© Doug Slagle, Pastor at the Gathering, All Rights Reserved
As we begin to emerge from a long, hot but hopefully enjoyable summer with vacations and lots of recreation time, and now look to a few seasons of work and determination, how might we make the most of this time? In a new season, how do we move from what we have been doing for months or years – the same old, same old – to renewal and revival? Indeed, what does that term “revival” even mean to you? My hope over the next four Sundays is to cast ideas and potential visions for revival. Many of us know about, or perhaps have even experienced, old-fashioned church revivals, held in large tents where a fired up preacher speaks of sin, repentance and our need for Divine salvation. There is often a festival like atmosphere and a large picnic is involved. Fiery words from the pracher whip the crowd into a frenzy of emotion and contrition at thoughts of personal wrong doing and the love of a gracious savior. At the climax, people are invited forward to turn their lives over to Christ and thus find personal revival. If enough people are so revived, the theory goes, entire churches or even communities are changed for the better.
My idea is, to say the least, a bit different! My hope is for each of us to seek and ponder what revival means in our own individual lives, in the life of our nation and in the life of this church. We’ll cover each of those areas over the next four weeks. Today, I want to consider personal revival and finding your life purpose.
As a young woman in her twenties, Magguie Doyne did not know what she wanted to do with her life. So she set out, like many young people do, to travel the world and thereby find herself. As Magguie was trekking through the Himilayas in Nepal, she wandered into a small village ravaged by civil war. Of particular concern to Magguie was the plight of chidren in this village. Most spent their days working with hammers to smash large rocks into gravel to sell. Magguie met Hema, a young girl of 7, who worked smashing rocks and scavenging in garbage heaps for food. Hema would greet Magguie each day with a large smile and the words “Hello sister!” Magguie saw herself in Hema, became close friends with her and decided to take her to a local private school and pay for her full education, clothing and food. Magguie soon realized if she could change one life, what about 5, or 10 or 100? She called her parents and asked them to wire her the money in her savings account. She founded and continues to work at a school that now serves hundreds of students all at no cost to the children or families.
Gene Sharp, now an 83 year old, white haired man, decided in his seventies to promote his lifelong passion for non-violent speech and action, as a way to foster change. He wrote a 93 page manifesto with non-violent ideas on how to encourage reform. It has been translated into 24 languages and has been used around the world – most recently in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria. His booklet became a model for the recent Egyptian protests and included ideas such as hunger strikes, peaceful marches, and protest disrobing. His manifesto and his on site clinics have helped to change the face of nations and the world. According to Mr. Sharp, when we resort to violent action or speech as a means of protest, we are using the weapon of choice for tyrants and bullies. Our strongest weapon is one of peaceful, loving and non-violent protest.
Muhammed Yunis and Grameen Bank were two government bureaucrats in Bangladesh. They found themselves doing routine and relatively insignificant work of accounting in a deeply poor country. Together, they developed the idea of micro-credit lending which involves loans of around $200, at below market interest rates, to people of poverty to help them begin new businesses or careers. No collateral is required and the program serves those whom banks ignore. Persons wanting loans are formed into local partnerships of five people, each with their own idea. A loan is made to the first two persons and the other three must wait to receive their loans until the first two are paid. It operates on the honor system. The program reports a 99% rate of repayment. Over 17 million people in third world countries have received loans to start new businesses or jobs and the vast majority of them are women. The program solicits funds from private citizens around the world who wish to invest their money, for a reasonable return, as a way to reduce poverty. Yunis and Banks each won the 2006 Nobel Peace prize for their work.
What characteristics might we find in each of these true stories that are useful to any of us? The individuals in them are common folk who determined a life purpose or mission and then set out to realize it. From a wayward and rootless young woman to an older, shy, retired intellectual to two low-level government bureaucrats serving a poor nation, these persons not only became change agents for others – they did so by re-shaping and, indeed, reviving their lives.
It is said that a life without A purpose is a lost life – one with no direction or meaning. And finding a life purpose is not about setting goals or even a so called bucket list. Instead, it involves creating the blueprints, the larger vision or the framework for our lives into which we later fill in with goals, plans and projects. What values do we wish to promote and live by each and every day of our lives? When we have spent our last breath and have moved into eternity, or when this church is 50 years old, what will others say defined our lives or the Gathering organizational history? Not what we did or what we accomplished, but the deeper and more profound purpose and meaning which guided us. I want to revive that vision in me, in you and in all of us. I seek an old fashioned revival here and I hope you will join me in this four week endeavor.
Too often in our lives, we find ourselves at plateau periods when it seems we are merely coasting. Life is not bad but it lacks passion and excitement and change. Some of us might call ourselves progressives but we can get stuck in not living true to that ideal – embracing a continual mixing and re-seeding and re-birthing of our thinking and our purpose. We become stagnant, stale and, frankly, boring. We conserve what we have instead of progressing to what we and our immediate world around us might become. Revival in this sense calls us to either develop for the first time – or remember what we determined in the past – a personal life mission statement. This informs who you are and your deeply held passions about how your life will be lived. As I said earlier, it is not a set of concrete goals or intentions – like the career you choose, or the achievements you hope to amass. A true mission statement defines your very being.
And it is not a simple task to write one or arrive at one. To be honest, I thought I lived with a life purpose but, if I did, it was not clearly defined nor always followed. In the past few weeks, I’ve struggled to arrive at one that seems to fit. Some life coaches encourage people to write out as many life mission statement versions as one can – an exercise that takes hours or even days – until the arrival at one that brings tears to your eyes. That will be the one that has tapped into the innermost recesses of your passion, heart and soul. To keep your personal mission statement close to you – and to daily remember it, life coaches advise taping it to your mirror, carrying a copy of it in your wallet or using it as a screen saver on your computer.
For myself, I may not have arrived at the perfect mission statement, but I now have one that seems to fit – while I continue to re-imagine and revive myself. My life mission is: To live self-aware and with purpose; to practice compassion, empathy and humility; to embrace life-enriching joy in what I do; to encourage spiritual beauty in myself and in others; to leave this world in peace.
A common value for each of us in our mission statements must be a sense of the divine – even for atheists and skeptics this can be a recognition of something greater than oneself, be it the universe or the power of love. Why do we make ourselves a part of a spiritual community like the Gathering if it is not because each of us recognizes that truth? In each of us, as a person of faith, an agnostic or an atheist, there must be a recognition of a higher source and power – either a supernatural being or a force of nature. We are not an island drifting in the vast emptiness of eternity. We are a part of a greater whole.
Then, we must acknowledge as a part of our purpose, to always choose what is best for all – for ourselves, others and all creation. Whenever we are confronted with big or small decisions in life, we must be self-aware enough to discern what is truly best, not just for ourselves but for ALL others too. In daily life, this is difficult as we all seek a more self-focused and, indeed, selfish path.
As a manifestation of acting in ways that are best for all, what broad values are important in what you do? Are they love, healing, compassion, nurture, service, connection, empathy, or empowerment? While we might say each is good and we want to practice them all, in reality we will only be good and passionate about two or three. What values do you incorporate into your purpose? To be a person of love? To be a person who serves others? To be a person who empowers others? To answer that question is to define who you are and what inner values give you meaning – to practice and then give away.
Of paramount importance in reviving our lives and reviving a sense of life purpose, we MUST, and I emphasize MUST, be self-aware. This involves not only seeing and appreciating our strengths – and being willing to acknowledge them, it more importantly requires us to see our limitations and the core issues inside our being that challenge how we think and then act. In general, there are six common core areas of challenge in people. Each person has at least one area of inner challenge. Number 1: a person might be challenged by a sense of abandonment – the thought that nobody cares about me. Number 2: it might be a sense of arrogance – a way of thinking that says I am better than others. My skills and intelligence make me always right and others wrong. Number 3: a feeling of being damaged – something is wrong with me and I am a failure. Number 4: a sense of inferiority – I am stupid, worthless and boring. Number 5: it could be a feeling of rejection – nobody wants to spend time with me, I am burden to others. Or, number 6: a sense of shame – I am bad, evil or a mistake. I hesitate reciting a list and if you wish to review this information, e-mail or talk to me or find the message on our website.
For each of these common core issues – and everyone is challenged by one of them, some by two or more – we tend to then overcompensate for that issue which then prevents us from living out our true life purpose. To follow the list of challenges I just discussed, if we feel abandoned, we often overcompensate by joining many activities to avoid our deeper issue. If we are arrogant at our core, we might instead act falsely humble. If we feel damaged, we can present ourselves as always great and capable and avoid talking about our problems or needs. If we feel we are inferior, we can overcompensate by being macho, arrogant or domineering. If we feel rejected, we work to make ourselves always desirable, beautiful and well dressed – our outward appearance matters most. Finally, if we feel shame, we will be overly nice and giving, out of fear that the supposed bad in us will be exposed.
My reason for elaborating on these areas of self-awareness is that they prevent or hinder finding and living out our purpose. Core issues inside us lead us astray and prevent the true self to emerge. If we act contrary to our inner truth, we will act without passion and with, instead, anger, bitterness and resentment. To revive who we are and stop the stale and stagnant forms of behavior, we must therefore be self-aware.
After searching within us for our inner challenges and then recognizing them, we should employ patterns of thought that will help us change. For instance, we might say to ourselves every morning after waking, “I will recognize and acknowledge when I judge others – and I will stop that.” Or, “I will be authentic and transparent – expressing my true desires, feelings and beliefs.” Or, “I will remind myself to stay open to the web of love in all creation – I will consciously seek to love others.” Or, finally, we might say to ourselves, “I will take full responsibility for my own actions, thoughts and impulses.”
As many of you know, I am a firm believer in cognitive therapy and change. We each have the inner power to change how we think which, in turn, changes how we feel and how we behave. We can do this either with the assistance of a therapist who will ask the tough questions, or we can do this ourselves by asking the same tough questions. Reminding ourselves on a daily basis of our core challenges and then working to think in another way is crucial. How we think determines how we act. To live differently – to live with revival – we must begin to think about ourselves and about life differently.
My friends, revival is actually a moment by moment phenomenon. We are always changing whether we want to or not. In terms of how we think and behave in life, we need regular revival. We need personal awakening and a reminder of how we truly and passionately want to live. We need to stay self-aware and guided by our values and passions.
For those who live a mission focused life, such is not a one-time commitment. Such purpose driven people – or organizations – continually re-evaluate and question the life path they lead. We need revival. We need re-adjustment. We must step off of our safe and secure plateaus and begin climbing new mountains. We can do so only if we stay focused on a personal life mission or purpose statement. If you don’t have one, I encourage you to think about and find one. It will take time. Remember, the best one will be one that causes you to cry at the realization of the beauty, simplicity and power of your life passions – not goals or activities…………. but values.
If we think about the life story examples I discussed near the beginning of this message, each person got out of their personal life rut – even the 83 year old Gene Sharp did so at a point in life when many would say they have no further purpose. I daresay we are all in some form of stagnation at the moment. We are coasting along – perhaps not in our daily activities or in our work, but in pushing the envelope of life meaning. Find your purpose. Embrace it. Remember it. Practice it until the day you die. Never be afraid to re-examine it. In the safe and warm wombs of our current existence, there is a beautiful child waiting to be born – one of power, change, love and joy. Give new life to that child. Grant him or her a genuine meaning and a wondrous revival…