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Posts Tagged ‘Pacific Northwest Coastal Area’

It is part of the American ideal to think that “all men and women are created equal.” In terms of human value this is true.  In terms of human capacity it is not.  Every human person is unique in his or her talents and capacities.  Not everyone can be a LeBron James on the basketball court.  Not everyone can be a Warren Buffet in finances.  There was only one J.S. Bach.  There will only ever be one Albert Einstein.  There will only be one you or me.

Into human talent and capacity the good Lord put a lot of the right genetics into the right person at the right time. The famous runner Steve Prefontaine was made to run.  He had all the right biological equipment – heart, lungs, feet, legs.  A tragic death took him too soon from this world.  I ran cross-country in High School and did OK.  However, I never did as well as others even though I trained just as hard.  I played hours upon hours of basketball.  I never got as good as many of my peers.  I certainly was never going to be another Michael Jordan.  There is only one of him out of all the millions of kids of his generation who played basketball and the hundreds who even made it to the professional leagues.

We probably all have had an argument with our Creator at some point in our life where we wanted to know, “How come you didn’t make me like so-and-so?”  In our limited understanding, the world, or at least us, would be better off if we were like the one we idolize.  Almost all of us want to be Nietzsche’s “ubermensch” – superman or superwoman.  However, this mythical humanoid never existed and never will.  After all, human capacity is limited.  This is what reminds us that God is God and we are not.  There is no limit to God’s capacity.

So, in our minds and hearts we play to our fantasies instead of the realities with which we are dealt; at least for awhile. I have discovered that this is where maturity comes to bear in our lives.  It is the recognition and acceptance of our own limited human capacities.  This is no stoic acceptance of the death of dreams.  It is, instead, the embracing of our full potential and willingness to explore it to its very edges.

Granted, our cultural heroes can inspire us to greatness. But living vicariously through their achievements and accomplishments is not enough.  The “joie de vivre” is to attain to one’s own measure of greatness to whatever capacity that may be as an individual.  This is why so many of us are amazed at how some of the ordinary people in our lives become our “ubermensch” at the end of their life.  It is not until the sum of their life is put before us at the end of their life that we realize how truly great they were as a person.

Seagull Reflections, Long Beach Peninsula, Fall 2009

Seagull Reflections, Long Beach Peninsula, Fall 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Jesus alluded to the human capacity in his parable of the talents. In the parable (Matt. 25:14 – 30), the master did not give everyone the same amount of talents.  Each was given what he or she could steward according to the wisdom of the master.  The only stipulation was that they take what they were given and use it to its full capacity so that when the master asked for an accounting of what he gave them they could show how it had been invested.  This is still applicable to us today.

The accounting of our human life is not going to be summed up in comparison with anyone else when we stand before our Creator. We will not be able to turn to anyone else and say to the Creator, “But I didn’t get as much capacity as her!”  We will not be able to complain, “Why didn’t you give me a chance with the capacity that he had?”  Instead, the Creator will look at us and ask, “I created you for this purpose in this place at this hour.  What have you done with what I gave to you to live and enjoy life to its fullest?”

The existential choice each one of us has is to determine to live life to the fullest within the measurements of the unique capacities we have or to spend our life decrying who we are not and what we do not have. This is why envy and jealousy is such a sin.  They not only attempt to second guess the Creator’s work and purpose, but it ruins the very one who harbors it.  Envy and jealousy paralyzes one’s ability to enjoy to the full extent what they have been given in life.  They destroy the full potential of the one who harbors them.  No wonder Paul warned Timothy, “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6).  Perhaps the apostle Paul in his old age knew by experience the damage envy and jealousy can do in one’s life.

I know that for my own spiritual journey, it has been liberating to come to the acceptance and contentment of what I have a capacity to do and what I do not have the capacity to do. This gives me permission to say “Yes” to the things that the wise Creator has created me for in this life.  It also gives me permission to say “No” without guilt to the things that the wise Creator has not given me the capacity to handle.

This is not to say that there are not times where He challenges me and stretches my capacity in order to enlarge my life.  However, these have been painful times and thankfully infrequent.  At other times, the Creator has placed me in challenging positions where I must depend upon the capacity of others – or completely alone upon Him – to see me through.  This makes me aware of my need for others in my life and my necessity to depend upon Him.  He did not create any of us with the capacity to travel the journey of life alone.

Joyfully living within the limits he has created me with allows me to enjoy life.  This kind of contentment with “life as it is handed to me” allows me the freedom to fully explore all that the Creator has created me with and for in this life.  Free from envy, jealousy, anxiety and perhaps even anger, I can discover what it means to be Ron Almberg “created in Christ Jesus to [do] good works” (Eph. 2:10).  In other words, it is accepting that “God planned for [Ron Almberg] to do good things and to live as he has always wanted [him] to live” (CEV, with my personalization).

So, you and I may not be the next sports all-star or the next American Idol. Neither of us may attain to international recognition for some scientific breakthrough, gaining the Nobel Peace Prize or appearing on the cover of Time magazine.  However, we are in the most important place in the universe – the heart and mind of God when He created us and set us in this world in our generation among the people we influence.  And He’s watching us.  Cheering us on.  Helping us when we ask.  Because more than anything, He wants us to reach our fullest potential/capacity.  Not only will it bring us the greatest joy – “joie de vivre” – but also bring Him the greatest glory.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Bloodless Revolutions

The great American democratic experiment stands in marked contrast to many other struggling nations in the world today.  It is something for which every person living in the good ol’ U.S. of A. should be thankful for but seems too few really recognize – at least if one thinks the popular news outlets and local newspapers ‘Letters to the Editor’ is any indicator.  Once again, too many people seem to be ignorant of American history specifically and world history in general.

In American democracy, every two years to four years the American voting public can change its government without shedding a drop of blood.  This is not the case in many countries around the world.  Change in government structures and powers can only come through bloody revolutions that cost the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, and wreck havoc on the economy, safety and well-being of its citizens.  Oppressive governments stay in power by subjugating protesters to imprisonment, torture and the threat of death.

Today, in American democracy, the common people can rise up in open protest without threat of violence or imprisonment from the governing powers.  This was not always the case, however.  The unrest of the 1960’s helped to change all of this for future generations, whether it was the peaceful protests led by Dr. Martin Luther King, student sit-ins or more violent student protests.  In the early 20th century unionists, socialists and communists were openly persecuted and jailed.  The McCarthy era communist scare of the 1950’s involved the blacklisting and even jailing of individuals.  Despite all of this, America has always been able to absorb social change and movements and find or rediscover its equilibrium.

Thankfully, peaceful protests and gathering people from opposing political viewpoints is not against the law.  In fact, it is a vital part of American democracy.  Town hall meetings, mass gatherings and forming new political alliances or parties can take place openly.  Police even offer protection to the most obnoxious protesters among us.  Take for instance the Westboro Baptist Church protesting at military funerals or Anarchists at world leader events or anti-abortionists with their gruesome pictures in front of Planned Parenthood buildings.  As much as they may be repulsive to some people, they have the freedom in an open democratic system to voice their views.  (What is appropriate and inappropriate communication of those views will be left for another time.)

On the other hand, recently around the world we have witnessed countless bloody revolutions, coups and violent protests.  Recently it was Kyrgyzstan.  However, since America’s most recent presidential election, other countries have gone through similar convulsions: Guatemala, Honduras, Myanmar, Sudan, Iran, Georgia, Mozambique, Congo, Moldova, Nepal, Tibet, Fiji, Sri Lanka, Timor, and Gaza to name the ones that I know.  There may be others.  Many other places in the world have small revolutionary groups at work; far too many to attempt to name here.

The United States of America has always had its own revolutionaries at work behind the scenes.  Whether it is the White Supremacists, the Black Panthers, the Anarchists, the Militia Movement, the Animal Liberation Front, the Earth Liberation Front, the Army of God, the Black Liberation Army, the Communist Party or many other smaller fractured groups, groups like them have always been present among us from the earliest days of the American democracy.  For now, they remain on the fringe of American society.

Orange and Purple Starfish, June 2003

Orange and Purple Starfish, June 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

I believe that we who live in America should be thankful for two things1) That we have a system of replacing or changing our government and its officials through a bloodless means – a bloodless revolution, and 2) That there is an allowable system of protestation that gives voice to the variant messages in America – no matter how much we might disagree with them or even find them repulsive.  The alternative is no alternative.

This is why violence and the threat of violence are so dangerous to the democratic process.  Whether it is instituted at the government level or at the grassroots level of our society, the end result can only be the violent demise of democracy altogether.  The former will lead to an oppressive government that holds its people in bondage to one way of thinking and acting.  The latter will lead to an anarchy in which fractured groups will impose their will and ideals over others.  One will lead down the path to dictatorships and government by an elite and ruling class.  The other will lead to more Oklahoma City bombings.

When the government oversteps its boundaries, the self-governing institutions of our society kick into play through the scrutiny of conservative or liberal presses, public inquiries and social outcries from the public. 

When individuals and groups overstep their boundaries of protesting by moving into violence and the threat of violence, then the self-governing institutions of the local police and sheriffs, federal investigative agencies and the outcries from the public offer correction.

In either case, we still have a way of self-correcting the future course of America without shedding a drop of blood.  As long as the American public…

  1. remains educated about current issues,
  2. learns from its own history and world history,
  3. actively participates in the political and social process of our democracy, and
  4. demands civil discourse rather than violence or the threat of violence,

…then I am confident in the future of American democracy and society.  I believe there are enough sensible and educated citizens within its borders to navigate the issues the lay ahead of us.  We may not always agree on what the outcomes should be but we will always have a voice and a choice to be involved in the process.  Even as I write this, I hear the rumblings of another bloodless revolution this next November.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Restructuring Discipleship

I am a bibliophile.  I’ll freely admit it.  I am a reader and collector of books.  My wife, Kelly, would say too many books.  Alright, I probably have a couple thousand too many.  However, each one is special to me.  I have a connection with each one.  That is why when I went to “weed-out” my library a couple years ago I could only part with a box full of books out of my whole library.  And some of those in that box were painful to part with as I donated them to the local library for their book sale.

Out of all of the books I have read over the years, while I have received enjoyment and learned a great many things from them, only a handful of them have truly been life changing and transforming.  Those special books along with their authors still provoke my thinking and reflection to this day – no matter how long ago I read them.  Some of those authors include Richard Foster, C.S. Lewis, Dallas Willard, Max Lucado, Phillip Yancey, Leslie Newbigin, Thomas Merton, Detrich Bonhoeffer, and few others.

One recent book I have read that is having a lasting impact is “The Emotionally Healthy Church: A Strategy for Discipleship that Actually Changes Lives” by Peter Scazzero with Warren Bird and Foreword by Leighton Ford (Zondervan, 2003).  The whole premise of the book is to propose a restructuring of the way discipleship is done in the local church.  It takes you on a spiritual journey with pastor Scazzero as he discovers what was missing in his own spiritual formation and how he led his church into what he discovered every Christian needs to grow and mature.

While the book is written for Christian leaders, most specifically pastors, it addresses issues that affect everyone in the local congregation.  The church that I attend, Central United Protestant Church in Richland, Washington, just went through it church-wide in its small groups.  Many people benefited from the study and found some of the truths discussed in the book transforming.  The issues discussed throughout the book are universal and apply to every walk of life so that they could be applied in the corporate world or individual lives who are looking to grow and mature as persons beyond where they are presently.

The emotional part of our humanness is rarely dealt with in our society.  Most of us were taught to “stuff it” and hide our emotions.  Peter Scazzero points out how this has had an ill affect upon all of us and especially upon spiritual formation with the church.  The tendency is to think that if we are having troubles that what we need to do is apply the right doctrine or spiritual truth; or put more effort into a spiritual disciple like prayer, fasting, worship, prayer in the Spirit or Bible reading; or search our hearts and souls for hidden sins and unforgiveness; or look intently in the Bible for a Scriptural promise that will give us hope.  While all of these are good things they are not always the answer.  There may be deeper issues that we need to address.

Washington Coastal Island at Low Tide, June 2003

Washington Coastal Island at Low Tide, June 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

The author then takes his readers on a journey of considering the hidden emotional components of our lives that may be interfering with our growth as spiritual and emotional beings.  He suggests five steps that he devotes a chapter to each.  They are, briefly,

  1. Look Beneath the Surface.  Emotionally healthy people and their churches take the time to look inside their hearts and ask, “What is going on that Jesus Christ is trying to change?”  The author uses the picture of an iceberg to portray how a person’s life show’s very little of what is really going on upon the surface.  The vast majority of who we are lies deep beneath the surface.  So, the first step is to invite God to bring an awareness of what those “beneath-the surface” issues are and transform them so that we will become more like Jesus.
  2. Break the Power of the Past.  Emotionally healthy people and their churches recognize how their past – individually and collectively – affects their present ability to love Christ and love others.  There are complex ties to the past and the present.  All of these pull at us and shape us.  For instance, the family we grew up in is our primary and most powerful system that shapes and influences us – for good or for bad.  Recognizing what those and who those are and dealing with them so their negative power over us is broken is important to moving on and growing up.
  3. Live in Brokenness and Vulnerability.  Contrary to our societal model that teaches us to “lead from your strengths,” Peter Scazzero asserts that the Jesus model is to live and lead out of brokenness and vulnerability.  Emotionally healthy people and churches understand that leadership in the Kingdom of God is from the bottom up – a place of service.  It is the ability to lead out of failure and pain, question and struggles, and letting go of the need to control that empowers individuals and churches to grow and mature.  By far, I found this chapter the most challenging and, at the same time, the most freeing.
  4. Receive the Gift of Limits.  This truth directly coincides with the previous one.  Emotionally healthy individuals and their churches accept the limits God has given them.  Whatever and however many talents they have been given by God – one, two, five, or ten – they joyfully accept them.  This sets them free from the frenzy of a covetous life of trying to be like someone else or another church.  Such individuals and churches are marked by a contentment and joy about how God has made them and purposes to use them in his Kingdom.
  5. Embrace Grieving and Loss.  Emotionally healthy individuals and churches embrace grief as part of the journey to become more like Jesus.  There is an important discipleship component in learning to grieve our losses – dreams, relationship, tragedy, death – because it is the only path to becoming a compassionate person like Jesus.  Covering over our losses only disfigures us and stunts our growth toward becoming whole and healthy individuals.  It shapes all of our future relationships and the way we lead others.  We are often too quick to try and ease the pain when God is attempting to use it to shape our souls.
  6. Make Incarnation Your Model for Loving Well.  This simply means intentionally following the lifestyle of Jesus.  Peter Scazzero asserts that there are three dynamics to Jesus’ model for us: entering another’s world, holding on to your self, and hanging between two worlds.  Emotionally healthy individuals and churches will learn how to fold all three of these dynamics into their lives.  God changes us as we engage others and learn through them.  This keeps our feet in the real world spiritually.

As with all life-transforming books, when I put them down I always ask, “Where was this 20 years ago?” I could have used this book a long time ago!  I look back over the years and see how I have frustrated my own growth as a person – spiritually and emotionally.  I am thankful for it now.  Although I finished reading it some months back, I find myself constantly going back to it and “chewing” on some of the points that have really impacted me.

Like many formational books of its kind, it rubs against the contemporary approach to success and wealth and health.  I doubt that you will hear Oprah Winfrey or Doctor Phil using this book in any of their approaches to life.  Nevertheless, there are life-changing truths that can shape our lives and spiritual journeys from here until the end.  It will affect not only us but our world.  As Richard Foster notes, “…the desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people” (Celebration of Discipline).  True that.  And so perhaps it is time some of us consider restructuring how we do spiritual formation.  I know I am in.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Natural Sand Sculpture on the Beach, June 2003

Natural Sand Sculpture on the Beach, June 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Grey grit sifted and filtered
washed and rinsed with
waves

Silky silicon folded and laid
molded and shaped with
wind

Soft silt lifted and moved
around and over with
water

Ground granite coarse and rough
worn and divided with
weather

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Morning On Washington Beach, Olympic Wilderness Area, Spring 2002

Morning On Washington Beach, Olympic Wilderness Area, Spring 2002 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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