Foundations are actively involved alleviating suffering and solving some of the most complex crises on the planet. Some of my ancestors fought to end slavery and defeat Hitler.

All I am attempting to say is that the founding cultures and ideals of nations, corporations, and clans usually change course very slowly, more like a lumbering oil tanker than an FA-18 Super Hornet. 

That said, they can change. We can change. We are not sentenced to the status quo, nor need we patiently await some course correction far in the future. We need not, indeed, we should not, tolerate racism, xenophobia, homophobia, ageism, ableism, antisemitism, or sexism. White supremacy is evil. War is evil. Killing is forbidden to the disciple. Injustice is wrong, whether it is blatant or systemic. 

We are all products of our environment. All of us are enculturated. I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s in America. The first president I remember was Eisenhower. Society was segregated. White Christian Nationalism was the order of the day. I absorbed some racism, some sexism, some white privilege, and a lot of homophobia. 

But thankfully, I was also exposed to civil rights, admired MLK and Malcom X, saw the good the Black Panthers were doing, tutored inner-city kids, coached a little league team from the projects, and listened to mentally ill people in a psychiatric hospital where I worked. I took a pastorate in rural Minnesota and learned the folk wisdom of farmers and dairy workers. I pastored in Colorado Springs and developed friendships with high-ranking military officers and combat grunts. The Bible college I directed in California had students from all over the world. I took mission trips to Asia and South America, and visited Israel multiple times. I worked for a social service agency and was a family therapist for families with adjudicated child abuse. I lived among native Hawaiians, and worked in trauma centers and ICUs, as well as in hospice.

Exposure to a wide variety of people and cultures, especially face to face with the sick, mentally ill, victims of oppression, and poor, shifted my thinking. My lumbering ship turned from its course and headed toward the Kingdom of God. 

This Lenten season, it behooves us to ask what needs course adjustment in our lives, our behavior, our political views, our theology, or our ideals. Where are we headed? 

What’s Ahead: Audio. Isaiah 26-26

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