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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Nothing to Defend

<small> <a title="Werner Kunz" href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/35375520@N07/3856135712/" target="_blank">Werner Kunz</a> via <a title="Compfight" href="http://www.compfight.com/">Compfight</a></small>How do we live more present to Life itself?

This question informs my writing, teaching, preaching, and, of course, my living. I’m convinced that as we explore that one question we go far in growing as a follower of Christ.

This is one of the questions that keeps drawing me to the Enneagram as a map and tool for the spiritual journey. I resonate especially with the writings of Don Riso and Russ Hudson (The Enneagram Institute). So it was with sadness to hear of the death of Don Riso in 2012. I had not yet met Don but appreciated his writings and the stories his colleague Russ Hudson told us during training.

On Don’s memorial page I read a saying of his that continues to call to me.

“Nothing to defend,
Nothing to promote,
Nothing to fear.”

As I reflect on these three lines, his simple negations have included affirmation. The first line expands like this:

“Nothing to defend,
Everything is a Gift”

I am naturally a defensive person. Ask anyone who knows me or has tried to know me, I have a pretty solid shell that protects my heart from the pain of past betrayal and fear of future hurt. The origins of this desire to hide are old and complex and like an archaeologist I have spent time and energy trying to dig through and even demolish the walls. What then happens is that the defenses become stronger. I become more isolated from others and even shut out of my own life.

One thing I have learned is that as I construct these emotional defenses against my fears, I wall myself off from enjoying the abundance and joy that life can offer. That is a problem, because I want to live fully present to my life.

Lately, I have turned my energy away from understanding the layers of the shell and more on how I can live free of the tyranny of inner security.

How do I do that?

My view of the universe needs to change!

The walls rise up whenever I think the world and others in the world are out to hurt me. It is beyond my control and is more subtle than simple paranoia. As I feel my own woundings from past betrayals and losses and as I project my own anxieties and uncertainties into the future, life looks bleak and terrifying.

Then the walls go up.

Instead, what if I see the world and others in the world as gifts from a Loving Source?

Instead of seeing people to be suspicious of, I see brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, even mothers and fathers whom God has brought together to increase joy and laughter, love and compassion, and adventure and learning.

We are invited to trust God’s promise that there are no circumstances or persons that can remove us from the Presence of the Author of Life. (Romans 8:35,37-39). This Presence is here to guide us into a life that is filled with unimaginable wonder and grace(Romans 8:18)

Yes, there will be more betrayals and woundings in our living, but the Spirit of Healing does not leave us abandoned but holds us with the preciousness of Gift.

The movement of gifting also turns us towards others in our world. When we focus on defending what we have, we focus on taking everything in, holding onto it, and protecting it from loss.

The trust that transforms our stone walls of defense into foundation stones of giftedness invites us to turn the movement around and become people of generous hospitality. It is only as I choose to welcome people freely into my life through the gifts of love, compassion that the defenses fade away.

But this raises one of our fears in giving to others: we might run out and be left empty.

This is where our deepening trust in the Giver of Life helps us. Will God run out of Love and Mercy for us? Will the Fountain of Creation run dry? What I am discovering is that the more I open myself in giving, the more I find available to me to give.

As I find myself practicing this openness to give, the more transparent my defensive barriers become.

Nothing to Defend,
Everything is a Gift.

Photo Courtesy of Werner Kunz via Compfight

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The Unfolding Call, #explo13

The United Methodist Ministry Exploration day question sits before me: “Who influenced you in discerning your call to ministry?

As I do anytime I try to answer a call related question, I have flashbacks.

My memory goes back to the Baptist church of my youth. I am called on to give my testimony before the group. There was a problem: my testimony was lousy.

Any good testimony we heard would detail how we lived before in our sin, wayward, and lost, then we found Jesus and we were saved. But I grew up in the church, always attended worship. I was the leader of the youth group, eventually I became president of my InterVarsity group in college, and even became a professional in ministry. I didn’t have a wayward time. The best I could come up with was stealing a slingshot from a guy in my Cub Scout troop. I never strayed from the fold.

I never had that single moment when I turned to follow Christ. I can remember pieces of a lifelong series of small, almost daily moments when I am invited to reaffirm my desire to live and walk in God’s grace.

Discerning my call to ministry follows the same lines.

I don’t have that One Person who led me to my calling. I have lots of people whom God has used to provide the threads that reaffirm first of all the invitation to follow God with my life and then to support ministry as part of the fabric of my life.

There are those people who gave me the opportunity to lead youth group and InterVarsity meetings. There are those people who planted the idea of going to seminary when I thought being the pastor of a church was the last thing I wanted to do. I can remember a couple college and seminary professors who offered affirmation as I was learning and exploring who I was in the large scheme of God’s will.

The people who hear me preach and teach and then share how I made them think and consider what God’s grace was doing in their lives have continued to affirm my ongoing call to ministry when I have wanted to give up. Even those people who were disappointed in how I was not the minister they expected me to be have helped me clarify, affirm, and reorient the forms of my call.

I see my call as a process of moving deeper and more richly into living God’s Way in my life.

It is a process. Maybe this is why answering the question is a challenge for me. Does the question assume that we are being called to an identity as Pastor, Minister, or Chaplain? If that is true, then the call is once and always, set in stone. Once we accept our calling then we are able to live the entitlements of that role and status.

One lesson I continue learning is that following Christ is not static. It isn’t about privilege, authority, and control. If being a disciple is not about those things, then neither is ministry.

To follow Christ is to be dynamic and alive. God invites us to live more fully in the Divine Presence in each moment as each moment comes. We cannot rest secure in how we responded in the past and we can’t always be waiting for something that might come in a future moment.

God comes to us right here and right now and that is the best gift that we can be given. The best I can ever say in my life is that God is calling me now to the shape of my ministry.

I am still listening to the invitation to love God’s own self with every part of me: my family life, my hobbies, my writing, my learning, my ministry, and especially my driving down the street going to the store.

I am still exploring what it means to not orient my reality around myself. How can I continue to love everyone I meet with the fullest of love that God holds me in right now?

How about this question: Who helps me unfold and explore God’s invitation to live and minister?

My answer: each person who God brings into my life.

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