Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Pancake Ballet

Feb 28, 2011

Dear friends,

A very grateful note of appreciation to A.A. for a thoughtful and encouraging response to last week’s column. A.A. makes an important point—in those times when we ourselves have become the focus of our attention, if we act in integrity, our behavior by God’s grace can make music in the kingdom that others are blessed to hear. In God’s economy the lullaby I sing for my tired inner child may comfort others as well.

Those of you who are interested in Chief Therapy Cat, Fraulein Freud (aka Miss Annie) may wish to know that she had a long adventure last week—she was gone for nearly three hours, and returned without her collar and tags. She showed no sign of injury or (unfortunately) of any increased understanding that the world can be a dangerous place. Instead, she appeared to have gained a rather inflated opinion of herself, demanding more than her usual ration of treats in recognition of her exceptional skill in finding her way home again. She is now annoyed to find herself under household restriction until her collar and tags have been replaced. She may be required to contribute to the cost of their replacement out of her treat allowance. I am weighing the ratio of reward for bravery and cost of the adventure. It is not easy to establish just and merciful consequences and balance the budget.

A young friend gave me the gift of a Saturday breakfast in a delightful down town restaurant primarily patronized by twenty-somethings and young thirties. Several had brought their infants and young children with them. Seated in a booth near us was a young couple with their beautiful daughter who appeared to be a very grown-up two going-on-three. As she ate, she was paying focused attention to her spoon (which was quite large for her small hand) while she was consuming with undisguised joy a small mountain of strawberries and whipped cream that topped her pancake. After each careful bite she would smile with delight, her smile (and much of the rest of her face) decorated in white whipped cream. Her father would smile with her at each delectable bite, then, while she was reloading her spoon, with quick efficiency, he would remove a portion of the whipped cream on her face with his napkin. I watched for some time as the two of them shared their parent-child pancake ballet filled with joy and the rhythm of spoon and napkin and the mutuality of shared delight.

Paul writing to Timothy reminded him that God, our heavenly parent, furnishes us richly with all things to enjoy (2 Tim 6:17). I shall remember long the joy in that young father’s face. That memory helps me celebrate again the God Who imagined strawberries and cream into existence, Who shares my delight in them AND, on occasion, helps with the whipped cream on my face.

Incarnation is about God sharing strawberries and whipped cream—not just about companionship with us in the hard places on the journey. Living into this reality changes the way in which we understand and celebrate our relationship with God.

What are you and God enjoying together these days?

Celebrating with you a God who cares about our delight and joy, and makes us rich in all things however small.

See you next week.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Too much of a good thing

February 20, 2011

Dear friends,

Have you noticed the changes that are related to fatigue?

There are physical changes, of course—decreased attention span, decreased speed of response, inattention to detail, gradual decreases in strength and agility, for example. There are emotional changes as well—decreased patience, increased irritability, greater self-absorption often coupled with a dangerous loss of self-control, lessened awareness of the fragility and vulnerability of others, and steady erosion of the energy required to translate love and respect into action.

One of the dangers of functioning as a workaholic, I think, lies in this steady subtle erosion of the energy to act lovingly.

This last month I was surprised by a series of events that made an unexpectedly severe drain on my energy. One evening as I was preparing to leave my office I remembered two client-related phone calls I had failed to make. Although it was “after hours” I made both calls before I closed up shop for the day.

Later, recalling an important friend with whom I had not communicated for several weeks, I thought, “She knows I love her. I am just too tired to call tonight. I’ll do that tomorrow.”

By living that day too close to the margin, I had out of old habits placed a priority on work responses at cost to this relationship that I value highly. My affection for my friend had not changed, but my capacity to express that affection in ways that could be seen and sensed had been seriously compromised.

When I fail to embrace the limits of my human vulnerability (translate concretely: schedule more hours that I can appropriately handle), I am rarely the only person who suffers from the changes that occur. Failure in appropriate personal self-care produces community loss in love and relationship. No matter how good my intentions, that is a bad bargain.

What good things are you doing too much of? Who loses from your loss of energy to love?

Seeking with you the honesty to do only what I am empowered to do.

See you next week.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

The enigma of change in the incarnation

February 13, 2011

Dear friends,

Are you reading the books you think about in an electronic format (Kindle, for example)? How does this changed format influence your reading and your thinking and your storage of books? I have not yet ventured into this world--am comfortably addicted to hard copy so am finding myself slow to venture out. I realize that cost of hard copy will influence my preference at some future point, but I suspect that shortage of available space for storing books will be the first and most powerful influence in changing my reading habits. I appear to believe that any book worth thinking about is worth keeping in my house as well as in my head. If I continue to act on this assumption I am likely to find myself sleeping in a tent in the yard. Fraulein Freud would not be pleased.

The idea of change is presently occupying the attention of a number of reputable theologians as they think through possible implications of Jesus' incarnation. I strongly recommend the essays edited by C. Stephen Evans, Exploring Kenotic Christology: The Self-Emptying of God (Regent College Publishing, 2010). I also recommend that "first-timers" beginning to think about change in the context of the incarnation do themselves the favor of first reading John G. Stackhouse's thoughtful review of Evans's book, "A Christ We Can Follow," in the January/February 2011 issue of Books and Culture,pp. 16-19).

One of the thorny issues theologically and psychologically lies in the relationship between perfection and change. If a person or situation is by definition perfect does this mean that change is not desirable? Does it mean that change is not possible? If I can just define myself as "right" or "perfect" or "nearly perfect in comparison to others" does this then excuse me from the human struggle of change?

In my thinking, if I link perfection with the goal of change, then do I set myself up to be excused from all effort to make myself or my situation different? If I know I cannot beome perfect or make my life situation ideal, why should I work at change? Does human limitation give a strong rationale for just "doing what comes naturally" since it's just my nature to be the imperfect being I am? What does the idea of "good enough" mean in the context of psychological/spiritual maturity?

Thinking about change may require aspirin, but it remains one of our essential cognitive tasks. Whether in the process of therapy or spiritual maturation we are faced with the dilemma of human limitations and the enigma of human choice. Can I change? How can I change? How can a relationship with Jesus, God who became human with/for me, shape the goals, the process and the potential of my human change?

Laying aside temporarily the semantic briar patch into which we can fall, consider with me for a moment, this question: asssuming his identity as the Second Person of the Trinity, what difference does it make in the human change process that Jesus "emptied" himself, "took on the form of a servant" and assumed the reality of human being? [Phil. 2:5-8]

Suppose that you enter into therapy that does not incorporate theological concepts into the change process, therapy in which "religious" concepts are irrelevant, or at least undiscussed. Does the voluntary self-imposed limitation that Christ undertook make any difference at all?

Thinking with you about reality and reach of God toward change in our human experience.

See you next week.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Lamb forever lamb?

February 6, 2011

Hello, friends,

It snowed heavily here this week. One night after the storm the sky cleared briefly; the ghostly moonlight made the snow-shaped bushes and trees into an eerie other-world landscape. As I looked out my bedroom window, a fox slipped silently along the fence, then disappeared into the bushes.

"How beautiful God's creation," I thought. Then I paused.

Fraulein Freud, V.F.F.[Very Fine Feline] who now lives and practices with me, had been quite cross when earlier in the evening I refused to open the outside door and permit her to go night hunting. Suppose I had given her freedom to go out and she had met that fox?

This week has been marked by events, all small and none dramatic, that have made me think about the vulnerability and fragility of most living things. And that has led to thinking about the complex relationship between choice and vulnerability. It's one aspect of that lion/lamb puzzle.

Can the lamb become less vulnerable? Is that change possible?

When talking about sheep, Jesus seemed to think that their vulnerability remained relatively constant. In his stories, the lambs's safety depended primarily on the shepherd, not on themselves. Still--that's not quite all the story. To feed in green pastures required lambs to go out of the sheep fold into a world where risk was real, trusting their relationship with the shepherd in that context of real danger and inherent vulnerability.

Perhaps for the lamb, the option for change does not lie in a given level of vulnerability, but in the resources with which the lamb meets the lions of life.

If I resist risk and the rich options that risk may bring because I cannot change my vulnerability, am I looking at my dilemma from the wrong angle? Is it possible to accept vulnerability and to risk change when I focus on the resources that are available? Is vulnerability the issue, or is the issue the context in which I live out that vulnerability?

What is the context in which you live your human vulnerability? What would happen if you altered that context?

Thinking with you about the rich resources in relationships, both with God and others, that do not change our vulnerability but do indeed change the liability and risk that our vulnerability brings.

See you next week.