Thursday, February 28, 2008

Religious Protectionism?

In the second chapter of Thou Art That, "The Experience of Religious Mystery," Campbell notes how in the Western framework a person can only "become associated with the divine through the social institution." Persons are "emptied of our sense of our own divinity," he claims, and adds the assertion that, "The God of the institution is not supported by your own experience of spiritual reality."

What Campbell is saying, essentially, is that our awe-filled experience of the mystery and transcendence of God is hindered by religious structures and words that attempt to concretely define him. Persons who have gone through formal spiritual "training," he claims, are even more at risk for feeling restless in their connection; "They have got it all named in the book." (I guess I fall into that category, having the M.Div. and the pastoral experience and all. Drat.) Campbell then quotes his favorite psychologist, Carl Jung, who had said that "one of the functions of religion is to protect us against the religious experience."

That last line resonates with me. I've often heard myself complaining out loud about how, especially in mainline denominations, the schedule of worship services seems to hinder the potential of the Spirit's outpouring.

I once preached regularly at a contemporary Methodist worship service that needed to be over by around 10:45 to make way for the traditional 11 a.m. service. Those mostly older folks waiting to come in didn't like it when that loud music kept playing and they couldn't get to their favorite seats yet. Man, there were many times we could have sung, prayed and talked longer, because that palpable sense of the divine was there. But our religious structure cast its shadow high and long, essentially saying, "That's quite enough for now." Plus I had to switch gears and get myself ready to be at the mic by 10:55 so I could deliver, for the third time that morning, the bulletin announcements. I could feel that protective, religious veil, and pondered often the point of it all.

I can understand why people who place themselves under the banner of a Western religion can struggle with feeling consistent in living out its tenets. There can be a certain lack of spiritual peace and power, because the whole construct feels so doctrine-driven rather than mystery-driven. People can only be inspired and motivated so much by institutional branding of the God experience. We make linear what is perhaps meant to be circular.

What religious organizations and spiritual leaders must do is help facilitate that deeper drink of the awe, the wonder, the mystery of God that our common instincts--the perceptions we often are afraid to say out loud--tell us is beyond the categories, names, divisions we can carelessly banter about in smug self-righteousness.

The questions for the person committed to Christianity (but feeling there is so much more to the spiritual life than how the church is filtering things, and how well-intended scholars are exegeting texts) are thus: Can I fully identify myself with "Christ in you?" Can I, with staggering wonder, participate in his divinity rather than staying caught in a painful quest of attempting to be worthy of his salvation through my behaviors? Can I move past this fascination with good vs. evil and the dumbing-down of scripture's beautiful, metaphorical language, and truly realize that the Kingdom of God is within me now?

The experience of mystery, Campbell writes, comes "not from expecting it but through yielding all your programs, because your programs are based on fear and desire. Drop them and the radiance comes."

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Metaphors and Mysteries

In the first chapter of Joseph Campbell's Thou Art That, "Metaphor and Religious Mystery," the late mythology scholar asserts that metaphoric symbols convey not just some idea of the infinite "but a realization of the infinite." Since the symbols can mean different things to various cultures and to those living in different eras, Campbell says it often is the job of the artist to "cast the new images of mythology." I think this resonates with the truth that many people experience a sense of euphoric rapture and epiphany more powerfully through going to a play, a concert, an opera, a film, reading a great book, etc., as compared with sitting in the pews.

Furthermore, as the metaphors become misread and made too historical or specific, an "ethnic" inflection of the symbols dilutes their "living spiritual core." Western Christianity is so guilty of this. Campbell writes, "Invevitably, therefore, the popular understanding is focused on the rituals and legends of the local system, and the sense of the symbols is reduced to the concrete goals of a particular political concrete system of socialization."

This continuing confusion about the function and nature of metaphor, Campbell continues, "is one of the major obstacles--often placed in our path by organized religions that focus shortsightedly on concrete times and places--to our capacity to experience mystery." He concludes the chapter with the riveting statement, "Here we sense the function of metaphor that allows us to make a journey we could otherwise make, past all categories of definition."

I'm excited about the prospect of reading the Bible afresh with enhanced metaphorical eyesight, once I've more fully absorbed what Campbell is trying to say in his book. I've been inundanted so long with systematic theology and well-intended efforts to break down the scriptures into rational, bite-sized nourishments of "this is how it is, period," that reading them had grown stale. Been there, done that. Take the mystery and awe and wonder out of our spirituality, and we can grow stale as well.

This past Sunday we visited a new church (since we are new to the Nashville area, all the churches are new to us!), and had a great experience. Wonderful hospitality, quality music, great children's resources. We'll be going back. But I found myself exegeting the sermon and the relevant scriptures in a new way, engaging it through that amplified metaphorical filter. I listened to the preacher, caught in the role I have occupied on numerous occasions myself, and wondered what he would say if I shared Thou Art That with him.

Who knows, before it is all over I probably will. When I get fresh insights toward something as significant as spirituality, I tend to share them!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Thou Art That

I’m not quite halfway through Joseph Campbell’s posthumous book Thou Art That, and already have a strong sense that this is the text I’ve been waiting for…the one to provide for me a helpful synthesis between my journey with Christianity and emerging draw toward mythology. It’s a book that challenges the institutional religions to their core, yet offers a gift of enriching one’s faith without tossing the baby out with the bathwater. It promises to reveal how powerful the theme of compassion is in the Judea-Christian heritage, and that can only be a good thing for those of us trying to live it in a relevant manner each day.

The introduction itself poignantly captures Campbell’s perspectives on mythology and religion:

“For Campbell, mythology was, in a sense, the powerful cathedral organ through which the total resonations of a hundred separate pipes were fused into the same extraordinary music. What was common in these multiplied themes was their human origin, as if each were a vessel of the same eternal cry of the spirit, inflected in extraordinary and dazzling variations, in the field of time.”

The “same eternal cry.” That speaks to me. That touches a part of me that has always existed. I’ve always felt the undivided yearning in humanity, the common hunger. The book’s editor continues, “If we listen and look carefully…we discover ourselves in the literature, rites and symbols of others, even though at first they seem distorted and alien to us.”

The introduction continues with assertions that will be amplified throughout the coming chapters, in particular the claim that key elements of the Old and New Testament are assumed to be literal, historical facts when they are intended to be “metaphorical representations of spiritual realities.” This, the book challenges, causes much of our synagogue and church experience to feel “lifeless and unbelievable.” Wow.

Basically, the book is asserting that the indoctrination of spiritual teachings that were meant to be metaphorical has led to much divisiveness, confusion and doubt. Scriptures have been translated and interpreted with a bias toward concretizing what was meant to be symbolic. Organized religion is actually a hindrance to spiritual growth rather than the context for its release.

Now, many reading this would claim the opposite—that the Judea-Christian experience as handed down through its organized forms across the centuries has given meaning, purpose and vitality to their lives. No one can and should doubt another’s faith experience without living in that own person’s heart, especially when there is the fruit of a life well-lived.

At the same time, it is hard not to give serious thought to this book introduction’s propositions when looking at the weaknesses of the organized Judea-Christian dynamic in general. A lot of people simply have been wounded by the behaviors of religious leaders and followers. Religion has caused serious division and strife and, yes, wars.

And beyond the blatant misuses many Christians will acknowledge a nagging sense that something is missing…that there is an inability to be fully content with the dogma, made evident by an inconsistent desire and practice when it comes to that scary word "evangelism." That the union of the heart and the intellect is a constant challenge, that we need to read books by Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel just to feel constantly equipped to defend our faith…or many to keep ourselves from doubting?

The institutions thrive and stay in business by counting on adherents to support and live out the tenets of their belief systems. "We are the only way, we are the ultimate brand," is the message. Buy-in leads to buying. But are we in the end holding back the spiritual growth of these same adherents?

These are dangerous thoughts to ponder in light of the status quo. When you begin to question the foundations of what millions and millions of people grow up or grow into believing makes sense of all of life, the push-back can be enormous. You can lose friends and economic opportunities. Take a look at any impactful person who has swum against the tide, and see the scars of the prices they have paid.

But the editor claims near the end of the introduction, “No true believers of any tradition will find their faith diminished by reading Joseph Campbell. They will rather feel that they need not surrender their traditions in order to see more deeply into their most sacred traditions and rituals.”

So I’m taking a deep breath and keeping an open mind as I move on to Chapter One, where I hope to see more deeply and share some thoughts in my next blog entry.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Next Reads

I picked up a couple new books—well, new for me—the other night that I’m real excited about. Joseph Campbell’s Thou Art That and Donald Miller’s Through Painted Deserts. I’ve started with the Campbell text, published posthumously and focused on juxtaposing long-standing mythology with the Judea-Christian traditions and interpretations of scriptures. Miller’s text chronicles a road trip chock full of reflections and questions about life and God and will be equally delicious. So I have some great reading to look forward to.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


1 I waited patiently for the LORD;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the LORD
and put their trust in him.
4 Blessed are those
who make the LORD their trust,
who do not look to the proud,
to those who turn aside to false gods. [b]
5 Many, LORD my God,
are the wonders you have done,
the things you planned for us.
None can compare with you;
were I to speak and tell of your deeds,
they would be too many to declare.
6 Sacrifice and offering you did not desire—
but my ears you have opened [c]—
burnt offerings and sin offerings [d] you did not require.
7 Then I said, "Here I am, I have come—
it is written about me in the scroll. [e]
8 I desire to do your will, my God;
your law is within my heart."
9 I proclaim your saving acts in the great assembly;
I do not seal my lips, LORD,
as you know.
10 I do not hide your righteousness in my heart;
I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help.
I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness
from the great assembly.
11 Do not withhold your mercy from me, LORD;
may your love and faithfulness always protect me.
12 For troubles without number surround me;
my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.
They are more than the hairs of my head,
and my heart fails within me.
13 Be pleased to save me, LORD;
come quickly, LORD, to help me.
14 May all who seek to take my life
be put to shame and confusion;
may all who desire my ruin
be turned back in disgrace.
15 May those who say to me, "Aha! Aha!"
be appalled at their own shame.
16 But may all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who long for your saving help always say,
"The LORD is great!"
17 But as for me, I am poor and needy;
may the Lord think of me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
you are my God, do not delay.

I was first introduced to Psalm 40 by my favorite rock group, U2, in 1984 when a dear friend made me aware of the album Under a Blood Red Sky. I was 16 at the time. Today I turned 40, and I’m thinking of that number. When I first heard the song I did not understand the significance of 40, but was enchanted nonetheless with Bono poignantly offering, “I will sing/Sing a new song…how long, to sing this song…how long.”

Later, as I came to study the Bible, I learned more significant things about 40. Moses, that liberator of captive Israel from oppressive Egypt, wandered across the wilderness with his fickle countrymen for 40 years. He arrived at the edge of the promised land, and there he died before the next generation was allowed to cross into the land of milk and honey. David, king of Israel in a later era, reigned for a total of 40 years; he composed Psalm 40, along with many others.

Jesus, upon baptism by the Spirit, was led into the desert where he fasted for 40 days and nights. There the devil tempted him to cast aside his identity and succumb to the desires of humankind. Jesus was at his weakest physically but his strongest spiritually.

I will sing, sing a new song. I wonder where I am at physically and spiritually at this milestone birthday, a day in a lifespan that is merely a faint chord in the melodies of eternity but held up symbolically by our western culture. I wonder what song I proclaim today. For the most part I have worked hard and tried to grow as a person and professional. I have paid attention to my health. I’ve also made my share of mistakes, have let my temper and fear and passions at times hinder relationships and spiritual growth and the best use of time. I have been blessed with a little family I adore, and a few good friends who are scattered across the miles.

There have been many, many times when the Lord has turned to me and heard my cry. For some time I’ve been grappling with a deeper realization that God hears many pleas from many languages in many contexts. I can’t fully figure him out, and I don’t think I’m meant to. I’ve noticed, however, that when I draw near to him he draws near to me.

Last night I was wondering about the enduring purposes of my life, and whether I would fulfill them. Today, early in the morning while everyone else in my house seems to still be asleep, I hope to no longer be psyched out by a fear of not fulfilling them—I mean, I’m not entirely sure what they are—but simply seek to use words to help others, and myself, thrive and grow in timeless truths.

And in doing so, I pray the Lord would continue to turn to me…to rest me upon solid rock, and lift me out of the pit when I fall. I long for his renewing song to always be upon my lips, and that the words might emanate from my heart.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Purpose and Atonement

I’m still in my 30s. We just got home from seeing the film Atonement, the first movie I’ve managed to catch in a theater for many months. A beautiful, powerful, heart-wrenching piece of cinema, complete with foot-washing, Lady Macbeth-like hand-cleansing and a command to wipe the blood off of one’s forehead.

The movie took me places—onto the French fronts of World War II, into the English countryside, and deep into my own heart and emotions. Like the film’s young character, I, too, grapple with the desire and implications and hopes of atonement. Some regrets linger more powerfully than others, and some of the brokenness that gave root to these regrets still lingers with the potential of unleashing more. The human condition and need for proximity to God doesn’t change with perspective or wisdom.

Tonight I remembered what my 10th Grade English teacher, Mr. Denny Bowden, told me one day. He’d read one of my novels and encouraged me to keep writing, warning that I’ll be surprised “how fast the years go by.”

That was 25 years ago. I was 15.

The years do go by quickly. Tonight I find myself a little freaked, staring at the clock, wondering if I’ll fulfill my purposes in life but unclear at the moment exactly what the chief purposes are supposed to be. Is writing and publishing a book or two the purpose, or is that only part of it?

Or am I trying too hard to find a purpose rather than living purposefully in each moment? And am I too caught up in seeking atonement rather than letting myself love and be loved, which perhaps is the greatest purpose and most sustainable at-one-ment of all…?

Twilight of the 30s

Well, the 40th birthday weekend celebrations have begun. My mother was at my house yesterday when I returned from work, a big surprise considering that she still lives in Florida. It is great to be able to spend some time with her, and her presence means the rare opportunity for some free babysitting as well. I have a hunch that my beloved Uncle Fred and his family are driving up tomorrow from Birmingham, but do not know this for a fact. I’ve only been told that we are going somewhere at 2 p.m. on the Big Day.

I’m learning at midlife that I really haven’t changed that much since young life. Actually, I figured this out a while back, but it continues to sink it with new insights. I grew up craving sunshine, and still need the light. I had an anti-groupthink bent early on, and it is still there with a vengeance. I loved to express myself in words as a child, and here I am.

At midlife, you own that long-term hardwiring and default disposition toward life more than ever and are less and less willing to compromise it away. The key is taking action steps that support such internal conviction.

My goal is to become as free as possible from groupthink constraints, and to impact people in a helpful way through words, both upfront and through what they read. I must continue to grow in self-awareness, competencies, skills and relationships in order to hold onto that goal. This much I know today, the final day of what has been a wild rollercoaster ride of a decade called my 30s: seminary, pastoring, parenting, writing, launching my career in a new direction and, now, moving to the Nashville area.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Branding God?

I've finished Liz Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love, and found the author to be one of the best contemporary writers I've enjoyed in a while. Her prose is smart, deep, funny and engaging, and her memoir spoke to me on many levels. Frankly, I found Gilbert's spiritual search to be more honest and gritty--and probably quite relevant to most people who have more questions than answers and can't seem to embrace neat-and-tidy religion.

Reading Gilbert's book and Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz has been a great one-two punch for my spirit. I've also thrown Wayne Dyer's There's a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem into the mix on audio CD, and even after a few listens Dyer's concepts are a little harder for me to get my arms around. So much talk about "energy." Maybe I'm better at books I can hold than ones I hear; everyone learns differently.

Still, Dyer's broader themes resonate with Gilbert's in that they promote the spiritual longings and approaches that can unite us more than the doctrinal ones that divide us. Miller is the only one of the three who pointedly promotes Jesus Christ, which is the person through whom I best understand God, and he is refreshingly less about Christianity and religion than he is about authentic relationships.

I wonder when I will get past something. I wonder when I will stop worrying about what my rank-and-file Christian friends will think if they read these blog entries. It's been so drilled into our heads that Jesus is the only path to God that one can feel tremendous guilt for even thinking about acknowledging the merits of other approaches. I long for the freedom to love Jesus and appreciate spiritual people in general without feeling conflicted by the way some of his words are translated in such exclusive language. Christianity feels so often characterized by what it is against as what it is for, and that seems to leave many of its practitioners conflicted, reactionary and often joy-less. At least that's what I've noticed, and certainly what I have been like in times past when I was so steeped in its institutions. The all-or-nothing approach; you either take Jesus and all the doctrine and theology that has been hammered out across the centuries, or you can't really have the Jesus part because you'd be disingenuous.

I have a hard time believing that Jesus doesn't respect my mind enough to encourage this search for larger truths I've been on since around June of last year, when I first read The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers. I think we limit Jesus and box him in through our fears, insecurities, need for control, power and prestige. The religion business doesn't thrive nearly as well if there's not a specific brand that can attract supporters. We've been so marketed by religion that we may not realize we are often giving our devotion to a branding of God rather than God himself.

Thank God I am free to love and serve his people without having to promote a brand anymore. My God is not a marketing scheme. Even through I relate to him through Jesus, there is so much I don't know. And that increases my faith.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Direct Bounce

Sometimes you have a dream that is vivid and personal enough that it sticks with you across the day. Last night, amid a crazy montage of metaphors and mysteries that danced upon my mind’s stage while my tired body rested, I caught a vision of what I intuited to be a church parsonage. It was a massive estate high upon a hill, and my wife and I were exploring it from both the inside and from an external distance. There was a mixture of wonder and trepidation. At some point the house suddenly was filled with people, a dinner party kind of atmosphere, and several of the patrons I recognized as current colleagues from T-Mobile.

During the festivities someone handed me a box. I opened the box and found what I knew in my mind was a GSP device, although I have not personally ever beheld one of these. I accidently dropped it off of a balcony, and watched as it plummeted three stories to the earth below. To land unharmed. Suddenly I was on the ground and a young man was holding it, explaining how it worked as he handed it back to me.

A noise woke me up at that point, and as I got dressed for my workout I pondered the significance of the dream, the latest outpouring of my mind’s constant process of sorting out the past, the present and the imagined future while time itself seems to stand still.

My family briefly lived in an actual parsonage during the second half of 2003, when I was still a church pastor. It was a cool house, but I was not in the right fit anymore and we needed to move on. At the time it was hard to find the way, to discern any clear direction. It seemed my career path had fallen several stories to the ground, and yet movable time has shown that it was unharmed and in fact grew in clarity and opportunity. Others have come along that path and generously explained how things work and handed me opportunities to thrive and grow.

We’ve recently taken another big step into a new direction, with the move from Florida to Nashville and my change of employment to take on a new challenge with my leadership development career. A house was left behind, and a new house was chosen. There will probably be another new house at some point yet again.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Living and Writing

Today I was awoken early by thunder and lightening. Rain gradually cascaded down upon the trees and rooftops, adding an extra dampness to what already was a chilly morning. I would love to stay inside today and write, but responsibilities are calling to me.

It seems much of my soon-to-be 40 years have been characterized by a quest to write. Numerous interruptions have formed the backdrop for writing even this simple blog entry.

Much of living can have the illusion of getting in the way of writing, but can you write much substance without truly living? Sometimes I can make a false distinction between writing and living, get myself psyched out and make excuses or wear victim glasses. Am I truly living when I am writing, or am I creating a life as I write and therefore living vicariously through my writing? Or is my writing simply a reflection of the life I truly am living or yearn to live?

When I was much younger I wrote mostly fiction, and it was probable that in those days I often lived my imaginary characters’ lives. Bob Redd, the Vietnam era journalist. Bob Murphy, the anti-war demonstrated. Harry Banter, the washed up and now-deranged ex-Broadway star. I wonder if they still have heartbeat and breath, these personalities I crafted long ago. I ponder whether they continue to live inside of me even if I fail to offer them additional chapters upon which to dance. Do they get older, or stay frozen in the timeless crucible of my creative spark?

Now I pretty much write about my life, where I am the character, as well as compose reflections on threads between the arts, the spirit and leadership. I hope to eventually write fiction again, but for some reason there is a desire to understand my life more before I attempt to create whole new lives. Consistent fiction writers don’t give a damn about whether they have their own lives figured out first, because you never get everything fully sorted on this side of eternity anyway. So maybe that’s another excuse, but for whatever reason I write about my life during this season and I’ll make the best of it.

You can’t plan the birth of a fictional character anyway; they just show up. The best writing often just shows up in the midst of living.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Sacred Moments

Yesterday morning was another reminder of the rapid passage of time and the need, as Jack told Rose in Titanic, to “make it count.” I disassembled the crib both my children had slept in as babies and toddlers. Took it apart, section by section, in order to store it in our attic for…someday. Mostly not a parenting someday, but a grandparenting someday. Hopefully not for a Goodwill someday.

My oldest child even assisted in the disassembly. And, bizarrely enough, as I was watching us take the crib apart I had a vague vision of watching us 20 years from now—me as that grandfather, helping her put it back together. The whole thing was like clips from a movie that spans a man’s life, hitting the key sacred moments. With each turn of the wrench and each loosening of the bolts that held together the structure that once held something precious, I contemplated the holiness of the situation and prayed its imprint would not fade from my heart or mind.

Later that same morning we all took a journey to a park, located adjacent to some woods into which the Harpeth River of Middle Tennessee flows. Despite the mud, we ventured deeper and deeper into this wonderland. I realized I was a woods person after all; these woods were not hot, itchy and, well, flat. Watching my oldest climb over rocks and tug at massive tree branches felt like a scene from Bridge to Terabithia. It reminded me of building forts and exploring the very limited woods of Ormond Beach, Fla., as a young boy.

And there I was again, watching clips from my life, seeing a boy exploring the woods who is suddenly a man with a child exploring the woods, who as an old man will hopefully explore the woods with a sense of peace about the whole, breakneck speed thing of this snapshot in time called life.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Terribly Strange?

And thus begins the final week of my 30s. Next Sunday Michael Jordan, John Travolta and I will share a birthday, although those guys are a few years older and probably have a higher net worth—but who is keeping track?

Simon and Garfunkel have a song that I think is called “Old Friends.” I first heard it while watching their early 1980s “Concert in Central Park” special on HBO. It’s about two old guys sitting on a park bench. There’s a lyric that goes, “How terribly strange to be 70.”

I can relate somewhat. The idea of being 40 is not necessarily terrible or strange. But it is surreal. I doubt my mind, body and soul care whether I’m 40 or 10 or 57, but it is a psychological benchmark of sorts. It is a cultural reference point, an image or stereotype. It’s the age when you have a huge party in which you are majorly roasted by those who have known you dear and long, when you go buy a Corvette, when you chase after someone younger. (The only thing of those three I’d like to do is the very first, and that is unlikely as I have just moved to a new state and am just making new friends, but oh well.)

But really, 40 is overblown…except that for me, it is a reminder of my place in a larger reality. It reaffirms that I am ultimately a spiritual being and that my slowly aging earth suit is but a temporary outfit for a very limited season. It puts into perspective the futility of all the chasing we do in our youth and young adulthood, trying to acquire riches, status and self-esteem. It opens a window to the commonalities among the human experience, to the universal hunger whose growls echo from the stomachs of the fed and not-so-fed alike.

And, in its bleaker sense, it is a simple harbinger that one day I will run out of time here. Even my father wasn’t indestructible. That’s not to be morbid, because it really gives me more of a sense of calm than of dread. But, think about it….we will run out of time here, in this sphere. What matters the most right here, right now….what are we doing about it?

The culture affords us many distractions and not a shortfall of cynicisms to prevent us from growing as spiritual people. It’s all so, like, tangible. But the larger picture, and the timeless continuum of existence, is a sobering reminder that the more energy we direct toward our spiritual growth the more meaningful life will become as we age. The greater impact we can have. Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping, into the future… (name the band and the year) The spirit transcends time.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Worthwhile Spiritual Work

My work with T-Mobile USA is definitely starting to take on a spiritual component. Immediately I must defuse an assumption or stereotype, that I am trying to “convert people” at work into Christianity. That is not the case at all. By facilitating an atmosphere in which people are getting in touch with their passions, larger purposes and desires in a vocational sense, they are naturally striving to examine the essence of who they are. The essence of a human being is his or her spirit. To truly grow professionally, then, is to grow spiritually because we cannot subdivide ourselves like Lord Voldemort (see Potter, Harry).

One of the executives at my former employer, Health First Inc. of Melbourne, Fla., used to say that the greatest need of his direct reports was to grow spiritually. I wasn’t quite sure whether he should say that to them let alone utter it in public, but I see his point. People who are at unrest with their perceived connection to things beyond what they can see or touch, who do not feel a purpose or peace in a giant metaphysical sense, can hardly tap into such intentional living in the far more limited and mundane sphere of daily work. My job is to meet them at work and help them dig more deeply into how and why they do what they do, in a manner that helps them see how and why they are who they are.

And it’s fun. It’s exhilarating to see people light up and observe the first baby steps on a journey toward deeper essential truths. The most successful people I’ve observed in any arena have been grounded in a certain spiritual core. That core has represented different labels and socio-economic implications, but at the heart these are people in touch with their spirits and not just caught up in the grind—in the junk culture debris that clutters the mind with worn-out clichés and inauthentic positioning.

The person who benefits the most from this, of course, is me. I am hungry to grow more spiritually, to be at peace with who I am and what I do. I find myself most at peace when I serve well, and so there is something to worthwhile work (see the book Gung Ho) that is quite spiritual without needing to be religious.

I’ll keep religion out of the workplace, but my best efforts would do little to suppress the persistent, permeating presence of God. He tends to follow me everywhere, even when I’m trying to give ‘em the slip.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

A Virtual Feast

I am delighted to see, via Shelfari, that there are a ton of book lovers in the Nashville area. This newly-discovered social networking site can be as intoxicating as any great bookstore. It’s just a different way of browsing, with its own personal (if virtual) touch. Through the sheer process of clicking and adding book titles, I’ve gleaned that I’ve read even more books than I realized—and am wondering how I’ve found the time to do so given the grind that life has been for, well, forever.

Maybe it’s also a sobering reminder that I need to be writing more and reading less? But writers must read in order to write well. What comes first, the reading or the writing?

Well, spending too much energy on this conundrum could lead to both writer’s block and reader’s block. So I’ll let it go and see where the words—both the ones I compose and the ones I drink in from the generous creative cups of others—take me!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


I found another potential sacred spot here in Franklin yesterday, a little home-grown coffee shop called The Good Cup. The staff was very friendly, and it just seemed like it would be a great, cozy place to write. I (kiddingly) gave the manager a hard time about the fact that the shop doesn’t open until 6:30 a.m.—I mean, half the day is over by then from my perspective! I’ve been known to be the first person to arrive at a Starbucks, which usually opens its doors at 5:30. But that’s just me—crazy early riser who can’t make it til the ball drops on New Year’s Eve.

A T-Mobile colleague pointed me toward a cool Web site the other day, which might be old news to some of you but new to me: Shelfari, a social networking forum where you share titles of books you have read or own. You can find out what all your friends are reading, or what friends of friends of distant colleagues of dogs of friends are reading. I guess it could become some kind of online book club if you work it that way.

I love books and hearing about books and finding out about books I didn’t know were even out there. So Shelfari is one more source for feeding my books addiction. And, hopefully, one more extra jolt of regular inspiration to continue to write books in sacred spots like libraries and indigenous coffee shops.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Aesthetic Jump-Start

Yesterday I visited our community library for the first time, and discovered what might become a sacred spot. It is on the second floor, a large room filled with tables and couches, plenty of locations for tapping away at your laptop or curling up with a book. The room is dimly lit to make it relaxing, and large windows provide a glimpse of lots of older trees. It reminded me a bit of the big library at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., where I spent my graduate years. I read dozens of books there across three years and grew significantly as a person.

I was only in there for a few minutes yesterday, and yet I felt myself smile at the thought of spending gobs of time in there working on writing projects. I pushed myself into those future moments, and felt close to the desires of my heart. There was a calm and a stillness about the place. It was a library, a place of learning, and it seemed well-organized and well- run and others seemed to non-verbally agree that it was sacred.

(Best thing of all: There was no sign of the little old guy with bare feet who used to frequent my former library in Central Florida, the one who was hard of hearing and always screaming at the library staff about some mosquito that was biting him. Beyond the painful lack of self-awareness, I was most disturbed at the lack of shoes. I wondered whether he had mosquito welts on his over-exposed digits.)

I’m thinking a lot about sacred places right now as I read through the India portion of Liz Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Write. She discusses the difficulty of quieting the mind, of sinking into deep meditation and communing with God while harnessing the mind away from all the things it wants to plan, worry about, brood over, solve, etc.

I resonate with this struggle very much. I wonder how much I ever truly pray, and how much of my prayer life is simply working yet another strategy or process. I catch myself approaching my soul as an organizational development consultant rather than as a hungry child seeking the divine.

The most difficult place of all to locate a sacred spot is within me. That’s way finding an external location such as an upstairs room in the library that can stimulate an inner focus is so pleasing. Sometimes you need an aesthetic jump start. I hope I get back there soon.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Ticket to Write

I’m back in Nashville after an interesting yet exhausting week in Denver, where I attended a gathering of the full T-Mobile USA leadership team. It’s an incredible organization, and the investment made by executive leadership to share its vision for the coming year was as impressive as anything I’ve experienced in the past. I enjoyed meeting colleagues from all over the country, and was humbled to realize what a small fish in a giant sea I truly have become with this new job opportunity.

The long flights also gave me the chance to take a fresh look at my manuscript Chased by the Wind and some renewed steps forward in pursuing publication of this spiritual memoir of youth. I also broke new ground on my follow-up memoir, in which I am examining my spiritual and vocational development from college through the present time. I’ll probably conclude this second project with my ordination this May. After all, doesn’t a spiritual journey end with ordination? I mean, what’s left after that? Just kidding, but there’s some painful truth there also…

I have a new determination to write every day, somewhere, somehow. I can thank Liz Gilbert and Donald Miller for that; reading their memoirs the past two weeks gave me renewed hunger for my own love of crafting words.

Maybe it’s not so much crafting words as providing the vehicle of words as transportation for the ideas, feelings and observations that are bursting from inside of me and demanding a ride to the outside. Truth—which is what a writer must express—doesn’t like to be left stranded without a ride. So I’m up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday following a week of very little sleep, because I must keep the transportation company in business.