Three Questions to Ask Yourself

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In Luke’s Gospel (chapter 15), he tells us that the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen. Then he says that the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law were gathering amongst themselves and complaining…mostly about Jesus and “the sinners”.

These two verses tell us so much about faith and life. They suggest there are positive ways to live that will help us be better people. But they also suggest there are negative ways to live that are detrimental to our spiritual well-being.

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I see three questions that we can ask ourselves as a spiritual health check. No. The first one is not whether you should have another donut. The answer to that question is yes, of course! The questions are these: What are we listening to? Who are we gathering around? What are we talking about? 

What/who are we listening to?

I confess that I am a podcast junkie. I listen to podcasts like most people listen to music or the news. And then there are the audiobooks. Best invention ever! I’m an audio learner and this current technology is my sweet, sweet friend. My podcast repertoire and audiobook shelf are filled with lots of authors and genres, although non-fiction is my favorite. It’s important to me that I am not living in an echo chamber listening only to people and ideas that are “just like mine”.

I wonder if this is what intrigued the “sinners” who gathered around Jesus. He was introducing ideas they had never heard. And they were loving it. The Pharisees were not loving it, however. They were upset that Jesus was coming along with a seemingly “new teaching”. I guess that’s why Jesus felt the need to repeatedly clarify that He was not giving a new commandment and he did not come to “demolish the Law”. The “sinners” were listening to Jesus. He was someone very different from them with new ideas. The Pharisees were listening to themselves and others who thought like them.

As leaders and influencers, I believe it is important to pay attention to what we are listening to. I’m not saying that we should censor what we are listening to. But we need to pay attention to it. It is beneficial to listen to and reflect on it. Does it leave us feeling anxious? Why? Does it leave us feeling discouraged? Why? Does it energize us, teach us, inform us, make us better leaders and humans?

Who are we gathering around?

In Luke’s Gospel, the “sinners” were gathered around Jesus; an influential leader of the day. Jim Rohn says we are the average of the five people we spend the most time around. I’m not sure how much social science backs this up, but I know that other people influence us and we influence them. If we, like the Pharisees, spend most of our time with negative people, then we will begin to see negativity all around us. The people in our lives influence our perspective in both positive and negative ways.

I hope you don’t hear me saying to remove all of the negative people from your life. Some of them need our influence. But we can be intentional about the amount of time and quality of time we give these relationships. I have found it helpful to limit interaction with certain people in my circle. And I have been more intentional to add people to my circle who can help me become all that God wants me to be.

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What are we talking about?

What are we talking about when we gather with others? A community is important. It gives us space to connect, grow, love, share, and become more than we can become on our own. But what do we talk about? Do we talk about trivial stuff? Do we share thoughts and ideas? Do we process our feelings? Do we talk about family, marriage, faith, health, or Hollywood?

I am an introvert. For me, small talk is my nightmare. I do it because it’s an icebreaker. But give me a deep conversation that requires me to use my brain and I can talk for hours. It energizes me. I am always looking for the person in the room that is ready to engage in something deeper than the surface. But not everyone feels the same. Maybe you spend your entire day thinking about solutions. And, at the end of the day, you need mindless chatter. Whatever our choice, I think our conversations influence our attitudes the same as what we listen to and with whom we hang out.

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At the end of the day, let’s ask ourselves these questions. What did we listen to today and did it inspire us? Who did we gather with and draw into our circle of influence? And what did we talk about?

When we stop to reflect on these things, it can give us insight into the people we are becoming. And it can help us wake up to the better things life has to offer.

 

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Podcast: This is Her Story

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We’re up and running!

It was more than a year ago when I started to contemplate the idea of launching a podcast. I had a vague idea of the premise. But mostly I knew I had things I wanted to say and perhaps this was a way to do it.

We all have things we like and dislike about ourselves. And, like most people, the dislike list is longer than the like list. But at the top of the dislike list is my voice. God, of course, decided to play a cruel joke on me and call me to be a preacher. And if I’m going to be a preacher, then I might as well also start a podcast. Apparently, I’m also a masochist, but I digress.

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As a child, I was always thinking. I had big ideas and strong opinions and most of them I kept to myself. It was difficult enough to get my thoughts on to paper. Speaking them out loud? Ugh. Let me stay behind the scenes. And that’s what I did. I grew up to be a photographer. Photography let me say a thousand words without opening my mouth. Then one day it changed. It was too painful to keep quiet about the things that mattered most.

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That’s sort of what happened with the podcast. There were so many things I wanted to share, but too many to know where to begin. And then I heard a story. The story was of a teenage girl with a call to preach. She was wrestling and questioning. But, what bothered me most, was that she was questioning her right as a female to answer the call to preach. *Sigh*

My first thought? We need to change the internal monologue of women in the church. In order to do that, we need to change the dialogue in the church. And in order to do that, we need to start telling better stories. And, together, we could learn to tell better stories and, perhaps, even change the world.

This is Her Story is a podcast that wants to tell better stories…about women…in ministry. I’m not sure that another theology class will do it. But women clergy being used by God to change their communities? That will preach louder and stronger than any theological textbook! We could drown out the naysayers with our stories of faith. We could lay a foundation for a new generation that begins to see women and men proclaiming Good News while they are standing side by side. And we might even see a resurgence of the Kingdom of God when the fullness of the Gospel is being fully represented by men and women.

I hope you will take a listen. I hope you will be encouraged and challenged. And I hope you will share it with others. Let’s tell better stories…together. And let’s change the world with our voices!

 

Sucker Punch

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At the end of third grade, we moved to Alpena, Michigan. It was four hours away from everyone and everything I knew. At eight years old, it may as well have been four states away. But fourth-graders tend to be very dramatic. No one tells parents this though. So consider this your heads up if your child is entering fourth grade.

I made friends quickly in my new town and new school in spite of being a quiet and awkward redhead. I was small for my age. I had gangly, skinny legs and my pants were always falling down. I was also stuck in that phase where children want to wear their jackets everywhere, even inside the house. (You thought it was only your child)

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Even though I made friends quickly, I was still the new kid. My classmates had been friends since kindergarten which is like forever when you’re in fourth grade. The bell would ring for recess and we all would run for the monkey bars. I loved the monkey bars. I had zero skills or chance of being a gymnast, but a girl can dream.

One day, the boys were harassing the girls. So basically another day on the playground. It continued even until we lined up before returning to class. One of the boys was bullying my friend. So I stood between them, my hands on my hips, telling him to knock it off and to leave her alone. I was the smallest in the class, but I wasn’t afraid to call out bullies.

And then, without a warning, he sucker punched me. There was no escalation. No pushing or shoving. It went from verbal to physical in a split second. At that moment, the world seemed to close in around me. I was on my knees, gasping for breath with my hair hanging in my face.

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Some things never change. I have always been a voice for the voiceless. I feel compelled to call out the bullies. I have this internal compulsion to defend the defenseless. I am the one who wants justice and the one who will fight for it should the need arise.

It’s also true that if you speak up for the voiceless, if you defend the defenseless, then you will be punched in the gut sooner or later. Usually sooner. I think this is why those in advocacy work need to take more breaks. They need a week or two off more often than others. Those of us who find ourselves speaking up for others need time to recover from the repeated punches we take in our line of work. Sometimes we even need to change directions for a while in order to take care of ourselves.

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It is not a sign of weakness to change directions. It doesn’t mean you have given up on your call or your vocation. It is a sign of wisdom, not of failure. A decision to change directions means you need to spend time healing so that you can return to advocacy work. For some, it might be a small change like blogging or taking up a hobby that has nothing to do with your work. For others, it might mean a new job in a slightly different field using your current skills.

Jeff Goins, the author of The Art of Work, discusses the idea of vocation as a portfolio rather than a job. We have a calling on our lives; a vocation.  And this vocation is lived out in a way that develops as a portfolio. Our collective work shapes the overall vocation.

The idea of a portfolio has taken root in all fields. My daughter had to create a portfolio for her senior year in high school. This concept is even more important if you find yourself in advocacy or creative work. It is not our job title or position that shapes us. Instead, it is the overall arch of our work that shapes our vocation.

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I am understanding this even more as a pastor. We have defined the call of the clergyperson so narrowly for decades. We envision a man standing in a pulpit preaching a sermon to rows and rows of people. And, yet, there are men and women answering the call to ordination who shape the Kingdom of God in a myriad of ways. We are chaplains, pastors, professors, and compassionate care ministers. We reach out to the poor, rich, young, old, blue collar worker, executive, and prostitute. Together we do our part to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.

I have a clergy friend who planted a church and sits on the city council. I have another friend who stands in the pulpit on Sundays preaching to rows of people and does something with cars during the week. I have several clergy friends who teach elementary students Monday through Friday and shepherd a congregation at the same time. But I also have clergy friends who run homeless shelters for battered women. And clergy friends who meet indiscriminately in coffee shops as they share the Good News with anyone who will listen.

Listen, your call, your vocation is going to look different from mine. And it will look different tomorrow than the first year you began. I have always had a compulsion to be a voice for the voiceless. But that may take its shape in different ways over the course of my life. The same is true for you. If you are being true to the call, then don’t worry about the title. Just keep doing the work.

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