Monday, December 29, 2008

"You never know what's comin' for you."

During Christmas vacation, one of our favorite family traditions is to head out to a movie theater and watch one of the new releases. For those who did the same, you likely know by the above heading which one the Booram family enjoyed—The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Rather than explain the premise of the movie and spoil it for you, I'll simply mention that this line was spoken first by Queenie, Benjamin’s “adoptive” mother, and subsequently repeated several times throughout the movie. Queenie urged Benjamin to be prepared for what life brings; not to fight it, or resent it, but respond with acceptance and openness—a philosophy that she exemplified.

The movie has a fanciful and curious story line, great character development, and brilliant acting. I highly recommend it, though be prepared for a nearly three hour stay in your seat! What I’m musing about today is this idea that you never know what’s coming for you.

Queenie warned that there is some force beyond us that can and will sweep us up in its foment, whether we want it to or not. We are in a position to respond and cooperate, whatever that means, with the momentum this force generates. Not that we are helpless or passive, non-agents in our destiny. But we swim in a current of life that sometimes swirls us around and delivers us somewhere we weren’t expecting.

Now, allow me to make a leap....into a book I finished last night. (If this begins to read like a book review, it unapologetically is!) It is called The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle. The sub-title reads, “How Christianity is Changing and Why.” If you get the sense, as I do, that a momentum of change is building within Western Christianity, “that something is coming for us,” you are right.

According to Tickle,

“As a phenomenon, the Great Emergence has been slipping up on us for decades in very much the same way spring slips up on us week by week every year. Though it may have sent us a thousand harbingers of its approach, we are still surprised to wake up one balmy morning to a busy, chirping world that, a mere twenty-four hours before, had been a gray and silent one.”

Tickle goes on to explain, with helpful clarity and profound insight, that every five hundred years the Church feels compelled to hold “a giant rummage sale.” And we are in the midst of one of those times, a time of monumental change when something comes for us and we don’t know exactly what that something is.

As I interface with a broad spectrum of Christians, I observe a variety of reactions to this “emerging” Christianity. Some seem oblivious, content with their faith context, and unconcerned with the gathering storm. Others are battening down the hatches, vehemently committed to protecting themselves from the onslaught of the storm, convinced it is a tsunami of destruction. Others are indifferent, so far gone in their cynicism and disillusionment that if the storm hits and wipes us clean of any vestige of the institutional church, that would be just fine.

Others, like me, are mostly hopeful. Reading The Great Emergence has helped me frame our current history within a backdrop of five hundred year cycles of reformation. Tickle explains that each period of upheaval has resulted in three things: a new and more robust form of Christianity; a reconstituted previous form of Christianity that becomes more vital; and the spread of Christian faith and practice. That is good reason for hope.

For the last decade of my life, I have had the sense that “something was coming" for those of us who follow Christ and find community within the church. Whatever it is, I don’t think it can be stopped or avoided. Some interject this phenomenon is a consequence of our neglect of God, national moral decline or disregard for the Bible. I, on the other hand, think that God is up to something—that He is in this thing that is coming.

Whatever you think about the great emergence, please become educated about the history of the church and what's coming for us today. This book will help explain how Christianity is changing and why.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"You can’t think your way to a new way of living. You have to live your way to a new way of thinking.” Dr. David Schnarch

I live a lot in my head. When a problem arises, I expend a lot of mental energy pummeling it for insight, solutions, and meaning. When I feel the disconnect with lived reality and my ideal, I go into my head to resolve the tension. All this energy to think my way into a better place suggests that I believe, like many, that changing the way I think will change the way I live.

According to Dr. David Schnarch, not so. In his book Passionate Marriage, he exposes this often-held belief that we can change our lives by changing the way we think about our lives. Isn’t that what the Proverb says? “As a man thinks within himself, so is he.” Or as a mentor used to say, “Right thinking is a pre-requisite to right living.” That all sounds so….well, “right”!

Schnark’s words have haunted me for a few days now. Probably because I am such a reflective, introspective person and wonder if that’s my problem. (See, there I go again, thinking my way through life in order to improve the way I live!) Most of my teachers, especially Christian teachers, suggest and model this way of transformation. But is that a modern convention rather than truth? After all, Jesus said "Seek the Kingdom of God above all else and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need" (Matthew 6:33).

What intrigues me about Schnark's statement is the idea that change, or a new way of living, comes from moving toward life, leaning into life with all of one’s being—not just one’s “head.” As we do, life will teach us what is true and that will change how we think and see our relationships, the world, and ourselves!

I wonder what that would look like for me related to my biggest personal challenge right now: being anxious about my future. (I will be unemployed at the end of January—for those who are wondering.) I have tried to master living in the present and not fretting. To be anxious for nothing. To not worry about tomorrow because today has enough trouble of its own. I’ve tried to remember the lilies of the field. Yada, yada, yada. By “thinking” these thoughts, I am no less anxious or able to abide in trust that God will take care of me.

So, how do I live my way to a new way of thinking? Interestingly, as I ponder that question, my experience tells me that I am least anxious when I am knocking on doors, trying to do everything in my power to discover the next step in my vocational future. When I generate new possibilities through networking, I feel more hopeful. When I initiate and move toward life, God’s Presence seems more palpable. Even if a potential job doesn’t work out, I am assured that there are opportunities out there.

So, if I take my cue from living my way to a new way of thinking, I would say that my anxiety is soothed through taking actions that are within my power to take, not merely trying to think "less anxious" thoughts. Living my way to a new way of thinking has, in fact, proved its point.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

“It’s Time for Our Reality to Catch Up with Our Poetry”

Just days after Obama was elected, I was watching the news when former Indiana Congressman, Andy Jacobs, was interviewed. I don’t recall why he was, but I do remember observing his strong emotions as he described waiting for the election returns and wondering if his personal dream of seeing an African American as President would be realized.

At one point, Jacobs named the source of his inspiration when he referred to the Declaration of Independence. He recited the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Then he said with unabashed conviction, “It’s time for our reality to catch up with our poetry!”

That statement separated itself from all the other comments Jacobs made. It hung suspended by itself, containing a weight and significance I couldn’t ignore. I immediately transposed this thought to experiences in my life when the gap between reality and poetry was too far adrift. One experience pressed forward, its nerve struck by the truth of Jacob’s remark.

Most of my life, I have been involved in vocational Christian ministry in environments where women are excluded from certain roles and types of ministry within the church. As a woman, I have heard the poetry of women being valued and regarded for their contributions—being considered equals to men. But reality often displayed a different truth.

For example, I remember one Sunday morning, sitting in a service where a group was being commissioned for a short-term mission’s trip. The senior pastor introduced the team and then asked all the elders to come forward to lay hands on them and pray for them. I watched as the scene unfolded: a handful of men, and only men, mounted the platform with stately importance.

While the pastor prayed, I kept my eyes open and took in the drama as all male elders gathered around the team, their eyes closed, their faces composed of somber seriousness. They placed their hands on the shoulders of the harbingers—suggesting a transmission of kingly power and authority. I asked God, “Why?” “Why are only men invited to participate in this pastoral act?” The event spoke volumes to me. The subliminal message was clear. Men have a spiritual authority that women don’t have.

The poetry was getting old and beginning to sound sentimental. My heart ached for more than lyrical rhymes. The lines of verse were beautiful and noble, right and hopeful. And those who recited them assumed that I would be satisfied with listening to the poem. But what they failed to realize is that poetry awakens the heart. Mine wanted more than pretty language. I wanted the lines to become piercing, prophetic, and convicting. I wanted reality to catch up with the poetry.

Certainly, all of our lives, including mine, are riddled with gaps: places where what we say and what we do have an embarrassingly large space between them. I admit that I can be satisfied with hearing or speaking poetry but not allowing it to get under my skin and raise my ire toward action. I like the way it sounds but am too lazy and indifferent to work its truth into life.

So, right now, I am letting this statement sit on me so that I feel it's weight. I am praying to see and address the gaps between poetry and reality in my world.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Flat on My Back!

I’ve never really struggled with any prolonged physical infirmity until four weeks ago. With the innocuous action of depressing the clutch in my husband’s car, that all changed. In an instant, I felt this wrenching in my lower back that gave way to pain all the way down my left leg and into my foot. Two weeks later, the pain became unbearable; so I began a forced sabbatical of bed rest. Three neurosurgeon’s later and one operation for a herniated disc, I am now recuperating and asking the question, “What was that?!”

Actually, that question came early on. At the onset of my back pain, one day I remember praying and asking God “Is there anything symbolic about this pain?” “Is there anything symptomatic through which You want to speak?” That might seem like an odd question. Let me clarify. It’s not that I think God caused the back pain. Not at all. In many ways, it can’t be explained, it’s just one of those things. But it is my way to ask such questions because I believe that God uses the circumstances of my life to transform me.

As much as the pain of these last four weeks has been excruciating, my experiences with God have been life-giving. Something has begun to open and heal within me. And it began when I ask, “What does this mean?”

As I lay flat on my back, doped with drugs, I did some reading about the lower back—the sacrum. It literally means, “the holy bone.” Attached to the sacrum are the sciatic nerves going down each leg. These nerves are as thick as a thumb and connect the sacrum to the knees and feet. They ground you to the earth. They are like your roots.

I began with that image of rooting, talked with God about it, and meditated on what was happening in my body. As I did, I began to identify a painful place of "uprooting." I knew the cause. Four years ago, I experienced the trauma of being severed from my spiritual community. One of the ways I have been impacted is through feeling the loss of connection to God’s bigger story or cosmology in the world.

As I lay flat on my back, submerged in the fog of pain and vicodin, God spoke to my deep heart—not exclusively through words, but in healing, consoling ways. In some indescribable moments, He met me and began to restore my spiritual vision to see the ways He is working in the world, quietly and invisibly. What a journey these last four weeks have been and the recovery is far from over! Lying flat on my back has its's made it easier to look up.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Early one morning, I took a walk from my neighborhood to a nearby lake. I situated myself on a log, facing the water, communing with its stillness. A mallard duck glided effortlessly across the surface, drawing pencil like lines behind itself. I noticed the water surface was solid, yet permeable.

How ironic that giant ocean liners and barges can press upon its surface, held up by the sheer strength of its breadth and depth. At the same time, the surface of water is impressionable. With little effort, it is jostled, dented, rippled across its face.

I immediately made a connection with God. With effortless exertion, He holds the weight of the world in the palm of his hand—each life within earth’s colony precious to Him. Yet, God’s strength is matched by His resilience. He is permeable, affected, and responsive.

As I sat, collecting my thoughts, I envisioned the sensation of floating on the water. With complete surrender, entrusting my weight to its faculty, I am buoyed up.

That is the image I need right now in my life—the image of floating on the surface of God, allowing Him to buoy me, imagining His presence coming up underneath me, able to hold the weight of my life.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Third Thursday

Last Thursday, I spent the evening at a spa. It was a full-service spa—facials, pedicures, manicures, massages—the works! Everywhere I turned, I watched clusters of women engaged in the art of pampering.

Ironically, this “spa” was located in a residential center for young girls—a secured dorm of 13 -17 year olds. These girls live in this home because they have been placed there by the courts—either because they have gotten into trouble or were taken from abusive homes.

Every third Thursday of the month, a team from my church visits with these young women. We have been doing so for nearly a year. At first, the girls were wary and mistrusting. Now that they know us, and know that we keep coming back, they greet us with big hugs and warm welcomes.

This week, the girls were pitched with excitement when they discovered our plans—a spa with all the accouterments (minus sharp objects and appliances that could be used as weapons). We set up stations in every corner of the room: footbaths, massages, pedicures, makeovers and manicures.

As the spa opened for service, to my left I saw one of our team on the floor, kneeling by a young resident whose feet were plunged into a soothing footbath. I watched, as my friend massaged her legs with fragrant lotion.

At my table, another woman applied make up to a young girl who, frankly, could pass as a boy. My friend oohed and aahed, as she dabbed her face with feminine colors and lined her lips with pink shine.

Another teammate, in an act of mothering, used her own nails to clean under the fingernails of a young girl. (No nail files allowed!) I massaged lotion on one girl’s arms, rubbing over the scars left from her cutting herself.

Across the room, a woman applied gorgeous colors and designs to the girl’s nails while another woman, like a vendor, peddled around large trays of succulent grapes, chocolate covered strawberries, and bananas. Ambrosia!

These snapshots are vivid in my mind. I think it’s because I felt so close to Jesus when we were there. I felt Him with us, as I watched our team be Jesus to these precious girls. I felt like we were living in the Kingdom of God—that we were experiencing God’s good will coming down from heaven to earth.

Now I pause and wonder--what will our next third Thursday have in store?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Radical Presence

A colleague of mine recently attended a silent retreat led by author and director of the Shalem Institute, Tilden Edwards. My friend shared his experience with me, and though I didn't attend the retreat, I have benefited tremendously through my friend's experience.

During the retreat, Edwards talked about a way of living with radical presence. This expression put words to a deep yearning in my own heart. Tilden described "radical presence" as being present to God in order to be led by the Spirit of God. He said that radical presence IS the sole grounding of spiritual leadership. And it's radical because so few people live from that place of fullness and awareness!

I know about radical presence. It's the most sublime, energizing, and contented way to live. The communion I experience with God and the sensitivity I have to His Spirit make life an adventure! I feel full and alive; responsive and real. It's the only way to live from my true self and out of my calling.

But living consistently from that place is another story. For the past couple weeks, I have conducted an experiment. I've been intent to live with greater awareness to God's presence within me. Though my success has been spotty at times, I can tell you it is the way I want to live.

As I interacted with people, prepared a meal, or took a walk, I found myself moving into this place of being present to God and His Spirit's leading. When I drifted, I noticed an increase in anxiety, a feeling of being fragmented and flustered. Then the thought would return; radical presence--being presence to God to be led by His Spirit.

How about you? What do you know about radical presence? How do you practice it? I welcome your thoughts and insights as we learn together. I sense that there no more important work we have before us than to learn to abide in this place.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Winslow Homer on Waiting

It takes a lot of self-restraint and conviction to wait for what you want. From the moment we're born, we contend with our own impatience. Just watch a hungry newborn trying to suckle their mother. We want what we want when we want it!

Recently, I thought about our impatience to wait when I read this quote by Winslow Homer. Homer, a celebrated American artist, is known for his exquisite use of light diffused across melancholy seascapes.

In a letter to a friend, Winslow Homer described his working method. "I work very hard ever afternoon from 4:30 to 4:40—that being the limit of the light I represent. You must not paint everything you see. You must wait, and wait patiently, until the exceptional, the wonderful effect or aspect comes.” (The Chicago Institute of Art, special exhibit)

How many of us wait, and wait patiently, for the exceptional and wonderful? More often than not, we settle for less than the best OR end up painting everything we see! We run around gathering and hoarding all that we can get our hands on rather than waiting for that which is exquisite.

I just spent a glorious weekend in Nashville, Indiana, speaking at a retreat. (If you’ve never been, but were to visit this scenic village nestled in the hills of southern Indiana, you just might change your mind about what you think of the Hoosier state!) It is an uncommonly beautiful and dramatic landscape.

I spent the weekend with women from New Life Community Church—every bit as warm-hearted as the spring weather we enjoyed. They soaked in the experience and were so responsive to the message of The Wide Open Spaces of God. I feel like I just made a batch of new friends!

They are in transition between lead pastors. As a result, they are a “community-in-waiting.” However, rather than impatience, I sense a growing resolve to lean in to the waiting and be transformed by it. In the process, I wonder if they won't discover far more of their own gifts, passions, and destiny, as they wait on God to lead them to the next chapter in the life and leadership of their church.

Homer knew what he was looking for, the lighting he wanted. To capture it, he waited for that narrow ten-minute window between 4:30 pm and 4:40 pm and worked exceedingly hard to replicate it on canvas. What great things would come—exceptional and wonderful things—if we learned to be patient and wait.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Spirit of Expectancy

Last weekend, I spoke at a retreat in Northbrook, IL, offering material from my book, The Wide Open Spaces of God. It was perhaps one of the richest experiences I have participated in to date. I have continued to reflect, asking God for insight into the unique dynamics that created such a responsive environment.

I read something in Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline, and it helped name at least one of the dynamics that I experienced. He said in his chapter on worship that "When more than one or two come into public worship with a holy expectancy, it can change the atmosphere of a room. People who enter harried and distracted are drawn quickly into a sense of the silent Presence. Hearts and minds are lifted upward. The air becomes charged with expectancy."

It was a spirit of expectancy that permeated the planning process. Every time this team contacted me, via email or phone calls, they had an expectant attitude, often naming how God was already working through the details of their planning. Their anticipation was contagious. As I prepared myself for the retreat, I looked forward, as well. I began to expect God.

On Friday evening, they prayed with me before hand and when the conference began, the spirit of expectancy began to spread. Women were deeply engaged, hungry to wrestle with the terrain of each landscapes we explored. It was a sacred experience and one that I will cherish for a very long time.

I bless God and the team at North Suburban for their hearts and hard work. Most of all, I am grateful to them for sowing this spirit of expectancy. Women were poised to experience God because of it.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Small Groups Exploring The Wide Open Spaces

“To this day that is what it takes to hold the church together. It is the community of interrupted lives, where we come together to confess our stories and search for God’s purpose.” Craig Barnes, When God Interrupts

I love this quote! It describes at least one dimension of what it means to be the church. We are a place where people gather together, share stories, and try to make some sense of our interrupted lives.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a tool to help us do that? That is my intention in posing reflection and discussion questions at the end of each chapter in The Wide Open Spaces of God. Through the book and these questions, I want individuals and small groups to discover the intersection between their story and God’s story.

One friend wrote me after she shared the eight landscapes with her ministry team. She said that after they shared, “I heard some things about what they are going through that never would have surfaced otherwise.”

Please consider reading The Wide Open Spaces of God to gather your community, tell your stories, and search for God’s purpose.

Monday, February 4, 2008

The Land Between

This weekend I spoke at a conference in Austin, Texas. One of the messages I gave was from a chapter in my book, The Wide Open Spaces of God, called The Land Between. This landscape describes times in our life when we are in transition. We are somewhere in the middle between an ending of something and the beginning of something else.

Here’s an excerpt from my book:

We Struggle to Accept the Timing of Transition
“Transition has an innate time frame, a speed (or lack of speed) at which it travels. Every transition we go through will require a certain pace in order to process and profit thoroughly from the time. What we discover in these transitions is a pull in one of two directions: we either delay transition by holding on to the past or try to speed up transition by moving on too quickly.” (Pg. 179)

A picture came to mind as I was preparing to speak. I thought of what it is like to float down a river in an inner tube. The best way to travel is simply to let the current carry you. But sometimes you get hung up. A fallen limb gets in your way or you hit a sand bar. At that point in the “transition” it’s like you are holding on the past, trying to remain where you are, and letting the current move on without you.

Sometimes, instead of trying to hang on to the past, you try to move along too quickly. You become frustrated when the current is moing too slowly. You begin to paddle feverishly, trying to move yourself along. At that point, your primary goal is to get to the other side.

Having been in transition for the last couple of years, I can attest to both temptations. This image of floating down the river is helping me discover the best posture for “going with the flow”—something I don’t do very naturally.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Spiritual Direction and the Language of Landscapes

For those seeking assistance in discerning God’s involvement in their life, spiritual direction is a wonderful path. Spiritual directors are different from counselors; they don’t offer therapy but rather active listening, discernment, and thoughtful questions. My spiritual director listens deeply, let’s me process the intersection of God’s story and my own, and asks provocative questions that help me reflect. She adds rich wisdom along with her supportive presence.

I’ve been thinking about the role of spiritual direction and the landscape metaphor that I use in my book, The Wide Open Spaces of God. In my book, I describe nine different landscapes that portray periods of time in our life journey. Each landscape provides language and a framework for the reader to think about and reflect on their life; past, present and future. The language is rich and sensory; it describes the way life feels when you trek through that particular terrain.

The following is a condensation of the language in each chapter of my book.
• Thoughtfully read each summary.
• Toward which are you most drawn? How might God be inviting you toward this landscape?
• Which one is most descriptive of your life right now? How might God want to use this particular terrain to shape your life and transform you?

The Desert: A time when life feels bleak, stark, barren, dry, brittle, and empty.

The Promised Land: A time when life feels fitting, full, rich, satisfying, abundant and fruitful.

The Mountain of God: A time when life feels curious, confusing, questioning, disturbing, and disillusioning,

The Valley of Darkness: A time when life feels dark, depressing, hopeless and disorienting.

The Green Pastures: A time when life feels restful, peaceful, still, serene, restoring and quiet.

The Land of Exile: A time when life feels disappointing, grinding, ill-fitting, dissatisfying and sad.

The Deep Waters: A time when life feels overwhelming, intimidating, oppressive, helpless, and desperate.

The Land Between: A time when life feels tenuous, stretching, hopeful and uncertain.

The Wide Open Spaces: A time when life feels exciting, adventurous, challenging, scary, big and free.