Exploring the bounds of truth

May God give us strength…

“There is no class of people upon earth who can less afford to let the development of truth run ahead of them than you. You cannot wrap yourselves in professional mystery…you cannot go back and become apostles of the dead past, driveling after ceremonies, and letting the world do the thinking and studying. There must be a new spirit infused into the ministry….We must be more industrious in investigation, more honest in dedication, and more willing to take the truth in its new fullness.” Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, Yale, 1871. (Niebuhr, Williams, Ahlstrom 1980, 257-8)

Interesting how the arguments of our own day often mirror those of earlier ages – in this case the period between 1860 and 1900. This debate is nothing new. One could argue that a similar struggle existed between the Sadducees and Pharisees who believed that the cannon of truth was tightly proscribed (in the case of the Sadducees) and more open to continuing revelation (in the case of the Pharisees). Of course, even the Pharisees wanted to place a limit on that revelation that found Jesus’ own teachings distinctly on the outside.

The challenge becomes, as it has always been, how to hold to and honor truths of the past while also remaining open to new and continually unfolding insights and receptions of revelation from beyond human intellect and creativity. And for clergy and congregational leaders, how to stand in the midst of that tension, with it also existing internally in the heart and mind of the individual leader, and facilitate a process of dialogue, mutual appreciation and growth in maturity toward wholeness. May God give us strength.


Learning to Not React to Criticism

I just read a thoughtful post by Erin Wathen over at Patheos.com entitled “The New Anonymous”. She was actually responding to an earlier and equally helpful post by Matt Rosine on his blog Mosaic: Stop Writing Anonymous Letters and Stop Reading Them Too.  Whether the anonymous criticism comes written on paper or across cyberspace, it can be hurtful. It is typically mean spirited, though the author likely considers themselves writing out of genuine concern, and perhaps even in “Christian Love”. I have found that some people are even willing to own their criticisms as they send them, whether privately or publicly. These people may even be claiming scriptural justification for their actions, quoting things like “…speaking the truth in love…” from Paul’s letter (Ephesians 4:15).

While I agree that we should not react to such messages, I do not agree that we should refuse to read them or ignore them once read. The critique is carrying several messages, which can be helpful to the leader, even if no direct response is offered. If we as leaders are going to step into those troubled and troubling waters, then we need to prepare ourselves adequately for what comes.

Leading with strength requires that we not respond from a place of anxiety. This can be difficult, particularly under such pressure as these messages carry. Being non-anxious, or more accurately “less anxious” is a primary focus of Family Systems Theory.

Once we have the insight, we still need some technique. That is where Crucial Conversations from VitalSmarts becomes very useful. This resource gives us additional insights for how to remain in conversation with people when we find this difficult. The book then gives specific steps for what to do and why. It is filled with examples of practical application. The digital version also includes links to online resources including videos.

Knowing what to do, and being able to do it, are two entirely different things. Many clergy and other leaders experience peer learning groups and supervision wherein they practiced an Action/Reflection model of training and formation. After these periods of formal training, many leaders have little or no opportunity for ongoing support in their development. Working with a coach, mentor or peer group on these principles can help develop the insights and grace to remain connected while differentiated. Gather a group of peers, in person or online, and support one another in this shared journey toward maturity and wholeness. Working with a trained mentor, facilitator and coach can be a great enhancement to this experience. Contact me if you would like to explore some options and would like help forming a group.

Update on my school plans

Many of you are aware that I have decided to go back to school, pursuing a doctoral degree at SMU beginning this year.
SMU and I have decided that I will NOT be pursuing a PhD in Theology any time soon. Instead, I am excited to report that I will begin the Doctor of Ministry (DMin) degree with classes in June, 2012. The DMin is a school program pursued part time, designed for people serving in full time ministry.
The DMin is designed to deepen and strengthen skills for ministry in the local congregation and beyond. It is a “practical” as opposed to a “theoretical” degree – i.e. the focus and goal is the increase of effectiveness in ministry – either strengthening existing ministries, exploring and beginning new ones, or some combination. It is rooted and grounded in the student’s lived ministry experience in a local context – for me it will be my lived ministry experience at Forest Grove and in the Lucas/Allen/Fairview area.
This decision now brings clarity to how I will be spending my time, which I anticipate may help Forest Grove move toward clarity on our shared discovery of God’s dream for us. May God continue to work in and through us, bringing us together toward maturity in Christ.
Thanks again for all your continued support.


      One of the central realities in all of life is the relationship between stimulus and response. When I touch a hot skillet, my hand draws back, almost unconsciously. When I step on a tack I yell, and my foot rises rapidly from the floor. When I am driving, and someone swerves into my lane or an animal darts out in front of me, I immediately react. These things are true of the animal kingdom, and seem to be true also of plants, which react to changes of light, air pressure, temperature or moisture.       When we as humans lack the ability to experience the stimulus, then physicians tell us we have neuropathy of some kind. When we overreact to the incoming stimulus, then people say we are immature. When we lack the ability to respond to stimuli when we do experience them then we are depressed, withdrawn, catatonic or comatose.
      So, our goal should be to develop our capacity to respond appropriately to the stimulus that we do experience in our lives. Some have drawn a distinction between reacting and responding – reaction is involuntary and spontaneous, response is controlled and thoughtful. OK, fine, you say, but what can I do to move toward mature response from immature reaction?
      One of the keys is to recognize that between every stimulus and response there is a space. If we are startled, or we are a toddler, then the space is infinitesimally small – a nanosecond at most. But when we grow up and put away childish things, we are to move toward a way of living and relating where that space grows. You may remember a cartoon where the child or husband does or says something, to which the mother/wife responds by counting to ten. That is entirely about placing a space between stimulus and response. We also know people who have developed a habit of leaving a situation temporarily while they ‘take time to cool off.’ This is certainly helpful, and to be preferred over reacting in the moment.
     If we do nothing more than count to ten or take a walk, then we often stay in the same upset state. What we want to do is find transformation of our thoughts and feelings so that our response can be mature, reasoned, appropriate, faithful.


      What I suggest is that, once we become able to stop, even for a moment, after the stimulus, then we pray the pause. Fill that space not with numbers or footsteps only, but with prayer, prayer for self, for the others involved, for God’s will, glory and kingdom. Jesus calls us to pray for our enemies. It may be harsh to consider everyone who upsets or offends or startles us as an enemy, but for our purposes here it works, because we are feeling adversarial, and the overall situation is certainly an enemy to our ability to be mature.
      So, if anxiety and adrenaline stir in us when someone says or does something, then we can pray that God would bless that person and help them to grow in faith, hope and love. We do not pray, “God help them to see that I am right.” Such a prayer continues to keep us in a place of feeling superior – such arrogance will only undermine our efforts to reason and respond maturely.

Pray the pause –

Pray the Lord’s PrayerOur Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
Pray the Jesus PrayerLord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, have mercy on me, a sinner. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, fill me with your love. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, use me for your glory, help me build your kingdom, etc.
Pray the KyrieLord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.
Pray the 23rd PsalmThe Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
Pray what’s on your mind…  What is your frustration – name it. With whom are you upset – name them. What are your fears, worries, anxieties – name them. In several of the healing miracles, Jesus asks the name of the demons. Recovery work in AA, NA and other programs have demonstrated the power of naming our demons – saying it out loud gives us power and deflates the secret which can take hold of us. The Psalms show us that, if we are humble and open, we can say anything to God in prayer. Sometimes we need to pray… “Lord, give me the desire to forgive. I want to want that,” because we really want to lash out, and we need God’s help to do otherwise.

     As you work on this, keep in mind that between every stimulus and response, there is a space. Maturing includes developing the capacity to increase and use that space appropriately – enabling us to choose how we will respond.
      For instance, many time have I heard someone say, “She made me so mad.” If the speaker is someone I know I often stop them right there and say, “Why did you give her that kind of power?”

For further study…
This idea of a space between stimulus and response is found many places, but my understanding is drawn largely from Family Systems Theory – Rabbi Edwin Friedman, derived from Bowen Theory developed by Dr Murray Bowen, and the work of Dr. Roberta Gilbert who has popularized and clarified Bowen Theory. For more information about their work, see:
We have a good collection of Family Systems books at church if you want to go deeper.
And as always, please let me know if you want to discuss any of this.