Friday, May 22, 2009

Making Spiritual Small Talk

All religions offer a way to redeem and rebuild humanity. I had lunch last week with a Muslim woman in Malibu who has found that the practices of Islam offer her a place to "fit", a spiritual home to feather. When I asked her about particular questions, the kind that keep philosopher types up late at night, she dismissed my questions. She didn't want to talk about the problem of pain, instead she said, "I just try to remember God in every moment of my day."

Her words surprised me as something few Christians find themselves trying to do. I'm reading a wonderful simple devotional called Letters by a Modern Mystic by the missionary to the Moros (a Filipino Muslim people group) Frank C. Laubach and his modernization of the ancient practicing of the presence of God (a la Brother Lawrence) has led me to want to do the same thing. I do, by the way, HIGHLY recommend Laubach's short book. It's a jewel, perfect for slipping into your purse and whipping out during long lines at the grocery store. He has helped me want to bring Jesus into every moment of my day. Laubach puts it like this,

What right have I or any other person to change the name of these people from Muslim to Christian, unless I lead them to a life fuller of God than they have now? My job here is not to go to the town plaza and make proselytes, it is to live wrapped in God, trembling to His thoughts, burning with His passion. And, my loved one, that is the best gift you can give to your own town (p 13).

I shared my new practice of inviting Jesus into every moment with my Muslim friend and she didn't bat an eyelash. According to her, we are all inviting God (by whatever name) into our spiritual lives. This is, in her mind, the measure of a spiritual person, their relationship with God.

So I ask you to weigh in on how you would define a spiritual person. I find that in defining "spirituality" I want to include things like the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23), the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, the power of Jesus over this broken, ugly world. Everyone can talk about God in their lives, but how many have the power to break old habits, experience shalom-like peace, know the long path of long-suffering? I cannot find these in my own life apart from Jesus.

How would you define spirituality? How do you think others define spirituality?

As Dale and I work on our first book together, Coffee Shop Conversations: Making the Most of Spiritual Small Talk, we've been thinking about different ways to talk about the God we love and how he became flesh and dwelt among us. We realize that most people enjoy talking about their spiritual journey, if you can ask the conversational questions and if you do most of the listening.

Last week I was making a necklace with a young woman in a local jewelry shop. We began a conversation that started when she asked if I knew about an old TV show and when I said I didn't I explained,

"I was raised in a very conservative Christian home, no TV," I said.

"Wait, you didn't even have a TV? Did you have a telephone?" she asked.

"Of course!"

"We didn't even have a telephone, we were out in the sticks. I got left out of so many things." We commiserated, but also shared about how much we valued the push to be more imaginative with our playtime. We talked about her family, why her mom pushed the family to go to church right after her little sister was born.

"Why then?" I asked.

"Now I realized it was because their marriage was hurting, I think she wanted us to have, you know, a moral foundation." She said. I took mental notes of how this is what most people believe God and the church offer--lots of moralistic rules.

"Were you glad for that?" I asked.

"Yeah, I mean it kept me from being as bad as I could of been." We started talking more deeply about what she did and what she could have done, the conversation becoming more personal, details that are part of her personal story. As I kept asking questions, she openly told me about how once the pastor's son was forbidden from dating her because she wasn't good enough for him.

I raised my eyebrows.

"I couldn't believe it!" She said,"I sat listening to this guy every week in church and I thought, what a creep. Such a hypocrite! So since then I've pretty much kissed the church goodbye."

"I know what you mean," I said, "Don't get me wrong, I love God and I just can't get enough of Jesus, he's wonderful, but I'm very angry with how people use God to abuse other people. There's a name for that," I told her. "It's called spiritual abuse. My husband has endured more spiritual abuse at the hands of people claiming to speak for God than anyone I know. But, he still loves Jesus. It's really amazing to me."

She was listening closely. She shared more about the little darts thrown at her by religions people. I said, "That kind of stuff leaves a mark, doesn't it?!"

Our conversation moved to her sister, her current life, our necklace projects. It was on the tip of my tongue to ask her how she has reconnected with God, but I would have had to force an awkward moment to make it happen. I look forward to asking her, next time I visit.

If you've had any spiritual conversations in the last few months, I'd love to hear about new ways you've shared how Jesus is good news. I maintain that he offers the world the most powerful solution to every evil dart from the enemy of our souls. But how we communicate that is as varied as we are.

Let's hear some conversational tips!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Off-roading and Quilts

Last week I went on vacation with Dale. We set off toward Moab, Utah for some outdoor adventure. My mom and dad joined us for our 2nd annual Moab reunion. While the guys did some all day Jeep trips, my mom and I pushed our limits rock-rappelling, rafting the Colorado River and then we joined up with my dad and my husband to Jeep around the ruddy cliffs. Later I even tried some rock climbing.

Moab leaves you feeling much stronger, braver and dustier than when you arrived.

After our adventuring with my parents, Dale and I reunited with a group of Rubicon Jeep owners (all members of the incredibly time-consuming, incredibly helpful Rubicon Owner's Forum 0f which my husband is a part). We took on trails, learned more about dusty sandstorms and team work in the few hours we had together than you can ever learn from reading a book.

In the slower moments (aka scouting out how to work over the next obstacles) I read So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore a thought provoking easy read that a friend had urged me to check out (Now I want to pass that word along to you--it is excellent!).

One of my favorite things about Moab is seeing friends each year in the same place, around the same campsite, doing the same trails together once again. This picture of the Jeep tilting is from the trail "Cliff Hanger" and don't worry he didn't tip over.

This year one of my highlights was reuniting with a woman named Dee and her husband, Bob. She and I first met 2 years ago when we were on the same off-roading trail, our husbands driving their khaki Jeeps, us alternatively reading and cheering them on. Dee initially impressed me with her hunger for reading and her curly auburn hair, so of course we hit it off. I imagine Dee is probably my mother's age (I haven't asked her), but that didn't create a gap between us. She's a ravenous creative, making more gourmet meals and quilts (finishing them by hand) for fun and then just giving them away. A truly inspiring sort of person.

After first meeting them in 2007, we learned that Bob and Dee could be called spiritual seekers. Bob had a background in the Jehovah Witnesses. But, after our 2007 Moab trip Dee and Bob met Jesus. This is another amazing story. Short version is another couple in the Rubicon group introduced them and they liked him so they invited him into their lives.

So when we re-united in 2008, Dee pulled me aside, told me she had guessed there was something deeper in me when we first met, told me about her love for Jesus and then asked me to sign a copy of Ruby Slippers she had brought along. I was both honored and slightly amazed at her enthusiasm to read a book written by a young girl on womanhood. Her eagerness was a huge compliment.

Another year passed and I didn't hear from Dee, as is usual for us Jeep enthusiasts between trips.

So last week I looked for her in Moab morning Jeep meetings (this is when all the Jeep drivers meet and discuss which trails they're going to hit). She found me in the crowd of Jeepers, gave me a big hug and told me she had something to give me. I followed her to her camp site and she pulled out a large white trash bag. What on earth? I thought.

I opened it up and found a kaleidoscope of reds and whites. Dee announced, "It's your Ruby Slippers Quilt." I could not believe her handiwork, the lovely design. It's just beautiful. I gave her a hug and then began poring over the details.

Home again, I've found a spot for my Ruby Slippers quilt, right dab smack in the middle of our bed, to remind me that no matter how small sales numbers look, there is a woman named Dee who was touched by my work enough to create this for me with her unique gifts.