Balancing the Inner and Outer

One of the magnificent aspects of being on sabbatical is that a clergyperson has the chance to sit back and reflect on her or his practice of ministry. Unfortunuately, this is an all too rare occurrence since our busy schedules often prevent us from taking time for such reflection on a regular basis.

One of the things I’ve thought about during my sabbatical is how we in the church can maintain a balance between a focus on individual spiritual formation and a focus on the expressions those spiritual commitments through acts of social justice.

It can be incredibly hard to maintain such a balance between our inner and outer lives: and some of the congregations I’ve visited seem to fall on just one end of that spectrum. They either provide worship experiences focused solely on the individual and her or his spiritual formation OR they focus solely on the social injustices perpetuated by society.

So how do you maintain a healthy balance?

I was given a beautiful insight in how to answer that question through a posting one of my friends made recently on Facebook. The posting was from a Guy Rawling WVTM 13 New’s post. It was a picture of Mr. Rogers sitting beside Officer Clemmons (an African-American peace officer) on a hot summer day back in the 1960’. The two men had their shoes off and their feet in a child’s swimming pool.

On the surface, the picture might seem innocuous. If one remembers that at the time that it was illegal for African-Americans and European-Americans to share the same pools, the picture takes on incredible significance!

So as I think about how I feel called to maintain a balance between my inner spiritual life and outward expressions of my commitment to social justice, I think about all of the so-called “little” ways I have worked to hold this balance.

When we give out food and gas cards from our church office to those in need, for instance, we never ask about residency or citizenship status. When I pull together our weekly worship services, I try to be multi-lingual rather than monolingual whenever possible. After the Sandy Hooks shooting, I worked with our Nursery School staff and a mental health provider to ensure we had early assessment and intervention for youth with emerging mental health issues.  When we hired church staff, we keep an eye on diversity. As a result, four of our 7 church staff members are women of color – and three of these four are immigrants. When our Nursery School was asked by a parent years ago to offer English-only classes, I immediately worked to make enrichment resources available that allowed some class offerings in Spanish. When I noticed that many of our written liturgical resources were offered only in language that assumed certain educational levels – I’ve worked to incorporate other ways of worshiping that were more accessible to those with limited educational backgrounds. When a youth from Peru entered our congregation and struggled to find ways of contributing to the life of the community, I worked with our Worship Team to lower the age-requirement for those who served as acolytes to allow the youth to serve.

None of these steps are “big” steps that make the newspapers. All of these steps, however, were taken because they reflected my deeply-held spiritual views of what the reign of God looks like. My fervent hope and prayer is that each of these little steps will help transform the world: one life at a time.

So how about you? What are some ways that you work to maintain a balance between your inner spiritual life and the outward expression of your spirituality through acts of social justice and inclusion? The more ideas we have for how to create visible expressions of our inner spiritual lives, the more just and inclusive I believe our world will be.

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 54-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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1 Response to Balancing the Inner and Outer

  1. Stevie says:

    My life has been richer with every visit I’ve made to Woodland Hills Community Church over the years. But the experience that is engraved in my mind is Easter Sunday four years ago. At the outdoor coffee hour, a young woman and her little girl appeared, and was asking folks for change. I thought, “Uh oh!”. But your flock went in to action. Folks dug into their pockets, and plates of food and candy were prepared for them. And then you disappeared into your office and reappeared with grocery store cards. That is love and THAT is Christianity.

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