Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Hot Metal Bike/Pedestrian Bridge Now Open!

This is one of a few great accomplishments for the biking community of late. The new Hot Metal Bike/Pedestrian bridge was officially opened this afternoon with a ribbon-cutting ceremony that had a tremendous turn-out!! It started on the 2nd avenue side of the bridge...I was a bit late and was met by an almost literal wall of people walking, biking and blading, in the latest gear, in business suits and in regular Jo cold weather clothing. It was a bright sunny day, the bridge looked gorgeous and the Pittsburgh skyline looked fantastic in the background.

To the left is a photo of the event, taken by my friend Mike Vindler. You can see the rest of his photos by clicking on the following link:

The festivities and speeches continued in REI (I'm sure they had some GREAT business that day!).

The completion of this project brings the completion of the Great Allegheny Passage (a trail that will eventually link Pittsburgh to DC) much closer to reality. On a more local level, this bridge will connect the Eliza Furnace Trail to the South Side Trail and bring a safer access point for walkers and bikers alike.

Other recent biking/bridge victories include buffered bike lanes on the redone Birmingham Bridge, and a pedestrian/biking sidewalk on the newly reopened 31st street bridge.

To find out more about biking or the trails in the Pittsburgh area, visit these links:

Monday, November 26, 2007

My Art

Just letting people know I've posted a bunch of new stuff on my deviantART page over the past can check it out here:

Stay tuned for a gallery collaboration with my friend Hongla next month! It will be in the Three Rivers Art Gallery, the show is called 30 Below.

Abba's Child - the rest of it...

I've been busy with Turkeys and families and other things, so I haven't had the chance to write lately. I have been reading though, and almost done with the book, so I'm going to attempt to sum up the final chapters in one go (this may end up pretty long).

Chapter 5 - The Pharisee and the Child
Basically, this chapter talks about the "inner Pharisee" compared to the "inner child". The Pharisee is the part of us who misconstrues the point of faith by bogging it down with "religiosity" (just as the Pharisees of Jesus' day did). The "inner child" is the part of us who knows s/he is beloved by God and fully forgiven with no strings attached. My resident Pharisee (as Manning calls it) craves perfection that is impossible to achieve and places an enormous burden on my shoulders and the shoulders of others. It not only affects my expectations of myself but also others. Instead of focusing on the end goal of love, I am focusing on the "means to an end" in my striving and blaming, which twists such noble things into quite the opposite of love. The Pharisee becomes the "religious face of the Imposter" because our desire to look good and be upright on the surface makes it hard for us to have intimacy. The "inner child" however, is in touch with his/her emotions, and is more receptive to God's Spirit moving in his/her midst. The power-hungry and controlling Pharisee cannot match the worry-free experience of the inner child...the child is humble, realizes his weakness, and relies on God's strength and rests his whole identity on the fact that he is Beloved.

Chapter 6 - Present Risenness
The risen Christ must be realized as not only a past event, but a present reality. This is the whole power of the gospel and what makes followers of Christ different from any other faith. Jesus is alive right now and present in our lives. Not only can we get caught up with Christ of the past, but we also get caught up with the Christ of the future. We feel this resurrection is only something that happens at the end of time, in the future, removed from our present day situation. Christ is with us NOW, and our cynicism often blocks the signs and little miracles of every day life that show us this is true. For when we realize that Jesus is truly risen and in our midst, we view life differently, especially the mundane and routine. As we grow closer to Christ, we see more of the Father, we feel driven to compassion as He did and we see a little more revelation of the mystery of life. Following Christ is a discipline and a decision that must not be made requires awareness. This "awareness of the present risenness of Jesus is intimately linked to the recovery of passion...

Chapter 7 - The Recovery of Passion
This chapter talks about how we recover passion by listening to "Christ's heartbeat". We do not merely know about Jesus, but know Jesus' essence: "the human face of the God who is love." It is like discovering a great treasure and selling all you have to possess it. We are so often distracted from true passion in Christ by the "little trinkets" of the world.
The recovery of passion begins with the recovery of my true self as the beloved. If I find Christ I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him. This is the goal and purpose of our lives. John did not believe that Jesus was the most important thing; he believed that Jesus was the only thing. For "the disciple Jesus loved," anything less was not genuine faith.

Manning goes as far to say that the essential quality in church leaders should be in their passion and love for Christ, not "biblical scholars, administrative geniuses or spellbinding preachers." God doesn't work through those who have it together, but through those humbled who love as Christ loves.

Chapter 8 - Fortitude and Fantasy
This chapter deals with the truth of life and death. Either we have the fortitude to face life (and death) or we deny death (and life). Feeling secure in my own accomplishments actually creates more anxiety in the end for fear of losing all in death. True security lies in realizing that in Christ we have "enough" each day. Brennan Manning speaks more about passion in this chapter:
Passion is not high emotion but a steely determination, fired by love, to stay centered in the awareness of Christ's present risenness, a drivenness to pay the price of fidelity. To own my unique self in a world filled with voices contrary to the gospel requires enormous fortitude...The truth of faith has little value when it is not also the life of the heart.

Manning notes that many of these voices of human approval are the stumbling block in our way of an authentic faith in Christ. We are afraid to be the Beloved in fear of losing our relationships with others. I've seen it revealed in this book that while we are meant for community with others, it is our primary relationship with God that directs our relationship with others. The value we place on each other cannot compare to the value our Abba places on us. Faith in the present risenness of Christ (who is God and who is love) is more powerful than death...this is true Hope.

Chapter 9 - The Rabbi's Heartbeat
Manning says that there are a few responses to the radical love of God: Over analyzing, Acceptance and Hope, Cynical, Emotional yet uncommitted. When we allow it, "the love of Christ (not our love for Him but His love for us) impels us. The integration of mind and heart shapes a unified personality living in the state of passionate awareness." Manning speaks of the "unaffected heart", which is one who doesn't get beyond the surface of life. Commitment and confession of sin are the way to dig deeper according to Manning. We commit to something beyond ourselves and we realize we desperately need our Father. With confession of sin comes humility, something that even Mother Theresa felt driven to do.

In Christ is reconciliation for ourselves and the world. He did this through becoming broken, by fully experiencing our own humanity and still being God. In His life and death he turned everything upside down: making foolish things wise, turning "sin into honor", curses into blessings, and death into life. This doesn't mean he makes all bad things good, but that being hurt, being forsaken, being cursed, we are somehow blessed. He went through the same. The most intimate we can be with someone is to show them all of our brokenness, shallowness, and anxieties. We can only fully do this with someone we know we can fully trust will forgive these things and accept us as we are. Christ not only forgives and accepts, but also has the power to transform us. When we listen to the Rabbi's heartbeat, we grow closer to God (Father, Son, and Spirit), we see others rather than ourselves, we learn Christ's passion, and we regain mystery and awe for the world around us, and the God who created it (and Loves it all).

That's about it, in a very large nutshell. I wish I could expand more, but I really feel I'd be missing the point. Instead of thinking about it and over analyzing, I think I will try to learn how to listen to Christ's heartbeat myself! Oh how hard it is to let go and Trust like a child. Abba, show me how to meditate on your Love...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Abba's Child (with the chapter of the same title)

This chapter at first seemed to be a bit jumpy, but after reading through a couple times (ya, I actually have time to really read this), I think there is a cohesiveness. The main thought I pulled out was that God is Compassion, and we learn this compassion from his human form in Jesus, who is "Abba's Child". Once we realize God's compassion for us, we can then begin to be compassionate to ourselves and to those around us, even our enemies.

The idea that we can call God "Abba", which is the Aramaic form of "Daddy", is pretty crazy, but that's what Jesus did. Learning how to find this intimacy with God as Christ did confirms our identity as His children:
The greatest gift I have ever received from Jesus Christ has been the Abba experience. "No one knows the Son except the Father, just as no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him" (Matthew 11:27). My dignity as Abba's child is my most coherent sense of self. When I seek to fashion a self-image from the adulation of others and the inner voice whispers, "You've arrived; you're a player in the Kingdom enterprise," there is no truth in that self-concept. When I sink in to despondency and the inner voice whispers, "You are no good, a fraud , a hypocrite, and a dilettante," there is no truth in any imaged shaped from that message. As Gerald May has noted, "It is important to recognize these self-commentaries for the mind tricks they are. They have nothing to do with our real dignity. How we view ourselves at any given moment may have very little to do with who we really are."
How funny, I find myself going between both of these extremes in one sitting!

Intimacy with God and others involves tenderness or compassion. I love Manning's description of the power of compassion in the following paragraph (all quote and not much analyzing...I just love the quotable-ness of this section):
Tenderness awakens within the security of knowing we are thoroughly and sincerely liked by someone. The mere presence of that special someone in a crowded room brings an inward sigh of relief and a strong sense of feeling safe. The experience of a warm, caring, affective presence banishes our fears. The defense mechanisms of the impostor -- sarcasm, name-dropping, self-righteousness, the need to impress others -- fall away. We become more open, real, vulnerable, and affectionate. We grow tender.

Jesus did what he did (hang out with the sinners and the outcast) because his Father loved him. We do the same...we can only truly love when we realize our Belovedness. This growing compassion is what allows us to love others especially when it is difficult to do so. It allows us to forgive indiscriminately. However, showing compassion to our enemy is hard! Manning says that this takes time, and we need to be patient:

Experientially, the inner healing of the heart is seldom a sudden catharsis or an instant liberation from bitterness, anger, resentment, and hatred. More often it is a gentle growing into oneness with the Crucified who has achieved our peace through His blood on the cross. This may take considerable time because the memories are still so vivid and the hurt is so deep. But it will happen. The crucified Christ is not merely a heroic example to the church: He is the power and wisdom of God, a living force in His present risenness, transforming our lives and enabling us to extend the hand of reconciliation to our enemies.

This is pretty amazing and breaks down many barriers. Manning says that "The heartfelt compassion that hastens forgiveness matures when we discover where our enemy cries." He also says that, "Wherever the gospel is invoked to diminish the dignity of any of God's children, then it is time to get rid of the so-called gospel in order that we may experience the Gospel." We are not only called to forgive, but also to look at our own deep-seated prejudices. A prejudice often comes from either fear (which comes from a lack of understanding of the "other") or from an inflated sense of self-importance and comparison.
...Whenever I allow myself anything but tenderness and compassion to dictate my response to life -- be it self-righteous anger, moralizing, defensiveness, the pressing need to change others, carping criticism, frustration at others' blindness, a sense of spiritual superiority, a gnawing hunger of vindication -- I am alienated from my true self. My identity as Abba's child becomes ambiguous, tentative, and confused.

To deny that we have these prejudices, whatever they might be, is self-defeating in getting rid of such thoughts. Manning quotes Sister Barbara Fiand as saying, "Wholeness is brokenness owned and thereby healed." We need to give up acting like we have it together and let God fix us in his time!

I see a correlation between forgiveness, compassion and "knowing". When we spend time with God, we get to know him and his Complete love for us. When we spend time with others (especially those not like us, or the object of our hatred), we find that we see our brokenness in them, acknowledge their Belovedness as equal to ours. We don't have to like them, but we can love them. Also, knowing others helps us to put away the fear that causes prejudice, fear that comes from the "unknown". We need to fully realize that all of us are Beloved without exception...he made us after all. This is what we need to understand in order to do God's work on earth.
What makes the Kingdom come is heartfelt compassion: a way of tenderness that knows no frontiers, no labels, no compartmentalizing, and no sectarian divisions. Jesus, the human Face of God, invites us to deep reflection on the nature of true discipleship and the radical lifestyle of Abba's child.

I hope I can see the prejudice, hate and fear, as well as the self-importance and down-playing of myself that I have allowed to pervade my heart. Especially hatred toward myself. God will mend in his time. Let me be patient and wait on Him.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Abba's Child - The Beloved

To be completely honest...I was feeling pretty badly about myself until I started reading this chapter. Here's where the HOPE comes in...

The last chapter said that "Peace lies in acceptance of truth." If we were to stop there, we would wonder what kind of "peace" the author is talking about, since the truth means realizing that we are broken. Broken isn't a good thing last I checked. However, if you add the fact that an all-powerful God is also an all-loving God, and LOVES me as I am, then I begin to see that I have been measuring myself with the wrong standard.
While the impostor draws his identity from past achievements and the adulation of others, the true self claims identity in its belovedness...
God created us for union with Himself: This is the original purpose of our lives. And God is defined as love (1 John 4:16). Living in awareness of our belovedness is the axis around which the Christian life revolves. Being the beloved is our identity, the core of our existence. It is not merely a lofty thought, an inspiring idea, or one name among many. It is the name by which God knows us and the way He relates to us.

This is what I was missing. I do not need to constantly beat myself up for not being good enough. I am already loved and need to rest in that love. But how do I do it? How do I let God's love saturate into my being? Manning says that "time alone with God" is where this occurs.
Our longing to know who we really are - which is the source of all our discontent - will never be satisfied until we confront and accept our solitude. There we discover that the truth of our belovedness is really true. Our identity rests in God's relentless tenderness for us revealed in Jesus Christ.

Many people will find this time for solitude as a selfish endeavor...what is life without community and serving others? It would be good to note that Jesus himself took time to get away from the crowds and spend time with his Abba. If Jesus had to take time to reconnect with God and feel his belovedness, why should this be any different for me? In taking care of my relationship with God, I can be more loving in my other relationships, since I will be more in touch with who I am: Beloved.

Solitude is not easy. I do not know what to do or not do. I feel like meditation is a great thing, but it is so hard to let go of worry and all the million thoughts running through my brain at any given moment. This requires some dedication and discipline.

Part of me wonders about the value of prayer and alone just doesn't seem to make sense at times. I suppose one way to look at it, is that I know that God loves me with my brain, but I do not KNOW it with my whole being. I can rationalize my way into believing my Belovedness, or I can let go of my "trying" and open myself up to feeling God's love in every way possible. I can only do this through quieting myself and letting Abba speak. Maybe I don't always hear a voice...maybe He doesn't speak at all...but perhaps it is just "being" in the presence of God that matters. I hope I can begin to do this more...I have plenty of time that I spend just over-thinking and over-analyzing...why don't I give up that time and those situations I'm worrying about to God?

I'll close as the chapter closes: "Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion."

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Abba's Child - The Imposter

This is from the second chapter of Abba's Child.

Manning writes about the "Imposter"...the self that creates a facade to hide brokenness:
Imposters are preoccupied with acceptance and approval. Because of their suffocating need to please others, they cannot say no with the same confidence with which they say yes. And so they overextend themselves in people, projects, and causes, motivated not by personal commitment but by fear of not living up to others' expectations.

Imposters draw their identity from what they "do" as well as from their relationships with others (the need to please others). The true identity of being "Beloved" does not play into the Imposter's view of self. My "Imposter" is focused on how I can get the next word of approval from somebody. Now there is nothing wrong with being affirmed and getting approval. But how much of my time is spent seeking this approval, when I already have it? I find myself a glutton for approval...even when God or my closest friends or family tell me repeatedly that I am worthy, I keep seeking after approval as if they told me the opposite.

Manning breaks down the reality of the impostor:
The sad irony is that the impostor cannot experience intimacy in any relationship. His narcissism excludes others. Incapable of intimacy with self and out of touch with his feelings, intuitions, and insight, the impostor is insensitive to the moods, needs and dreams of others. Reciprocal sharing is impossible. The impostor has built life around achievements, success, busyness, and self-centered activities that bring gratification and praise from others. James Masterson, M.D., stated, "It is natural of the false self to save us from knowing the truth about our real selves, from penetrating the deeper causes of our unhappiness, from seeing ourselves as we really are - vulnerable, afraid, terrified, and unable to let our real selves emerge."

So we are not only hurting ourselves by building this false self but also others. It can also hurt to see ourselves for who we really are, but peeling off these layers can be freeing. It is my first reaction to thrash the Impostor inside of me. But Manning says that is not the way to go about healing wounds:
Peace lies in the acceptance of truth. As we come to grips with our own selfishness and stupidity, we make friends with the impostor and accept that we are impoverished and broken and realize that, if we were not, we would be God. The art of gentleness toward ourselves leads to being gentle with others - and this is the natural prerequisite to for our presence to God in prayer.

God is compassion. Therefore as His sons and daughters, we need to be compassionate to ourselves. And if I do not forgive myself, how can I truly forgive others? I can come to love my true self, because that is the self that God created and loves very much. This is not the narcissistic love of self brought about by the Imposter, but the self-confidence of knowing to Whom I belong. The more I realize how I am loved by my Abba, the smaller the imposter becomes.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Abba's Child - Come Out of Hiding

I'm currently reading a wonderful book called Abba's Child by Brennan Manning. It really speaks to me and I think it may speak to others as well, so I'm going to include a particularly good excerpt from each chapter and share my thoughts.

The following comes from the first chapter, Come Out of Hiding:

Manning cites Henri Nouwen (another great author) as saying,
Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, "Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody." ...[My dark side says], I am no good...I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the "Beloved." Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence. (emphasis added)
Manning goes on to say,
We learn to be gentle with ourselves by experiencing the intimate, heartfelt compassion of Jesus. To the extent that we allow the relentless tenderness of Jesus to invade the citadel of self, we are freed from dyspepsia toward ourselves. Christ wants to alter our attitude toward ourselves and take sides with Him against our own self-evaluation.
I have beaten myself up over so many things: my failure to "measure up." The crazy thing is that I say I believe in a God who loves me infinitely, yet my attitude of myself has often been quite the opposite. God can forgive people's sins, but I can't forgive my own. I downplay the tremendous Grace that Christ has to offer me by doing this. I also dismiss the many talents and the good that my Creator has placed in me. I think this blocks God's ability to use me in caring for others. The funny thing as I write this is that I feel I am beating myself up, for "beating myself up". God save me from this terrible cycle of self-condemnation!

I think it is in times like these that I need to stop thinking so much and self-evaluating and just invite God in to my moments of self-reflection. Just let His peace settle into my being and still all voices but His.

Manning goes on to iterate the fact that God uses us in our weakness and to deny or shun that weakness is to deny the very thing that may help someone else. We relate to each other not through our power or strength, but through our humbleness and weakness. Jesus Himself says, blessed are those who are poor in spirit, and I think this is why: we are more capable of receiving God (and each other) in this humble state. This is why we can relate to Christ, because He Himself was humbled by becoming human.

Stop beating yourself up and start seeing that you are Beloved. Stop over-analyzing and just bask in the presence of a loving Abba (Father). I am saying this to myself of course...but maybe you can relate?