Saturday, October 04, 2008

Nervous Laughter and Confession

I think one of my favorite moments in doing comedy is when you get that nervous laugh from the audience. It's a laugh of recognition--recognition of the fact that you've spoken an uncomfortable truth and that the audience is worried about just how far you'll take this line of thought.

Comics of every stripe, whether Irish or urban or redneck or borscht belt, have all recognized the power in uncomfortable laughter. Some stand-up comedians make their whole careers about pushing audiences out of their comfort zones and into the funny but uncomfortable truths about their lives that they would rather not admit.

Part of being human, I guess, is dealing with those parts of ourselves that we can't ignore and may not be able to change in significant ways but wish we could hide or forget. But I think when we can at least laugh about those "less than wonderful qualities" in ourselves in the company of other people, we acknowledge our common foibles and frailties and begin to take some power over them. The laughter is an admission of our imperfections and maybe a bit of a challenge to deal with them better. Laughing about our faults and sharing in the laughter with others keeps us from feigning perfection or taking ourselves too seriously but challenges us in a way that doesn't make us feel guilty or despicable.

This type of laughter is a bit like going to confession without being slathered with guilt. And, not surprisingly, admitting our flaws, even by laughing about them, gives us the opportunity to begin to deal with the truths that have now been exposed for all the world to see.

Monday, July 14, 2008

21st Century Friendship, Facebook, and Incarnation

I was invited to be someone's "friend" on Facebook. So I decided to join and filled out all the obligatory profile stuff. Maybe it's just me, but something about this strikes me as strange. All of my explorations of spirituality lead me toward being vulnerable and willing to accept and interact with the vulnerable other in order that we may both experience a fuller participation in life and the divine dance.

But posting pix and profiles and trading news doesn't seem very intimate and vulnerable. I suppose it could be if you're willing to risk really putting your interior out there on the web for all the world to see. Still, call me old-fashioned but I like talking face-to-face and being able to hug a friend or give them a pat on the back or a back rub when they need encouragement. But, given how mobile we are and how spread to the four winds, this may have to suffice for much of friendship in the modern context.

So is prayer and worship more than asking to be God's friend? Is prayer embodied and thus more vulnerable and intimate? Or is God so "other" that the best relationship we can have is something akin to Facebook? I know incarnation helped us see God's love more clearly and made it more personal. But even with Jesus sitting at God's right hand and sending the Holy Spirit, sometimes I wish I could experience God with flesh on. In the here and now. Or is that the role of the church? If it is, I think we're not doing a very good job sometimes of putting flesh on God's love and reaching out to people who are lonely and detached from everyone.

Let me know what you think.


Monday, March 31, 2008

Upcoming Workshops

Frank will be presenting at two conferences in the Pittsburgh area in April, 2008.

On April 8th, Frank will lead a workshop entitled Spirituality for Youth and Young Adults in a Post-Modern Context at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. The focus will be on how to invite young people into a spiritual relationship with God and how to take advantage of the desire/need of post-modern youth to enter into mystery and to reject the absolutes of modernism. This workshop looks at a variety of spiritual disciplines, engaging ways to teach them, and approaches to introducing subjects that are new and unknown to young people without talking down to them.

Also, on April 26th, Frank will be a co-presenter at the Conference
Toward Religious Inclusivity: Beyond ADA to Full Participation at Southminster Presbyterian Church. Frank's topic will be Helping People Find Their Voice When Speech is a Challenge.

Email me if you need registration details or more information.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Incarnation--The Ultimate Christmas Gift

The amazing thing about Christmas is that it demonstrates God’s desire to play in our back yard. We are at once God’s playground, God’s playmates, and God’s children. God is parent, companion, and Creator. God wants to act in us, through us and with us.

And the cost of this incarnation is unimaginable. Think about having infinite possibility at your disposal and deciding to limit yourself to our mere human capacities, our frailness, our fallenness, our death. God knew the cost of incarnation was pain, suffering and death. But God also wanted to see Creation through our eyes--to revel in a sunset, to feel the touch of a warm breeze on bare skin, to know the love of family and friends. And so God came to us, and became one of us-the babe, the son of Mary.

In our flesh, through the God/Man Jesus, God accomplished perfect love and compassion in a way that we could never have done and removed the barriers that stood between God and humanity. Jesus managed to hear and understand God through and in spite of his humanity and to live God’s will in spite of an incomplete knowledge limited by human capacity, saying of certain things that he did not know the answer but only the Father knew. Jesus demonstrated for us the power possible within the limits of human life when that life is united with God’s spirit. And he invited us to live such a life, one powered by Holy Spirit.

Prior to the coming of Christ, the Spirit was not a constant presence in human life, not the ever-available tether to God which came to us and for us at Pentecost. But thanks to God’s self-sacrificing incarnation, we now have the ability (although attenuated by our sin-tainted natures) to live lives constantly connected and united with God. That is the awesome consequence of incarnation-the priceless gift of Christmas.

Monday, September 25, 2006

On Spiritual Direction

After such a long hiatus, fueled by a call to a new church and the need to attend to my new duties, I would love to offer something pithy and real, some words of great import.

But words will, no doubt, fail me when I try to describe the events of last week. I spent last week in a training session on spiritual direction and the immense honor and the awesome responsibility of sharing someone's most intimate experiences of God is all but indescribable.

I can think of nothing more sacred than employing this art of listening with the aid of Holy Spirit as individuals or a small group describe their experience of God for the purpose of helping them to better see the presence of God in their lives and to listen for the next step to which God is calling them. To sit with someone as they relate their experience of the Holy and to try and help them discern where and how God is at work in their lives is a wonderfully daunting task. But fortunately it is God's Spirit who is actually the spiritual director and we who are privileged to witness the work of God in the lives of others.

So many of the things mentioned in earlier writings here come into play in spiritual direction--paying attention to God-given desires, discerning what God is up to and how to get in on it, listening for an indication of that next step God gives us, making space in our busy pursuit of religion to actually have a conversation with God--all of these things are brought into play as directees and directors enter into the presence of the Holy together.

So what is to keep Spiritual Direction from just being escape into our imagination? If it's just about people sharing their experience of God from their point of view, how do we know if any of it is real? Basically, it is up to both the director and directee to listen for the voice of Spirit as the stories of one's life are related, grounding them in scripture, theology and tradition while still being open to the new thing that God may wish to bring forth. The difference here is that we are not just talking about God but relating details of our personal experience of and relationship with God.

So spiritual direction avoids the realm of talk about God which often enters into discussions of theology, belief systems, dogma and tradition. Spiritual direction is about entering into a relationship of sharing deeply one's actual experiences of God for the purpose of learning more about ourselves and the desires of the one who created us as we are.

As such, this is a daring adventure that cannot be entered into without significant investment of one's self and a willingness to reveal what lies at the depths of one's soul. The rewards are great but the risk is ultimate in that one who truly desires to know God and to be completely open to God can hold nothing back in the end. Of course, no one starts out at such a level of complete openness and honesty and often much time is required in order to reach the point of being so vulnerable and so completely transparent. This level of transparency can only happen when one comes to know the sheer depth of God's grace and when one understands the cross as a measure of the willingness of God to do whatever it takes to be in relationship with us.

The advantage of spiritual direction is that trained directors (and even novices like me) can often observe things about the way you tell your story that remain hidden to you. These little revelations are often the keys to opening up deep, hidden pockets of self-knowledge and ways of being with God that would otherwise remain obscured.

If you sincerely desire to know God more intimately, spiritual direction may be worth considering as a way of getting beyond your own limits of understanding God and becoming open to the ways God seeks to be present in your life.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Desire can be a good thing!

You'd think we were Buddhists! In meditating, Buddhists often "vow to extinguish desire," believing that attachment to wants, cravings, and our will creates suffering. So many Christians I encounter in classes and retreats think it is wrong to have desires. In a misguided attempt to "deny themselves and follow [Christ]," they attempt to live a life with no desires and as a result lead passionless lives.

Contrast that with Scriptures which declare that God longs to "give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed." (Psalm 20:4) Now I'm not suggesting, with some Christians, that if you just follow God, you will soon be healthy, wealthy, and wise. After all, the Lord we follow was homeless and died a horrible death. But there are many references in Scripture that lead me to conclude with Augustine and Ignatius that our deepest authentic desires are God-given and reflect who we were created to be.

To this end, Ignatius has retreatants explore and ask for what they desire while making the Spiritual Exercises. In her book, Spiritual Direction: Beyond the Beginnings, author Janet Ruffing maintains that by praying for what we think we desire, we come to find out what we truly desire. In the beginning, some of the things we may ask of God don't reflect who we truly are in God. But as we examine and receive the things we think we desire, and find that some of those things have meaning for us and others don't, we find out more about who we are. Praying for what we think we desire helps us to sort things out until we find out what we truly desire. And as we find out our deepest authentic desires, we learn more about who we are, who we were created to be, and about the God who made us that way.

So let us live lives full of passion for Christ, desiring him whose desire for us led him through the cross and the tomb to an eternity where all may feast with him at the kingdom banquet. Let us, despite our sin, our dimness of sight, and our human frailty, petition Heaven with our desires until we come to know our deepest desires and our deepest selves and hence desire the one who made us thus.


Friday, July 14, 2006

Grounded spirituality can be very earthy

Yesterday was not turning out to be a great day. Although I always enjoy the conversations and musings of the Spirituality and Prayer Group which I lead each Thursday morning, I was immediately brought down by news of my father's continuing health problems. Despite all of the new insights gained in our discussion of Eugene Peterson's Christ Plays in 10,000 Faces, I was really bummed out by the phone call I received right at the end of our discussion.

So, after praying for the group and sending them out in God's name in the power of the Holy Spirit to see what ministry God would have them participate in, I tried to discern what it was that God would have me do in that time and place.

My prayers turned to lament. Like David of old, I opened the pain in my heart to God, figuring that God is big enough to handle my anger and woundedness and disappointment. And the prayers helped as I sensed that God did indeed hear just how troubled I was. But my mood did not brighten. There was no lifting of burdens. Just a heavy silence in the presence of a God who understands and cares for me.

But then I walked into one of the bathrooms in the church and noticed that the toilet was clogged. Fortunately there was nothing smelly or yucky about the sight that greeted me. Just a toilet that refused to flush and was therefore not useful to me or the kids attending a daycamp at the church this week.

It occurred to me that I couldn't do anything about my father's health or any other of a number of problems I had taken to God in prayer. But I could fix this toilet. That was a difference I could make.

So I walked down the hall and found a plumber's helper in the janitor's storage closet and I did the one thing I was empowered to do at that particular time and place. And as the water swirled down in a satisfying gush, I laughed at the discovery that my burdens had seemingly been flushed away as well.

In that moment, I rediscovered something I knew but which needed to be reinforced for me in a very concrete way--that spirituality is a mixture of prayer and reflection coupled with down to earth actions that God puts before us.

If we seek to know God's will for our lives and do the simple things that God puts before us--no matter how simple, unlikely, or even detestable--God will then show us the next step to take toward an eternity of love.

Thanks be to God! Amen.