Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Wellness as a Spiritual Discipline

"Wellness" has been a catch all phrase for every half baked health idea from anyone selling a diet or exercise books. My eyes glaze over when my vegan or vegetarian friends feel obliged to lecture me.  Worse, much of the early "wellness" stuff was fringe health food store propaganda that had little substance and changed every week. I need more than that. The word "wellness" comes with baggage but describes an important strategy for the life in Christ.

Our Annual Conference of Churches is committed to a program where pastors are invited to a 6 hour retreat to talk about, plan and execute that plan for better health.  Weight loss was an issue but not the only issue.  Burnout and ineficiancy in the pastorate are running wild because I and we don't feel well.  Here are some things I learned.

Fresh fruit and vegetables in blenderFirst, rather than a gym or a treadmill, I was issued a stretchy tube with handles along with a routine to follow.  It cost $15, fits in my briefcase, and I feel better already.  I already have a stretching routine and the retreat's trainer bumped that up too.  Never mind that I look ridiculous, no one is watching.  It is very effective.  One of the spiritual disciplines is to simplify.  This is simple

Second, I already know how to eat, I just don't always do it. My blood chemistry numbers, BP and blood sugar are excellent but I am getting older.  By setting down specific goals in writing and a do-able weight goal I already feel better and the weight will settle down in time.  The chart showed that I needed to weigh what I did in Jr. High.  That isn't realistic but a 10% reduction is.  Following the low fat, less processed, more vegetable diet has improved my energy and attitude AND I haven't had a GERD attack from my stomach since the retreat.  Mind over matter? Maybe, regardless, I am sleeping better and down to one prilosec per day instead of 2.
Third, I tracked my sleeping for two weeks.  I thought I was getting enough but am under 6 hours per day average.  By turning off the TV at 10:30 and packing up my computer, I am around 7 and noticing the difference.

Fourth, Prayer and personal devotion time is as important as all the rest.  Wellness cannot be effective if God isn't at the center of it all.  The greatest enemy of the spiritual life is self pity.  Any wellness strategy must harden us against it.  We are biological-psychological-social- and spiritual.  If any one facet is out of balance we are less able to cope.  This comes from life.  I didn't have to read this in a book.

Finally, It all has to come with a plan,  a written plan for intentional living.  You don't need to pay a life coach but it is nice to have some accountability.  Absolutely no one is going to do this for you.  Write down your SMART goals:  Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time Sensitive. Again, this is nothing new but I needed to be reminded, maybe you need it too.

This is an online article from an MD that was facing burnout. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mark-hyman/get-energy-tips_b_925003.html .  This isn't particularly religious but realistic.  One of his greatest energizers was hugging his family and learning new things.

I have a lot of responsibility with my wife's health problems, a 24 hour job and a lot of people count on me.   I would bet your life is like that too.   Exercise, healthy eating, enough sleep and bathing the waking time with prayer makes for burnout resistance, less anxiety, more energy and a better attitude.  The obstacle get smaller and the victories bigger when you feel well.  This is God's will and God's gift for us.

Balance is the word.  Smart balance.  Thanks to the Methodist Wellness folks and the Center for Clergy Excellence for a great program. You can find a lot more on their website:  http://www.methodisthealth.com/wellness.cfm?id=35411 .  The health library section is pretty cool too.

Note:  Three months into the program and I have lost 18 pounds.  Still no GERD and the goals are holding.  Slowly this is becoming a life rather than a diet.  I haven't had a donut since the first of August and now pass the table without any unseemly urges.  Made it through Halloween.  Now on to Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Christian Meditation for "Normal" People

This blog contains a piece of my journey with Christ and I am humbled that you have taken the time to read it.  My posts on this topic have received more hits than any other.  I did not grow up Catholic or Orthodox and have been studying Christian Meditation for about 10 years.  This is an ongoing project fueled by my need and not my expertise.  Discovering how Meditating in Christ meets my ordinary living is important to me and I hope you will be encouraged by  these thoughts.

Y B Normal Black T-Shirt
still around from Cafe Press
In the 70's there was a t-shirt that simply said, "YBNORMAL". I am not a religious weirdo but rather plain, even boring to many.   However, I find great adventure all around.  I see God at work at the fishing hole, at a funeral, in a distracted children's sermon and other places.  I don't want anything to do with the pretense, anxious and often destructive things that other call "normal".

God is at work where you normally are.  Christian Meditation is about Christ and not the place or the technique.   This works in the cab of your truck as well and the prayer garden.  Meditation is a means to know God and not an end of its own.  You may have to be creative but living a God centered life will change your life.

Meditation/Centering/Contemplation, whatever you wish to call it is that process of connecting with God in such a way that you see, truly see.  It is a tool, given by God and usually ignored.  Most are satisfied with the "whatever" life.  Why?
Dali pondering  St. John of the Cross
The short answer is rather judgmental, love me anyway.  Most settle the reality TV view of life out of pure spiritual laziness.  It takes time and a modest amount of discipline to live a spiritual life.  You can't hire the preacher to do it for you and television, no matter how religious the program, is not a substitute.

I have Three posts on this blog you can look at.  "Cheap Meditation" in May plus two articles in April; One on Centering Prayer and a review of Pennington's book "Centering Prayer".  A lot of my thoughts center around this book.  They talk of the "how-to"parts of meditating and reading them first will probably help this post make more sense.

Here are some things I do to apply what I have learned.  No one has to know you do these things!  You can be abnormal in your meditations and be a better witness in your "visible" life.

"OWN" a Psalm-study through God's own devotional book and find that psalm that resonates with you and memorize it.  Find that one word or phrase that helps "center" your prayer.  Mine is from Psalm 52, "I trust in the steadfast love of God."  Again, look to Basil Pennington for more instruction.

Love is spelled T-I-M-E - The fruit of loving God is watching your anxiety redeemed into peace.  Fretting, grieving, guilt, and anything else can be healed by God.  Spending time with God in a focused way will change your world.  Start with 20 minutes and grow.  Guess what happens when I don't take the time?

Go to Church and Worship-I have heard every excuse and I have made every excuse.  I ignored God for a long time and had to grow up again.  Regardless of how many of them are hypocrites, there is nothing like singing, listening, reading scripture, learning, putting money in a plate and sitting together with all of the other "beggars looking for bread".  No matter how trouble free the rest of them look, they need grace as badly as you.  Thus endeth the rant.

Give God one Minute at the Top of each hour- It is almost 8:00 am.  I will give God one minute at 8:00 as an humble offering.  It is guaranteed that my hour will have more purpose and peace for doing so.  Give all you can!  Start with one minute.

Give God the time you normally "waste".  In the time it takes to play "angry birds" in the line at bank or on hold with someone, you could have a time of centering.  This creates a time for settling and peace in a place that might create anxiety instead.

Change your radio station in the car or TV station at home- Better yet, turn them off.  Notice the ringing in your ears and the thoughts that rob you of clarity.  God is in the quiet.  I don't do this very well and am working on it.

Central Texas
Manufacture a time and place for solitude- Not just alone but alone with God.  I have an office, beautiful rural Texas and a prayer garden that train my body to listen for God.  You may not have that luxury.  A single mom I know prays on the commode very late at night.    This is how she copes and the only time and place she can be alone.  A pastor friend has a sacred recliner.  Others go to particular retreat centers.

Use Icons- An Icon is an image that draws you into a closer prayer connection with God.  The classic Russian and Greek ones are fine but are NOT the only Icons.  If everything reminds you of God then everything is an Icon.  I use a prayer list, pictures of my family, a nail in my pocket, crosses on my wall, a Bible, a palm cross, and places in nature to help me settle down and pray.  All are outward and visible signs of the Holy Spirits inward and invisible Grace.

Write-This blog, my journal, sermons and etc. are spiritual insides trying to get out and do something.  A cheap notebook can be a source of deep insights.  I pack mine with ticket stubs, leaves, and other reminders of where I have been.  Leave them behind to encourage someone else or destroy them.  The act of writing is powerful.  Draw in it-add colored pencils, add photos, write songs or poems.  It is between you and God.  Let it pour out of you.

Read-I travel with a small Bible, small journal and a paperback, generally a ratty used one, of one of my essential books.  I try to be discrete about it and spend this time while everyone is asleep.  They are always in my bag and make down time sacred time.  There are plent of book out there that aren't on my list.  I read a "Christian Fiction" detective novel last month (see the review for "Corruptible").  It was engaging and had a message. If "Left Behind, Osteen or Lucado tunes you in, read on!.  However, stretch into a really serious book now and then too, especially the Bible.

Smart Phone-Last year I got a Blackberry.  This is a luxury for me and many don't have access to this.  There is a lot of stuff out their in apps, books, music, email and etc. that can be at your fingertips.  We must be discerning because much of it is trash.  Still, it is out there.  Again,  the Google app alone gives you access to some books and many good sites.

No, I don't have an e-reader.  I will eventually grow up and buy one but real books make me feel smarter, or something. I am saving for one but will hold out as long as there is a Half-Price Bookstore and Multnomah will send print copies.   Load yours up with good stuff and don't forget to sign up for downloads with your public library.  Don't be a big shot, support your Library, send cookies to the staff now and then and join their Friends of the Library too.  It is a good investment.

What have you Discovered that I have missed?  I would especially like to hear from some of my international readers.  Your perspective will better inform mine.

Blessing to you this day.  Jesus Christ is alive and walking with us.  I pray for a "Normal" life, free from anxiety, filled with purpose, and excited by ministry.  This is God's gift in Christ Jesus for you.  Meditating on His story and in his name awakens the soul to this brighter more peace filled world.  In Christ you are connected to eternity.

Christian Meditation: My Favorite Books To Guide Us

Salvador Dali-From Above
Prayer includes reading but reading isn't prayer. For a long I tried to read about prayer and meditation rather than actually praying and finally woke up to the precious gift of meditation.   I am not talking about navel gazing or self help but uniquely Christ centered meditation that is a part of the work day.   These books helped to guide me.  Maybe they can help you awaken too.

The Psalms-really all you need
A Guide to Prayer (For Ministers...)  Job and Shawchuck
Contemplative Prayer, Thomas Merton
My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers
Prayer and also The Celebration of Discipline,  Both by Richard J. Foster
The Sacrament of the Present Moment, by Jean Pierre DeCassade
Paths to Prayer, Patricia Brown
The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, St. John
Soul Feast, by Marjorie Thompson
Centering Prayer, by M. Basil Pennington
The Interior Castle, by St Teresa of Avila
The Book of Romans and the Book of Ephesians, Holy Bible
The Good and Beautiful God, by James Bryan Smith

As I have written, this topic gets more hits than any other.

These Three things are important for the journey but all you really need to a heart open for God:  1- a good study Bible, 2-A Group or person to share the journey, and 3-access to good prayer literature.

Google Books has many of the classics as a free download or excerpts.  My guys are welcome to stop by the office and borrow rather than buy.  God has already given you everything you need by His grace.  Jump in the deep end of the prayer pool.  The risen Christ is waiting to catch you.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Atlas Shrugged: Discovering John Galt For the Next Century *updated 8-27*

 I was watching Book TV on CSPAN, in between books and wringing my hands over some future planning and along comes a man who used Ayn Rand's novels as a sort of apocalypse.  I believe it was Tom Bowden (see  http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=media_ThomasABowden ) but can't find the video to verify that.  He asked the question, "Who in John Galt" and applied modern political situations and players to "Atlas Shrugged".  I was intrigued enough to get a copy from the library.  Really though, should I invest the time to read 1000 pages of microscopic type?  Apparently these are among those books that every hip 50 something should have read but that isn't enough to pursuade me.  After 120 pages my answer is yes and I am going to invite you to journey with me.  Why?

First, it addresses the world of the 1950's, a world overwhelmed with post WWII change.  Like the transportation business in the '50's, our time honored industries are not guaranteed to be the same as always or even exist.  Second, our creativity in music, film and the arts are shown to be in full retreat.  Everything from cigarettes to music are celebrating mediocrity and sneering at excellence.This cuts me to the heart as I read that "Dirty Dancing" and "Charlie's Angels" are being remade while the arts, the seeds of creative thought, are being cut from public schools.     Third, the free market was challenged seriously then.  In our day it is  on the edge of extinction.  Finally, it is well written. I read about 20 books a year and the thought of a aging "social novel", leaves me cold.  I have enough hidden agendas in my life.  Rand is a poet more than novelist.  The wordsmithing is intoxicating. It is still a best seller after 47 years.  

Join me on this Journey.  I am taking it on vacation and reading it while the others are asleep.  Maybe this book has a germ of truth and maybe it is heresy. It is certainly not a Christian book.  Christ is hidden in here somewhere.  There is no way to know without plowing through.  It is going to take a while but I want to know, "Who is John Galt?" I have no interest in video walls, the movie or Fox News's opinion and will update this regularly as we go.  Share where you care.

8-20-11:  I am not quite to the half way point.  This book has a real resonance with me.  Rand draws me into the uncertainty of the times just as the 24 hour news channels draw me into the uncertainty of today.  The stock market drops and rises along with fuel prices while the good guys seem to fade while the greedy and manipulative "Dagney is finding herself without losing her competitive edge by aligning herself with a small but courageous competitor, which she admires, and helping his small railroad to defeat the evil empire of the "National Alliance of Railroads".  It is like an Olympian helping a fallen runner up before continuing the race.  Integrity is hard to find in tense times and I am left to wonder what back-room deals are really driving my career, fuel prices and retirement investments.

The Lesson for Life?  Competition is good, even in the church, but there is no need to kill.  It takes us all and creativity is not the enemy.  Obviously, every one would be better by being just like me, (insert laughter here) but it takes all shapes and sized.  Who is John Galt?  The answer in here and in the present to those who seek.

8-27-11  "Who is John Galt", is a cry for answers to the unanswerable.  The more I read the longer it gets, wow.  Whether medical things, economic things or state of society things, we are swimming in a see of either unanswered or unanswerable questions.  Massive change and the few people of courage to make necessary change happen is the main exploration of Rand.  The characters keep developing and fleshing out but the questions remain.

The lesson for life...now and then read a 1000 page book.  The 500 word bits that everything seems to come in will ruin you for deeper thought.  This is a pounding but is worth the investment.  The trick is to keep from being one of those who are warming themselves around Merton's campfire of answers to questions we are too cowardly to ask. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Photo Essay: Fishing as a Means of Grace (Click on the Photos to Enlarge)

I got up to fish this morning but the prayer was better than the fishing.  The reality of Jesus Christ in my life is what got me out of bed. The work of a Pastor is a life and not a job and for this I am most grateful.  This living reality drives me to pray and to want more-more into and out of prayer.  I have little control over the outcome of prayer but I can control the environment of prayer.  There are times and places that open me up.  Being outdoors, especially at the daily transitions of sunrise and sunset, provide the most spiritual of moments. This is why I am here

The sunrise is a mystical thing.  It comes gradually as does the life in Christ.  Slowly things are revealed and the more you look the more you see.  The birth of this day shows nothing but possibility.  The temperature  never went down overnight.  The lake is low and the hot smell is more like a porta-potty than the great outdoors.  The shore is 20 feet further out than usual and a the day yields a hint of natures undergarments.  The shore slimes around abandoned fishing line and weed tangled boards.  I feel the spiritual neglect of the past few weeks. The sun comforts and quiets me.

The drought has beached the cattails.  They are struggling to stay alive in the high and dry.  The water's edge has an uncomfortable collection of sewer tiles and toilet parts.  Along with the foul smell, this makes me reluctant to get my hands in it.  This life gets beached and foul sometimes.  Some of my junk gets revealed and people get to see things that only God is privy.  Junk that I can usually keep hidden under the placid waters.

The pond lilies are in varying stages of bloom today.  With the lake down I can walk up to them.  My mind wander to  a conversation overheard in a restaurant once.  A Vietnamese lady was explaining the importance of water Lillis to a Buddhist.  These Lillis thrive when the mud is the most foul.  Out of the stench rises a beautiful blossom.  They filter the yuck and make it clean.  The water clears around the pads and the frogs, bugs and fish gravitate toward them.  These Lillis remind me of days in the past that how precious time is.  In Christ is a cleaner and more attractive life today than I had yesterday.  As I connect better with Him, I provide a place for people to grow.

The revelation of the day, the process of transition alive in everything, remind and comfort me.  I am a work in process.  Like Thomas Merton wrote, we should always strive to be beginners in the spiritual life, especially with prayer.  As a beginner I'm less likely to miss the presence of God this morning.  Experts often do.

Maybe someday I will come into full spiritual bloom.  The more I look, the more I see.  It is God who gives the capacity to look, to desire to see.  This is one of those precious mornings that it is more evident.

This would be a great place to put in the picture of my stringer of fish. I have no evidence of fish in the lake today.  I'll leave you with the ruins of an outhouse that has a beautiful view of the lake out its window instead.  We ought to be able to make something meaningful out of that..

Perhaps on the next trip there will be more catching than fishing.  As you know, what you don't catch you don't have to clean.  I did catch a glimpse of myself though. The muck and the blooms all run together.  With the day is a fresh sense of life's potential.

The solitude has done its job.  Time to go to work.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Book Review: "Extraordinary" by John Bevere

"Extraordinary" is a book written for the spiritually stuck. Bevere is begging the reader to break out of the ordinary, live the life God created us for and tells how to do it. God provides everything you need for this extraordinary life and apart from God it is simply out of reach. This is a systematic Christ-ology that is written passionately and personally. Bevere is offering the reader a fellow traveller for the Christian Journey and covers the subject of living the Christian life thoroughly. The journey begins with the opening prayer on page 16 and moves toward a decision. Since this is an important message, mostly aimed at the new or almost believer, a look at the messenger is in order.

Bevere has several videos on youtube including sermons. He writes like he preaches, boldly and "from the battleground and not the playground". His ministry is called Messenger International, which includes his wife and other family members, is international, seems very successful on several levels, and isn't embroiled in any bad news that I can find.

The book is focused on the basics, Biblical and passionate. He is easy to read and reinforces topics like pleasing God, obedience, where God is in the bad times, and others with personal stories and parables. His use of the Lord's Prayer as a framework is very effective. Like his preaching, he is not afraid to address false but popular notions. I found it a bit tedious in places but overall it was interesting. This is not a book for new converts to go solo but would be good for mentoring or a small group. He offers a workbook and some recorded helps which I have not seen so please check them first. "Extraordinary" would make a good study for a new member, baptism, older youth or young adult class.

The book is solid and I am glad that I read it. I could have done without some of the agendas and rants but he is allowed. He writing style is clear, quotable, and efficient. This is important stuff but I had a hard time getting pumped up by it. Maybe it was just the moment. I am not above being challenged to be more for God.

Thanks to Multnomah Press for giving me this book free in exchange for this review and thank you for reading my blog.