God soup

Source: Unsplash
When encountering a faith community or person whose spiritual life is different from your own, it doesn’t seem helpful to start from a place of judgment. Instead, what if we opt to begin from a place of compassion? What if we start by simply acknowledging the reality that there are different ways to see the world and make sense of it? 
Let me say concretely: this approach doesn’t mean we all need to passively adopt one another’s perspectives. Far from it! No one is asking us to just combine all our beliefs, creeds, and commitments into one big bowl so we’re left with a bland pot of God stew. No thanks. I don’t want to eat that soup, and I doubt you do either.
-A passage from this week's Post-Bulletin column; here's the link to the full reflection 


Spiritual Practice of Worship

The last stop of the Lenten series! Worship as a spiritual practice. 

This year's Lenten series for the Post-Bulletin focused on spiritual practices. It was such a meaningful journey for me and I pray for readers, too. The interviews and visits and experiences that led to the composition of the series were all a true blessing, and I am so grateful to all who participated. 


Spiritual practice of Silence

Good afternoon! Thanks to all who have signed up for my new forthcoming monthly newsletter "Be Still." If you'd like to receive it in your inbox, just visit http://www.emilyannecarson.com and click the button! The first edition will be coming out in the not-too-distant future.

Here's a link to this week's Post-Bulletin column about the spiritual practice of silence: link. There's one week left in the series! It has been a wonderful adventure; I've really appreciated the opportunity to connect with so many awesome folks in our community.


Transition to Digital Newsletter

Hey friends,

I'm transitioning from blogging to creating of monthly digital newsletter. Sign up by visiting http://www.emilyannecarson.com and then hitting the newsletter button.

The monthly newsletter will be called "Be Still" with content related to spiritual practices, photography, contemplation, books, and music!

I spend a lot of my work days at a computer living out my vocation in ways that I find really meaningful and fulfilling. But with so much screen time, I'm feeling a pull to spend less of my non-working hours on a computer/cell phone. And, quite honestly, with the current rhythms of life and freelance writing and other responsibilities, I'm having a hard time fitting blogging into my routines in a way that doesn't just feel like I'm posting randomly for the sake of posting so I can stay connected to you!

Then I remembered: Hey Emily, there are other ways to stay connected! How about a chill, thoughtful monthly newsletter! Yes! Let's do that! 

Blogging will still be in the background (especially to share columns and #powersheets and that kind of thing) but I think...at least for a time, this new newsletter might be a way for me to write and stay without having to be on a computer/cell phone every day in my non-working time.

I hope you'll sign-up and join me!



Winter Scenes

Some snaps from a recent winter hike with Finn and Justin...(and an eagle).


This week's column

"The biggest roadblock for most meditators is the inner voice that says “I can’t sit still,” “I’m too lazy,” “I don’t have time,” and so on. Actually, the more you believe that you don’t have the time to meditate, the more you really do need to meditate." - Doug McGill in this week's Post-Bulletin column. The spiritual practice we're exploring this week is meditation. Here's the link: http://bit.ly/31018pb.


Holy Everything Reads: Option B

Let me tell you about the book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant.

It's my book group pick this year for the book group I rejoined a few months ago (whoo-hoo! love those ladies), so I wanted to get it read early so I could start chewing on some discussion questions.

Sheryl Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook. She's also the author of Lean In and mother of two young children. In 2015, her husband Dave died suddenly while they were on vacation in Mexico. He was in his mid-40s. Sandberg writes Option B out of a very authentic, vulnerable place. It's her story and personal learnings alongside real research and psychology.

She is so very self-aware in her writing. She admits that after Dave's death, she and her children had access to many resources that the average person doesn't have. Nevertheless, grief and death are still so hard...so matter how much wealth or power you have amassed.

It's so very inspiring to me that she took at the things she learned about adversity, resilience and joy and boiled it down into a resource that accessible to all. This book would be an especially helpful read if #1) you're in the midst of a major life transition or trauma, #2) you know someone who is, or #3) you work with other people and want to be a more compassion human.

So basically everyone would benefit from this book because everyone experiences adversity in life! And most of us go through periods of very intense challenge and adversity somewhere along the way.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book with the bolded ones being the quotes I found most personally impactful:
-Grief is a demanding companion.

-Resilience is the strength and speed of our response to adversity—and we can build it. It isn’t about having a backbone. It’s about strengthening the muscles around our backbone.

-The sad truth is that adversity is not evenly distributed among us; marginalized and disenfranchised groups have more to battle and more to grieve.

-Three P’s can stunt recovery: (1) personalization—the belief that we are at fault; (2) pervasiveness—the belief that an event will affect all areas of our life; and (3) permanence—the belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever.

-He suggests that “the most powerful thing you can do is acknowledge. To literally say the words: I acknowledge your pain. I’m here with you.”

-There are two different emotional responses to the pain of others: empathy, which motivates us to help, and distress, which motivates us to avoid.

-There’s no one way to grieve and there’s no one way to comfort.

-Psychologist Kristin Neff describes self-compassion as offering the same kindness to ourselves that we would give to a friend. It allows us to respond to our own errors with concern and understanding rather than criticism and shame.

-Self-compassion is associated with greater happiness and satisfaction, fewer emotional difficulties, and less anxiety.

-In a more recent study, people spent five to ten minutes a day writing about things that went “really well” and why; within three weeks, their stress levels dropped, as did their mental and physical health complaints.

-“When we are no longer able to change a situation,” psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl observed, “we are challenged to change ourselves.”

-“I am more vulnerable than I thought, but much stronger than I ever imagined.”

-In Viktor Frankl’s words, “In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.”

-Although it can be extremely difficult to grasp, the disappearance of one possible self can free us to imagine a new possible self.
-“How we spend our days,” author Annie Dillard writes, is “how we spend our lives.”


March Goals

I'm a big fan of Lara Casey's Powersheets! I have a set for home (which I'll share here), and I also use the same basic process at work (though simplified a bit). Each month on her blog, Lara does a review of her goals for the previous month and her new goals for the month ahead. As another tool to hold myself accountable for the dreams I hope to make into reality, I'm going to do the same thing and share my monthly goals with you.

In the Powersheets program, a person annually goes through a process to discern her main goals. Then, each month she fills out her blank "tending list" to create daily, weekly, and monthly goals that help her reach her main goals for the year.

All of the goals and lists can be adapted at any time! Nothing is set in stone.

The process also involves setting a theme word for the year. My word for 2018 is: FREE! (my theme Bible verse is John 8:32 - "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.")

My main 2018 goals: 

  1. Daily awareness and celebration of my freedom with a foundation of daily morning meditation/reflection/writing time. 
  2. Read 52 books. 
  3. Cultivate playfulness, affection, thoughtfulness, kindness and spontaneity in our marriage. 
  4. Honor my body and mind. 
  5. Create with regularity and purpose - especially through writing, blogging, videos, and social media. 
  6. Make intentional space for time with family and friends. 
  7. Explore entrepreneurship with bold curiosity and confidence. 
When it comes to the big over-arching goals, a person can choose to have anywhere from 1 to 10 of them. They can be added, adapted, changed, or deleted over the course of the year. 

I also color-coded the sheet above so that each of my tending list goals relates directly to one of my main 7 goals for the year. It's a helpful way to connect daily, weekly, and monthly habits/behaviors with the larger hopes and dreams.  

My March tending list: 

Monthly goals: 
  • Spiritual Direction: I've always wanted to commit to a regular practice of spiritual direction. I've gone a couple times over the last 10 years but never stuck with it. After interviewing my friend Linda for this column, I decided to Google and find a Spiritual Director! I meet with her in a couple weeks! Looking forward to it. 
  • Life Coach: I'll share more about this along the way, but an amazing opportunity has landed in my lap! I am abundantly grateful. I'll be working with a life coach for the next 4-6 months. It's a vocational time of discernment for me, and I'm excited to see how this coaching process may help bring a sense of clarity to what I want for my life after the bishop's election in 2019 (our team is all co-terminus. When the bishop's term ends, our terms end as well). I love my job SO MUCH! But it will be up to the new bishop to discern her/his staff, so I need to be ready to explore whatever new possibilities the Spirit is cooking up. I am so excited for coaching and especially a chance to articulate some of my entrepreneurial goals aloud!
  • Med City Beat Article: I love this online publication and am striving to produce a piece this month for Sean. 
  • Fun in Iowa with Josh and Sweta: We're heading to Iowa for an overnight this month! So excited for time with brother and sister!
  • Lead Boundaries Workshop with gratitude: This is more work-related but it's significant personally, too, because it's not something I've done before. All rostered ministers are required to take something called a boundaries workshop every 3 years. Last fall I went to Chicago to learn how to lead a training. In a couple weeks a colleague and I will get to empower the leaders of our synod to embrace the beauty of boundaries! I never imagined growing to love boundaries and talking about boundaries as much as I do! 
  • Walk15 certification: I've wanted to complete my walk instructor training for about 19 months! Time to get 'er done! I may need to take a continuing education day to do it, but I WILL get it done in March or April! 
  • Clarified voice & audience: I'm going to take a couple hours this month to implement some of the things I learned from "Louder than Words" by Todd Henry. They involve getting clear on my voice & also my intended audience. This relates primarily to writing/freelance work as well as future writing/speaking opportunities. 
  • 1 Emoji adventure: Justin and I loved making these earlier in 2018 and hope to make another this month. 
  • Quality time with Mom
  • Quality time with Stolls
  • Quality time via email/text with Dad
Weekly goals: 
  • Date with hubby
  • Long walk/dog park with Finn
  • Gym (x2)
  • Read a book
  • Write column with intention
  • Identify meditation resources & use them
  • At least 1 hour per week for spacious relaxation
Daily goals: 
  • Movement
  • 60 oz of water & 3 meals
  • Kiss hubby
  • Read
  • Write/reflect
Thanks for the opportunity to share my March goals with you! Looking forward to checking in on this each month to share progress and updates. 




The waves are coming in.
And closer still.
But I run away. 

The ocean observes.
The ocean notices my running.
But she doesn't change course.
Instead, she says,
"Melt into me. Release your tight grip on the shore. 
Relax, and I will teach you."

I don't want to.
But I try.

I melt. 
I release.
I relax.

And sure enough, 
the waves keep crashing in and I am made new. 


Sermon for Sunday: Disruption


Gospel: John 2:13-17
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.'

There are times in life when what we need most is a word of comfort. There are times in life when what we need is a prayer of healing or encouragement. And there are times when we are stuck, and we need a powerful word of challenging truth to wake us from our slumber.

Sometimes Jesus comforts. Sometimes Jesus heals. And sometimes, as in today’s Gospel story, Jesus disrupts. Whatever Jesus is doing or saying in the Gospels, the string that holds is all together is the overarching goal: to increase people’s awareness of the presence of God.

Today’s Gospel story is from John’s gospel.  The story of Jesus disrupting at the temple in Jerusalem happens in all four gospels. But in the other three, it happens at the end of Jesus’ ministry, and in John, it happens at the beginning. Today’s reading is from Chapter 2. From the beginning of John’s version of the story, we witness a Jesus who is willing to disrupt with boldness.

Prior to this was the wedding at Cana. Jesus turned lots of water into wine. And then today’s text. Disruptive Jesus. But why? Why does Jesus disrupt? To understand that, we step back in time and put this story into context.

What Jesus witnessed at the Temple was not out of the ordinary. It was a common scene…especially during the time of a festival. People would come from all over. They would be exchanging their local currencies for the common currency and buying grain and animals to sacrifice. It was part of how people had long-understood their relationship with God. And the temple was very much where people understood God to be.

But Jesus comes with a disruptive word…and disruptive actions, too. He takes this familiar scene and upturns it all. Literally and figuratively. He says, this system is broken and needs to be dismantled. 

He says, “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”

He kicks everyone and the animals out. He dumps out the money changers coins. He flips over tables. When Jesus disrupts, it’s for a purpose. Through the disruption, Jesus seeks to reorient his followers and everyone else toward a new way of understanding God and God’s presence.

The people around Jesus had a very specific understanding of worship and God. They had been taught and believed strongly that true worship happened at a temple. And that really was how things were outlined in the Old Testament! People had been taught and believed strongly that true, repentant worship required sacrifices. They were doing what they’d been told to do.

But Jesus comes into that reality with an expansive invitation…to make space for another approach to faith.

It's kind of like this...we have routes that we take to get around town. We usually take the same routes to get from point A to point B. Maybe someone told us along the way that it was the best route. Maybe we saw it on a map and assumed it was the best. And so we take the same route to get from A to B day after day and year after year.

Imagine that someone came to you and said, "There's a different route. You can actually just take this new frontage road and you'll get there. Try it. You don't need to take all those different roads. There's a more direct route."

In today's Gospel text, Jesus is introducing people to a frontage road. A different spiritual way to get from A to B.

And it's really normal that people would have a variety of responses to that invitation! Some would likely feel confused, "But I always go this way."

Some would feel suspicious, "What if I'm being misled? Who is this guy anyway?"

Some would feel threatened, "But I like the way I do it, and this is the way I've taught my family to go. So I'm sticking with it."

After Jesus' disruption in the Temple, it's normal that people had a variety of emotional responses! We do, too! Rather than requiring people to think in one specific way, perhaps Jesus is inviting people to just consider that there could be another way to get from A to B.

Jesus reveals, through his disruption, that access to God isn’t limited to one specific place, the temple. And a relationship with God doesn’t require a marketplace in the church.

What Jesus is describing is a revolutionary invitation to people. It would’ve been outside people’s comfort zones to think of God and faith that way. It was a disruption.

Disruptions are powerful.

That remains true in our lives today. When something happens that we don’t anticipate, it can be transformative and reorienting. Disruptions give us a chance to reconsider. As a congregation, you get that. With over 100 years of history, you’ve certainly faced disruptions. You’ve certainly experienced times when all did not go according to plan.

And through those disruptions, Jesus led you into new awarenesses of what it means to follow him!

Jesus disrupts in order to reorient people back toward God…a God who is living and accessible to everyone EVERYWHERE - not just in one sacred place. And that means our assignment to follow Jesus and be messengers of peace, justice, and forgiveness is something we live out in all places...not just in the walls of a church.

So how about for us? In what areas do we need to experience disruption and reorientation? Where have we gotten stuck? What tables in our lives maybe need to be flipped over and cleared out? Where have our spiritual practices become so automatic that we don’t even recognize that presence of God within them? Where have we unintentionally created roadblocks that perhaps make God seem inaccessible and out of reach to people? 

Jesus’ flipping over the tables is a disruption that leads people to a new sense of freedom and liberation. But they had to be willing to look past the drama and see the purpose. In that moment, after Jesus creates quite a chaotic scene, I imagine he didn't immediately go about cleaning it all up. I imagine that for awhile, everyone just had to look at it. Witness it. Let it sink in. Let the invitation of the disruption make itself apparent.

In our lives, there are times when we, too, need to look past the drama and see the purpose of the disruption. Many of us are pretty disruption-averse. If something disrupts how we want things to go, we tend to either ignore it or avoid it and hope it goes away. Or put bandaids on it.

But what if by doing that, we miss out on the greater story God is writing? What if we need to just look at the scene for awhile?

Homestead Church…siblings in faith….where is the Spirit of God disrupting us? Where are we coming up against roadblocks which are perhaps opportunities to reconsider? Where are our well-intentioned routines and rituals perhaps getting in the way of encountering God? Where are we overcomplicating things and a simpler route from A to B might be possible?

Today’s Gospel is an invitation to pay attention to disruptions. It’s a reminder that Jesus comes into our lives and our communities in many ways….sometimes with comfort, sometimes with peace, sometimes with healing, sometimes with a challenge, and sometimes with disruption.

In all these cases, it’s about bringing us back to God. A God who loves us and cares for us and wants us to live in relationship with our Creator.

May we embrace the disruptions in our lives and faith communities and world as opportunities to be reoriented toward the living Jesus who walks with us everywhere and always.