Roses and Roots

When I returned from my two-month sabbatical in September of 2020, I brought with me a variation of an ancient spiritual practice known as the daily examen.  In broad terms, the daily examen is a practice that helps individuals reflect on their day and identify the ways in which God was present in one’s life.

The simplified form of the exercise I brought back asked people to begin gatherings by identifying a “rose” and a “thorn” that they had experienced since we were last together.  The “rose” was a positive thing (or blessing) that they had experienced while the “thorn” was a discouraging experience they had experienced.

The exercise was helpful for several months.  Recently, however, I noticed that the exercise was no longer helpful.

Why?

Since the process of re-entry began in earnest here in Los Angeles in mid-June, I’ve noticed that many people were INCREDIBLY focused on themselves.  They rarely stop and factor in the needs of others.  I suppose this is understandable since we didn’t get to interact with others much while the shelter-at-home orders were in effect.  So using a well-intentioned spiritual exercise that kept the focus on themselves was counterproductive, to say the least.

Last week, I spent a good deal of time wondering how I could break that obsessive focus on self.  One way I thought I could do that was to tweak that spiritual exercise – and transform it from “Roses and Thorns” to “Roses and Roots”.

What do I mean by “rose” and “root” in this new model?

A “rose” is a blessing that someone extended to you.  A “root” is a blessing – or gift – you extended to another.  I call the blessings you extend to another a “root” since connecting with others can keep us grounded.

My goal in implementing this model is to move folks away from a sense of entitlement toward a spirit of gratitude.  My hope is that folks in our community will spend less time thinking about themselves – and more time thinking of others.  What a gift it can be to head into one’s day continually looking for blessings!

Will the exercise work?

It’s too early to tell.  Of course, you could help me test out the model by implementing it for yourself and seeing if the increased focus on blessings shifts the quality of your days. 😊

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Letting Go

What a week is has been! It’s taken nearly everything out of me. I had hoped to write some this week, but I didn’t get around to it.

Instead, I’m posting what one of my readers called my “non-sermon sermon” from today (October 10). I hope you get the opportunity to check it out. It’s been great to try new things on my blog. As always, I’m grateful to you all for letting me try new things!

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Afghanistan: Peace in Our Time?

This fall, I started a video series on YouTube called “Conversations that Matter”. Every two weeks, I will release a conversation. Each conversation will deal with an important matter in a way that brings issues and faith together.

This week’s conversation is with a young woman from the congregation I serve – Woodland Hills Community Church – who was born in Afghanistan. In taping the conversation, we had to be careful about how we discussed the issues – as we did not want the young woman’s loved ones back in Afghanistan to be put at risk due to the content of our conversation. This is why we used just the woman’s first name (Mariam) and did not go into great depth on some issues that we might otherwise would have liked to explore.

I know some of my readers may have already seen the video since it’s release this morning. I know others will not have. I hope you will check out this “Conversation that Matters” about the current situation in Afghanistan.

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Connecting the Dots

One of the exhilarating – and absolutely exhausting – parts of COVID is that we pastor-types have to CONSTANTLY be thinking about new ways of being in ministry with the world. The old ways of doing things no longer works.

With that in mind, today I’m trying something new. I’m taking the message I deliver on Sunday, taking it out of the sanctuary, and presenting it in a different way that might begin to reach people who otherwise would NEVER click on a church website to listen to a message (cough, cough – sermon).

I’ll try to post my messages on most Mondays. It will be another way for me to muse – in new ways that might speak to new folks.

If you listen to my message, it won’t take you long to figure out why I called it “Connecting the Dots”.

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Conversations That Matter

This fall I kicked off a YouTube series called “Conversations that Matter”.  My thinking was that twice a month I would interview folks from around the country who were doing interesting and timely things that were making the world a better place.

So far, I’ve released a conversation with a public health nurse and administrator who talked about how COVID has affected the delivery of health care as well as her personal faith; and a former Hollywood screenwriter who talked about how COVID has challenged her to discern the next steps in her personal and professional lives.

This Thursday, I’ll release a conversation with a woman from Afghanistan who will talk about her perceptions of the current situation in the country of her birth.  In three weeks, I’ll release a recently taped conversation with the faith relations director of the local Habitat for Humanity chapter who’ll talk about how people of faith can pull together to take on the challenge of homelessness.

In coming weeks, I’ll be talking with a children’s book author about how we can tap into the power of storytelling to reach our kids; a rabbi who works in a hospice setting, who’ll help us understand how to process the grief we feel as we re-enter a world that looks very different than the pre-COVID world we left behind.  I will even be talking with a lawyer and law school professor who works in the field of domestic violence.  These are just a few of the upcoming topics that will be included in the “Conversations that Matter” on our YouTube channel.

When I was pulling the concept together, I thought it would be the content of the presentations that mattered most to the listeners.  A few days ago I learned that there was an aspect of the conversation that mattered even more than the substance.  I learned this through a text exchange with a friend from the area in which I was raised: Eastern Washington.

My friend said that she had forwarded a copy of my conversation with the public health nurse and administrator to a friend.  The public health nurse I spoke with happened to be Jewish.  After the person listened to the conversation, the person told my friend: “The conversation was interesting because I myself have never talked with a Jewish person before.”  It was probably even more surprising for that person to see a Christian pastor and Jewish health care worker communicate so comfortably and openly about matters of faith!

At first, I was amazed by the comment.  That’s because for the past twenty-one years I’ve lived in large cities where diversity of all sorts was a given.  I tend to forget there are still large sections of our country where people have little opportunity to interact with those whose lives are different than theirs in some respect.  It made me feel even better about the series – for it reminded me that it is not just the substance of our conversations that matter; sometimes the most important aspect is with whom we are talking!

In case you haven’t had a change to check out the “Conversation that Matters” that I recorded with the public health nurse and administrator, you can do so here: FINDING NEW WAYS TO CARE.

And if you have an interesting person you know who is doing transformative work around the world that I should talk to in the series – please let me know.  You can reach me at whccpastor@gmail.com.

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