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Beauty in all Things

11 Feb


Miroslav Volf is a well known theologian who currently works as a professor at Yale Divinity School.  A great portion of his work focuses on  issues of division in our current world — between ethnic groups, denominations and faiths as well as between the realms of spiritual and secular.  He was recently featured on The work of the People, an online ecumenical platform that produces and publishes multimedia.  Within this feature Volf is asked a series of questions, one in which focuses on the topic of beauty. The producers start the conversation off in an atypical question but Volf’s response is engaging and thoughtful, both of which lead me to great conversation with friends.

If interested and have 5 minutes to spare, you can watch the video here.



Humanity’s Common Longing: Connection.

2 Aug

One of the most basic and common traits of humanity is that we all desire connection with one another.  We desire to be in relationship and to find some sort of fulfillment therein.  People want to be known and loved both because of, and in spite of, what is found.  I’m sure it’s not news to you that many barriers  prevent these connections from forming:  inconvenience, fear, and insecurity, just to name a few.  We are designed for connection and relationship, and cannot survive without it.  Babies who receive all of the basic needs (food, water, shelter) but lack love and social interaction do not properly develop.  At our most basic level, we need relationship for survival.

So if we need and desire real and deep connections with others, why can it be so difficult?  Why do we turn to false forms of connection (dare I mention Facebook?) rather than the grittiness of real relationship, relationship that requires intentionality, frustration and joy, among other things?  Why do we numb ourselves with shopping, pornography, drugs/alcohol, or even something as seemingly innocuous as productivity instead of diving into real relationships?

I recently watched this 20 minute TED talk on the subject of human connection from a research standpoint and was blown away by what I heard.  Those who live “whole-heartedly,” those that are connected and experience life’s full range of experience and relationship all practice and see the need for vulnerability.  That’s the keystone.  It’s what holds the whole thing together.  They don’t say that vulnerability is particularly fun or enjoyable, nor do they say that it’s awful or detestable; they simply say that it is absolutely necessary for connection.  Check out the video:

Relationship and connection are the way that we are refined and become the people we were created to be, and vulnerability is needed to experience the fullness of connection with each other.  What do we have to risk by being vulnerable?  Actually, quite a bit: we will probably feel rejected, inadequate, and…well…vulnerable.  But the alternative is bleak: isolation, loneliness, and a pared down experience of what God has called “good.”  I take great comfort in knowing that I have nothing to hide, at least not from God.  In the desert Hagar cried out to “the God who sees me.”  If God sees us, who are we hiding from?  Each other, I suppose.  I’m no advocate for walking around vomiting your deepest secrets on everyone you come across, but we must have people in our lives that we can unload that stuff onto and dialogue with.  This is the road to full life, and I believe it is the path to redemption.

Let’s practice vulnerability, even when it hurts and is uncomfortable.

Calling–Where Does the Christianese End?

13 Jul

You all have heard it a thousand times: “I really felt called here,” or “Where is God calling you right now?” or maybe the most painful and cringe worthy: “I think God is calling me to break up with you.”

“Calling” is an oft-thrown around word that is loaded with meaning but infrequently defined.  It can be a blanket term thrown out to imply that something besides one’s own interests are at play.  Each time I hear someone use the word “calling,” the cynic in me is dying to know what they are hiding…Are they not confident enough to make a decision?  Do they think that God despises our desires and passions?  Did they really hear God tell them to break up?  Why dress up their decision in God-talk?

While I may be sick of this Christianese code-word, I don’t think that it should be thrown out.  What needs to happen, rather, is to come to a better understanding of calling.

When I read the Bible I see “calling” used mainly in two ways.  Paul says that he was “…called to be an apostle…” and that the Gentiles are “…called to belong to Jesus Christ.” (Romans 1).  Within this short section we have Paul saying that he was called vocationally and that the Gentiles were called to belong to Christ.  There is the specific calling and the general calling.  This rings true with me.  We are all called to love God, love our neighbor, live generously, love those on the margins, and care for what God has given and created. We are told to “be worthy of the calling you have received.”  At it’s most basic level, it’s an invitation for all of us to live in relationship with Jesus.  There is also a personal calling.  For Paul, it was to be an apostle.  We are told to make our “calling and election sure,”   God made this perfectly clear when he blinded Paul on the road to Damascus and spoke this calling quite starkly.  I don’t think Paul had to think too much about that call: the blinding light and voice of Jesus were enough.

So each one of us must live in the freeing calling (or invitation, if you prefer) of relationship with Jesus.  We don’t need to continually be worrying about the specifics (Am I called to eat eggs or toast for breakfast?) but focus on pressing into who Jesus calls us to be: loving, compassionate, just, humble, and merciful (just to name a few).  I think that as we live into this calling, God will make it clear when we are called to something more specific; and in the meantime, let’s be cautious of our Christianese so that we don’t strip powerful words of their meaning.

Thoughts?  How have you experienced a calling in your life?

Life to the Full

1 Jul

Last night Heather Valencia (Vision 16 board member, community member, and mother)  and I were driving back from a planning meeting for the Malibu Leadership Weekend, and in a delightful conversation that touched on passion, mountains, Union Gospel Mission, and books, we spoke of freedom and what makes us feel alive.  Heather, one of the kindest and most generous  people I know, related to me stories of sharing life with people at the UGM and how in those times and relationships she comes to life.  She is in her sweet spot on Tuesdays and Thursdays hanging out at the mission.  Sitting in the passenger seat I could feel the excitement and passion radiate from Heather; the limits of language were blown through by the unrestrained smile on her face and glimmer in her eye.  As Irenaeus put it “The glory of God is a human being fully alive,” and in that car ride I was witness to God’s glory in Heather.

As I marinated in Heather’s words and state of being I couldn’t avoid the question,  What makes you come alive, Ryan?  I was quickly transported to the Coast Mountains of B.C., where I was guiding students through forests and across glaciers, all the while speaking freely and honestly about life and faith.  We shared meals and laughed; we hiked for long hours with muscles screaming, all the while exploring not just the wilderness of the mountains, but the wilderness of the soul.  In those moments I felt so alive, so full!  And I felt the glory of God, too.

There is danger here; danger in thinking that to be alive we must be doing something special or be somewhere particularly appealing to us.  The key is to find what those experiences and places draw out of us.  For Heather, it is the honesty and realness in her relationships with the guys at the Mission.  For me, my desire for deep interpersonal connection, adventure, and leadership were all being tapped.  So what at first took the mountains of BC to draw out of me, I can now access here in “normal life” in the city.

I believe that when you and I live into who we are, who we were created to be, we see the glory of God before us.  We are free, and in our freedom we give others permission to live freely.  What a gift! It is what Jesus wants for us when he says “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  French philosopher, journalist, and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Albert Camus put it this way:  “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”

So what brings you to life?  When have you known fully who you are and loved that person?  When have you felt free?   Leave a comment; sharing our experiences with others can be such a gift.

Something to Strive For

15 Jun

As the houses have emptied and all that remains are a few dirty dishes, shampoo bottles, and some great memories of last year, I’ve begun to dream and plan for next year.  As many of you know, small groups are at the heart of what Vision 16 is about: they provide a safe place for growth, exploration, question asking, and development.  How do we make them better?  While asking this question I came across this video, and I think it really gives us something to strive for.  Trust me, it’s worth two minutes.  Enjoy!

Back to the Present

8 Jun

This time of year is full of talk about future, especially for those who are graduating.  You hear these conversations all over the place this time of year, especially at graduation parties: What’s next?  Do you have a job lined up? What’s your five year plan?  These questions rattle around students minds and many do their best to avoid them at all costs. Typically the only people who like being asked about their future are those who have it figured out.

In many respects, talking about the future is exciting: it’s unknown, full of promise and bursting with possibility.  Within the future lies the chance that we may encounter perfection.  It’s no wonder that many of us love to fantasize and romanticize what could be rather than what is.  Our hope gets placed on an ideal and betrays the gift of today, our present reality.  God told us that he is the great I am, not the great I will be.  God promises to show up here and now, not in some distant possibility or hope.  So while dreaming and longing are not inherently bad, and God did his share of casting vision and promise, they can become idols when they replace our living and breathing in the present.  Through the prophet Jeremiah God told the captives in Babylon to settle in, give their children away in marriage, build homes and gardens, and to work for the welfare of the city; he didn’t tell them to spend all their time longing for the future.  CS Lewis puts it best when he says “Gratitude looks to the Past and love to the Present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.

As talk of future hopes, dreams and plans (all good things, certainly) bounce around our heads and conversations, let’s keep at least one foot in the present.  As we are faithful to the present, God will lead us into a future that will far exceed our  hopes.

“We cannot think about the future, of course, for the future does not exist: the existence of the future is an article of faith. We can be assured only that, if there is to be a future, the good of it is already implicit in the good things of the present. We do not need to plan or devise a “world of the future”; if we take care of the world of the present, the future will have received full justice from us.”  Wendell Berry

Thoughts?  Comments? Objections? Improvements?  All welcome.