What Plank?

wood plank courtesy of texturex.com“So you can encourage certain student behaviors by putting in place positive consequences,” the speaker at an education conference said. “If you want to encourage students to be on time for class, schedule a quiz at the very beginning of class that is worth some points. This will encourage the behavior you want.” The speaker was a behavioral analyst, and her tips for encouraging certain student behaviors in the classroom (and discouraging other behaviors) were insightful. Her talk made me think about how we often try to control others’ behavior and choices.

This is particularly true for parents, and it’s difficult to let go of the reins as your children mature into teenagers and young adults. I would also say that it is difficult for many churches to permit the free moral agency that God has allowed humanity. When I compare a church’s response to my own response as a parent, I see a similarity in the area of misunderstanding our responsibility.

When our children are small, it is our job as parents to protect them and guide them, but as they grow up, it’s understood that parents must let their children make choices and learn to live with the consequences.The church also sometimes views its members as needing protection and firm guidance; however, the difference is that members of a church are typically adults who need to have the agency to make choices and take responsibility for those choices. When a church is operating appropriately (i.e., supporting and encouraging members), the membership will most likely have a wide representation of moral views on contemporary issues. In this atmosphere of love and support, diversity with unity is encouraged and love for all is emphasized.

Jesus addresses this issue beginning with the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Though this is worthy of a much longer blog, I find it helpful to think of the first two chapters (Matthew 5 and 6) of  the Sermon on the Mount as a way of being present and properly judging my own thoughts. In other words, these scriptures help me realize when I’m off-track in my own thoughts and need to re-think my priorities.

Chapter 7 in Matthew begins Jesus’s discussion of our tendency to judge (and consequently, try to control) others. This is where we as parents and as the church tend to go astray because we fail to permit others the freedom to make lousy choices. We assume that our viewpoint is the right one, maybe the only one, not understanding that we are not omniscient. Instead, we are caught up in our own culture, class, upbringing, experiences, and a whole host of other influences.

Jesus says, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matt. 7:3, NIV). The “plank” is our tendency to believe we have a responsibility to change others by attempting to control them. Once the plank is removed from our own eye, we understand that our primary responsibility is to control ourselves and our own thoughts, not others. Without a plank in our own eye, we “will see clearly to remove the speck from [our] brother’s eye” (Matt 7:5) by being able to see it’s not our job, but God’s. In fact, when we do strive to manipulate others, even by offering gifts or positive outcomes that they want, they can feel resentful and distance themselves from us. Matthew 7:6 says they will “turn and tear you to pieces,” rejecting even a desirable gift because of the motivation to control.

Behavior analysts like the speaker at my conference can provide insight into the way humans respond to consequences of the choices they make. While promoting positive classroom behavior is helpful, it’s important to recognize that we have a plank in our eye that we cannot see, and so does everyone else. Our responsibility is not to change or manipulate others but to surrender them to God, allowing the Father, Son, and Spirit to work wholeness and healing into all of our lives.

~by Nan Kuhlman

photo courtesy of texturex.com



Breaking News: Jesus Is Renewing T/His Church! pt.3

Spiritual Gift 2


This message of Good News leads to an attempt of a congregation to participate with Jesus as he inspired the Apostle Paul to write in Ephesians 4 :7-13 (The Message):

“Is it not true that the One who climbed up also climbed down, down to the valley of earth? And the One who climbed down is the One who climbed back up, up to highest heaven. He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.”


*picture courtesy of made2bcreative.com

Always the North Star

north-star-1A Facebook friend noted recently that in life he senses from God nothing but pure divine love and acceptance for his very self, heart and soul – but that his ego (false or transient self) is under constant, tireless assault.

And I recognised that in my life, this is true as well.

It wasn’t always so to this degree, and I thank God it wasn’t. How many of us as young people could have withstood it? Youth is generally a time of building up. And happily so. We toil for and taste the successes that we have built on our own, seemingly. We think that we are getting our acts together and that we are performing in life well.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t have parted with the shell of my 20-something self if I had been given a choice.

But no one is given that choice.

The beautiful reason behind this is that life, past a certain point, is about the tearing down of our egos and false selves because they are not us at all. I liked my shiny, young, strong, bulletproof self! – but that self began to die the moment I became a mother and saw that I could care for another more than for myself. That transient self and all that followed no more defined me than will someday my wrinkles and white hair.

And really, what better way to accomplish the revealing of our True Selves than via the aging process when everything that is not eternal and not of God is slowly stripped away to reveal what is?

It’s amazing when you think about it. Aging makes no sense humanly speaking. My human tendency is to want to become more than I am, not less than I have been.

But our human eyes miss so much that is of true importance. If we are open to the lessons being taught to us, we become less arrogant, supercilious, contemptuous, know-it-all, smug and swaggering. Our footsteps may slow, our once proudly held heads may begin to bow a little.

But in all of these cases, less really is so much more! What has grown within us — our ability to love unconditionally, to accept others without evaluation, comparison and judgement, and to deeply trust that all is well with us despite our circumstances — is invisible to the human eye.

God is not interested in our projections of ourselves — or in all the ways we believe we measure up and qualify. He is not interested in what we get “right” theologically.

He is interested in what lies deep beneath that – in the part of every one of us that is indescribably precious to him, and that also has the capacity to grow. Our souls. Our True Selves.

I believe that soul growth is our reason for living this often difficult life.

And, seemingly at least, unfortunately for us, this kind of soul growth only occurs with the help of loss and pain. We learn much more from our failures than from our successes.

“Our ongoing curiosity about our True Self seems to lessen if we settle into any ‘successful role.’  We have then allowed others to define us from the outside, although we do not realize it. Or perhaps we dress ourselves up on the outside and never get back inside…” ~ Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond.

Is it any surprise that no one settles into a “successful role” permanently? Falling down makes us more loving, and tolerant and understanding of others when they do the same.

All of this can feel painful and it is painful. But while pain can be the direct result of cause and effect, it isn’t always. Sometimes there is no explanation and nothing we have done to cause it. Loss only feels frightening when we cling tightly to the impermanent things that are fading, rather than lovingly, mindfully letting go. And trusting that though certain things fade from our sight, they are not gone forever. I am often encouraged by the scene in C.S. Lewis’s famous book and conclusion to his Narnia Chronicles, The Last Battle, where Prince Caspian dies, is raised, and becomes young again.

And it is not all bad even in this life.

One study showed that the age at which people report the most contentment is 56. Another that happiness peaks twice in a lifetime: at age 23 and again at age 69.

Perhaps this is true for those who have wisely learned to let go, and to trust the waves of life to take them where they will, because even if they end up shipwrecked, He is always with them.

Perhaps this is true for those who have seen that throughout the tempests of life, there is always the North Star shining just over the horizon.

~ by Jeannine Buntrock

Note: Much of what I write these days is inspired by my continued reading of author and Franciscan, Richard Rohr. I am reading Immortal Diamond at the moment – highly recommended!

Breaking News: Jesus Is Renewing T/His Church! pt.2

Make all things new 2


In part two of this new series on God’s Good News at New Life Baltimore, walk with a congregation preparing to participate and go with Jesus more “Outside The Walls” of the Church by asking the three most important questions of Christianity:

Who is Jesus Christ?, Where is Jesus Christ today? and What am I to do as a Christian?

It is also reinforced that:

*Jesus Christ has no volunteers in His Church, only those who have been called by Him and who stand under his gracious command and free response from the Spirit!
*God is not looking for a perfect response BUT does look for an imperfect one!
*Love is always obedient even though obedience isn’t always love!


*picture courtesy of campaign.vpweb.com

How Trump & Hillary are (sort of) like God

unilad-donald-trump-bible6Donald Trump has been affecting how I think about God. Really. His popularity baffles me, but a new theory explaining it is making me think harder about what kind of God is revealed in the Bible.

Stick with me…

George Lakoff, UC Berkeley neurolinguist and author of Don’t Think of an Elephant!, believes current U.S. politics can become understandable if we think in terms of parenting styles. Here’s how it works:  In American parenting, there are two main styles which differ in their belief about what children need if they are to mature into responsible adults. The “Strict Father” style values clear rules and strict accountability above all else, while the “Nurturing Parent” style values empathy and people caring for one another above all else. For the record, I know great parents (and great kids) in both camps.

What kind of family should our country be? What is our gut-level vision of the kind of leader our national family needs?  People who want a Nurturing Parent tend to be more liberal in their politics, while the Strict Father types tend to lean more conservative. And for the record, I know great people in both camps.

The point that explains current conservative politics is that not all Strict Fathers are the same.  Some are strict non-interventionists, giving people space to explore and experience the consequences of their actions, regardless of how bad those consequences might be. But other Strict Fathers are more like kings –- setting rules and impartially punishing anyone who breaks those rules. When we understand that BOTH of these qualify as Strict Fathers, we can begin to understand why conservatives are backing a candidate as un-conservative as Donald Trump. He may be a bit dictator-esque, but at least he’s a Strict-Father, Law-and-Order kind of guy. Very deep down, he fits the conservative image better than that Nurturing-Parent Hillary (George Lakoff’s essay about this is the first explanation of the Trump phenomenon that has made sense to me, and I highly recommend it).

But believe it or not, this is not (supposed to be) a political post but a theological one. From here on, at least….

As Trinity and Humanity dwell together with our Father in Christ through the Spirit, what kind of family are we? What is our image of the kind of God/Father we have?

We, the People of Yahweh, have been arguing about that question for thousands upon thousands of years. Our Scriptures contain two voices, often at odds with each other, talking back and forth about which kind of God we have. And it’s not as simple as the difference between the Old and New Testaments, either.

In both testaments, we can observe Yahweh as a Strict Father who (in response to rule-breaking) punishes his children with natural disasters, disease, starvation, and invading armies. Jesus spoke of the same Yahweh, who would within a generation come in fire and judgment to Jerusalem, where not one stone would be left on another (which is exactly what ended up happening).

Yet, in both testaments we can also see Yahweh as a Nurturing Parent who protects his children from their own foolishness, who lets his children argue with him, and on their advice chooses to cancel well-deserved punishments.

Sometimes we see this tension displayed as coming from within Yahweh himself. For example, the first 10 chapters of Hosea are Yahweh’s extravagant description of Israel’s sins and the brutal punishments coming her way, until abruptly without warning in chapter 11:  “How can I hand you over, O Israel?…My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.  I will not execute my fierce anger…for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath” (Hosea 11.8-9). In the same self-conflicted mode, Jesus speaks of Jerusalem as a fruitless fig tree that will soon be chopped down and burned, and then proceeds to weep over his longing to gather the city under his wings like a mother hen.

What kind of God are we dealing with?  A Strict Father or a Nurturing Parent?

I used to think Jesus settled and ended this argument, that he once and for all revealed God to be “nice” and not “mean.”  But in recent times, I have come to see that as too easy an explanation, one that fails to take Scripture with adequate seriousness.

In Jesus we find revealed a God who is Father, Son & Spirit in holy eternal communion with one another and with us. Love is the final Word.  This is a settled fact of the gospel, not under question here.

But as I have discovered in my own parenting journey, Love lives in a persistently unsettled tension between Strict and Nurturing. Real-world Love is both tough and flexible. Consistent yet merciful.  Compassionate but not codependent.  As a Dad, I have no formula or equation for when I should be hard and when I should be soft. You could say it’s a constant fight between my Inner Trump and my Inner Hillary.

The fight doesn’t end. AND IT’S NOT SUPPOSED TO.

This is precisely what the agony of parenting is all about. And it is here that I recognize this strange One of the Bible. When I let go of my ideas about GOD and his omni-this and omni-that, I can glimpse in the Bible someone like me –- a loving parent who is finding that Love in the real world is really really COMPLICATED.

I have decided that THIS is the God I believe in –- the God who is so human that he has to argue with himself about how best to love his children.

Even if that means he sometimes acts a little Trump-y and other times a little Hillar-ish.


Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Exploring Authentic Life In Christ – Avoiding Obstacles, Finding Freedom

Finding Freedom


Jesus presents a serious challenge for all of us to rethink everything we think we know when he stated “I Am the Way, the Truth and the Life!” in John 14:6!

In this message Dr. Gary Deddo proclaims the astounding and gracious Good News of mankind’s reconciliation to God in the person of Jesus! He encourages us to take Jesus seriously as proclaimed by the Apostle Paul in Colossians 2:6-7, and explores the implications of our identity in Jesus. This is not easy to discern, so avoiding obstacles is important if want to experience the fullness of our true liberation and freedom in Christ!

*picture courtesy of worshiphousemedia.com

Breaking News: Jesus Is Renewing T/His Church! pt.1

Making Things New 1


In part one of this new series on God’s Good News at New Life Baltimore, walk with a congregation preparing to participate and go with Jesus more “Outside The Walls” of the Church by asking the three most important questions of Christianity:

Who is Jesus Christ?

Where is Jesus Christ today?

What am I to do as a Christian?

Check it out!


*picture courtesy of pinterest.com

Playing on the Same Human Team

baseball game I wanted that job. I had been planning, preparing, and thinking about it for more than six months. Everything aligned, so it seemed. But. I. Didn’t. Get. It.

I had prayed about it, and it seemed as if it was God’s will. But. Then. It. Wasn’t. Someone with more experience and better credentials came into the process and took that job. Rather, the administration gave her that job because she was good (like me), plus she had the experience and credentials the college needed for its accreditation requirements.

Because of my disappointment, I needed to make sure that this new colleague really deserved my job, so I “creeped” on her. For those who aren’t familiar with “creeping,” that is checking out a person in an online Google search. I saw impressive credentials (that I already knew), but I also saw tweets about God and God’s goodness and faithfulness. My new colleague, my nemesis, probably also prayed for this job like I did. God said yes to her but no to me.

Some years ago, I might have thought that I didn’t get this job because a) I didn’t tithe consistently, b) I didn’t attend church regularly, c) I wasn’t spending enough time in the spiritual disciplines like prayer and Bible study, or d) I had some sort of unconfessed sin that prevented God from blessing me. These reasons (which may or may not be true) would make not getting the job my “fault.” This is based on a religion that uses guilt and/or fear to spur Christians to “do more for God,” yet when one looks at the outcome of such a response, it’s clear that what actually happens is that our relationship with God becomes a transaction. If I do this for you, God, you must give me that job. Entire ministries have been built on false premises like this one because the goodness of God lavishes blessings on humanity, making it appear like such a formula really works.

In this instance, though, I am thankfully not caught up in the transactional mindset. But I still wondered why the job didn’t work out until I came to the realization that asking why isn’t that helpful. Asking why is challenging reality as it is, and while I might learn something about better interviewing or better teaching demos, in this case, it seems my lack of credentials was the deciding factor. Asking why became an exercise in challenging the bigger life choices I made years ago, such as staying home with my children for sixteen years rather than pursuing a PhD. This helped me see that asking why rarely provides a satisfying answer.

So at this point, you are probably saying, “Nan, tell me the right approach when I’m faced with a situation that didn’t turn out like I hoped or expected,” and I’ll tell you this, dear reader: I don’t know. My new colleague received the blessing of a new job, and despite my best efforts, I did not. She probably prayed, I definitely prayed, and from the looks of the situation, we play on the same team and pray to the same God. Maybe you’re faced with a more serious issue, and I wish I could tell you for sure that it will turn out OK. In fact, I want more than anything to tell you that everything will turn out as you’re hoping and praying. But I can do something better than that.

I can tell you definitively that you will be OK regardless of how your situation turns out. In the midst of your grief and disappointment, you will know that you are held, that resisting the grief and disappointment only perpetuates them, and that grace is always present and abundant.

Christian mystic, philosopher, and author Simone Weil has an interesting way of putting it:

            “All the natural movements of the soul are controlled by laws analogous to those of physical gravity. Grace is the only exception. Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it, and it is grace itself which makes this void.” (Gravity and Grace)

I wanted a job, but another child of God landed the job. When we pray for our troops to win a battle, others are also praying for their army to win. When Ohio State’s football team plays University of Michigan, some will be praying for the Buckeyes and others will be praying equally fervently for the Wolverines. Some hope Trump will win the election; others hope Hillary will win. Some will win in these contests who don’t bother to pray at all, and some will lose who do pray. But grace will be there to fill the void, that we can count on.

~by Nan Kuhlman





I need air!

We seem more and more divided in the United States of America and in much of the world. We tend to identify as this religion or that religion, as this group or that group, or even as this color or that color. Growing up in rural eastern North Carolina the group I most identified with was Southern. I was proud to be a Southerner. I was proud of our Southern charm and good manners. I loved how we pulled over and stopped the car when a funeral passed us on the road. I loved standing up when a lady entered the room or giving up my chair to a lady when seating was limited. As a young adult I traveled from N.C. to Texas, to Washington state, and Montana. Each place I lived brought new joys of meeting people and seeing their delight at the charm, colloquialisms, and good manners that I had learned in the South. But… I was wrong and did not know it. I was right to be proud of all of those things… don’t get me wrong, but my identity is not in being born a Southerner. My identity was, and is, in Jesus.

Recently the Black Lives Matter movement has thrust into our national conversation issues that we can no longer ignore. It is incumbent upon us in all walks to engage and seek the honest truth whether it pleases us to hear it or not. A couple of months ago I finally realized the proper way to even say “Black Lives Matter”. Our tendency is to allow the national media to tell us what to think and by cherry-picking what we are allowed to see on television it is not a difficult task for them to manipulate the American public. We are led to believe that the emphasis is on the word Black… this is why some well-meaning folks have said, “All lives matter”. It is true that all lives matter and that statement is valid in certain contexts.  Imagine 12 people sitting around a table and one person has a plastic bag over their head with their hands tied behind their back… now imagine that person manages



to eek out the words, “I need air!” and the other 11 say, “Yeah, we all need air.” The true emphasis in saying “Black Lives Matter” is on the word Matter. Think of it in short form as “Black Lives Matter Too!” Or “Hey, have we in America forgotten that black lives do matter?”

As necessary as this conversation is, and I would submit that it is crucial, we must also never forget who we truly are. Dr. Jeff McSwain wrote our Generations Ministries Summer Camp curriculum this year and on the T-shirts that were given to the campers is the axiom, “You don’t know who you are until you know whose you are.” You see I am not a Southerner, I am not white, I am not a male, I am not a son, father, husband, or pastor- not in the first instance. In the first instance I am a child of the Father.

I am trying to understand, I am not trying to judge, I am trying to love, I am not trying to exclude, I am trying to empathize, I am not trying to pigeon-hole others into some collective which I can dismiss. We are individuals with personhood and distinction… yes we are all in union with the Father, Son, and Spirit, but we never lose our personhood and distinction. Evil tries to label us and press us into collectivism… it is a trap, it divides, and leads to hatred and fear.

Imagine a world where we all knew that we belonged to the Father, Son, and Spirit and that we are indeed all brothers and sisters because of the finished work of Jesus… what would that look like? Would we mistreat others so readily if we saw them as they truly are… fellow children of the Father?… I think not… I hope not. In Jesus all of humanity is in union with the Triune God of Love! Therefor, it follows that we are all in union with one another. Let us then love fully as the distinct persons in Christ that we are.

I am distinct in the Cosmos, in union with the blessed Trinity and in union with all of you. LOVE!

~Bill Winn

Image of God

worldMy wonderful mother introduced me recently to the energy-profiling work of Carol Tuttle, author of The Child Whisperer and It’s Just my Nature! and other books. What separates energy profiling from personality assessment is that it focuses on nature (energy/movement), not personality (behaviour). We are born with our natures and they are fixed, whereas personality develops later and, because of the coping mechanisms we employ, is not always completely indicative of nature.

It’s been extremely beneficial to me to be able to look at all those in my life, and particularly myself, and really understand where we are all coming from. Using Ms Tuttle’s system, I am a Sensitive Type 2 married to a Determined Type 3 – and we have a Fun-Loving Type 1 daughter, Sensitive Type 2 or More Serious Type 4 son (I haven’t quite decided), and a very much Determined Type 3 daughter.

The most important thing I have learned throughout is that when we fight our true natures, we are miserable. When we insist that others change to fit our image of them rather than honouring them for who they are, we deeply wound and confuse them.

Were you ever told in childhood that you were too (insert adjective)? Did you receive cues from society, subtle or otherwise, that it was not okay to be who you were: an assertive female, for example, or a nurturing male?

How many of us have responded to the pressure by trying to change our spots and stripes? Except that, we really can’t change our God-given spots and stripes.

And our spots and stripes are all God-given.

The beauty of it is that we need all energy types. When all four types work together and are permitted to excel according to their own natural strengths, amazing things happen. It’s an incredibly beautiful thing.

Taking it further, I have often heard author and Franciscan priest Fr. Richard Rohr recommend that whenever we encounter another human being, we repeat to ourselves, “Image of God. Image of God. Image of God.”

I’ve experimented, and it is incredible what happens to my “judging mind” (we all have one!) when I remember that the person I am looking at is made in the image of God. That person may not look or sound beautiful in that moment in any way to me, but when I think to myself, “Image of God,” I have felt my eyes lose their sharpness and physically soften. I begin to notice positive things about them that I wouldn’t otherwise. My mind and heart open to the deep sadness and loss that has led this person to their behaviour on this day. I begin to look past their behaviour and catch a glimpse of their true nature and goodness beneath. (And of course, these things are all also true of myself. I do not always behave in a beautiful manner.)

Image of God.

This is true for the addict. For the mother screaming at her kids in the grocery store. For the person on the other side of the political aisle. For the protester outside the abortion clinic and for the person working in it. For the newborn baby and for the elderly person. For the people of every colour, religion, gender and sexual orientation. For your enemy and for your best friend.

Black, white, male, female, fun-loving, serious, sensitive, patient, determined, practical, imaginative, perfectionist, understanding…we are all made in the image of God. We are all, imperfectly and incompletely, images of God.

When we work together, loving and accepting each other and ourselves for who we really are, with God in us, we have a chance at experiencing a sense of peace and wholeness even in this life.

No, it’s not easy.

But what an incredible thing it would be.

You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness. ~ Ephesians 4:4-6, The Message.

~ by Jeannine Buntrock


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