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Toward Wholeness Blog

Reading (and Writing) Summer 24

It's been a very long time since I was able to write here because, while my official retirement from my role at Bethany Community Church began February 1st, my days from then to now have been very full. I taught in Austria and Germany, then did an online course for a Bible school in Canada, after which I made my way to Indiana to speak at a church led by a friend (my sermon from Ecclesiastes here). Then it was back to Canada to speak at a Pastor's conference. The season of travels ended with a board meeting for a great non-profit in San Diego, and the offering of Forest Faith seminar at La Jolla Presbyterian Church, along with preaching there on Sunday and enjoying great fellowship with staff and friends.  I have no reason to get on a plane for the next five months until I have the privilege of speaking at the Men's Retreat at Mount Hermon in October followed by more teaching in Portugal for some friends before continuing on to Bible school in Austria. Then the new year brings opportunities in Colorado, Austria, Germany, and Canada... whew!


It's good to be home, and to process some of what I've learned and am learning with you who read my offerings here. Though my summer plans include lots of hiking and backpacking, and time with family, my intent is to get back to writing regularly, and I wanted to share with you the three large categories that will inform what I write here between now and the times of travel again in October. All of them have to do with reading, and my hope is you'll join me here as I share and process what I'm learning and thinking about.


Reading Books


Yes, I read the Bible almost every day. Yes, I'm still convinced that Jesus is the Source of all life, and that his life, and the trajectory of God's working in the Scriptures, are the best way to understand the world in which we live, as well as our own lives and the challenges we face. Yes, I believe that God's declarations about humanity, both our brokenness and our identity as recipients of unconditional divine love, are as foundational to our spiritual health as atoms are to the universe. In fact, the older I get, the more timely the Living Word seems to be.


I have a suspicion that there are some individuals reading this who don't agree that the Bible is still relevant. Your hesitancies, guardedness and cynicism are understandable. More than ever, there's evidence that many people who claim to love God and the Bible seem hell-bent on creating a path that contradicts almost everything the Bible elevates as ideals. Don't forget, it was the people who knew the Bible best that concocted the idea killing Jesus. This passage is a judgement, not just on the 1st century Bible thumpers, but the 21st as well. When outsiders see Christians accumulating guns and ammo, or readily believing conspiracy theories, or contradicting the ways of Jesus by embracing racism, sexism, violence, or xenophobia, they become disgusted with Christianity, and the Bible gets tossed out along with the 'institutional Christianity' bathwater.


The problem isn't the Bible, though; the problem is how it's (mis)used. The fact that a hammer can both build a shelter and kill a man isn't the problem of the hammer. I'll show you the many ways in which the Bible has been at the forefront of profound ethical shifts for the better in cultures, how praying it and reading it brings real peace, and how it's wisdom, articulation of history's grand arc, and elevation of Jesus are all central to finding both peace and the life for which we're created. I'll do this by pointing not only to the Bible, but also various books I'm reading. Some are about the Bible, and some having no explicit connection to the Bible like the Tao, or Mary Oliver, the US Constitution, Wim Hoff the Ice Man, David James Duncan, and many others. Our longings for peace, beauty, wholeness, and belonging are universal, and I find great joy in seeing places where people outside of faith point to eternal truths. I look forward to reading with you, or at least sharing what I'm reading.



Reading Your Life


Exploring Your Inner Being "We are being changed, from one degree of glory to another..." This brief statement is extracted from a beloved passage by Paul the Apostle. The idea of transformation played a crucial role in liberating me from the trap of excessive self-analysis during my college years, as it essentially conveys the message that by focusing on God's glory, God will bring about the necessary changes in your life. To me, this meant that I didn't have to meticulously plan my life or construct it like a building project, or create a personal brand. I simply had to pursue God's glory, and God would handle the transformative process.


All good. All true. Incredibly liberating. And... not the end of the story; just the beginning.


Throughout the years, I've noticed recurring patterns in my life. For instance, I used to get extremely angry with my wife if she was late to pick me up, even though it wasn't her fault. Self-awareness prompted me to question this behavior.

This is but one example of how we need to pay attention to dysfunctions we become aware of in our lives and take steps to deal with them. Things like this need to be brought into the light, examined, and dealt with in redemptive ways that eventuate in transformation. (This is done by uncovering lies believed, confession, appropriating truth, forgiving people who hurt me, apologizing to those I have hurt, and more.) This, as much as focusing on my identity in Christ, is part of the 'from glory to glory' transformation of which Paul speaks in 2 Cor. 3:16-18. As a pastor, I can tell you that there are many Christ-followers who know their Bibles, are experts at defending their favorite doctrines, but remain stuck in bitterness, anger, lust, addiction, fear and withdrawal, or any number of other maladies. These prevent Christ's life from being revealed through us. In our stuck state, due to our inability or unwillingness to address the issues God is revealing, we not only continue to unnecessarily carry our pain, we inflict it on others, and sometimes it spirals into tribalism, identity politics, and all manner of deeper dysfunction. As one author says, 'you cannot heal what you do not acknowledge, and what you do not consciously acknowledge will remain in control of you from within, festering and destroying you and those around you.'


I'd like to share more about 'the healing of the soul' in this writing space, because that spirit inside of us, which is the headwaters of joy, wisdom, strength, and capacity to love and serve our world, can only find expression to the extent that we're dealing with dark and painful parts of our story, allowing our Creator to redeem and heal them.


Reading Your Body Matters of the soul always show up, eventually, in the body. Psalm 32:3-5 articulates the price we pay in our bodies when we resist confession, forgiveness, truth-telling, mercy, and justice. We'd be wise, therefore, to pay attention to our bodies. A well cared for body is much better able to express the life of the Christ who is in us, which is precisely what we're here on this planet to do!


Because the body matters, I'll also be sharing things about breathing, fasting, cold showers, Sabbath rest, sleep, and the life-giving and therapeutic affects of time spent in nature. Because my interest is spirit, soul, and body wholeness, I'm reading, learning, and practicing a lot of things in the body that tie together these three components of the ecosystem that is our humanness. Practices for the body, I'm learning, are good not just for body, but for spirit and soul as well.


Reading the Times


Not the New York or Seattle or Los Angeles Times, but the times in which we live, because they're unlike anything I've seen in my lifetime. When I read about people 'stocking up on ammunition' in anticipation of the next election; when I read books about Germany in the late 20's and early 30's during my travels there this spring and observe striking parallels to our present time; when the warnings of Solzhenitsyn and Bonhoeffer could have been written this morning to us, rather than as warnings to Russia and Germany many decades ago, I'm alarmed.


More significantly though, I ask myself what it means to live faithfully in such times. What is the role of the church vis a vis the state, and is this different in a democracy than it would be in a Monarchy or authoritarian state? What does it meant that we are living in a country where a vast majority of people hold centrist ideas, but our body politic is increasingly governed by those on extreme ends of the spectrum, with all their mean-spiritedness and zealotry? Should pastors and teachers be afraid to speak of ethics and principles because doing so will be perceived as political and partisan? Or is silence itself violence?


Meanwhile, both at home and around the globe, in both politics and business, the domination model (about which I'll write very soon) is running roughshod over any sense of shalom. The result of a rapidly disappearing middle class. A rising angry populism, and various attempts at using military might to crush dreams, threaten safety, steal land, and conquer countries. How are we to respond to these things, when Jesus said that the peacemakers are the ones who are blessed? When shalom is the ethic of God's good reign, when the calling of God's people is to use the weapons of love, along with truth-telling, reconciliation, and mercy to testify that there's a higher path on which to walk?


Ten years ago this summer I was in Germany as part of a 40 day trek through the Alps. In the little town of Oberstaufen, my wife and I watched an elderly man being gently guided through the town square in a wheelchair while a Bavarian band took a break from its beer hall songs to perform, with English vocals, "What A Wonderful World." Children were laughing and playing. Hundreds were sitting al fresco, sipping coffee, or beer, or wine while couples (including my wife and I) strolled holding hands. At the time I thought, "Look what God has done!" because in a different era that elderly man would have been viewed as useless, likely killed. Anyone else in that square with Jewish or Gypsy blood, or anyone gay, or communist, would also be gone, as goose-stepping soldiers, SS troops, and Gestapo agents executed a Fascist reign of terror throughout the region.


Are the days living in a "What a Wonderful World" passing away? Is its demise inevitable, or is there something we Christ-followers should be doing? If so, what? And if things really do implode, how should we live in order to be people of hope? What will the church look like, should the church look like, in these troublesome days?


I'm frequently asking these kinds of questions and the freedom of retirement gives me a large playing field on which to explore these issues. Know that what I write here will sometimes be musings more than convictions because, if I'm honest, I have many questions. For those who'll join me on this journey of exploring and sharing, I'm grateful for your presence and respectful dialogue.



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Richard, I am very thankful to have read this. As a 68 year old man, I am torn inside and saddened by the state of our country and the world...so much tearing down, so many special interests and money, buying wrongful legislation. I ask the question inside, what am I to do....what is the Church supposed to do? Part of me wants to just escape to a place where peace and love abound....but I don't think that exists, and that doesn't solve the problems we are faced with. So I am very interested to read and explore your future writings, that my hope might increase, and my heart will be filled more with love, than saddness. Thank you for…

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Paul  Loeffler
Paul Loeffler
17 de jun.
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I look forward to joining your ramblings, musings, and generally thoughtful writing. I definitely did not realize in the 1990s how blessed I was to sit with you at Alaythia.

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I always appreciate your writings. Thank you!

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Thank you for these thoughts, Richard. When I was much younger (than my current 73 years), I assumed that difficult spiritual questions would be nailed down by the time I was a older. What a surprise that I now have more questions and spiritual challenges than ever. Your writings help.

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