Archives For Contemplative Sojourn

“One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find that he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.” ~ Henry Ford

Vison…rather, a compelling vision, sets boundaries on our lives. It creates restraints (Proverbs 29:18). Certain ambitions become possible when counter productive behaviors are no longer an option. It this discipline? Yes…but it’s the compelling vision that’s Key.

Of these, there are two varieties: the “Hell, Yeah!” vision, and the “Hell, No!” vision. One moves you toward a vision of your life that you truly deeply desire and have faith you can attain. The other moves you away from a negative vision of your life that you absolutely loathe and have faith you can avoid.

Sidenote: ALL vision requires faith to activate. You may have a truly compelling vision of the life you genuinely desire, but if you don’t believe it is attainable for you (or for the world), then it’s just a fantasy dream, and will provoke you not to action, but to envy, hopelessness, and self-hatred.

As a coach, I have tended to look down on the “Hell, No!” vision as being too negatively motivated to be sustainable over the long haul. (We can’t meaningfully live solely off of what we are against; our hearts need something beautiful and worthy to be “for.”) Also, “Hell, No!” visions can sometimes be fueled by fear, which is a toxic motivation long term. (Who wants to build a life around avoiding what we fear? It’s much better to build a life that promotes and nurtures what we love.)

But, maybe I’ve been too quick to judge. Maybe “Hell, No!” visions have their place in our lives. After all, not all such visions are rooted in fear; some are born of righteous anger and a deep commitment to justice. And even if there is some fear fueling the vision, that has a formidable potency all its own. When confronting a viper in the wild, we all feel the pure rush of urgency to run away. Such a deep reaction to danger can be clarifying. It makes life simple, and the path clear. We are compelled to act, and such action can then take on a momentum of its own, even after the immediate threat has passed.

Even more than fear, however, a “Hell, No!” vision can inspire anger ~ the kind of anger that establishes firm, healthy boundaries around your life (which is, by the way, what anger is for). You may not yet have faith to believe you can attain the positive compelling vision you want for your life, or for the world…but you can nevertheless be crystal clear on the negative outcome you don’t want. That cannot be. That will not be.

And that is a faith of its own kind.

What do you think? Are “Hell, No!” visions ultimately helpful, or not?


America will be voting today. And for many of us, the voting will be hard. It’s been a difficult path to get us here. We’ve all been a little beat up by it. So I thought I’d offer a little healing balm for our souls, especially for today.

I call it “Remember Love.”

It’s simple. Start the music. Then read the meditation below. Slow down. Take your time. I suggest you read it aloud.

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“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” ~ Mother Teresa

I want to talk with you for a minute about the United States as a Relationship System.

When I say “Relationship System,” I mean something that’s in some ways quite similar to the nervous system in your body. For example, imagine you’re running a marathon. You’re determined to beat a certain time you’ve set in your head, and you’ve been training your body for months to achieve that goal. But on the day of the race, at about mile 14, your right heel begins to scream in pain. Now nothing else in your body is hurting, at least not yet. The vast majority of your body is signaling All Systems Go, except for this annoying heel, which is screaming at you that something isn’t right. So what do you do? How do you respond to that signal in your heel?

This is similar to how a Relationship System works. A Relationship System is a web of people who are linked together via a network of relationships. Such a system can be as small as two individuals (such a married couple) or as large as the entire population of the world. At whatever level you parse it out, however, every relationship system tends to function a bit like a living organism, like the body of the athlete running the marathon. No one part of the system has a complete picture of the Current Reality. Rather, each part of the system provides vital (but partial) information back to the whole, and the “whole” must collectively decide how to proceed based on that information.

Right now in our nation, we’ve all begun to recognize that there’s been a significant breakdown in this information loop within our National Relationship System. A large segment of the nation perceives the current reality in our country in a radically different way from another large segment of the nation. We’re all looking at the same picture, but perceiving very different realities. It’s like we’re the marathon runner, but the signal pathways between the major parts of our body have been cut off. Part of us is feeling one way, another part is feeling very differently. But the connection between the two has been severed, so neither part understands what the other part is experiencing. Thus the whole body suffers.

Now, I have some very good news about all this. In Relationship Systems Theory, which is a big part of the work I do every day, there is a simple solution to this system-wide breakdown. It’s so simple, in fact, it almost sounds too simplistic to be true. But my experience, and more importantly loads of research, have demonstrated that it works, time and again.

What is the solution?

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“I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun!” ~ Thomas Merton

It’s so unfathomably easy to lose yourself. Every day is a fight to remain conscious. Maybe this is in part what Jesus was referring to when he said the path to life is narrow and only a few ever find it. Staying awake to your life really is the hardest thing of all.

I find myself surrounded by dreams, fantasies created from masks I like to wear. Yes, some part of me likes to wear them, and that’s a big part of the problem. I find myself not merely tricked into falling asleep, but enticed.

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“Love is the only aspiration big enough for the immensity of human community and challenge in the 21st Century.” ~ Krista Tippett

When I look at the way we do politics in the U.S., and in particular the way my fellow Christians and I engage with it, I can’t help but wonder what Jesus thinks about it all. I wonder how each of our words and actions in the political arena affect him. If he were given the stage at one of our televised debates, I wonder what he would say to his followers about this current election, about the candidates, and about the way we’re all handling it.

That is, if he’d say anything at all. I mean, Jesus’ life in the flesh happened under the tyranny of Roman rule. Israel was an occupied nation, and it would be ludicrous to think that Jesus didn’t witness blatant acts of injustice against his countrymen on a regular basis. He most certainly experienced oppression himself. It was the Roman overlords, after all, who ultimately killed him.

Despite all this, in the years of his public life, Jesus seemed to go out of his way to avoid talking about his Roman oppressors. His message was stubbornly non-political. In some ways, this must have seemed ridiculous to a lot of people living back then, or at the very least naïve. How could you speak out in favor of the Kingdom of God, and not speak out against the Kingdom of Rome? Yet when people spoke of their disdain for Roman oppression, Jesus spoke of loving your enemies (Matthew 5:38-48). When the religious leaders of the day tried to make Jesus take sides in the political debate, he rebuked them and refused to be pinned down (Matthew 22:15-22).

Maybe he thought getting into politics would only cloud and confuse his primary mission. Or maybe he saw that the message of hope he had come to share was for the Romans too.

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“Beauty is not a luxury.” ~ John O’Donohue, Beauty

There’s just so much beauty. It’s everywhere. There’s so much, it hurts. If you look at it for too long, your heart will break. It will break wide open like the husk on a grain of wheat, and you’ll be utterly undone.

Maybe that’s what we’re all here to do. Train our eyes to see the beauty, then let it break our hearts. Maybe that’s the way the whole world gets healed.

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“You will never live beyond the way that you see yourself.” ~ John Eldredge

There are these old stories about myself I carry around in my soul. I carry them like holy relics, like sacred articles that tell me where I come from, what has happened to me, and who I really am. I’ve carried them a very long time. I’ve used them to guide my life. They have been my personal holy writ, the internal sacred text that defines me.

Like a script, these stories have directed me to act out my life in a particular way. They have told me what I can and cannot do, where I can and cannot go, and who I can and cannot be. They have sealed me off from certain destinies, and forced me to experience certain others, many of which have been very painful and isolating for me.

I’ve known for a while now these stories are lies. They are false narratives, straight-jacket scripts, that were cast over my heart years ago like a mad wizard’s spell. For years I walked around as if in a dream, a subtle nightmare really, in which I believed debilitating falsehoods about who I was, what I was, and what was, or more often wasn’t, possible for my life. It was a delusion cast on my soul through a black dance between my wounding, my enemy, and my shame-ridden imagination. It became a prison that locked me away from my true self, and from my true life.

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