Author Archive

My Grown-Up Christmas List

grown-up-listLike many of you, I find myself in a reflective state at this time of year. Another Christmas. Another year over. (And what a year this has been.)

Many of us pray for peace and for an end to suffering, oppression, injustice and loss — yet it seems that our world never really inches closer to that wistful goal. It’s easy to become discouraged and to wonder where God is in all of this. The reality is that when I am an old woman many years from now, our world will likely still be mired in corruption, war, oppression and injustice.

But it is not hopeless. Though “it is finished,” what happens here still matters. Our response to what is happening around us will make us into people of the Spirit — loving, joyful, kind, peaceful — if we will let it.

Since I desire all those things in my life, this is what I hope to be a vessel for this year.

Quiet.

There is so much noise in the world today, so much shouting. When it’s too noisy, I can’t hear anything — not you, not myself, and not what I sense is God. There are many ways in which I can seek quiet in my life, my mind and heart and offer it to my environment — but it takes intention. I can certainly find quiet by talking less and listening more, and by unplugging from voices of negativity, fear and shame. A huge benefit to seeking more quiet is that my experience has been that God communicates in a gentle whisper most of the time, and so it is so much easier to hear him when I am quiet. Fear does not not thrive in the calm and quiet. Trust does.

A soft answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger. ~ Proverbs 15:1

Attention. Presence.

Karen Maezen Miller writes that “attention is the most concrete expression of love.” All my loved ones deserve my focused attention and presence. There is no greater gift I can give them. I have had to seriously assess my social media use because I did not like the distraction it was causing me. I don’t want my children to remember me distracted. My parents who have given me so much loving support and attention over the years, I need to support them as well and give them my attention. The same is true for my extended family and my friends. We all know when someone is really listening to us and when they are not. You know you are loved when someone hears you, sees the real you, and sticks around.

Strangers need our compassionate attention as well. While I can’t possibly give my full attention to everyone I encounter, I can make a concerted effort to pay more attention. I’ve experienced it myself as a sometimes-harried mother out with my children. Strangers have the power to lift burdens or add to them with the smallest of things — a smile, an encouraging word, a glare, muttered criticisms. These things, good and bad, take only seconds, but they are so powerful. They truly can make or break someone’s day (or week).

Creation testifies to a present, attentive God. We always have his attention and presence. We have only to turn our minds to him and to open our eyes to the miracles around us. They may not seemingly be the big ones we desire, but our eyes simply don’t see even close to everything. He’s got this. Life isn’t going to make a lot of sense because no matter how we try, we humans can’t see the forest for the trees. But the hopes for better within our own hearts are there because humanity was created for all things good, beautiful, just, honourable and true — and deep down, we all know it. This life is only the beginning. Much better is to come once we’ve learned the lessons that only suffering can teach us.

“We can never have enough confidence in God who is so good, so powerful, so merciful.” ~ St Thérèse of Lisieux.

Belonging.

Shame-research and author, Brené Brown, writes that belonging is a primal need that we all have — and that it is not the same as “fitting in.”

Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance. ~ Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection.

I can offer those I love and those I encounter a sense of belonging that has nothing to do with agreement and conformity. For true belonging to occur, there must be no requirements for friendship, and no disqualifiers — only acceptance at the soul level. Time and again, I’ve seen (and experienced) friendships built on commonality implode when disagreement occurred. There was never true belonging when that happens. True belonging only happens when people are permitted to be vulnerable and to be their true selves without fear of rejection. I want to be braver this year about letting my friends see my true self, and to refuse to “hustle” for their approval as Brown writes that all humans are so prone to do. I know the result will be a stronger sense of belonging for me and for my friends (the ones that stick around at least). And I wish most of all for my children to feel safe sharing their true selves and vulnerabilities with me always. These kinds of relationships are precious and all too rare. They are heaven sent.

God offers us exactly the kind of belonging that we crave. It’s so easy to doubt it, but it’s true. Our true selves really are safe with him and he loves and accepts us in all our imperfection.

The “Third Way.”

…true peace does not exist until there is justice, restoration, forgiveness. Peacemaking doesn’t mean passivity. It is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice. It is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free. ~ Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Enuma Okoro, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.

The answer is not aggression and oppositional energy, and it is not to turn away from the many difficult challenges our world faces. There is a third way — Jesus’ way that honours all life, and sets both the oppressed and the oppressors free.

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother,
And in His name all oppression shall cease. ~ O Holy Night, lyrics

How countercultural — how unlike retribution-obsessed humanity throughout history and today — and yet, how incredibly beautiful and right.

Merry Christmas, and a very happy New Year.

~ by Jeannine Buntrock

 

 

Gratitude and Loving Action – Twin Antidotes to Worry

08-11-15-hard-questions-four-steps-to-stop-worry-_miniHas there ever been a Thanksgiving holiday like this one?

I’m sure there has been one — perhaps even many over the past nearly 400 years since the holiday’s inception in 1621 as our country has gone to war repeatedly — but this is certainly the first one like it in my memory.

I have never seen so much anger and fear as is in our country currently. Our anger is driven by our fear of the unknown, and right now, our fear seems to have no bounds. In many cases, friend has turned against dear friend for the way they voted in the recent election. If that’s happened to you, I’m sorry. I know how that feels, as I have experienced it too.

It’s so easy to feel indignant and to try to defend yourself. But it’s really not about you at all. It’s about fear.

We all have a choice to make as to what role fear is to take in our lives — our lives, not those of others. Indeed there are reasons to fear, and for certain sectors of the population, those reasons feel especially intense right now. They fear with reason. (And to those who are fearful right now, please know that I stand with you, and that I see and hear you. Many do.)

Certain opinion pieces and predictions of what is happening in our world have made my heart beat fast with worry and dread too. This is nothing entirely new. Since the moment I learned I was to become a mother nearly twelve years ago, I began to worry about the future of our planet and what kind of place it was going to be for my children.

But every year, I learn more of the truth in the words of some remarkable individuals, which I share with you below. I share these not to say that fear is unwarranted, but that like a bright light in the darkness, there is always hope.

“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.” ~ Corrie Ten Boom

“Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.” ~ Swedish proverb

“When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.” ~ Winston Churchill

“That the birds of worry and care fly over your head, this you cannot change, but that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent.” ~ Chinese Proverb

“Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.” ~ Arthur Somers Roche

“Somehow our devils are never quite what we expect when we meet them face to face.” ~ Nelson DeMille

“It is not the cares of today, but the cares of tomorrow, that weigh a man down.” ~ George MacDonald

“How much pain they have cost us, the evils which have never happened.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

And finally:

So don’t worry about these things, saying, What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear? These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” ~ Jesus, Matthew 6:31-34

I find it remarkable that it is rarely a young person who has this kind of wisdom to impart. The young simply haven’t lived long enough to see that, for the most part, the things we fear the most never do eventuate — and, if they do, we are given the strength to survive and to endure. We do not walk through our suffering alone.

Also, while I used to view the command to “seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” as a conditional, if-then statement, I no longer believe that this is the case. I believe the Kingdom of God is all around us as evidenced by Creation, and within us — we have only to open our eyes to it and to live in light of it. In doing so, we become conscious of the fact that God has given us and every living creature everything we need.

Someday the walls around us will blur and melt away, and a new world will be revealed in all its fullness.

Until then, it is natural and entirely human to worry. But we must never lose heart.

When I tuck my daughter in at night, and see some childish worry etched in her face, I say to her, “Hey, who carries your worries at night?” She relaxes and smiles, “You, Mom.”

Likewise, only much more so, our Father God is able and willing to carry our worries for us.

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. I Peter 5:7

This Thanksgiving, try to fill the space inhabited by your worries with gratitude for what you have this day instead. Gratitude truly is the antidote to worry, as indeed is action.

Do what you reasonably can to make the world a better, brighter, kinder, gentler, more hope, love, and grace-filled place. As always, this starts with how we treat those around us, and those we encounter.

Lay bare the torch within you that is Christ.

And make a daily practice of gratitude.

You’ll be amazed to see what happens.

~ by Jeannine Buntrock

Image courtesy of Daily Hope.

Life after Sunday School

16-6-5-jesus-loves-me-this-i-knowMy three-year old daughter came home from a Sunday School class recently.

“God loves me. Jesus loves me. God sent his son,” she declared, if a little woodenly.

I smiled and agreed. It’s comforting to hear those words from one’s child. But I wondered at the same time, what does that mean to a three-year old?

On one hand, it means everything. Mom and Dad love me. My brother and sisters and grandparents love me. Of course “God” loves me! Of course “Jesus” loves me! Of course “God” wants to give me wonderful things — who wouldn’t??

This kind of childlike trust and acceptance is after all, exactly what Jesus said he wants.

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” ~ Matthew 18:3

But on the other hand, it doesn’t mean very much! According to famous psychologist Jean Piaget, a three-year old inhabits the illogical Pre-Operational Stage of Development and will for several years to come. It won’t be until she is approximately 12 years old that she’ll be able to begin to grasp abstract ideas, such as an invisible but real God. It will be many years after that that she’ll begin to grasp through experience what true, unconditional love and sacrifice are.

So basically, at this point, Sunday School is indoctrination. Indoctrination that some say will serve the purpose of planting a seed — but which I hope will be one of many factors nurturing the seed planted already — divinely — there. (“Indoctrination” has come to refer to a religious environment that does not allow the learner to question or criticise beliefs — but originally, it meant simply to teach.)

But in order to develop a deep spiritual life and a faith that will survive the unavoidable storms of life, my daughter will need to progress past Sunday School to wrestle honestly with her hopes, doubts and questions about the reality of a dark, dying world bathed brightly in the healing, transformative light of an eternally loving God.

Unfortunately, it’s not a given. Many adults never do progress past Sunday School — past rudimentary, exclusive Christian belief — and spend their lives justifying why they are more “holy” and beloved than others because they act, or do not act, in certain ways.

I know I’m not alone in having believed once that I needed to earn love and acceptance — from my parents, the people around me, and from God. It was never true. I was always loved and accepted for my true self. My parents tried vehemently to warn me against certain life choices purely because they loved me and did not wish to see me hurt. And they felt my pain when I was hurt.

As a parent now, I understand that. I also try vehemently to warn my children against destructive life choices. And I feel every ounce of their pain.

So does God. But, just like a good parent, he doesn’t walk off the field when we make poor choices anyway. He walks with us.

I came late to my ten-year old son’s football game recently, to see that his team was, once again, significantly behind the other. Tears leapt to my eyes, and certainly not because I was disappointed in the score, but because somehow seeing him losing only highlighted the strength of my love for him.

It was a powerful moment, and I feel that in those moments, we catch glimpses of how God feels about humanity. We feel his joy at our successes, his sorrow in our pain, his quiet, steadfast presence in our loneliness and abandonment.

What I felt in that moment was how much God loves us when we are losing.

There is nothing more transformative than seeing that we are loved when we don’t deserve it.

To him, we are not losing, but growing. And to him, there is no deserving it.

So lose sometimes, dear one — but grow! Allow some of your false exterior, the one we all carry, to be sloughed off as you see that yes…

God loves you. Jesus loves you. God sent his son. 

For always. No matter what. Without condition.

This, you can never lose.

~ by Jeannine Buntrock

 

 

 

On going back to church

church-cartoon1Prior to this month, I hadn’t attended church in close to five years.

As the daughter of a church pastor, I’d grown up attending church every week and I even attended my denomination’s university. My Sabbath and Holy Day-centered denomination changed radically when I was a young adult, and one of the things that gave me was the freedom to explore mainstream denominations. (It also gave me a large and healthy dose of skepticism when it came to any church claiming to have all the answers.)

But my last experience, the one that ended abruptly five years ago with a succession of unfriendly, corrective e-mails and Facebook de-friendings, was a bad one. My beliefs were evolving at the time — growing and expanding — but the poor people with whom I shared a Sunday School class were not ready for that. (Bless them – now that my feelings are no longer raw, I do understand.)

Five years away from church did not leave me dying on the vine, however – with all that we are able to access over the Internet and in books, and with like-minded people to talk to, my spiritual life grew in leaps and bounds. I was doing just fine, and for the most part, so were my kids.

I didn’t want my kids to go to church and learn the things that I had had to de-program myself from in adulthood. I wanted them to skip that part.

But then I read Franciscan priest Richard Rohr’s book Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life and learned that kids do much better in the long run spiritually when they are permitted to experience the first half of life in all its indispensable muck and glory. No one gets to the second half of life without first making mistakes in the ego-driven first half.

That started me thinking.

And then this summer, my 8-yr old daughter attended a Lutheran summer camp because my stepdaughter was a counselor there. My daughter came back enraptured by the experience, singing all the songs I remembered so well, and talking about how great God was. She absolutely loved it.

And I realised, okay…it’s time.

But where to start? I looked around at the people I knew and there were two fellow homeschool moms who had heard my not-always-completely-orthodox views and they hadn’t run from me screaming! They attended the same church. It looked like it had a terrific program for children. So I thought, let’s try there.

And we are. So far, so good!

As for me, I’ve learned a few things since the last go-around that should improve my chances of this being a good experience.

  1. It’s best to focus on common ground. Just because I find something exciting and paradigm-shifting doesn’t mean that everyone around me is going to have the same reaction. We all have our reasons for holding to certain views and they are sensitive and complicated. It’s not my job to try to shift anyone’s views. I’d learned that the hard way before by thinking that something that was so wonderful and had changed my life would change another’s. But it didn’t. All it did was tragically destroy the relationship. I don’t believe this is something a God who prizes true relationship over all else ever wants.
  2. I don’t have to agree with everything said in church to attend there. I teach a weekly literature class to 8-10 year olds and something we are beginning to do is look for “signposts” in literature. One of the signposts is called the “Again and Again,” where repetition of an element occurs for a thematic reason. In church last Sunday, I saw the theme of the “angry Father God” repeated a few times, subtly, and mostly in the song service. I thought to myself – there it is, the mythical angry, retribution-hungry Father God: Again and Again. Another signpost is “Contrasts and Contradictions.” I thought to myself, there it is, God the Father characterised one way; Jesus another: Contrasts and Contradictions. But…the moment I stopped assessing (and there was a distinct moment) was the moment I felt my heart soften. And I thought to myself, what does God want? For me to feel smugly “right,” or for my heart to be softened by the people around me, pouring out their hearts to him in their fashion? The answer was clear. Which leads me to…
  3. I’m not right about everything. In truth, I’ve never felt that I was right about everything. I am aware that as humans, there is so much we don’t know and don’t understand. We could all use a lot more humility in our dealings with one another. One of the quickest ways to damage or even destroy a relationship is to say, I’m right, you’re wrong. I dabbled briefly in the anti-tradition “unfundamentalist” movement, and honestly, I found it to be just as legalistic and excluding as much of evangelical Christianity. It seems that the more people feel they are right, the more they get the relationship aspects wrong. And again, what does a loving Triune God value most?  

So we’ll see how it all goes. As long as I live, I will miss the sight of my dad behind the lectern. As imperfect as my own upbringing in the church was, there is a great deal of it I am so glad not to have missed. I am optimistic that the same will be true for my children.

~ by Jeannine Buntrock

 

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!

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

What I know…

love

A toddler falling into a gorilla habitat. A terrible mass shooting in Orlando. A singer shot dead. A toddler snatched by an alligator from a Disney World beach.

And that’s just recently in America. (And not all of it by any means.)

With the world caught in yet another firestorm, with blame, shame and accusations flying, and social media and the blogosphere swollen with posturing and opinions, what of value remains to be said?

Honestly, I have avoided reading most of what is out there. As an introvert, you can guarantee that if the whole world is talking about something, then I am not talking about it. I need time to think, to contemplate, before I can even begin to comprehend the implications of events like the ones we have all witnessed recently.

The nature of social media and of our fast-paced world is that we are expected to think on our feet without pause and without honest, deep reflection. Politicians and leaders are expected to present immediate answers and solutions.

But so often, the result is red hot-headed reactivity, and problems are never solved that way. They are generally made worse.

And so often, the result is blame and scapegoating.

If the mother had been watching her child. If the father hadn’t allowed his child to wade in the water. If people would just obey the Bible.

None of these things would happen.

The world would make sense again.

And I would be safe.

(Until, incomprehensible tragedy strikes, and I am not.)

One of the saddest social media posts, for me personally, was one where an acquaintance stated ecstatically that she had learned that Christina Grimmie, the singer gunned down this week, was Christian. It’s heaven for this girl now, she crowed.

Sad because this was not said when so many of our GLBQT brothers and sisters were gunned down in a nightclub the very next day. Many of them would not have considered themselves Christians because much of Christianity excludes and disqualifies them. Is it not heaven for them? Is it not heaven for the alleged shooter and for our Muslim brothers and sisters because they do not confess the name of Jesus? And what does it say about God if it isn’t?

Does God exclude and disqualify us based on our actions and beliefs?

Honestly, I don’t know for certain. I can’t know that or many things at all for certain. It’s God we are talking about, and so much of him is unfathomable, mysterious, unknowable.

But the parts of me that I believe were gifted by God — my heart, head and spirit — emphatically say no, God does not exclude us based on our humanity and all that comes with it.

Because…Jesus.

Jesus, the evidence of the substance of the Father. And so, because…God.

In healing our image of God, Jesus frees us of fear of the Father and dislike of ourselves. ~ Brennan Manning

Excluding and disqualifying people is what we humans do, and yet deep down, we feel it when our unloving attitudes toward others abrade our spirits.

Judge not…

Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor. ~ Matthew 7:1-5, The Message translation.

(I just have to say that I love The Message’s translation of that verse. I need to hang it on my fridge and read it every day.)

All I know is that I myself feel called not to consciously exclude anyone, nor to disqualify them on any basis in my mind. Deep within, I believe that if there is to be the choice of heaven for me, so inordinately privileged and fortunate (and yes, sometimes not so fortunate) to be living in the time and place that I am with the knowledge that I have, then there must also be the true blue, authentic choice of heaven for all people.

Herein lies the secret, I believe, of the inner life of Jesus. Christ’s communion with Abba in the inner sanctuary of His soul transformed His vision of reality, enabling Him to perceive God’s love and care behind the complexities of life. Practicing the presence helps us to discern the providence of God at work especially in those dark hours when the signature of Jesus is being traced in our flesh. ~ Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus.

These are dark hours, as of late, when the signature of Jesus is being traced indeed in our flesh.

As we make contemplation a spiritual practice, we pause, we slow down, and so we begin to make room for the mind of God within our own minds and hearts. We lose the need to make sense of everything and to blame others so that it all make sense. We lose the need to make ourselves appear perfect and with our acts together in the eyes of others. (As Richard Rohr says, people around us clearly see our shadow selves, but we ourselves have a very hard time seeing our own. A contemplative practice can help with that.)

The shadow is that part of the self that we don’t want to see, that we’re always afraid of and don’t want others to see either. The shadow self is not of itself evil; it just allows you to do evil without calling it evil. ~ Richard Rohr

As a busy homeschooling mother of three, I am just beginning to make time for my own contemplative practice. As a beginner, I am by no means an expert, but I’ll close by sharing with you what a few minutes of contemplation this week has shown me.

At the Pulse nightclub that night, in that split second between life and death, I see Jesus with his hands outstretched to each departing soul.

You are home. You are wanted here. I know who you are. You are my beloved child.

I believe that these are the words that we will all hear in the end. No matter what masks we wear and what false selves we have spent our lives projecting to the world, he sees through them and he knows who we are beneath. To him, we are beautiful, we are precious, and we are good.

In the end, I believe that this is what we must say yes to — to agree with — in order to receive the fullness of eternity and all that that means.

We really are all included.

~ by Jeannine Buntrock

Don’t burn your diary

diaryAs a teenager, I kept a diary. Years later, in my 20s, I discovered my volumes in a box, reread some of them and after deciding they were NOT something I wanted to share with my children or anyone at all someday, I burned them. (This was quite wrong of me, I know…)

I was ashamed at the immaturity and teenage self-obsession I saw reflected in my words. (Was I interested in anything other than boys?)

Now, those of you on Facebook will be familiar with the Memories function, where Facebook surprises you with a snapshot of your own words from a year ago, or three or five.

And again, I’ve found myself cringing. Did I really say THAT? Why didn’t I see then that I was totally posturing?

Ah, the beauty of the journey.

The wonderful part is that I couldn’t have skipped any of those parts of my development if I’d tried.

In his not-to-be-missed book Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Father Richard Rohr humbly demonstrates the beauty of the second half of life — where we stop posturing, judging, and trying to prove that we have life and God all figured out — and stresses the fact that this second half can only follow the years spent in the first half of life.

Where we do posture about like peacocks much of the time, patting ourselves on the backs for not being like those others, only accepting as friends those who are like us, and believing we have the truth about God tied up neatly in a box.

While some people never mature into the second half of life, remaining harsh, smugly self-satisfied, excluding and judgmental until the day they die, if love is really our goal, in time we will mature into the second half of life.

At the end of his wonderful series on the Enneagram — what it has to tell us about ourselves and also our false “shadow selves” — Richard Rohr highlighted the difference between the first and second halves of life by sharing the following (if you are familiar with the Enneagram, you will see each of the nine types reflected in order).

Brother Joseph Schmidt shared with us this paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (original author unknown). I invite you to read these statements and see yourself in them. Only when we face and embrace our false self with humility can we begin moving toward freedom and wholeness, toward being Love.

• If I live my life to perfection, doing what is right and good on behalf of others, but act with compulsion and without love, then I am nothing at all. (Ones – Reformers)

• If I take care of the needs of everybody in the world, especially the poor, because of my own need to help, but am without love even for myself, then I am nothing at all. (Twos – Helpers)

• If I am efficient and successful in all that I do for the sake of justice, but act out of drivenness and without love, then I am nothing at all. (Threes – Achievers)

• If I am cultured and refined, and in touch with the pain of existence, but am absent from the pain of persons in the present moment who need my empathy; and if I act without love and compassion, then I am nothing at all. (Fours – Individualists)

• If I have the gifts of wisdom, insight, and understanding, but am not engaged with those around me in the present moment and am without a spirit of compassion and love, then I am nothing at all. (Fives – Investigators)

• If I am faithful, loyal, and obedient, and never deviate from the law, but am judgmental and blaming, and am without love, then I am nothing at all. (Sixes – Loyalists)

• If I live in a pain-free world of dreams and plans, enjoying optimism and pleasurable options, but am not addressing present problems and am avoiding people in actual distress and am without love, then I am nothing at all. (Sevens – Enthusiasts)

• If I am strong and powerful, but lose my best self in a spirit of resentment, retaliation, and vindictiveness, and know nothing of the vulnerability of love, then I am nothing at all. (Eights – Challengers)

• If I am settled and accommodating, holding onto a sense of distance and calm, but am not journeying inward to know and appreciate my weaknesses and gifts, and am neglecting my own legitimate calling to love myself, then I am nothing at all. (Nines – Peacemakers)

This is the first and second halves of life in action.

It’s easy to skim through a list like this, but I hope you’ll take the time to read through it mindfully. I can see times in my (all too recent) past where I have behaved in some of the above ways. Years from now, I have no doubt that I will look back on myself at some more of the same at this stage in my life.

But awareness is the first critical step.

It is an unfortunate thing indeed to remain in the first half of life even as a mature person. My hopeful belief is that people who do so will, like all people, get there in the end, whether in this life or the next. But just like those who close their eyes entirely to the reality of Triune God in this life, how very much, in this life, they miss!

Freedom from fear. The true joy that comes from knowing that God delights in our humanity and patiently encourages us along the way to maturity, just as a loving parent encourages her child. The true rest that comes from deeply seeing that it is not about our performance, and from instead relaxing and leaning into him 100%.

Embrace your humanity and the humanity of others, just as Jesus does. There is so much in creation to be savoured and enjoyed along the road.

Be gentle with your former self and with all people, wherever they may be in their journeys. Indeed a hallmark of inhabiting the second half of one’s life is the ability to look back at one’s former self and at those walking segments of the journey that we once did with compassion and genuine love, and without criticism and judgement.

And don’t burn your diary. Your past contains many indispensable pieces of the puzzle that will one day form a beautiful whole.

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

~ “The Summer Day,” by Mary Oliver.

This is your one wild and precious life.

~ by Jeannine Buntrock

* Richard Rohr’s recent series on how the Enneagram relates to spirituality, and much,  much more from this wonderful teacher, can be found at the Center for Action and Contemplation.

Water, or stones?

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In the movie, “Ben-Hur,” Jesus offers a cup of water to a dying Judah.

Recently, I’ve been following the story of an individual who has existed as a pariah of society for the past decade. While I was never sure what to think myself over the years, I was indeed open to the idea that, perhaps, society was right, and this was at least to degrees a dishonourable man. (And no, I’m not talking about anyone connected to politics!)

Regardless, the abuse poured out upon him at every mention of his name, especially by the masses of people who knew so few of the facts, never seemed right to me. It’s been, and with the help of social media, continues to be a modern-day virtual stoning. And as I have taken time recently to listen to his story from his own lips and those of others connected to his story, it has hit me that this individual has likely been badly maligned.

From where I am standing, I cannot know the complete truth of the matter, and that’s alright. No one needs me as yet another self-appointed judge.

But it has saddened me that for so long, I allowed my opinion of this person to be shaped by the opinions of others.

Never judge anyone by another’s opinions. ~ Jacqueline Susann, author.

As I have considered what life has been like for him over the years, I have been deeply grieved. Someone who knows him and believes in his innocence has said that, regardless, his name is “poison” — because society has acted as judge and would-be executioner, and will hear nothing further on the matter.

Imagine your name being “poison.” Imagine knowing that you would never see your exoneration in your lifetime because no amount of truth would trump the guilty verdict built up in the minds of your fellow men and women.

It breaks my heart. I don’t know what it’s like to feel as this man must.

But I know one who does.

More than 2,000 years ago, Jesus was judged by the masses — masses who did not know him or the truth about him. It was this angry, uninformed mob who called for and won his death.

This week, I watched an episode of a favourite television show that featured an individual falling from grace as his name was intentionally tarnished, mainly by truth, though some of it twisted. He lost everything in one day — his job, his money, his reputation, his friends and his marriage.

I marvelled at how quickly came his fall, and particularly at how immediately his friends and colleagues turned against him as they caught the first whiff of scandal.

What a sad testament it is to humanity that this is the way we behave so often. How often we turn on others in their shame and throw stones. How many people we never befriend because someone’s opinion of them tainted our view of them before they ever had a chance to make themselves known to us. How many people we allow society to define and condemn for us.

Jesus calls for a different way.

Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor. ~ Matthew 7:1-5, The Message translation.

I don’t know about you, but I refuse to be part of any mob — not one that pours favour upon someone so long as they perform for us, nor one that seeks to consume those who fall from grace.

We’ve all fallen from grace, and continue to many times in a lifetime.

The amazing news is that thanks to Jesus, we can never fall from grace. Grace falls with us every time. Grace picks us up and tells us again, who we are and who we’ve always been in Christ. We have only to open our hearts and hear those words spoken to us every minute of every day, whatever our circumstances.

We have the opportunity to either block or transmit that same message to those around us — those we know in person and those we never will but are connected to nonetheless. It matters. Our thoughts and our prayers and our good or bad will toward others are real things — energy for good or bad —  and I believe that they are felt by those who feel the world against them. We can either offer water to a soul that feels that it is dying, or, like the mob, we can cast another stone.

In the movie “Ben-Hur,” Jesus is the only one who offers water to a dying Judah, who is then able to survive. Jesus offers water without question or judgement to all of us who lay dying so that we may also survive.

Every day in big and small ways, we can choose to be like him, or like those in the mob who turned on him.

So, brothers and sisters, what will we hold in our hands for those around us? Water, or stones?

~ by Jeannine Buntrock

Our Father

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Photo credit: peterstark.com

And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Matthew 23:9

There are several interesting explanations for this verse. Some assert that this is hyperbole, with Jesus’ point being that the Pharisees of the day should stop seeking high positions of authority and honour for themselves because it corrupted them and they did not lead in love and kindness.

This makes sense, but I particularly loved the one that added that Jesus knew that human fathers and authority figures tended to conduct themselves in authoritarian, heavy handed ways — and he did not want us to form an inaccurate image of God the Father based on images of our own flawed fathers and leaders.

He knew that an image like that would damage our ability to open our minds and hearts to the Father for who he was — the incomparably loving, accepting and gracious person Jesus came to show us he was.

I can just imagine Jesus saying, no, no, NO – he is not like THAT. Our ways are NOT like your ways here on earth, where the powerful ones exploit and lord it over the weak with no concern for them. The hierarchy you act out on earth does not exist in heaven (or even within the Triune God).

In this election season, where it is challenging to identify a wholly honourable presidential candidate, this concept of authentic leadership has heightened relevance. Who is there to believe in? In whom can we put our trust? What would Jesus do?

I believe he would say that there was only one person in whom we could ever put our trust and on whom we could pin our hopes without fear or risk of disappointment.

His Father. Our Father.

According to all accounts, Jesus spent no energy fighting the political system of the day. His aim seems to have been to smash the false idols of the “angry Father god” he knew not to exist. His example, when it came to politics, was one of transcendence. And then he showed us that a real king does not use violence to profit or even to save himself.

So politics is certainly an arena where we can try to follow Jesus’ lead by being in the world but not of the world — by transcending it.

Transcend — to be or go beyond the range or limits of (something abstract, typically a conceptual field or division). Websters Dictionary.

Notice that to transcend in this case does not mean to ignore the reality of life on earth, but rather to not be bound by its seeming limits when it comes to what we hope for.

We are in the world indeed. But as we catch glimpses of what is beyond it, the gift of faith filling in some of the gaps, we may still our pounding hearts and know that whatever is happening here, there is a broader, far more hopeful picture.

Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10

There is no cause for despair.

Have you ever watched an inspiring movie about an historical figure only to be let down when you read more about them and learned that they were not altogether the incredible hero the movie made them out to be?

It’s depressing! Often I regret reading further, preferring to keep my fantasy that there are true heroes, rather than just flawed human beings exhibiting heroism at times and cowardice and even villainy at others.

This, however, seems to be our human condition, and our politicians of the day reflect that. I know myself that when I consider the heroic acts of others, I aspire to them, but I cannot honestly say with all certainty that I would be brave enough to act as they did in that moment.

I take great comfort in the fact that as humans we recognise a true hero when we see one, even if it is a fictional one for the most part. Our human spirits all long to see and experience and exhibit that kind of integrity, bravery and sacrifice.

I believe that we recognise it because this is the spirit of God that dwells with and within us. God is everything we could ever dream of. And we were born to grow to be like him.

We, and all the people around us, have the capacity for true integrity and heroism. We may not see it in its fullness in this life, but I believe we will see it ourselves and in all others someday.

In the meantime, we can go easier on the people around us. I wish as much as anyone does that our leaders would exhibit all the qualities that make honourable leaders through and through. But as with the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, it seems that positions of authority corrupt. While this is not okay as such, perhaps not a one of us would behave any differently in similar shoes. (And of course I do not wish to generalise unfairly — there are certainly many men and women in office accomplishing worthy things.)

All we can do is try to live our own lives with as much integrity and love as we can ourselves, knowing that we too will fail at times, but that a new day always follows.

This world will always present a collision between what is and what should be. But we can be encouraged by knowing that what should be, with others and with ourselves, lies just beyond the horizon of our vision. Thanks to God, it is, and it will be.

~ by Jeannine Buntrock

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