Lent: An Invitation to Presence

Usually, we enter Lent thinking we have to give up something we really like. After all, isn’t discipline about hardship? Making ourselves do something we don’t really want to do? We want to lose weight, so we diet: which usually becomes a battle of wills where we can’t eat the food we really enjoy. Or for Lent we think of something we enjoy and give it up.

We take what we want and now decide we can’t have it.

We begin with resistance. We approach discipline as deprivation.

We set ourselves up for rebellion and failure.

Maybe we are looking at Lent and discipline backwards.

What if we decided this Lent that we wanted to gain something good and develop something holy and righteous in our lives? What if we see discipleship as the invitation to live God’s abundant life and to ask where God wants us to grow?

This Lent I want to invite you to deeper Presence.

When we boil it down, isn’t that what we really want? A deeper and more vital relationship with God, the very source of Life itself?

Begin there. Where do you want to expand in your experience of the Presence of Essence? Where do you want to connect more intimately with the Source of Living Water that fills every thirst?

Then you can see what needs to be set aside and let go of.

If your windows are dirty, they need to be cleaned. Where there is a wall blocking our path, something needs to be torn down and rebuilt into steps for the journey. When an infection or poison is found in the body, it must be removed for healing to happen.

This Lent, choose to step along the path of Presence.

And that Presence will lead us and transform us.

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Gratitude creates Community

We certainly need more authentic connections.

On Facebook and Twitter we can accumulate Likes and Followers by the thousands yet still feel separated and alone. In the midst of big crowds and mega-churches too many people walk in isolation even as they bump into one another.

Our Western Culture fosters asense of independence and autonomy. “I don’t need you.” “I am strong enough, don’t give me your pity or care.” We don’t trust others so we show the world a sanitized and approved version of our selves.

To fill that emptiness, we crowd the spaces of our lives and calendars with stuff and activities. At the end of the day we still feel neglected and abandoned. “No one knows my needs so no one cares for me.

Where do I belong?

I am a member of this organization. I work for this division of this company. I live in this neighborhood, but I don’t know any of my neighbors.

Where do I belong? I don’t know anymore.

“Know that the Lord is God—
He made us; we belong to him.
We are his people,
The sheep of his pasture.”  - Psalm 100:3 (CEB)

Gratitude creates community and intimacy.

What happens to strangers when you simply say a genuine “Thank you?” In the midst of hurried distractions, a moment of connection is created. We say that we are each human beings who have made a difference in each other’s world. You care for me, even if it is selling me groceries, and I honor you in your work and life.

“In the beginning, the Beloved loved Love into being.”

What a wonderful paraphrase of Genesis 1:1. The world is not random and accidental even when we can’t see the orderedness of every circumstance, Love is the source energy and wants to create love in us.

And if Love creates us with love, then we have a place where we belong: the heart and hearth of Goodness and Mercy and Compassion. As we awaken to this Belovedness of life then we can let go of our defenses and our drive to impose ourselves upon others.

In every place and moment of beauty, whether it is the song of the bird or our Mother, we are surrounded with love. In the explosion of autumn and spring colors, as well as the chaotic rainbow of a child’s refrigerator drawing, love splashes us with hues of light. And when we enjoy the richness of a meal with friends or even just a savored spoonful of soup alone, the Love of all Creation feeds us.

In gratitude we celebrate our belonging!

No longer abandoned and neglected, with thanksgiving we begin to see that life nurtures us. Compassion embraces us as we open our hearts to those who reach out to us.

Love creates us with love and for love.

We are most fully alive when we gratefully love others and open ourselves to be loved.

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Gratitude is a Shout

Gratitude is the shout of joy that creates space in our lives and in our world for the light of the world to come and fill us.

Yet, there is so much noise in our world today.

Ever been with a group of people who all seem to be talking at the same time. The more people talk the louder everybody becomes just to be heard. No one plans to increase the noise level it just does.

We are inundated by people and groups turning up the volume to be heard. There are so many competing demands for our attention: buy this, listen to me, agree with me, see how bad all those other people are.

“Quiet!” we cry out.

“Silence!” we shout.

The world doesn’t need more noise, we say. We yearn for silence.

We want to escape the noise. And if the volume doesn’t turn down we stop listening. Our voice is left unheard. The whisper of our Beloved is lost.

Yet, when we consider gratitude and thanksgiving silence is not an option. Hope invites us to dance with exuberance to the melody of Joy.

Shout triumphantly to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with celebration!
Come before him with shouts of joy! — Psalm 100:1-2 CEB

There is something about the nature of gratitude and joy that creates a different kind of shout of celebration.

Unlike the shouts of those who stir up a mob so they can feel powerful (which usually ends in destruction), gratitude affirms the movement of life that reveals blessedness.

Gratitude is a shout of light in the darkness.

Come alive! Wake up to the Presence of God.

There is a wonderful spontaneity to those shouts of gratitude. Ever watch true sports fans? When their team wins, they can’t keep still.

Nor can they keep it to themselves.

Gratitude and celebration create community.

Thanksgiving is personal, but it is not private. Joy is meant to be shared. What better way to share it than with a shout and dance! Fans jump and dance and hug even complete strangers in contagious thanksgiving.

I have seen empty, sleepy people spark alive when a child comes along with the smile of innocent life. Even in the midst of profound grief, the presence of a baby breathes hope on all present. There might be death, but thank God there is still life.

“Join the Joy!” gratitude shouts.

Good news spreads through thanksgiving.

There is something wonderfully expansive about gratitude. When you experience joy you want others to share in it. When you experience a gratitude that frees you from your own inhibitions and self-consciousness, you reach out to others.

Gratitude energizes our evangelism.

Light by its very nature spreads out and touches all things in its circle. Everyone and everything that is near the light is affected. Thanksgiving and joy are that light of life in all of our relationships.

“I am the light of the world.” Jesus says in John 9:5. That light energy shows us how the Jesus community grew. There were no evangelistic campaigns or marketing strategies to spread the good news of new life in Christ. All they had and needed was joy, gratitude, and thanksgiving.

The world does not need more voices that add to the noise of “look at me” or the shadow of condemnation.

Yet, it needs the shouts, songs, and dances of your gratitude! Be a clarion call of joy. “You are the Light of the World!” (Matthew 5:14-16) Celebrate!

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Nothing to Fear

loveI want to conclude my reflections on what I am calling Don Riso’s Credo.

Nothing to Defend
Nothing to Promote
Nothing to Fear.

I’ve expanded this with these positive affirmations:

Nothing to Defend, Everything is a Gift,
Nothing to Promote, Everything to Share,
Nothing to Fear, Everything to Love.

I don’t think I have to work very hard to convince you that fear and anxiety are pandemic in our world today. From the daily news of terror attacks and disasters around the globe and around the corner, to the moment by moment anxieties that come from finances, work, and relationships, we are all under stress.

Within the realm of the Enneagram of Personality, usually we talk about fear and anxiety with Enneagram type 6 (see Riso-Hudson description). Within that perspective the appropriate response to fear and anxiety is the development of courage and faith. However, notice that my affirmation is not about courage or even trust, but love.

Consider what happens when we become anxious or afraid.

It usually begins with a moment of disillusionment. As children we begin with a basic level of trust. We inherently see ourselves as loved and to enjoy loving the people in our lives. Then something happens. It can be a series of small instances where that basic trust is whittled away or it can be any number of larger betrayals of trust. What happens is that we lose that sense that we live in a loving and caring universe.

Then we draw back from sharing love because we discover there is a vulnerability in love.

Fear and anxiety take the place of love as our orientation and vision of the world. Instead of looking at the people around us as people to know and relate to we become paranoid and skeptical of others. We lose that belief that we live in a loving universe full of loving people. We even lose the idea of a loving God. God becomes a judge to fear or an indifferent power in the universe that is not there to support us.

The path out of being lost in our fear is to relearn that we are created by Love Itself, for love. This love then takes the form of faith, trust, and courage.

Yes, the moments that trigger our anxiety will continue to happen. There will still be losses and violence, betrayals and woundings, but the gift that we celebrate with faith is that God is still present loving us and guiding us. we also discover that there are people who love us and who welcome our love. There are still acts of goodness and kindness amongst friends, neighbors, and even strangers.

While the headlines turn the harsh spotlight of our attention on what breaks our world, there is far more love present that brings healing into our lives. That is what we are invited to remember. Then as we go through those times where the illusions are stripped away, what we find when we look within our hearts is that Love is the greater Reality holding us and filling us with more love.

Nothing to Fear,
Everything to Love.

Photo Courtesy of Hussain Isa Alderazi via Compfight

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Nothing to Promote

SharingWe live in the Age of Marketing.

Forget the Industrial Age and its raw materials, even forget the Information Age and its stockpiles of data.

Everything today is about marketing and promotion.

We are inundated by an explosion of advertising events in every form. It doesn’t matter what you do, you have to market it. We learn at an early age to sell ourselves to teachers and to prospective employers.

In the church we are not immune. I am astounded that our “evangelism” is reduced to marketing strategies that promote our faith community and our programs. Most “evangelistic” tools I see available focus almost exclusively on how to increase attendance, membership, and your church’s financial giving.

Everything is about Promotion. If you don’t promote yourself, you are invisible.

Or so we are told.

The problem is that when we are in promotion mode we focus on our ego self—the image of who we think we are or who we want others to see us to be. This is our Look At Me Self.

In promotion mode we only think about how other people see us and react to us. Do you like what you see? That’s good, I will give you more because I crave the affirmation. Do you not like me? That’s bad, because I don’t want to be rejected, I desire your affection.

Because we want to belong and be someone of value in our group we avoid doing or saying anything that will lead us to become the outcast (unless we desire to be among the community of outcasts). Therefore, we don’t think much about who we might actually be, because we are always promoting a facade that we think people will accept.

This drive to promote our Look At Me Self never truly satisfies us. Even if we have thousands of people liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter, we are haunted by the knowledge that what people like is a fiction. The gap between the image we project and the essence of who we truly are grows.

Which leads me to what I am calling Don Riso’s Credo:

Nothing to Defend,
Nothing to Promote,
Nothing to Fear.

I expand the second line like this:

Nothing to Promote, Everything to Share

Sharing is an act of entering into a partnership with others. It carries with it the dynamic energy of inter-dependence and mutuality, generosity and giftedness.

In this partnership we share our authentic stories and insights about God, the world, and ourselves while also receiving the real stories and insights of others. Within this mutual generosity we connect with people in creating beauty and hope as we share our passion for Life.

We each open our lives to share ourselves as we are and as we are becoming. And there is great power in that.

In thinking about the history of the church, the major renewal movements in the church did not come out of a drive to promote or market the agenda of a particular group, they came from a passionate desire to share the power and Presence of Christ with the world. The early church, the monastic movement, the reformation, the people called Methodist, the great awakenings of the 1700′s and 1800′s in the USA, the missional revival of the late 19th century, as well as the Charismatic movement of the early 1970′s were all sparked by people who loved God deeply and wanted to share that love freely with others. No marketing campaigns, no strategies for building platforms, just connecting their grace-filled hearts with those whose hearts needed to be made whole in Christ.

As long as we focus on promoting our agenda, our groups, and our selves we feed the Look At Me Self with its self-centered limitations.

Fortunately, the Spirit of God is still able to break through our resistance and our fragile images of Self to share God’s healing power. And as we enter into this partnership with the Essence and Source of Life, we open ourselves to be a part of this extravagant outpouring of God’s Grace which Christ so freely shares today.

Nothing to Promote
Everything to Share.

Image by Alec Couros via Compfight

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