Peace

As a Quaker minister, peace is one of the basic tenets of my faith. Not only finding personal peace, but seeking ways to bring peace into the world around me. Early Friends called it “Waging Peace.”

There is a lot to be said for an absence of violence and conflict. I think this is the kind of peace we would all wish for. Unfortunately, this is not typically what we receive.

Life is full of conflict. Some of it is good, some just really unnecessary. Worse, a lot of conflict we experience is something we have sought out. Engaging in that “discussion” with that person who has a set opinion on the subject? Probably unproductive. But why is it so hard to let it go?

Some part of us actually delights in conflict, especially if we think (delusional as it may be) that we could somehow “win” the conversation. More often than not, though, everyone walks away frustrated and more likely to kick the dog when they walk in the door.

Violence begets violence. And violence is not limited to actions, words can foster violence in our hearts. That violence comes out in words that are intended to wound and often progresses into physical violence.

If we want a reduction in the conflict in our lives, we need to be the ones to walk away. Sometimes we see someone with such a wrong opinion, but that is not our problem. We need to make the choice to let others be, even if, and perhaps especially when, that means allowing them to remain in the wrong.

Because sometimes we are wrong, too.

Hard to believe, right? But it is true. No one in the history of the world has ever been right about everything. (Except Jesus, but I am speaking of regular people.) We get things wrong. We argue on the wrong side. And it does not help when people beat us with our wrongness, so why do we think that technique will work when we use it?

Most change is gradual. It takes patience to allow others to find the truth in their own time.

In the mean time, seek their good. Love them and care fo them. Treat them with respect, like you would like to be treated. When they know that you care, they are more likely to come to you when they begin to question their stubborn viewpoints, and they might even listen to you explain your take on the issue.

With all of the opportunities to engage in conflict, why not choose to wage peace instead?

That’s refreshing.

 

**Just a note to say along with the Apostle Paul, “Not that I have already achieved all this or have already been made perfect…” I tend to blog about things I am learning along the way, and consider myself to be a work in progress!

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Choices

Life is full of choices. From what to eat for breakfast to whether to exercise, who to partner with to what to do with your life, we make choices that impact our lives. Some of those impacts are small. Some are life changing.

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1998 Digital Photo by Eugene Kemper

Typically we see only the things to which we choose to say yes. I ate oatmeal for breakfast. I run. I married Rich. I am a pastor. What we miss sometimes is that it is just as important what we choose to say no to as what we choose to embrace. In order to say yes to oatmeal, I had to choose to say no to all of the other possibilities available to me. When I chose to marry my husband, I was choosing to exclude other men. (Insert witty comment here about the endless number of suitors I disappointed.)

When I said yes to following the vocation of pastor, I laid aside other career options. It is vital to recognize this about our choices, because we have to own not only what we choose, but what we exclude. And that means once we make the choice, we don’t get to complain as though these realities just fell upon us. I am observing a particularly strict fast for Lent. I have found myself on more than one occasion thinking “I can’t eat that.” I chose this fast, so it isn’t that I can’t eat certain things, the truth is that I have chosen to set those foods aside. When I go for a run, and I’m feeling the burn, I have to remember no one is making me do this. No one forced me to marry my husband or to become a pastor. My choices, my responsibility.

Once we have made a choice, it is up to us to make the best of it. This can be scary because sometimes our choices lead to less than ideal outcomes. That is okay. Everyone makes choices they find challenging. What we need to decide next is whether to stay the course or go another route.

Some of our choices deserve our time and energy to stick it out and make it work. For me, ending my marriage over an argument or quitting my vocation because of a bad day are not options. Other choices bring rewards for persevering, like my running goals. We typically feel empowered when we face challenges with all of our resources and come out on top. Difficulty doesn’t have to mean defeat.

Thankfully, few choices in life are permanent. Breakfast comes again every morning. My fast will be over on April 20th. I get to look forward to new options when these choices have run their course.

Choose with intention, but choose boldly. Be willing to take risks, explore new paths and experience change. When you do, remember they were your choices and embrace the responsibility that comes with the freedom to direct your own life.

That’s refreshing.

Making it up as we go

A friend of mine wrote a blog post in January confessing the shocking truth that much of parenting is Winging It. This week, I am reminded how much of life is about the ability to make it up as we go along.

pathGrowing up, I waited desperately for a cosmic sign telling me what I was supposed to do with my life. (And more than just the direction of my life, all of my life’s choices.) I did all of the things that good Christian youth are encouraged to do: read my Bible (all the way through, 3 years in a row); prayed regularly; attended church and youth group and every other church activity. Still no great revelation.

I looked to the brave world of standardized testing for clues. I took an aptitude test that told me I would make an ok (69%) microbiologist and an even better (72%) brewmaster. Neither of those were particularly attractive options.

I went to college with an undecided major, got married (clearest choice of my life!), and then, after a year and a half of marriage, the lightning bolt struck and I knew without a doubt what I needed to do for the rest of my life.

There have been times when I absolutely knew the right path. But what does one do in between the lightning bolt moments? And what if they never come?

I feel that my husband and I were able to navigate those challenges successfully because of a larger framework that guided our lives. We had determined together to be disciples of Jesus and to live our lives in Love. Everything else was pretty much up for grabs.

Our primary focus is to meet each day, each decision and challenge within that framework of love. This is something anyone can do (even without a lightning bolt to guide them).

That doesn’t mean that decision-making is suddenly easy. It isn’t. We still struggle sometimes, and we’ve been walking this path together for more than 15 years. What it does accomplish, though, is removing the pressure.

If every decision has a correct cosmic answer, then the wrong one surely has cosmic consequences. When we realize that most of the time even the most divinely centered person we know has to make it up as they go in everyday life, it frees us to make choices in peace.

Things like:

“Do we use disposable diapers or cloth?”
“Do we buy a house or rent?”
“How do we educate our children? Public? Private? Homeschool? Boarding School (Yes, still an option. And yes, tempting sometimes)”
“Do I work for someone else, or start my own business?”
“Do I buy the Camry or the Focus?”
“Do I order the ham sandwich or the ceasar salad?”

Not that these questions can’t be answered with lightning bolts, they certainly can. But for many (if not most) people, these are questions we have to answer ourselves based on how to best love our families, our neighbor, our God. We can make these decisions based on the facts with a clear conscience.

So if you are struggling with what to do next, where to go from here, or even where to begin, start by determining your larger framework. What is important to you? What are the major components of your life? How can you best honor these as you consider your decision? Then make your choice freely.

For some that might mean delaying college while working and saving until the path becomes more clear or passions emerge. For some it might mean staying in a job that isn’t particularly thrilling in order to provide stability for a young family. For others it might look like taking a risk, a step of faith, uncertain of the outcome.

The beauty of a universe filled with infinite possibilities is that none of our lives have to look like anyone else’s lives. Live your life in Love. Listen to the Lightning Bolts. Make the rest up as you go.

How Refreshing!

Awareness

Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, a time of preparation in which Christians of various traditions observe disciplines like fasting and prayer before Easter. I plan to embark on a dietary fast for spiritual reasons during this period, but I have also found practical value in longer periods of intentionally abstaining from certain practices.

While sometimes misunderstood or misused, the practice of fasting allows us the opportunity to become aware of our choices in a unique way. Last year I felt impressed to fast from buying clothes. Seems like a silly thing to deny myself since I don’t shop that often anyway. What I learned about myself in the process was priceless, though.

I had become increasingly aware of the involvement of slave labor in the garment industry. I was concerned that my purchases were not made with awareness of anything but my own selfish desire to buy for fashion, savings, or on impulse.

My year-long commitment included not buying anything unless I really needed the item, then to look second-hand options first, and finally to purchase the item new only if I could reasonably say that it had not been made by slaves. As a result of that commitment I could tell you exactly what I purchased in the entire year:
A running bra–not optional, and not second-hand
Running shorts
(A running dress came free with the above purchase)
6 pairs of socks
1 pair of jeans–second-hand
At Christmas I typically receive a cash gift.
With that gift, I purchased:
1 pair of jeans–new
1 pair of running shoes
1 cardigan sweater

I learned that I am impulsive when it comes to sales and clearance. It takes Amazonian strength on my part not to cave. I do have to say that this clothing fast was only for myself and I did buy appropriate clothing for my children, which is really a little bit cheating because it sometimes took the edge off…

This year, I set out to fast from meat. I need to say that I do not necessarily believe that eating meat is immoral or wrong or terribly unhealthy. I do believe that the amount of meat we typically consume as Americans is unhealthy. The way that we conceive of the composition of meals leaves much to be desired. The treatment our food-to-be in CAFO’s is pretty reprehensible. So there is a lot to be gained from being more intentional about my meat consumption.

I think there are ways to eat meat with a clear conscience and a healthy body, but I am not sure I have fulfilled that ideal in the past. I decided to give myself an opportunity to think about my meat consumption and food choices in general by eating meat free for an entire year.

I put guidelines on this fast in the same way I did the clothing fast. I will eat meat when it means accepting hospitality in a gracious manner. I will eat meat when completely unavoidable (when that is all that is available, like at some church functions). I will eat fish from time to time.

I am hoping to learn as much about myself from this fast as I did the clothing fast. So far, I have learned from both that I am able to live just fine with much less than what I consumed before without giving it a thought.

Living with intention is very much a part of the Refreshing Life.