Posts Tagged ‘spiritual’

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My Lenten Practice

In Uncategorized on April 6, 2014 by mstevensrev Tagged: ,

GenuflectThis year it has not been easy for me to figure out what my practice during Lent will be.  With only two weeks until Easter I have finally come to a decision. Still being new to the Episcopal worship practices and high church I struggle to genuflect (kneel) and make the sign of the cross at the appropriate times during the service. Instead of doing that for the next two weeks I am going to touch the part of my body I like the least at those moments and during the week spend a moment of meditation touching the same part of my body.  My prayer will not be for change but rather healing, healing for the wounds that have brought about that part of my body, healing for the hatred I have had for myself, and healing in loving others in their wounds.

 

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The Wall and a brief on my personal spiritual journey, Part II

In Uncategorized on March 30, 2014 by mstevensrev Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

ImageLast week I began reflecting on my spiritual journey in the last four years as a result of realizing that perhaps I may have been unfair to casual observers of my life who do not have the insight into all that I have experienced during this time of deep depression and spiritual reformation.  In my blog post, The Way and a brief on my personal spiritual journey, Part I I refer to the concept of the light post:

“Those familiar with C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia remember that the first place Lucy comes to in the new world of discovery is a light post, it serves as a marker between the new and the old.  As the new is completely unfamiliar, threatening, and disorienting the light post serves as a marker even when they return home. Interestingly enough as the books progress the light post fades and the characters are almost fully engulfed in the new culture, they are changed with little need for the physical light post.”

My goal was to share three, the three most significant that I could recall and an interesting thing happened with that.  This week as I prepared my heart and meditated on this post, a flood of light posts have come to mind.  In what was certainly a desert time in my life of restoration and healing God did not leave me alone and did not feed me like a prisoner in concentration camp, rather I was like a person in cancer treatment where food does not taste good and any nutrients seem to merely pass through me at the same time I am being nourished.

One other thought I had this week was regarding this idea of lamp posts, in my neighborhood in Baltimore we used to call them streetlights.  There were a ton of kids that I used to play with in the neighborhood and we basically ran the streets, yet the rule was when the streetlights came on it was time to head home.  This was a universal signed for my brother and I that the day was over and it was time to rest.  What is amazing with these streetlights or light posts is that I had no idea that I was being call to head home, as at the time if felt as if my home had been taken from me and I was alone.  When you leave a denomination like the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) who if there is one thing they do well it is to be “correct”, by implication if you leave those who are “right” you are naturally now a person who is wrong.  For someone that has struggle with shame for most of his life this idea of being wrong was not that I could merely be wrong theologically, but rather I was wrong at my core, disobedient, and wayward.  All of this was a lie as I know realized that I was being called home.

ImageLauren Winner spoke roughly one year ago at the Kindlings Winterfest on Orcas Island, the topic was My Spiritual Journey (So Far), Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis. If you are interested you can check out the series of lectures on the the Kindlings website. As I had been deep in depression for more than three years, I was very interested in what Lauren had to share.  To provide some background for those who do not know Lauren, I will give a heavily commentaried version of what I heard about her experience though she would likely share it much differently. Hopefully my description will be roughly accurate and not misrepresent Lauren at all, if it does I am glad to be corrected.  After growing up as a child in a wonderful intellectually and spiritual challenging household, Lauren a practicing Jew converted to Christianity at some point in college.  Lauren being the great thinker she is wrote a terribly popular book titled, “Girl Meets God.” This book was hugely successful within the evangelical community and because of the thoughtfulness and dramatic nature of Lauren’s conversion she became a darling.  She was living proof that God converts smart people and everyone needed to know about it, for many Lauren’s story may end there as they know it.  The next two books did not have the same impact as I understand Girl meets God had, Mudhouse Sabbath and Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity.  Then Lauren went through complete deconstruction of this new faith (both Lauren and I would argue there was nothing “new” and conversion was not an accurate term for her transformation) she had found as her marriage dissolved.  It is here that a Mid-Faith Crisis took hold, leading her to give up so much of what she understood as good and end up couch surfing at the home of a priest.  Not only did the talk at Kindlings Winterfest come out of this time, but so did a book Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis.  This book according to Christianity Today was called an instant spiritual classic.

I had visited my doctor during my depression for help as I had a period of six months where I was sleeping no more than two hours a night.  On one visit I was talking about all the reading that I had been doing on depression and my doctor asked me if I had read anything related to a mid-life crisis.  I laughed as a thirty six year old it sure seemed odd that I may be suffering from a mid-life crisis, but I followed my doctors instructions and was surprised.  In short I had accomplished man of the goals I had set out to achieve including career, home, children, wife, and even had run a church.  All of these things left me feeling short of complete and there was no great shot in the arm that could change the fact that I broken and dissatisfied.  Fight Club put it like this:

 

ImageLauren Winners told me that there was a wall, this wall is one that God places in your life. The wall appears to be something placed in your life that is holding you back from moving forward and at first it is natural to fight against it, but all the fighting is worthless, all the talk is on deaf ears, and all the struggle is breaking down the life and the person that you have created and ultimately the god that you have created in your image.  The fight breaks you and there is a point where you simply wait at the wall.  There is no resolution or fix, after three years of depression I heard, this is meaningful and unchanging.  Yes, there were the anti-depressants I went on to help me sleep that flat lined me emotionally but allowed me to function at work and at least contribute on some small level as a participant in my family.  Though they did not remove the wall, the wall remained and until I heard from Lauren that it was okay I had no peace. Slowly over time the wall becomes not a hindrance but rather a place of stillness, rest, and ultimately comfort.  This comfort is a similar for me as running a marathon or ultra, the body may be in pain but the mind is focused and enlightened through the discipline and discomfort.  The Wall provided the same for my soul.  Yes, reality as you once knew it breaks and you are left as a new person.  Knowing that a fellow traveler had walked this path before was all I needed as a lamp post.  Lauren Winner did not fix or change anything for me but she held up a light, and as I describe that all I can hear is the song This Little Light of Mine.  Again Fight Club:

I still blush at the advice I gave to so many while I was a full time vocational pastor, a young man with great hope and naivety.  There were many who I counseled that were going through depth that at the time I could not relate to.  Yes, Jesus has suffered in every way you and I have, he has undergone even greater suffering then we can imagine.  That is true and in the right moment something to remember.  Though I learned that the Wall is so high at times that you may not be able to see the cross, the doubt is so strong that sitting in church makes you feel like a refugee to your core, the walk seems so long and hard that throwing yourself off a bridge seems like the best solution for everyone. The deep gratitude I have for Lauren Winner she cannot know, to journey to the wall is hard and then once again to share her life in public with many who are incapable of understanding the depth of what she has gone through.  She is brave and courageous, and a great inspiration to me.

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The Way and a brief on my personal spiritual journey, Part I

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2014 by mstevensrev Tagged: , , , ,

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The signed movie poster Karina and I got when we saw The Way on opening weekend.

Events from late 2010 and early 2011 set me on a journey that would destroy and recreate every aspect of my life in a way that is more firm a foundation then I could have ever imagined.  After being in Spain last week my memory took me back to the night Karin and I went to see The Way, a film by Emilio Estevez that shares a spiritual pilgrimage of a father (his father in real life) traveling the El camino de Santiago.  This file was one a few light post in the past three years that sustained me and I would like to share in addition to some of the basics of what has changed for me.  This will be a primer and since I plan on attending worship and celebrating Sabbath with my family today there is no way I could afford the time to explain in detail all that has gone on, nor would I want to. Rather even my thoughts on this post have made me aware of why my writing has suffered during this period and given me great joyous expectation that while the journey is not complete I am on a new path where my thoughts will be appropriate to share with the world.  There are some who know me that may read this post with concern or possible feel threatened that I am making a case against beliefs they hold close, if that is the case for you do not feel obligated to continue reading.  Your friendship from afar is appreciated, yet I am not interested in arguing or persuading anyone of making this same journey if they are not open to it.  So in short if you found this via Facebook instead of leaving nasty comments feel free just to unfriend me now, no hard feelings and I wish you many blessings.  Recent discussions with old friends and a fabulous dinner last night with folks we love that have know us for over fifteen years has made me aware that significant change has taken place and for those interested it would be good to share.  The light posts were provided by God and a clear demonstration of the Creators promise, “My grace is sufficient.”

ImageThose familiar with C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia remember that the first place Lucy comes to in the new world of discovery is a light post, it serves as a marker between the new and the old.  As the new is completely unfamiliar, threatening, and disorienting the light post serves as a marker even when they return home. Interestingly enough as the books progress the light post fades and the characters are almost fully engulfed in the new culture, they are changed with the need for the physical light post.   There are three that I want to mention: 

It was the first time in my married life that I had been looking for a new church where I was not ordained in a Christian Denomination as a minister, and the search began at places similar to most of my spiritual history to that point but on this particular Sunday me and my family found ourselves at St. Paul’s on lower Queen Anne.  After dropping our kids off downstairs and walking up the narrow stairwell to prepare for mass that was just about to start.  The Rector of the church in robe and all stopped on the middle of the stairs and we made introduction.  After sharing what church we had attended before visiting St. Paul’s her face softened and she said, “You are one of the refugees, welcome feel free to come here and rest.”  In a theological manner I was aware the I was a refugee, 1 Peter 2:11, “As strangers in a strange world.” or as old timey Christianity puts it “I was not made for this world, I’m merely traveling through.” or as popular Christianity puts it “Not home yet” or “Long way home” and yet for me to be call a refugee was an experience that offered invitation.  To maintain a psychological position of strength I was a fighter for righteousness or a unjustly persecuted, as a refugee none of that mattered.  All that was need (and offered) was rest.  As weeks turned into months and months now into years, we have found that.  In my recovery I was inspired to rest from recreating myself theologically too (I’ll write more on some of what has changed later), I took a sabbath from recreating a framework for God that met my new circumstances.  Rather I rested and struggled to rest all while experiencing the God of the Scriptures and to my surprise that experience shaped something in me that was not merely based on a logic framework, but was logical and in line with how I was experiencing the attempt at living a Biblical life.  To push the analogy further a refugee is a foreigner in land that is not her own, yet she may or may not be homeless.  She can have a tent, a flexible reliable living structure though not as concrete as a house with a foundation or a cathedral.  This tent serves both as a home but also a reminder that there is a home she is moving to.

Sabbath as a concept was one that integrating into my life as a goal oriented task driven extravert was difficult, though gratefully God overcomes personalities and circumstances and forces his loving goodness upon us.  By November of 2010, I had lost my ordination within the Presbyterian Church of America and I officially went on sabbatical as a Ruling Elder of Grace Church Seattle.  These were very difficult decisions as I had dreamed of being a minister since I felt called at fourteen years old and that was no longer a part of my life though I had worked so hard for it.  Grace Church Seattle was the church experience that convinced me that a church could care for the same needs as the city it was in, I met my wife there, two of my children were baptized there, many friends from there are as close as family and there was a sense that the sabbatical would eventually lead me to step down and ultimately leave the church that I had at one time so loved.  Roughly one year after leaving and living as refugee at St. Paul’s, Karin and I went on the weekend of October 21st, 2011 to see the movie The Way.  After watching the article on CBS Sunday Morning, I was inspired hearing Martin Sheen describe his Catholic spirituality and the journey of exploring that with his son Emilio Estevez.  As timing would have it, this was also during the time that Charlie Sheen was at the peak of his meltdown, therefore the entire family was in the cultural spotlight for reasons beyond the movie release.  The movie chronicles a pilgrimage of Charlie Sheen’s character on the El camino de Santiago after the death of his son. Most of the movie is grand shots of the landscape as the pilgrims journey the path together, the beauty of Spain is truly an additional character and sets a romantic vision of nature and spirituality.  Even the first time I watched the movie I noticed a significant change in the style of filming once the pilgrims arrived at Santiago de Compostela, the grand cathedral that traditionally marks the end of the pilgrimage.  On the cathedral steps the camera only focus on the faces of the pilgrims as they speak and the smallest details on the cathedral, the grand visions that were provided to us of nature are now denied and for me there was almost a claustrophobic sense to this film.  Quickly, I judged that this is the directors way of criticizing the spiritual when compared to the natural and I anticipated a disappointing end to a movie I had enjoyed up until that point.  To my surprise as the pilgrims sat within the mass, the almost inappropriate close ups of their faces began to retreat.  The mass moved into the moment of lighting the incense and now the viewer is soaring from the ceiling of the cathedral as half a dozen men swing the incense hundreds of yards through the entire cathedral. A beautiful and powerful moment in the movie showing the spectacular nature of divine worship in line with all the drama provided for us in nature.  The beauty of sacramental worship, all I had known that was truth had been taken from me and I was alone but the church offered a gateway into a dimension that rationally I could not explain.  The invitation was that to meet the Creator that not only imagined dinosaurs, but created and destroyed them leaving moderns with a mysterious trail of breadcrumbs to follow as we attempt to explain the reason for their existence..and our existence.  This invitation centered around meeting God, flesh and blood, at the meal prepared for me at the Eucharist.  This second light post sustained me in my dark travels as a refugee.  

 

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Motivation

In exercise,Fun,fun video,Games,running,Uncategorized on December 4, 2012 by mstevensrev Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

Yesterday I went for my second run in my new shoes. As some of you may have read in previous posts after reading Born to Run, I registered and successfully completed my first ultra run, a grueling 12 hour race, that I completed 38 miles in 10 hours before the terrible rains.  The one black Friday purchase I did make was a new pair of running shoes and I decided to go Bare Foot.  Yes, reading Born to Run influenced this as well but there was a greater factor I realized while running yesterday.

Image When I was a kid I remember getting a new pair of Zips or Kangaroos and running as hard as I could outside my house in Baltimore.  I mean this is what you did, the new shoes made you run faster and it is almost as if they had a will of their own that took you over.  Yesterday on my run I realized whether the Bare Foot running trend is just a fad or not, it has sparked new motivation for me during a very difficult time of year to train in Seattle, especially this year with how wet it has been.  Never before in my life have I lived so close to trails that I can easily get to to run. Never before have I enjoyed running in sopping wet grass through my neighborhood.

I am using wisdom and not going out on long runs in my New Balance Minimus 20V2 Trail Shoes, rather I’m keeping them to 3-6 miles on the trails.  Also I have kept my old shoes, which are very worn to wear as I run longer distance that requires running on the street and pavement.  As I head to San Francisco this week for work I’ll only be taking my ‘street shoes’.

So today whether you are running, working or watching kids I hope that you are able to find some motivation and encouragement to be your best, Rock and Roll!

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Advent: The Stevens’ first Sunday

In Uncategorized on December 2, 2012 by mstevensrev Tagged: , , , ,

ImageTo kick off the advent season in our home we decorated the Christmas tree and watched Merry Christmas Charlie Brown last night.  The tree had been set up with lights on it since Thanksgiving weekend but it took us some time to get around to organizing, putting up ornaments with a two year old is really challenging.  I am glad to report that we did not drop and break any ornaments last night, that was a record.

This first week of advent our family will focus on Hope.  Just this morning my second daughter was telling me over breakfast how excited she is over Christmas, she can’t wait for the gifts and the skiing.  Very quickly though she told me that’s not what Christmas is about though, so I asked her what Christmas is about.  She said, “Tiny baby Jesus”, and feeling like the great parent I pretend to be I asked how she knew that expecting to hear she learned it from out viewing of Merry Christmas Charlie Brown, I was surprise she said I learned it from my big sister.  Sincerely I was proud to know that our entire family is talking about these things with each other.  One hope I have is that our family will continue to grow in our personal passion for God but also the ability to talk with others (including each other) about what God is teaching us.

Advent seems so short to me today, only four weeks to consider that God came to earth as a person, that God promised this and always fulfills his promises, that this physical stuff matters, and that family and friends are to be served and loved through my humbling of myself.  My hope is that we would enjoy this season together as a family and think about what it really means that Jesus was born.  My hope is that we would enjoy the study we have done the last few years written by my friend Elliot Grudem, if you need some guidance for Advent is a great start, Advent Devotional

Hope you enjoy your Advent!

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Integrity: theme for the week and continuing The Corporate Mystic

In Books,Community,culture,devotional,Evangelist,faith,family,generosity,journal,leadership,mission,Money,Uncategorized on November 30, 2012 by mstevensrev Tagged: , , , , , ,

Each month (when I am not traveling for work) I attend a great networking event here in  Seattle called Kiros, yesterday there was a striking talk on “Crossing the line” by Mark Sabo. This was Mark’s personal story of his failure in business regarding integrity and the consequences that followed.  Personally I was struck by what a small decision by Mark led to such very serious consequences.  The point that hit home for me (again) was this idea of identity.  Mark, like myself, considered himself a man of integrity and yet he was able to justify his later regretable actions.  As many say, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”  Seeing yourself as a person of integrity is not enough, often times that view leads to the least common denominator and efforts to do the bare minimum.  What is needed, what I need is something greater than myself to guide my actions daily.

In The Corporate Mystic the author states, “The first question to ask is whether you are out of integrity with yourself.  Are you genuinely at ease with the path you are on?”  Many successful people are working to heal a wound from their family, perhaps earn recognition from a loved one that never expressed it.  In my case I worked  (and often work) to overcome shame that has been present in my life and in my family story for generations.  This is a dry well to pull from, and only when you are able to step back to you realize that. “Many of us learn very early to tune out inner signals, and the long-run costs of this are enormous…Happiness flows from a clear spring: You need to have a totally honest relationship with yourself.”  This is a key reason I believe that how people answer who they have been created to be is key to all of life: personal, spiritual, professional, and family.

A friend shared on facebook today the article, Success Will Come and Go, But Integrity is Forever by Amy Rees Anderson, a very good article that inspired me.  The last few lines of the article are very powerful, “If you want to build a reputation as a person of integrity then surround yourself with people of integrity. There is a plaque on the wall of my office which reads: “Do what is right, let the consequence follow.” It serves as a daily reminder that success will indeed come and go, but integrity is forever.”  I couple that with a friend who’s dad gave him the advice in college, “Know who you are before you go into the party.” Integrity is not something that is learned on the fly, life is too hard and our minds are too easily tricked.  It is essential for all people (including business people) to take time to do the tough personal and spiritual work to find the source of integrity, and the reward is well worth it.  As Amy Rees Anderson states success will come and go, your character is what you are stuck with.

“I contend that dishonesty will create a failure force that often manifests itself in other ways-ways not apparent to the outside observer.” -Joseph Sugarman

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Corporate Mystic: The person we want to be

In art,Books,business,Community,culture,devotional,faith,familiy,family,Fun,generosity,leadership,Prayer,principles,Spiritual,Sports,Theology on November 30, 2012 by mstevensrev Tagged: , ,

“The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be.” – Bruce Lee

Twelve characteristics make up the corporate mystic:
Absolute Honesty
Fair
Self-Knowledge
Focused on contribution
Nondogmatic spirituality
Get more done by doing less
Call forth the best of themselves and others
Open to change
Special sense if humor
Keen distant vision and up-close focus
Unusual self discipline
Balance

I hope to come back to these and examine each more deeply but I’ll leave you with this story…

“Master,” said the student, “where do you get your spiritual power?”
“From being connected to the source,” said the master.
“You are connected to the source of Zen?”
“Beyond that,”said the master, “I am Zen. The connection is complete.”
“But isn’t that arrogant to claim connection with the source?” Asked the student.
“Far from it,” said the master. “It is arrogant not to claim connection with the source. Everything is connected. If you think you are not connected to the source you are thumbing your nose at the universe itself.”

Don’t forget the source.