Change

See, I am doing a new thing! Isaiah 43:19

Major change is often said to be impossible unless the head of the [family or organization] is an active supporter. John P. Kotter

God of transformation. Help us recognize when it’s time to change. Give us courage to champion the move on behalf of those who look to us for guidance.


Last night we learned that Cal State has canceled most in-person classes for the fall. I don’t recall it being mentioned, but certainly there will be no dorm life and no Greek life. There will be no rite of passage as tens of thousands of freshmen stream onto campus, buy books, rush houses and feel the exhilaration of independence when their parents drive away. There will be no music wafting from the open windows of practice studios—no marching band on the quad. No frisbee golf, no roommates, no study sessions in the libraries. There will be no office hours with faculty in the hollowed halls of learning.

These days I’m thinking about parents, grandparents and other leaders who are helping young people navigate change. It’s not just the parents of would-be college freshman. All leaders are under pressure to help our youth adapt and change to emerging realities in their educational and social lives.

A colleague of mine just explained his family’s innovative plan for a birthday party in the driveway. That’s the idea. There is no limit to the adaptive spirit of parents and educators these days.

John P. Kotter has been a mentor to me on the subject of accepting and leading change. His books help us understand why we resist change, even how the head of a household, group or org can sabotage the group’s ability to change and survive.

There is so much I could say on this subject, and it would be very fun to talk about it in a lively conversation with you.

Spiritual Practice

But here is my question for everyone who is in a position of responsibility—in a home, a workplace, a community. How can you help the group you lead accept necessary changes, adapt and thrive?

I know that’s a big question. I keep reading Kotter’s books to help me get better at this! But the question is first personal. Will you forgive the tough circumstance you’re in and lift your eyes to the opportunities inherent in change?

If your child can’t move into the dorms, can you champion the value of education in some other way? If the church facility isn’t open for worship services, can we champion the value of the church mission some other way? If we can’t fly in planes, can we champion the value of family vacation in some other way? If the wedding party or baby shower can’t happen the old way, how will it be wonderful in the new way?

Forgiveness and imagination are necessary components of change and growth. The last thing we want to do is be some log jam in another person’s evolution, especially a young person’s. Where am I holding on too tight?

Sleep peacefully,
Katie

Decisions

Wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3

Jesus, who taught us the Way of Wisdom, thank you for relieving us of the anguish of impossible decisions. Help us use your good judgment to help ourselves and our neighbors. Amen


Today Pastor Doru Cirdei who leads Filadelphia Church in Chisinau Moldova was Ryan Howell’s guest on the Morning Drop of Hope. Early in their conversation I was struck with a one-word theme: Decisions. They were talking about decisions that faith communities, parents, health organizations and governments are making in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The best decision-making guidance I know comes from the late, great Peter Drucker. His classic book The Effective Executive is like a devotional. Every year, I try to read it slowly and get better at the big themes of his teaching. One of those themes is decision-making.

According to Drucker, good decision-makers do not make a great many decisions. They concentrate on what is important. They try to make the few, critical decisions they make at the highest level of understanding. Their decisions are based on pre-determined values, principles and rules that they apply over and over. Then when a new problem emerges, the decision is largely processed by applying earlier high-level decisions already in practice.

As my church and my household have responded to the vexing problem of our time—Covid-19—we fairly easily make decisions about how we will operate. We value life, therefore we will limit our freedom of movement, or gathering in person, in favor of protecting all life. We have already decided that Jesus gives special preference to the poor, the incarcerated, foreigners among us and the sick; therefore, our decisions will be made in favor these vulnerable neighbors.

It’s surprising how many dilemmas disappear when we base our current decisions on good decisions already made. And as patterns in our decision-making emerge, these can be named as values, which enlighten any analysis we need to do in a novel situation.

Spiritual Practice

As we all transition from the Stay at Home directive of April to the Safer at Home directive of May, we have decisions to make. How will we use our additional freedom?

What decisions have you previously made in your life which will guide your operations in the month of May?

It matters not if our enterprise is a corporation, a small business, a church, a home or our own spiritual transformation—our choices matter. And by God’s grace very few of these choices are novel and vexing. Most of the time our decisions are as complicated as we choose to make them.

I am heartened to be a spiritual leader in the company of wise persons like Ryan, Doru, Governor Polis and all of you!

Have a blessed evening,
Katie

Transforming Lives and Communities (Day 38)

All revolutions start with a new vision of what’s possible. Brené Brown.

For God, all things are possible. Jesus


In the opening paragraphs of Chapter 11, Brené explains why the Revolution is part-3 of the rising strong process:

Revolution might sound a little dramatic, but in this world, choosing authenticity and worthiness is an absolute act of resistance. Choosing to live and love with our whole hearts is an act of defiance. You’re going to confuse, piss off, and terrify lots of people—including yourself. One minute you’ll pray that the transformation stops, and the next minute you’ll pray that it never ends. You’ll also wonder how you can feel so brave and so afraid at the same time. At least that’s how I feel most of the time…brave, afraid, and very, very alive. Rising strong is the final piece of this transformation.

As we are nearing the end of 40 Days of Rising Strong, it’s time to ask the question: What is truly possible for me?

I encourage us to think about this question in two ways. First way: What is possible within me?

When a negative emotion takes hold of us and the first thought we have is, Why am I so bugged about this? Something’s up, and I need to go on a long prayer walk and figure this out, that’s when the uprising has started. That’s when you know you’ve integrated a new way of thinking. When you dig into your story rather than making one up, that’s when you know you’re in a revolution.

The second version of the question is: What is possible through me?

Having learned to rise strong from an emotional setback, in what ways will this affect your community? There is a saying: Transformed people transform people. The vision for rising strong is not only about personal transformation, it’s also about transforming our families, classrooms, faith communities, cities and nations.

Check out the section The Story Rumble At Work in Chapter 11. In this section Brené shares a list of questions her team works through whenever a hard moment presents itself. I find these questions can be used in any group settings where people work together, such as a family home! She also provides five guiding principles called The 5 Rs: This is How We Work.

Our willingness and ability to rumble during conflicts like a marital fight over money, a teen who has chosen scary friends, or a failed project at work will keep us from caving in and giving up in life’s most terrifying moments.

 I hope you feel empowered by the possibility of rising strong in the ordinary events of your life.

Starter Prayer

LORD God, give me a vision for what is possible. Give me courage to keep rising even when the people around me wish it would stop!

Reading Focus for Rising Strong, by Brené Brown

We are now in week 6, of this 6-week study. The focus is Chapters 11 of Rising Strong. The topic is the Revolution– keys learnings and writing a brave new ending.

Rumbling for Peace (Day 37)

It doesn’t matter if your community is a parent-teacher organization or a Boy Scout troop or a neighborhood coalition, using our ability to navigate uncomfortable conversations, own our emotions, and rumble with our stories is how we build connection. Brené Brown.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Jesus (Matthew 5:9)


This weekend at Crossroads Church in northern CO, Pastor Ryan Howell challenged our community to live into the vocation of ‘peacemakers’. (I’ll post the link here as soon as the media team has it ready.)

Ryan shared that (according to Jesus) being a peacemaker is what marks one as a child of God.

Needless to say, Ryan pointed out that churches tend to focus on other markers of godliness such as beliefs, Bible knowledge, ways of worshiping and outward behavior. Somehow peacemaking is not a typical mission priority for Christian churches in our day.

But what if it were?

Even though I am a pastor, much of who I am and what I believe was forged in me through public classroom settings, which are a microcosm of the world. In the neighborhood schools, universities and grad school where I learned, ‘rumbling with our stories’ was encouraged. (The Rumble is part-2 of the rising strong process.)

We also had teachers who were good at facilitating the rumble and modeling respect in diverse settings. Even in seminary, we rumbled with competing theologies, differing ethics and new ways of interpreting scripture. The scholars, teachers, coaches and students in my classroom experiences shaped me more than any other influence.

The churches I have been a part of would have loved to play the role of lead influencer in my life, but they didn’t. Churches did influence my life, but mostly within the focused specialties of Bible teaching, worship, mobilizing volunteers for ministry projects and funding local and global mission.

The best thing the Church provided for my formation, was a place of belonging on the faith journey. But this belonging came at a cost—not much rumbling was allowed. Diversity of perspective was not welcomed if it crossed certain lines. And sadly, church leaders were not nearly as good at creating safe space for rumbling as were my classroom teachers. Church leaders typically don’t have the skills or experience necessary to teach the rumble, nor facilitate it, especially when people feel threatened and start reacting out of toxic emotions.

In Chapter 11 of Rising Strong, Brené Brown writes: What makes a college of social work a unique laboratory for rumbling is the expectation that we must have uncomfortable conversations if we’re going to work to empower people and change systems.

I’m waking up to the reality of how difficult it has been for me to bring rumbling topics from the diverse settings where I learned life into the settings of ‘sameness’ in the churches where I’ve led for 30+ years. Currently, I lead in a church where there is a reasonable amount of openness to the vocation of peacemaking. But as Ryan pointed out in the message on Sunday: Peacemaking comes with a cost. I have painful stories about the cost of rumbling, hence the cost of peacemaking. It seems like church people want peace, but most people do not know how to have uncomfortable conversations.

If a faith community is going to be a peacemaking community (empower people to change unjust systems), we will need to learn how to navigate uncomfortable conversations, own our emotions and rumble with our stories in order to build connection with each other and the world God loves. Although a church is a specific kind of community, the conversations we have should mirror the same conflicts that unsettle all groups—differences, fears, competing priorities and conflicting perspectives.

I’ve tried other pathways to being truly alive, and they always lead me back here. They lead me home to the Great Hope of my life: That God is on everyone’s side. No matter who you are or where you come from, you MORE-than-matter to God– you are essential to God; and you are an essential part of your community.

This reflection was long string of somewhat connected thoughts about The Revolution—part-3 of the rising strong process. (See chapter 11.)

Tomorrow we’ll look at how the ‘rumble that leads to peace’ can revolutionize our communities.

Starter Prayer

LORD God, lead me into the uncomfortable conversations that are a necessary part of peacemaking.

Reading Focus for Rising Strong, by Brené Brown

We are now in week 6, of this 6-week study. The focus is Chapters 11 of Rising Strong. The topic is the Revolution– keys learnings and writing a brave new ending.

Let JOY Live (Day 33)

JOY is the most vulnerable emotion we experience. Brené Brown

Celebrate joyfully in the Lord, all the time. I’ll say it again: celebrate! Let everybody know how gentle and gracious you are. The Lord is near. The Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:4-5)


Over decades of research, Dr. Brené Brown has discovered that vulnerability is not weakness—in fact, it is the source of human strength. This aligns with what the Apostle Paul discovered in his own spiritual journey. Paul talks about his weaknesses and how human vulnerability is actually the pathway for union with God as well as our most blissful experiences of love, creativity, JOY and belonging.

Dr. Brown also found that JOY is the most vulnerable emotion we experience. No wonder Paul urges his community to be vulnerable and let JOY roam free. The ability to do so is key to spiritual transformation.

According to Brown’s research, 90% of us have a type of “armor” we use to protect us from the powerful emotion of JOY. She calls it “foreboding joy.”

Since JOY is the most vulnerable emotion we experience, if we are not emotionally capable of tolerating joy, we try to protect our hearts by “dress rehearsing tragedy.” That is, imagining something bad is going to happen, when in fact, nothing is wrong.

It happened to me often when my girls were little. Five of us would be piled up on our king-sized bed for story time, my newborn baby snuggling in a proud sister’s arms. Then suddenly a dark feeling would wash over me: What if one of them dies?

‘Foreboding joy’ still happens to me these days. I’ll wake up in the morning and think: I’m so excited about our house remodel, the church is thriving, our parents are doing well… This can’t last. What hard thing is going to happen next?

“What wrong with that?” you say. “I do it all the time, and I think I should! It’s one of the ways I stay realistic and ready for life’s hardships.”

Well, during her research, Brené Brown met people who don’t rehearse tragedy. These people had profound capacity for JOY. When something glorious was happening to them, they felt happy. Instead of practicing disaster, they use JOY as a gentle reminder to practice gratitude. These same people do very well when hardship hits. They have strong skills in empathy, practicing values, withstanding criticism, rumbling with their tough stories and Rising Strong after a setback.

One more thought: How many of us use “foreboding joy” to control others? Parents, maybe you’re afraid that celebrating your child’s success today will cause them to stop trying hard tomorrow. Or at work, do you ever withhold a celebration, because you want the team to keep on improving their performance?  

The capacity to be joyful without engaging in self-protection is exactly what Paul is encouraging here in Philippians Chapter 4. He is urging us to fully feel our JOY and celebrate with others.

How would today be different for you if you let JOY roam free in your heart and home and workplace?

Starter Prayer

LORD God, make me brave enough to be joyful.

Reading Focus for Rising Strong, by Brené Brown

We are now in week 5, of this 6-week study. The focus is Chapters 9-10 of Rising Strong. The topics are: rumbling with failure and self-worth.

Everyday Spirituality (Day 17)

When our intentions and actions are guided by spirituality—our belief in our interconnectedness and love—our everyday experiences can be spiritual practices. We can transform teaching, leading, and parenting into spiritual practices. Brené Brown

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. The Apostle Paul (Philippians 2:12-13)


Paul’s statement in Philippians 2:12-13 is layered. First he says to work out our salvation. Then he says God is working in us. So which is it, Paul? Who is the savior: God or me? Or are we in some kind of salvation-collaboration?

I love N.T. Wright’s heading in his commentary on Philippians: How Salvation is Worked Out. Thank you. I’d like to know!

Truth is, verse 12 is hard to understand. It’s not quite the principle of “The Lord helps those who help themselves.” Salvation is God’s grace-based process from start to finish. But God wants us to work out for ourselves what this business of being saved means in practice. And I wonder if Paul is driving home the point that Paul himself is not responsible for the sanity of those whom he leads and influences. He is trying to get them/us to take responsibility for the day to day management of living into the saved-status God has lavishly supplied.

This maps nicely with the principle Brené Brown found in her research: Those who have learned to rise strong again and again view the rising strong process as a spiritual practice.

How does this align (or disconnect) with your view of spiritual practice? In what ways does it encourage you? In what ways does it challenge you?

I’ll start: I’m encouraged by the wisdom that says I need to DO something in order to experience transformation. This helps me know that I’m not crazy (entirely). When I’m loafing around expecting God’s goodness to make my life easy, I’m going to be disappointed. I’m also challenged. If I’m responsible for partnering with God in the transformative process, I’ve got some work to do– every day, in every setting.

What say you??

Starter Prayer

LORD God, give me spiritual eyes to see, and spiritual ears to hear, what the Spirit is directing me into– every day.

Reading Focus for Rising Strong, by Brené Brown

We are in week three, of this 6-week study. The focus is Chapters 5-6 of Rising Strong. The topics are: The Rumble, and Living BIG (Boundaries, Integrity and Generosity).

True Power (Day 16)

We must take off the armor, put down the weapons, show up, and let ourselves be seen. Brené Brown.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name. (Philippians 9)


People in the ancient world revered Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) as divine. In his twenties, Alexander ruled Greece and conquered the rest of the world. In Paul’s day, the culture divinized the emperor Augustus, who ended Roman civil war and brought peace to the whole known world. Other leaders copied the formula: military might and organizational genius make for god-like leadership.

Historical context makes sense of the poem in Philippians 2. It’s a summary of Paul’s gospel message about Jesus of Nazareth whose death and resurrection prove that he is the world’s only true Lord. For Paul, Christ is the true reality, and Alexander and Augustus are imposters. Jesus taught this truth: Worldly rulers lord it over others, but you must be different. With the children of God, the great ones are also the servants, and whoever is highly gifted must be the slave of all; because the Son of Man came to serve and give his life to free many. (Mark 10:42-45)

Most people in Paul’s world were shocked at the idea that God’s power works through our vulnerability rather than our certainties. People in our world find this difficult as well. In every age, religious people are trapped in false (and dangerous) pictures of God and power.

Understandably, this picture of vulnerability is quite a challenge: God is best understood in the person of Christ Jesus who clearly demonstrated a new pattern of thought and action—put down your armor and function out of humility. Really? The message is so threatening to false power that religious people will detach themselves from the real meaning of Philippians 2 and make it about correct beliefs getting them onto the winning team.

Part of the rising strong process is the task of reclaiming childlike vulnerability (also a Jesus teaching). There is a passage in Daring Greatly that summarizes this well:

As children we found ways to protect ourselves from vulnerability, from being hurt, diminished, and disappointed. We put on armor; we used our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors as weapons; and we learned how to make ourselves scarce, even to disappear. Now as adults we realize that to live with courage, purpose, and connection—to be the person whom we long to be—we must again be vulnerable. We must take off the armor, put down the weapons, show up, and let ourselves be seen. Brené Brown.

This is what we are learning to do as we rumble with difficult emotions in the rising strong process. The Rumble is where we learn how to engage with our difficult emotions rather than using them against ourselves and others.   

Starter Prayer

LORD God, help me to understand true humility and rejoice in the power of vulnerability.

Reading Focus for Rising Strong, by Brené Brown

We are beginning week three, of this 6-week study. The focus is Chapters 5-6 of Rising Strong. The topics are: The Rumble, and Living BIG (Boundaries, Integrity and Generosity).