Practicing Rest

Vincent van Gogh’s Noon: Rest from Work (after Millet)  January, 1890 


We live in a world of manic pace, hectic schedules and overwhelming expectations to produce and work to perpetuate our consuming needs.  The whole idea of ‘rest’ is un-American, because it must mean we aren’t trying hard enough.  That life’s results are dependent upon the kind of effort we put into the script and ‘rest’ is not a part of that script.  We often spend our times of leisure looking for emergency ways to escape the rat race and stress with sport, recreation, shopping, partying, vacationing, dvr’ing etc.  Those things may offer downtime away from work and into means of healthy play, but oftentimes they do not seek to squelch the anxieties born beneath the surface.  They offer escape, but not healing. 

How do you practice the kind of rest that actually satisfies?  I have found that planned times of ‘rest’ where I get away from my daily surroundings and expectations to just ‘be’ have become mandatory as opposed to optional anymore.  It is in these times where I search out my fears, I take the time to pursue wonder, I give myself grace for my faults and build on my strengths.  Frankly, I just take time to be human and focus on basic needs.  I like to get outside, I like to hike, I like to notice the things I never notice in my busy world.  I like to read, I like to sit and look at the grandeur of the sky and appreciate that it’s not the artificial glow of a computer monitor.  I like to be quiet, and just listen.  It seems when I stop talking is about the time that God starts talking.  Seeking communion with the One who brought me into being is not something to take lightly, wherever we are becomes holy ground and it’s adviseable to take off your shoes. 

I leave on Monday for a few days to practice rest.  I used to get anxious about these times, now I crave them.  I’m an exile to this world of muchness and manyness, my heart finds a home in my Father’s world.  Can’t wait to take a walk and talk it over with Him. 

Within your spirituality, how do you practice rest? 

Stop and notice the Kingdom around you today.

When Palmer Died

 * These are my blog posts and my thinking the night before and the day Palmer died.  It was also 10 days after Chad Canipe had passed.  Reminiscing today of brothers lost, but hoping in the Resurrection of all things.


Sunday, March 26, 2006

Church as a Movement of Spirit

Just for the record: I had really intense dreams of Chad Canipe last night, something in the Spirit and it woke me up. Thoughts of him continue to consume me.

Tonight in Student House Church as we were praying for our needs as a community, the Spirit told me to see if they had any questions, which took me off my agenda for the night, but that’s the way of the Spirit. Instead of reading and meditating on the next 5 stations of the Cross, we talked theology and asked questions. We talked of denominations and of churches and of the order of things. These are questions that have been dialogued for centuries with very little conclusions and lots of baggage. But nonetheless, its a worthy conversation.

My answer is usually the same. They know my motto, “Church is not someplace you go, its a people you belong to.” If you understand that paradigm change, you understand the DNA of Ordinary Community Church. But also most fundamentally is that “Church is a Movement of Spirit.” I heard Erwin McMannus say that at Mosaic Church in L.A. about 6 years ago and it has stuck with me because I believe it and I think history indicates that truth. Church is fundamentally not a budget, not a building, not a vocation, not a program, not a strategy, not a service, not a set of beliefs, not a cause, not a doctrine, not a political force etc, etc. I believe that Church is most fundamentally a movement of Spirit. You can choose to listen and participate and be in its flow. Now that flow may take you through any of things listed above, but the Spirit supercedes those ideas. The Spirit is in communion with the Kingdom of God, and the KOG is the basis of all reality. Follow the Spirit and you find the Kingdom. Learning to hear the Spirit, well, that’s a discipline.

And before the theological blogger police come and question me, let me say that listening to the Spirit is not opposed to the things written in the Scriptures. In fact, they are the same voice. If we lose touch of the Spirit, as a Church, we have lost our identity and in fact have no Gospel at all. And if you have no real Gospel (good news), then you are irrelevant. sound familiar to anyone?

side note: Its 10:30 p.m. Amy Palmer just called while I was writing this. The ambulance just took Palmer back to the hospital. He is really weak and unable to function at home normally. They are hoping some fluids will get him feeling better get him some strength.

The Church is a movement of Spirit. I am now going to bed with just one prayer in my soul: “may the Spirit move in Palmer’s body.” I am so sorry he has to suffer this way. so very sorry. How long, oh Lord? How long? How long until you show your Glory?


(the next morning)


Mark Palmer is tasting Kingdom Fullness

March 27, 2006. Mark Palmer passed away/over to Kingdom fullness this morning. I don’t know all the details, but Kevin Rains, Alan Creech and myself are leaving in a few minutes to get to Columbus and be with our brothers and sisters.

I have no more words to say.

This morning at 9:15am, he left.

Our friend, our brother has moved over to another dimension. We grieve. We have been grieving and remembering him today with his family and his community in Columbus. It’s been a long and painful journey. He has the big clue now, but we are still here, wondering, praying, weeping.

We also want to celebrate his life and memory together. So many people have followed his story over the last couple of years. We want to give you an opportunity to celebrate with us as well.

The Wake…

This Saturday, April 1st, 7:00pm, St. Elizabeth’s, Norwood, Ohio.

All are welcome!

Friends, conversation, music, food, drink, celebration.

If you come, bring something to share with all. See you there.

Islamic Hospitality

Mohamed and his family in Hebron, West Bank (1/12/99)

In January, 1999, I had the oppportunity to travel to Israel and Palestine to study the modern day political and religious conflict of this part of the Middle eastern region.  It was an incredible time of learning and being personally conflicted in how to get my mind around such complexity when it comes to the issues at hand.  They say that if you spend a week in the Middle East that you can write a book.  If you spend a month, you can write an article.  If you stay a year, you are rendered speechless due to the overwhelming complexities of a land steeped in religioius, geographical and political conflict.  On my return, I wrote an academic essay on the problematic nature of “dehumanization“.  When we dehumanize the other, we can then justify any act done upon them for they are less than human. 

I was so thankful to have the honor of being hosted by a Muslim family in Hebron of the West Bank in Palestine and observe the fast of Rammadan with them.  Being a Christian, I found it a great cultural exchange to learn of the faith and life of another, a world so foreign to mine.  We stayed up until the late hours discussing history, faith, politics and the future.  They treated me with a great sense of warmth and care.  I had been very ill for several days prior to my stay with them and they made sure my time with them was comfortable and provided for.  They had very little materially, but what they had they shared.  They even went to lengths to provide Coca Cola to me and my friends from the West, knowing it would be a taste of home.  I am obliged to have been able to put a face and family to the political issues when I hear about the Muslim world on television and listen to the rhetoric.  They are not to be dehumanized as a foreign people, they were hospitable friends to me.  His name was Mohamed and the picture above is his family.  He has a face. 

We often outlet our dehumanizing in the language we choose to describe the other.  There is the derogatory use of the anti-semitic term “Jew”, as well as the reference of all people of Arab descent as “terrorists”.  Those are most common, but the lectionary of terms is certainly varied and lengthy.  We spent time in Jewish settlements listening to diplomats explain their case for the land and how they aim to make compromise with the native inhabitants.  As well we spent time in the mosques of the Palestinian refugee camps hearing quite a different side of the story.  At the conclusion of the trip, my head was spinning from all the nuanced viewpoints we heard.  It was rich in learning, but dizzying in drawing any conclusions.   My only conclusion is that when the relationships erode to the point of dehmanization, the conflict has no face and the potential for systemic evil is fertile.

In my doctorate cohort this week, we read several academic articles on the “Muslim World”.  It confirmed much of what I already figured, that even after my trip and subsequent reading, there is still so little that I know and understand about Islam.  Much of it is embedded in a land, history and culture far from mine, but no doubt is a part of my global community.  To be in a doctorate program that claims to be titled: “Leadership and Global Perspectives”, we scarce could claim that without at least a cursory view of the Muslim world.   It was particularly shameful to read of the western contributions to nation building that has led to so much political, ethnic and geographic strife in regions such as Kuwait, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Israel and Palestine. 

The articles pointed out some of the internal strife amongst fellow Muslims in terms of fundamentalists, moderates and militants.  Argments can be made that the interpretation of Islam into Jihad conclusions is not new and actually is the result of poor scholarship by the extremists.  However it is obvious that the violence in the region and threatened around the world by these extremists is far more than their literary interpretation of fundamental jihad, it is deeply a struggle for power, voice and political strategy.  Amidst this storm, many Muslim scholars want to validate their conviction that Islam is a religion of love and peace, not strife and violence.  It is vitally important as world citizens of a global community that we read and listen to our Muslim neighbors to hear their perspective before we can begin to understand and interpret the events of our day and age.

These are tense issues, the realities of global terrorism often claimed by Islamic extremists is not uncommon.  However, it is civically naive to not be aware that US involvement in the Middle east is much of what has precipitated attacks on American soil.  See this debate below between Ron Paul and Rudy Guiliani in 2008.  Ron Paul is well schooled in the US involvement in the Middle east but Rudy G. suggests his opinions are proposterous.

The reality is that what Ron Paul was referencing was the substantial 9/11 Commission Report that apparently the mayor of New York City never read, though he was running on that as his strength for his political platform.  The crowd’s negative response to Ron Paul is indicative of the loyalties to a civic religion and blind patriotism.  We (collectively as a US culture) are incredibly unaware of unintended consequences of the resources needed to support our consumer lifestyles and national security.  In order to keep that narrative moving forward, the typical media line has been to dehumanize the Muslim world.  It is shameful how Islam as a world faith and the nationalities represented are portrayed with broad generalizations of dehumanizing language by the media outlets of the West that justify their existence by cultivating a culture of fear and suspicion.  For this very reason, I stopped watching the network news channels sometime around the return from my trip to Palestine in 1999. 

When I think of the Muslim world, I choose to think of it within the scope of the generous Islamic hospitality I received in Hebron.  It is a world with a face and a name, not a label to be feared.  They are a diverse people to be understood and a large part of our global community to learn.  I pray America wakes up to the opportunity for real change through hopeful dialogue and not fearful rhetoric. 

Islamic Hospitality

In January of 1999, while a student at Asbury Theological Seminary, I took a January term course in which a group of inquisitive students set off to Israel and Palestine to be learners of the conflict and politics of the region.  It was an eye-opening trip to say the least.  They say that if you go to the middle east and stay a day, you could write a book.  If you stay a week, you could write an article.  If you stay a month, you could write a pargraph and any longer than that you sit speechless in the dizzying complexities of politics, history, religion, geography, culture, resources and power.  We spent time in Jewish settlements listening to their stories and perspectives, toured the holocaust museum and took in old Jerusalem.  In addition, we journeyed Palestinian refugee camps and heard quite a different story from eye-witnesses to atrocious events of human suffering.  My only conclusion when I returned from this trip was to write an academic essay on the problem of ‘dehumanization’.  When we dehumanize another, we then can justify any act done upon them because they are less than human in our warped view.  Dehumanization often comes out in our choice of language and communication.  One example is the anti-semitic derogatory inference of “Jew”, while another is the reference of all of Arab descent as “terrorists”.  They are no longer people; they become a category, a label.  This is the seedbed for systemic evils. 


Good Grief: When a Leader Mourns

“Pain removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul.” – C.S. Lewis in the Problem of Pain


Here’s a dirty little secret:  we leaders need to be needed.  Within the context of spiritual leadership, this is particularly grueling as we have expectations that the lives, minds, hearts and words of these kinds of leaders are sacred just like the deity they represent.  Many leaders are infected with the false idea that we can ‘fix’ ourselves if we just get involved in the work of ‘fixing’ everyone else.  Sometimes, spiritual leadership at it’s root, is a masked attempt to live out an addiction to a need to be needed.  You have a broken leader who is sent to lead a broken people with broken motives and broken expectations.  This is a recipe for disaster.  In the words of Charlie Brown: Good Grief!

This is not how we start out however.  At the beginnig there is the desire for glory, the lofty ideals of changing the world and standing up in a world gone awry.  We answer the call, we throw our stick in the fire at summer camp, we walk the aisle after an emotional plea from the stage.  At some point our heart-strings are tugged and we see the light.  It’s difficult to exactly locate the timing, I think it is between the 3rd verse, the key change and the bridge, right before the crescendo of the 4th verse.  This is at least somewhat what it felt like for me, but when the song and service were completed, I was alone with my new lifeling commitment.  I missed the part where someone told me that answering this call to this kind of lifelong leadership would lead me down a horroring path of loneliness, alienation, ridicule, dissertion, hardship, loss, suffering and soul pain.  As a leader, there are many days and nights of mourning.  Grief is a killer. 

Leadership of most any kind can lead you to a place of utter isolation.  This is where Shelley Trebesch’s book “Isolation: A place of transformation in the life of a leader” comes in.  Shelley describes these places of isolation in terms of desert or wilderness experiences.  They are unwanted, unplanned and avoided if at all possible.  Her thesis is that we don’t try just to survive, endure or get past these times, but to begin to see them as the very transformational experiences that may be preparing us for another journey.  Within the crucible of pain, grief and isolation, we can learn and grow in powerful and transformational ways that only suffering can do.  We shouldn’t try and ‘avoid’ these times, but we should embrace them as a kind of ‘good grief’.  The crucible of pain reveals the shallowness of our previously held goals and expectations and God desires to deepen our life into more of what the truth really is about ourselves and our world.  In this way, the truth very much does hurt.  However, it is also only the truth that sets us free. 

Trebesch is speaking directly to the broken leader I found myself to be in my first semester at seminary as an outwardly successful rising star in evangelicalism, but internally a disallusioned, exhausted and lost wreck of a human being.  I’ll never forget the chapel speaker Viv Grigg, a New Zealander, who was begging us American hotshots to come and walk amongst the poor with him in Calcutta.  I thought his plea was quite odd, but then he said it.  He said he had only one question for us aspiring young leaders in America, “Who told you to be successful?”  And then he sat down.  In one interogatory sentence, he undressed my entire worldview, personhood and personal identity.  I couldn’t move, I found myself at 26 outwardly successful, but inwardly undone.  This ushered in a 5-10 year isolated desert experience of learning for me.  I had to go completely back to the drawing board and ask the fundamental questions of who I was, why I was here and what did I want to do. Some days were excruciating and painful, other days were more of a kind of “good grief“, much like a sabbatical.  The wilderness was a complete transformation.

Trebesch describes this kind of isolation experience well this way:

“Instead of finding identity in the ministry or in what one does, transformed leaders find identity by looking at the Artist, by looking toward the Author.  Having experienced the stripping and wrestling that reveals who God has created them to be, broken leaders can now embrace their true identity wholeheartedly and enter ministry knowing their giftedness as well as ther weakness.  Thus, when the pressure comes to perform or be someone they are not, leaders can return to the roots of who God has created them to be.” (50-51)

We need not seek to avoid these times, we can embrace them.  We don’t like grief, it’s painful, but in the hands of the One who made us, there is such a thing as ‘good grief’.   We can find Hope even in the most grievous of times and circumstances.  In utter darkness, light can yet shine through.  I love these words from Henri Nouwen: 

Hope is not dependent on peace in the land, justice in the world, and success in the business.  Hope is willing to leave unanswered questions unanswered and unknown futures unknown.  Hope makes you see God’s guiding hand not only in the gentle and pleasant moments but also in the shadows of disappointment and darkness.” (60)  Turn My Mourning To Dancing

Good grief is when a leader can embrace a time of mourning with the hope that transformation is good for their very soul and the souls of the ones they serve.  I’m still learning.   

‘Open Sourcing’ the Kony Arguments

The video that started it all (as of the writing of this post) has been viewed over 76 million times since being posted one week ago.  Friends, that is our new reality.  Images, awareness, causes, news, messages, agendas, movements etc. can be virally spread through communication devices without need for subscriptions or searching libray stacks.  It is all readily available at our fingertips or in our cargo shorts pockets. 

I do not want to focus on the validity of the idea of the “Stop Kony 2012” campaign, it’s value or the counter-arguments.  I simply am interested in the meaning and form of the new media that made it all possible to have this ‘open’ and global conversation.  The day the video started exploding, without precedent, it was an immediate ‘open source’ conversation

A great example of this can be found in the Guardian

A live blog was set-up this past Thursday in the Guardian (as just one example) and throughout the day, informed and educated people on all sides of the perspective argument chimed in with stories, information, additional videos and opinions.  It was a live, real-time critical inquiry into the heavy themes and subject matter of human atrocities.  Personally, I was somewhat informed on the issue of capturing children in East/Central Africa to be put into the rebel military against their will from watching the original “Invisible Children” film back in 2003.  However, I spent most of the days last week becoming a learner of dozens of other perspectives on the issues and how they should be resolved in action.  New Media made it possible for me to immediately get the perspective of mulitple Ugandans and other aid workers in the region.  Education and awareness was happening at a feverish pitch.  For those of us with a bend towards ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), it was like school the way it was meant to be. 

No matter how professional, artistic, powerful, polished, inspiring, emotional, informative your video post may be, it will no longer ever be a one-sided conversation.  New media has ushered in a culture and time of real dialogue, open source conversations and a dizzying volume of perspectives.  The ‘Kony 2012’ campaign could not stop with the viral video, daily it has had to update it’s website with public statements and defense of its strategy.  The day of the monologue is over, new media has ushered in dialogue with all it’s unfettered rhetoric. 

Recently, our cohort read “New Media: 1740-1915”  which was edited by Lisa Gitelman and Geoffrey B. Pingree by MIT press.  This was a fascinating read within the historical context of former ‘new media’ technologies like zograscopes, telegraphs, stereoscopes, telephones, phonographs and the emergence of cinema.  Each of these examples of new media did not have immediate definition or meaning of their significance, they were defined over transitionary times to serve the purposes of the cultural contexts placed upon them.  Meaning is found within its place of culture and time, it may often not be in the intention of its invention.  New Media finds power and form in these cultural meanings, defined by its use not it’s inventors intentions. 

New Media is on full display in meta-phenomenas like the ‘Kony 2012’ campaign and it’s subsequent backlash.   It was another coming of age moment for ‘social media’ and the expansive power of it’s networkng roots.  Politics, social movements and civic duties are no longer monologues happening behind closed doors and then spin-doctored to the consuming masses.  The people have power to be educated and informed, new media is making it all possible.  As an educator by trade, briniging this kind of definition to these new technologies is something I get very excited about.  What about you?