Spiritual Practice of the “Island Life”

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Beach in Sinkyone Wilderness [Photo by Jeff Richards]

My office-mate just returned from a 3-week vacation to the Western Pacific. While visiting family, he spent a lot of time on the beach and in bars relaxing and enjoying the “Island Life.” Hmm… that sounds really nice. And I don’t think I’m the only one. Work is good, but so is rest. As we talked about the declining health of particular elders in our family, our conversation turned to working out and taking care of our bodies as an essential way of living.

As created spiritual beings our bodies are where the Spirit resides. We are temples, cracked and chipped as we are, as our Brother Paul wrote. And we know this to be true. Prolonged stress or inactivity leaves our bodies overtaxed and underused. This causes us to squelch the God-given spirit within and cut us off from sensing what Jesus is saying to us as well as our ability to do what he says. If we’re stuck in fight or flight long past the moment of alarm we overextend ourselves, leaving us frayed and exhausted. And when we don’t physically care for our bodies we leave ourselves weak and inflexible.

From what I understand, being a land-dweller leaves my perspective skewed; the Island Life is an integrated life. One that is easygoing, taking stress in stride, doing what needs doing and yet enjoying the beauty of creation, including yourself and those around you. Yep, I want that life. I want to be flexible and strong, sensitive and healthy. That sounds like life empowered by the Spirit.

Which way to the beach?

Chritmas Eve Brunch and Mary & Joseph

What are you doing this Christmas Eve? I was asked this morning in East Sacramento’s Orphan Breakfast House. 

Well, brunch with friends, for starters. We’ll probably hit a Christmas Eve service later, but this morning we enjoyed the 4th annual occasion. It started as support for a dear friend with depression. The subsequent years have been happier, marked by the attendance of loved ones. And so we celebrate the height and depth of relationship on Christmas Eve.

Our Christmas week and end of Advent, like the last few years since The WordHouse began, have been a blend of gathering together and being with our individual families. We haven’t yet held a Christmas Eve service. Who knows, perhaps one year we will, although it may never be a tradition. We’re younger folk in our community, with family typically elsewhere. Our hometowns are mostly not where we reside.

Which reminds me of the Holy Parents.

Mary and Joseph gave birth to their Son away from their residence. They came to be accounted for by the government. They laid their baby in a trough for feed, next to the cattle who were lowing, because no room was available.

Most of us don’t have it this dire, but some of us do. We sleep in cars and shelters. Some of us have need to register with municipalities that can be oppressive. One’s awful situation doesn’t preclude one from having an intimate encounter with those silent happenings long ago in Bethlehem. Jesus and his parents know what that’s like. Could it be possible to miss the spirit of Chritmas by having wonderful Christmas Eve services and a lit pine tree in the living room? These holy celebrations don’t come close to the circumstance of Jesus’ birth.

Caring for neighbors. Turning our hearts to the oppressed, to one another. Perhaps this is the truest way, like the prophets of old might say, to celebrate Christmas. 

Hmm… I’m beginning to really like our Christmas Eve Brunch tradition. 

Still Small 

Hear that still small voice. What does is say?

It says you are beloved. It says that you cannot and do not earn this name. But it is yours. It is in your midst. It is out in the world, reaching to the sky, silent yet sometimes piercingly loud.
Will we listen? Will we believe it? 

Perhaps this is the greatest, hardest, and most simplest “work” we could ever do.

Self-Care: Hurt

We take care of ourselves to be the church. Otherwise, we fail to follow Jesus in our bodies and relationships with others.

I feel a little strange ducking out of our worship gathering tonight. At my house. As pastor, I’m leading a small band of disciples and this month we’re meeting at my place. But I hurt my back a few days ago. It’s tense, sore, somewhat – more-less – manageable. I’ve tried to take it easy and still work and attend planned activities and gatherings. As I was praying this afternoon about what to do I felt Jesus tell me to ask someone else to host. I needed to take care of myself because I’m in pain, so I can get better. In doing so, I realized I model and give persuasion for our community to do likewise. I already do, but I’m not a great example. It’s something I’m working on, this integrated life.

God is the One who cares for all of life, including every breath, sinew, and molecule. To not care for our ourselves means one part of the church, as a body, is not functioning well. We need community, but we don’t strengthen community by pretending to be full of life when we are empty or hurt. Only when we acknowledge our need can we be well. One must not pretend we are all in one piece when we are in fact broken. This is the benchmark of authenticity. 

To deny how we are denies Christ’s lordship over ourselves. And the church, by definition, are members of Christ’s body. The two are intertwined, and shall not be separated even as they are distinct. Lest we weaken the body by not caring for our own body.

Love & Life 

Love. I don’t know anything more important than love. It binds together. Heals wounds. Bears burdens. Opens pathways. These are fruit of the Spirit. By them you will know the children of righteousness, the ancestors of Abraham, as it were. 

Love reminds us who we are. We all come from somewhere not of our choosing. That which breathes life into unearned lungs, by its singularity denotes our unity. Love re-members us.

There is much to grieve. There is loss, I believe. Moments of disconnecting from suffering provide respite but they do not create peace. Life and relationship matter, and though we did not own them, an experience and way of being has left us. A bone is out of joint, perhaps even fractured if not dismembered. Grief is an expression of love to that which is no more and a balm for what remains. If seen through, grief will enable what is becoming to be full of love.

Today, like in days past, wars rage and are waged. Blood is spilt upon the land. Eyes and hands are closed shut. Instead, may we make love and peace. May each life flourish on the earth. And may we behold one another long enough to see a new day together.

In a Garden 

“We are re-humanized when our skin touches soil.” These words from our Theology Pub guest speaker, Sean Gladding, caused my train of thought to halt at Capsity, The WordHouse’s office, evangelism outpost and sometimes event space in the beginning of November. 

Gladding, a community garden manager and church planter in Kentucky, keynoted this year’s Faith In Culture discussion series on Faith & Urban Gardening. He provided a biblical and theological framework for our conversation with particular focus on the book of Genesis and creation. 

As someone who grew up in a small city suburban neighborhood and spent the last 8 years in Sacramento’s center city, I have an interesting, if not disassociated, connection to food. When I was little, I remember helping my parents’ plant and harvest – probably more like playing in the dirt – at the community garden on the outskirts of town. When I was older, after the owner sold the land and my dad’s job earned more money, my mother turned part of our backyard into a small garden. At this time we purchased most of our food at the local grocery store. I hardly remember my hands ever being in the dirt, except to slide into second base on the baseball diamond. Food mainly, so I thought, came directly from the store, and then to the kitchen where my mom prepared what was placed on the dinner table. 

Since moving to Midtown, I have grown to love the Sunday morning farmers market under the freeway and the recent Midtown Farmers Market on 20th and J St. I still shop at the super market occasionally, but I’m beginning to know where my food comes from. I know the older peach and plum farmer who keeps talking about finally retiring to Idaho, hoping one of his sons takes over the family business. I am becoming good friends with the couple that quit their restaurant industry jobs to own a farm in West Sacramento, putting up a farm stand on Tuesday evenings during the summer in front of their Tahoe Park home alongside the Saturday Midtown market. I recognize the same number of young and elderly folks selling both berries and herbs from their family farm in Gridley with smiling and wizened faces.

As I attempt to follow Jesus’ voice, it seems as though I am headed further back down the path. Just last week I became a member of the New Era Community Garden. This could still flop; tilling and preparing the ground needs to happen first, let alone actually growing stuff to eat. But my neighbor and gardening partner sounds like she knows what she is talking about. There are also experienced members willing to lend a hand, I am told. Perhaps my parents can visit me in the garden too. As I get ready to put my hands back into the dirt, I feel like I am becoming more human, as though I am regaining a part of God’s image that has been dormant.

The Spiritual Discipline of Submitting: Not Getting What You Want, But What You Need

A disclaimer, of sorts: This isn’t a note about reclaiming submission as a good ideal or doing away altogether with submitting to one another. While I do believe “submission” has gotten a bad rap, it’s also clear through friends and others that abuse far to often occurs because of evil attitudes and behavior that masquerade as submission. This is neither.

What I want to say, to you and to myself, is to hold lightly to how life and work and ministry or whatever will turn out. They will be good, because the yearning of the universe is one of justice, mercy and peace. It will ultimately be good and lovely even though it may be messy and ugly. The kingdom will be on earth as it is in heaven, some day in completion. But “how” that will happen, only God knows. And this is where I can become scared, and then if I don’t submit, anxious. Perhaps the way then is through submitting?

Submitting to God in Jesus and knowing that I am also beloved.

Submitting to one another in love, while still loving God and our neighbor as ourself.

Submitting to speak the truth in love and act justly.

It’s a paradox, but when I submit this way I actually experience something greater. Life everlasting. Peace that passes understanding. I may not get what I want, but I get what I need. (I know I’m not the first, but thanks Rolling Stones.) Our neighbor’s response might not be what we hoped, but the story – including their story – is not over.

It really does seem that laying down one’s life in love means that life is returned. We just might not know the detailed outcomes along the way, but we can buoyed by peace and knowing the heavenly outcome is secure. Because, well, because we are beloved.