A Radical Love

Subscribe to the Spiritual Formation Center to share your Lenten Journey experience.

hands holding the sun at dawn

Lenten Practice: Fasting
Daily Act: Engage in an act of generosity today. Buy someone a cup of coffee, send a note or gift to someone you think could use it, or make time in your day to spend with someone who could use your gift of time and presence. Dwell in the experience of self-emptying for the sake of another.
Weekly Prayer Phrase: Repeat this phrase slowly as you breathe deeply. You may choose to memorize this phrase and repeat it throughout your day.

“OPEN ME TO RECEIVE MORE OF YOU.”

By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

The closer I grow to Christ
The more I feel
A radical love
On fire within me
Aching for release

How do I explain?
It is wholeness
It is salvation
It is justice

It is fulfillment
And emptying

What might happen
If I let this radical love
Lose on the world?

Where might it lead?
What might if ask of me?
How might it change me?

The more I get to know
The One I claim to follow
The more I see how
My wholeness is linked
With the well-being of all
The more I see how
The deepest dream within me
Is Shalom

Maybe this is what Lent is for
Attention to this radical love
Which is
Christ alive deep within you
With a heart on fire for
Something new

I am beginning to understand
In that space beyond words
What it means
That I must lose my life
To find it

REMINDER: March 1, 2015 is the registration deadline for our upcoming Lenten Retreat with Presiding Evangelist, David Brock. The theme is INTO THE WILDERNESS (March 13-15). If you are seeking a deeper exploration of the season of Lent in your life and yearn to grow closer with God, we would love to share this experience with you! Email khmclaughlin@cofchrist.org if you have any questions.

Lenten Spiritual Retreat with Presiding Evangelist David Brock.  March 13-15, 2015 Click here to register!

World Service Corps: Application Deadline – January 31, 2015

discover wsc

Are you looking for an experience that will challenge you and transform you? World Service Corps may be the experience you are looking for! World Service Corps (WSC) is an international volunteer ministry of Community of Christ, committed to offering opportunities for leadership development, disciple formation, and cultural immersion.

Applications are being accepted now until January 31, 2015 to serve as a World Service Corps volunteer in 2015. Apply today! Visit our website to view more information or contact the WSC Coordinator if you have any questions.

What is it like to be a World Service Corps volunteer? Every volunteer experience is different. But read this story from Lawson Mushibwe to find out his perspective! Lawson is from Zambia and he served as a WSC volunteer in India for two months in 2014.

Testimony by: Lawson C. Mushibwe (from Ndola, Zambia)
World Service Corps volunteer, July – September 2014
WSC location: Uthamapalayam, Tamil Nadu, India

Phone rings…
Me: Hello…
Emily: Hello… Is this Lawson Mushibwe?
Me: Yes it is.
Emily: How are you Lawson?
Me: Thinking to myself, OMG, that’s an American accent… But I calmly in my polished accent responded, “Am fine thank you, and how are you?”
Emily: This is Emily Penrose McLaughlin calling you from Community of Christ. I am the World Service Corps Program Coordinator.

From this moment I knew that my WSC volunteer application had been considered. And not too long from that call, I was taking part in sharing the five mission initiatives, promoting communities of joy, hope, love and peace as well as proclaiming Jesus Christ as he is the centre of it all. I was also privileged to share at a prayer meeting on one of the eight sacraments (marriage) of Community of Christ to a couple on their fourteenth marriage anniversary.
It didn’t take me long to adapt to this new environment. Quickly, I had a family and in no time I developed new strong chords of love in friendship which created an atmosphere resulting in feelings I would get if I were home, so I indeed felt at home. Even though there was a bit of language barrier, I opened my ears to listen to people’s stories and testimonies which indeed strengthened my faith and changed my life.

Sunday school classes with the kids were exceptionally awesome. I had a good time with the Tamil children, very clever and intelligent children. Classes were never boring as they were actively involved and very participative. They portrayed the eagerness to learn more on the Bible, and indeed the bible stories. And so, on one Sunday, the kids were granted a chance to share in the Church service through a drama on one of the lessons they learnt about the Good Samaritan. Equally, the children from the local school where we volunteered were participative and intelligent. Their syllabus is quiet advanced as compared to my country therefore; I picked the lower grades/standards to save me some embarrassment [Hahaha].

As much as I was thoroughly prepared and ready for this tasked mission, what I found was humbling and made me to reduce myself to nearly nothing, giving up myself for service and striping off my right to be right on how I understand things. And yeah, sacrifice is the word to describe this humbling change I had to undergo. This was in regards to cultural differences and culture shock. Of course, each cultural practice with its own followings. Therefore, I chose to envision the emerging differences and diversity not as sources of conflict/division and distrust, but of strength and inspiration. And this provided a platform for me to share, experience and appreciate one of the Community of Christ Enduring Principles, Unity in Diversity. This resulted in my realization that although our societies may have differences; we are still highly connected through Jesus Christ.

All in all, for many people, sixty days of ministry would really be one day of ministry repeated sixty times differently. So was my WSC volunteer experience. Each day came with its own serendipitous experiences that will forever remain in my heart as it has impacted and enriched my life in this regard.

“Lawson Mushibwe (far right) with Wednesday prayer cell group, and WSC partner, Patrick Chunda (left).”

“Lawson Mushibwe (far right) with Wednesday prayer cell group, and WSC partner, Patrick Chunda (left).”

Create your own life-changing experiences!  Apply today!
Visit our website to view more information or contact the WSC Coordinator if you have any questions. 

BE EXPECTANT IN UNEXPECTED PLACES: Advent Reflections

november-16-lilac-buds-2by Emily Rose
Re-blogged from: Community of Christ Spiritual Formation Center

The following is a reflection on entering the season of Advent excerpted from a sermon, Be Expectant in Unexpected Places, by Emily Rose, based on Mark 13:24-37.
Mark 13:24-37 (MSG)24-25 “Following those hard times,
Sun will fade out,
moon cloud over,
Stars fall out of the sky,
cosmic powers tremble.
28-31 “Take a lesson from the fig tree. From the moment you notice its buds form, the merest hint of green, you know summer’s just around the corner. And so it is with you. When you see all these things, you know he is at the door. Don’t take this lightly. I’m not just saying this for some future generation, but for this one, too—these things will happen. Sky and earth will wear out; my words won’t wear out.32-37 “But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father. So keep a sharp lookout, for you don’t know the timetable. It’s like a man who takes a trip, leaving home and putting his servants in charge, each assigned a task, and commanding the gatekeeper to stand watch. So, stay at your post, watching. You have no idea when the homeowner is returning, whether evening, midnight, cockcrow, or morning. You don’t want him showing up unannounced, with you asleep on the job. I say it to you, and I’m saying it to all: Stay at your post. Keep watch.”
 “In our moments of unraveling, of feeling like our world is falling apart and on fire, God is close and at the very gates and edges of our hearts, waiting to be noticed.”-Emily Rose
At first glance, this is a peculiar text to choose for advent. This text is nestled between Jesus’ foretelling of the destruction of the temple and the passion narrative that we typically visit at Easter. It seems counterintuitive to begin our advent season here, at such an uneasy time in the Gospel story. There is fear and uncertainty, and soon Jesus will be betrayed and crucified. In the midst of all of that, we are asked to be hopeful today. Still, I’m convinced that if we look closely and let this passage take root in us, we can begin to see the small signs of hope being born into the world again this Advent season.
When I first read today’s passage, I was struck by the imagery of a world falling apart. “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” This is chaos of cosmic proportions. The first readers of Mark would have recognized this kind of chaos, given that their whole world seemed to be falling apart under the oppression of the Roman empire.
In our own world today, it is easy to relate to this feeling of unraveling. There are daily reports of violence and despair that come into our televisions and living rooms and computer screens. Images of tear gas clouding the light of the moon and the stars in the streets of Ferguson Missouri. There are more intimate experiences of unraveling in our lives, in hospital rooms and broken hearts, betrayed trust and disappointments. This is the world in which we are called to stay alert; to watch and be ready for hope to be born into the world.
When I was a student at Graceland University, I had my first true experience of winter. In fact, having grown up in Alabama I only had one childhood snow day, and we were let out of school because the snow stuck to the ground. Our city had absolutely no infrastructure to deal with the icy roads, so they sent us home so as not to put anyone in danger. Naturally, an Iowa winter was quite a shock for me! I remember feeling like the feeling of being cold would absolutely never end, and I would just be trapped in my dorm forever. At one point, my mom even sent me a solar light in a care package, just so I could remember what the sun looks like!
It was after that first brutal winter that I experienced another first – the overwhelmingly sweet smell of lilacs in the spring. One of my fondest memories of my English Literature class with Barbara Mesle was when she stopped everything we were doing, and refused to start class until everyone had walked outside and buried their face into a bundle of lilacs. It was as if it was a mandatory ritual that marked the beginning of spring. Barbara was inviting us to pay attention to the blessings around us, particularly after such harsh winter winds and snowfall.
After that first spring I began to notice how lilacs prepare to bloom. I would walk past the barren bushes in winter, snow crunching under my boots and I’d look closely at their branches. As soon as the first buds would appear I’d check on them every day, and whisper to those seeds of promise “You’re doing great! See you in a few months!” They were my symbols of hope in a cold and lifeless landscape, and it was in the noticing and the whispering that I encountered that hope.
In today’s scripture, the symbol of hope is the fig tree. We read, “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he[a] is near, at the very gates.” The fig tree unfurls the hope of summer in it’s tender leaves. The second part of that passage is even more important – “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near.” The “these things” of that sentence is referring to all of the cosmic chaos from the passage before. In our moments of unraveling, of feeling like our world is falling apart and on fire, God is close and at the very gates and edges of our hearts, waiting to be noticed.
You see at the heart of this moment in advent is the call to pay attention. Keep awake! This requires taking on an internal stance of expectancy. Far different from marking off the days until Christmas on our calendars, this kind of expectancy is less about waiting and more about holy anticipation. From the moment we open our eyes in the morning to the moment we slip into sleep at night, we are called to pay attention. God is in the whispering and the unexpected places.
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Check out the website and read more inspiring posts from the Community of Christ Spiritual Formation Centre, led by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

Holy Attention

By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin, Spiritual Formation Ministries
Re-blogged from: Connect. Engage. Inspire

I was tired before we even knocked on the door or sat down to dinner. I felt myself pulling inward, wanting to be a casual observer or sprawled on my couch at home. It felt difficult to gather the energy to be attentive in relationship.

As we sat around the table, pouring iced tea into paper cups, I knew I needed to be more present. I gathered strength of heart to seek the holy here. Adjusting perspective in the same surroundings can make all the difference. I looked deeply at my companions around the table and realized how profound it was to feel ordinary in the home of people I had met just over a year ago.

We shared naturally about the details of our lives that we had discovered from many previous conversations. I reflected on the moment I first met Charlie on the street and saw in him the Living Christ. The question is this: Do I still see the Living Christ as the normalcy of human relationship has permeated what we know of each other?

My life has been transformed countless times through the practice of holy attention. All spiritual practices can cultivate within us a new way of seeing the world drenched in Spirit. We can practice holy attention in solitude or amid everyday activity. There is no formula. It is simply pausing and choosing to see God in the midst of what is, wherever and whenever.

My testimonies of God’s Spirit have almost all begun with noticing God in the details, seemingly insignificant encounters throughout the day that change everything about how I understand what it means to be a disciple.
Holy attention is often, if not always, local and specific. It is about the right-here-right-now details of life. This understanding of God’s pervasive presence, which can capture us in any moment we choose to awaken to its reality, continually disrupts my life and prompts my response.

spiritualAttention to the Spirit can alter our view. A Disciple’s Generous Response during worship takes new meaning when a recently homeless man dumps all his quarters in the “change for change” bucket. Overhearing a conversation between two congregants about an injustice in our community and how we can respond causes me to pause in the rush of Sunday-morning preparations.

It is in the details of relationship, the details of daily life, the details of the natural world that we are able to encounter God’s presence in abundance. Simone Weil put it this way, “Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer.” I have found myself longing to share this experience. I have found myself wanting to say, “Just look—really look—and you won’t be able to glance anywhere without seeing the Living Christ.” Holy attention is where mission begins.

As I sat at the dinner table with Charlie, this question shifted my paradigm in just seconds: Do I still see in him the Living Christ as the normalcy of human relationship has permeated what we know of each other?

Yes!

This, too, is God’s movement among us: our growing comfort in relationship and the extraordinary fact that this whole thing now feels so ordinary. Total strangers turned into friends.

At the table, I notice others who I know only from following God’s promptings in my heart to be here, vulnerable to relationship. Suddenly pizza and paper plates are nothing less than sacrament. I see everything from a changed perspective and give thanks for the ways we come together through this constant and abundant Spirit of God.

Part 2: Called to Serve – Challenges in Parenting

by Emily Hartford, Thompsonville, Illinois
Photos from: Joyous Photography

Note:  I originally shared this with my home congregation in Thompsonville, IL, USA.  My hope is that it may serve as a thinking point for other young parents and young adults.
May you be blessed as you look to the simplicity of your own life and find the beauty.

Read Part 1 of Emily’s story in “Called to Serve – The Divine in the Everyday“!

Photo by: Adam Wade

“Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. 2He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. 3And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” 4But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.” 5And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my strength— 6he says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
7Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, “Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
– – Isaiah 49:1-7

The chapter before this one, is all about God’s role in Israel’s history.  God’s hand in their story.  This chapter, in contrast, is calling the servant to be the agent of action.  To call Israel to pay attention to God’s direction.  This servant expresses his frustration at failure, and cries out to God.  Does God release him of his task?  No.  Instead, the servant is called forward, beyond his familiar, into the nations to proclaim God’s salvation.  As the excerpt closes, God assures the servant that the Kings and Princes will indeed serve the Lord, because the servant was willing to go beyond what, and where, he knew.

I often feel like being a parent is a journey into the unknown wilderness.  Everyday I am confronted with at least one unfamiliar challenge.  This past week I met with a new challenge…both boys being sick at the same time.  Flu season was particularly hard on lots of folks this year, and it hit my boys simultaneously.  My mother came home from the doctor and sent us straight back to get a flu test and medicine for the little ones.  They did very well at the doctor, charming everyone we met.  We picked up the medicine, and home we came for 5-7 days of quarantine, rest, and cabin fever.  With a 3 ½ year old and an 18 month old to amuse, we tried to meet the challenge with a positive attitude, ideas for entertainment, and lots of movies and such.

Truly, keeping them entertained was not the most challenging part of Joseph and Ollie being sick.  The worst part?  Administering medicine.  Since they aren’t sick very often, they aren’t used to taking meds, and do not enjoy the process.  It only took a day or so before I could get Oliver to swallow most of his medication.  Joseph, however, took to spitting it out, sometimes in my face.

By the third day of getting spit at, I had had it.  I was mad, frustrated, and worried that if I didn’t get the meds into Joseph, he would take much longer to get well.  I laid him back in my arms, with a washcloth close by to catch all of the medicine that would spill out of his mouth, and gave it another go.  Once again, he spit the medicine out … in my face.  I had been trying everything to get him to take the medicine, and had some sort of sweet treat set aside for when he was done.  I shouted and said “If you are going to spit in my face, you can’t get your treat!  I need a few minutes to myself!”  My sweet husband took Joseph on to the bath, and I tried to cool down.

I strive to be a gentle parent to my boys, and I think I was as crushed by my response as Joseph was.  I felt terrible about shouting, knowing that my goal is always to take a deep breath, and find a way to solve the problem together.  I want to set a good example for them about how to handle big emotions.  I decided that I could still set a good example, and went to find Joseph.  I walked into the bathroom and said to him, “I’m sorry for shouting buddy. I was feeling frustrated, but that doesn’t make it okay. I’ll try hard next time to use my kind voice.”  His response?  “I’m sorry for spitting medicine in your face, Mummy. I just didn’t like how it tasted.”  And just like that, the conflict was over.  He was done being upset with me, and I was done being upset with him.  I felt great healing in his simple forgiveness.

emilyjoseph

Emily and Joseph

Some days I feel like the servant that God called into the nations beyond his home.  I am constantly being challenged by my children, and my God, to become a better version of myself.  To become a better parent.  To become a peacemaker.  To share God’s vision of Shalom.  Joseph frustrated me beyond my limit, and yet it became a beautiful teaching moment for God and me.  I was able to accept the challenge.

“You are a good and faithful people, but sometimes you fail to see the power that is resident in your own story and fellowship. Look carefully, listen attentively, and sense the Spirit among you.”
Doctrine and Covenants 162:8a.

God is challenging you every day.  God is sending you forth, beyond the familiar, to the places that make you think, stretch and grow.  And God assures us that we will not be alone in those places.  Go there.  Know that even when you aren’t at your best, God can still help you to find the silver lining.  Be present in your own stories and their simplicity, and then remember to step back, see their power, and share them with your world.

 

Part 1: Called to Serve – The Divine in the Everyday

by Emily Hartford, Thompsonville, Illinois
Photos from: Joyous Photography

hartfordsNote:  I originally shared this with my home congregation in Thompsonville, IL, USA.  My hope is that it may serve as a thinking point for other young parents and young adults.
May you be blessed as you look to the simplicity of your own life and find the beauty.

While I was traveling in Louisiana, recruiting for Graceland University, I came across a kind man who gave me a challenge.  He was the Mission Center President, and was kind enough to host myself and a friend at his house in between camps.  I was able to do lots of laundry, and rest, but I most enjoyed our conversations.

George and I would sit and talk church in our downtime.  He shared with me the joy he was finding in seeing the Divine in the everyday things.  He challenged me to do the same, and said “Come back and tell me about it when you’ve found something.”

http://onlyhdwallpapers.com/art/close-up-vegetables-photography-tomatoes-desktop-hd-wallpaper-369661/

I tried and I tried.  I tried to see the Divine in the tomato that I was cutting.
I told George about it and he said “Too complicated.”
“Too complicated?” I thought.  “How in the world can a tomato be too complicated?”
I tried again and again that day and the next, and each time George would assure me that I was trying too hard, but that it would come.  I was so intrigued by George’s challenge, that I continued it into the school year that fall.

One day, I simply got it.  I don’t even remember the story now, but I do remember thinking “I have to email George!”  I sent him a message, and his reply this time was just what I was hoping.  I “got” it.  I understood what it meant to search for the Divine in my everyday life.  I thank George for that message, and today want to share a story with you that has come out of that lesson.

As I sat down to prepare this sermon, I was struggling.  I love to share personal stories and connect with the scripture, but no connections could I find.  I was searching through my Australian experiences, my Graceland experiences, even my high school experiences, and while some could be meaningful, none really fit.  It wasn’t until I stumbled upon a friend’s blog that I discovered my story. Dan Gregory, on his blog “ilovecofc” said:

“For ultimately, we know that the testimonies aren’t primarily about US, but about GOD and God’s love. When we’ve felt such powerful, comforting, or healing moments, how can we possibly keep them to ourselves?! The best part? Our testimonies don’t have to be earth-shattering or filled with insight. They tend to occur through little things we notice and small moments that bless us. We don’t feel the pressure to have to point to some life-or-direction-changing moment, but find confidence that God’s Love Story is usually written in the every-day-ness of our lives.”

Dan’s message reminded me of George’s, and I began to once again search my heart for a story.  This time I looked to my own every day life, and I didn’t have to go far.  I realized that I had simply been trying too hard.

Read more of Emily’s story next week in Part 2 of “Called to Serve”!

photo of tomatoes from: http://onlyhdwallpapers.com/art/close-up-vegetables-photography-tomatoes-desktop-hd-wallpaper-369661/

ALOHA

turtle

by Seth Bryant
Re-blogged from: Proclaim Peace

Last week Jenn and I went to Oahu, Hawaii, sans kids. It was an overdue 10-year anniversary trip and second honeymoon.

We had an amazing experience. As someone who loves to snorkel, Oahu was heaven. While Jenn sunbathed on the beach, I spent almost all my time in the water. The diversity of the fish, and their vibrant colors never ceased to amaze me.

While floating in the blue waters of a bay at North Shore, something large came into view. Snorkeling can be relaxing, exciting, and, at times, terrifying—like when a wave threatens to throw you into some rocks, or when a big unknown mass comes swimming your way. In the back of my mind, the Jaws music is always queued up for when something large materializes in the water (usually another snorkeler). As I made out the shape, my fear melted away as I realized that it was a massive sea turtle.

I expected the turtle to swim away, but it didn’t seem bothered by my presence. Instead, the turtle seemed like it was inviting me to follow. Precious seconds turned into minutes as the turtle slowly led me on a tour of the rocks and plants and fish, our bodies floating and moving together as waves rolled over us.

At one point, with the turtle floating directly below me, our bodies aligned, a large wave crashed over us. And I fought against it. The turtle seemed startled by my ungraceful movements. It looked me in the eyes, as if to say, “Don’t fight the waves.” In fact, as I processed this experience later while speaking with Jenn, I told her, “It was like the turtle was speaking to me. Like he had something to tell me.” Jenn asked, “Well, what did he tell you?” I paused, and then it was quite clear. “He told me, ‘Aloha. Be at peace.'”

Commonly used to say hello, or goodbye, Aloha means so much more: peace, mercy, compassion, love. Visiting the islands taught me that it’s a way of life, a way of being–not unlike the idea of shalom.

The turtle was both my guide and messenger in a holy place. I felt like I better understood the experience in Isaiah 6, even if just a little bit. After about 10 minutes, another snorkeler swam up, scaring away the turtle. So I swam back to Jenn, without words to adequately describe the experience or convey how it transformed me.