Who Is On Your Spiritual Mt. Rushmore (Pt. 3)

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SpiritualMtRushmore
Each of us have a spark of identity within our being, placed there by God at the dawn of our existence. We can either smother that spark or gently tend to that spark in such a way that it can catch fire, ultimately expressing the true nature of who we are. I firmly believe that I am who I am because of how others have helped me tend to that spark of identity, expressing well my God given nature and identity.

Part 1 was about the “Founding Fathers” of my faith. In Part 2 was about the “Author” of my faith. Here in Part 3, I want to look at Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt created and set aside a great number of national parks and sacred spaces within our country that were left protected for future generations to explore. On one occasion while camping with the great conservationist John Muir in Yosemite, Roosevelt remarked, “It was like lying in a great solemn cathedral, far vaster and more beautiful than any built by the hand of man.”

There’s a beauty and a connectivity with God that occurs in the wide open spaces. The freedom to wander, unencumbered and explore the vastness of who God is and how He interacts and plays and smiles and truly enjoys our company. There is a real freedom in Christ… and unfortunately we have all too often forgotten this and instead traded our freedom for the chains of legalism or traditionalism or fundamentalism. It’s constraining. It’s a yoke that Jesus never intended (“For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”) For many of us, freedom is an afterthought, it is a pipe dream. We’re simply unable to find the wide open spaces, let alone be let loose in there. This is a process. It is a process that requires someone who can guide us and take us into the plains and valleys, someone who knows the terrain and can help us become more and more unencumbered as we go and truly live in the joy of relationship with Jesus–in the vastness of the wide open spaces.

**Just a side note, but an important one I think–the Hebrew word for salvation, which not coincidentally is the root of Jesus’ name, literally means to bring us into wide open spaces. Sort of brings a beautiful new idea to our understanding of Psalm 23 and others like it!

You see, we need someone who can introduce us to the vastness, the space; someone who can guide us and take us into the plains and valleys, the places where true awe occurs. For me, that guide was Dr. John Castelein.

Dr. Castelein was my advisor for my Masters program. We talked a lot about postmodernism, postmodern theology, the Emerging Church, LOST–yeah it was a big deal at the time! He guided my thinking into the vastness of what is and could be possible, never chiding or deriding any thought but encouraging me to think differently, think deeper, to go beyond and think graciously about myself and all that could be possible. Dr. Castelein showed me a different side of God, a God that was free from constraint–and perhaps most importantly that constraint was not synonymous with holiness.

Dr. Castelein sparked within me an insatiable curiosity teaching me that this was okay–and to be gracious in my curiosity with others, something I’m still learning to do well. He showed me that it was okay to ask questions about God–and gave me permission to do so–but even more so to ask questions of God. To talk to Him with doubts, fears, uncertainties, questions, and everything else under the sun. And that this is all okay. And in doing this, Dr. Castelein ushered me into the wide open spaces, far vaster and more beautiful than anything I had ever experienced… and there I saw God.

Who Is On Your Spiritual Mt. Rushmore? (Pt. 2)

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spiritual mt rushmoreEach of us have a spark of identity within our being, placed there by God at the dawn of our existence. We can either smother that spark or gently tend to that spark in such a way that it can catch fire, ultimately expressing the true nature of who we are. I firmly believe that I am who I am because of how others have helped me tend to that spark of identity, expressing well my God given nature and identity.

Part 1 was about the “Founding Fathers” of my faith. Here in Part 2, I want to look at the “Author” of my faith. Etched onto the side of Mt. Rushmore is Thomas Jefferson, who is considered to be the “Author of the country,” the one credited with writing the foundational documents and values our country ascribes to. The one who exposed the values of the gospel to me in a language that impacted my soul was Henri Nouwen.

“The author for my Faith”
I was introduced to Henri Nouwen in college by my professor Neal Windham in one of my final classes of college: Senior Seminar in the Bible. Nouwen’s tiny little book “In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership” was one of the key texts we explored in the class…

I hated the book.

Now you may think “hate” is a strong, over exaggerated word here, but let me assure you that it’s not. I took the professor to task during class when it came to this book thinking it was absolutely ridiculous–I certainly made known my thoughts and feelings on the book. Let me just state here that at this point in my life I was coming from the John Maxwell school of leadership (e.g. 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership; 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader; Failing Forward). I had read a few of his books by this point and had found him not only compelling but the “right” way of leadership — in fact Failing Forward is still remains an important leadership concept in my mind. Maxwell and Nouwen’s leadership paradigms stand at odds with one another, which led to a great deal of discomfort and struggle in my mind regarding the very nature of leadership.

While I didn’t resolve the tension that semester–life changing tensions last longer than a few days or even weeks–I did, however, find myself infatuated with the story of Nouwen, of “giving up his life” for the forgotten and the least of these.* I approached my professor about doing an independent study course on the writings of Nouwen seeking to understand him and his leadership. I think Windham was a bit surprised because of how I had responded to Nouwen in class, but he allowed me to and guided me through several of his books.

It changed me.

I see people differently now, not as projects or as objects, but as the very image of God present here and now.
I see love differently now, not as some sort of feel good, mushy gushy emotional expression, but an understanding of the fullness of love; that love is an active expression of peace and grace that works for the betterment of others.
I see grace differently now… and this is perhaps the biggest one. Grace is more than forgiveness, grace is the truest expression of love possible. Grace is costly… and I’m not speaking of the grace of Jesus alone, but the expression of grace that each of us are called to give to others. Grace hurts. And in the pain of grace a beautiful picture of Jesus emerges and reveals the nature of God in the here and now.

I am thankful for Henri’s life and his writings. They have changed me. I am thankful for Neal. I am thankful that he took the time to guide me through some crucial Nouwen texts, for the conversations we had through email and in person about Reaching Out, The Inner Voice of Love and Life of the Beloved. I am thankful for the insight he brought to and through those texts. This course and ultimately these texts changed me. They wrote a new story of the grace of Jesus into my life. They helped me to see who I truly am at the core of my being… and they continue to change me today.

Nouwen helped me to uncover my identity as a child of God, the beloved of Jesus. And that has made all of the difference.

* Nouwen didn’t give up his life… by “giving up his life” he really found his life and true identity… I think Jesus said something similar.

Who Is On Your Spiritual Mt Rushmore? (Pt. 1)

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my spiritual mt rushmore
Earlier this year the question was posed to me, “Who have been the most influential spiritual leaders in your life? Who is on your ‘Spiritual Mt. Rushmore?'”

Such a great question!

There have been many influential people in my life, helping me become who I am today. They have helped me see in different ways the person God created me to be, pushing me and challenging me, caring for me and loving me well. And so to answer that question felt like an impossible proposition! To help me identify those people, I decided to answer the question based around who is actually on Mt. Rushmore (history nerd alert!).

Etched into the stone of Mt. Rushmore is George Washington, the “Father of the country”, Thomas Jefferson, the “Author of the country,” Theodore Roosevelt, the “Explorer of the country”, and Abraham Lincoln, “The Great Emancipator.” Each of these designations translate well into the life of faith and speak volumes into how we are shaped and molded into the image of Jesus.

Each of us have a spark of identity within our being, placed there by God at the dawn of our existence. We can either smother that spark or gently tend the spark so that it can catch fire, ultimately expressing the true nature of who we are. I firmly believe that I am who I am because of how others have helped me tend to that spark of identity, expressing well my God given nature and identity.

“The Father(s) of my Faith”
I want to start off by breaking my self-imposed rules just a bit and etch two faces into the stone: my dad and my grandpa. My grandpa has always modeled for me a silent faithfulness, modeling a posture that is quick to listen and slow to speak. I’ll never forget the moment he pulled me aside one day to tell me, “Aaron, I just want you to know that I pray for you every single day.” That was all he said. No explanation, no indication of what he prays for me about, just consistent, faithful prayer.

This was a foundational moment in my life, leaving an indelible imprint on me that expanded my understanding of the spiritual life: We are not in this alone, we should not be in this alone. The spiritual life was never meant to be a solo act, a private event reserved only for the self. Rather, the spiritual life must be done in community because we cannot do this alone. That simple sentence, marked by a life of consistent and faithful prayer, opened my eyes to this new reality and revolutionized my worldview. It revealed to this hyper-independent person that even when I don’t think I need anyone else, there are people surrounding me and doing work for me and my soul that I don’t recognize. It revealed to me that I have never done anything independently, I have never been alone. As the patriarch of our family, my grandpa has faithfully modeled a beautiful faith in Jesus to us all.

The second etching belongs to my dad. I remember thumbing through my dad’s Bible which was always full of fresh new highlights and perfectly underlined passages and verses (he had to have used a ruler, no one can make lines that straight!–Which goes to show the deliberate nature of his study and reading.) My dad is the one who talked with me about Jesus and about baptism. The one who encouraged me to go to Bible college–“Just try it for a year,” he said–and ultimately my decision to join the ministry. Even to this day he encourages me to simply, “follow God wherever he leads.” (Which is a big part of why we moved to Seattle. There is a great freedom in that, a freedom to pursue God no matter the cost. This has led to great joy in my life, and even some great pain–none of which I would trade for anything because through it all I have seen the faithfulness of God played out in great ways throughout my life.

These two men are the Founding Fathers of my faith without them I would not be the person I am today, nor would I be where I am today. It is because of them that I am who I am.

There have been a lot of people who have influenced my faith journey in ways both great and small, and so I will be starting a new series called “Thank You Notes” to express my gratitude to the many who have played a part in shaping me and my faith.