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EQ of the Heart

Rebekah Simon-Peter —  March 27, 2017 — 1 Comment

When I teach emotional intelligence or EQ, I empower people to communicate in ways that bring out the best in those who frustrate heartthem the most.   But studies show that emotional intelligence goes much deeper than what we say or don’t say.  It’s more fundamental than how we hold our bodies or what we telegraph with our faces.  It turns out that EQ is coded into our cells and hardwired into our bodies.  Our hearts are at the center of this.

This is good news for churches.  It gives us yet one more way to help people connect the life of faith with faith in life.  And to expand the loving, peaceable Kingdom of God!

Scripture tells us that we are wonderfully and fearfully made.  A sense of wonder and awe is woven into our very beings.  Science is now revealing that the heart is at the center of this wonder and awe.

HeartMath Institute has been studying the heart and its rhythms for decades.  It turns out that the rhythm the heart beats is directly correlated to positive or negative feelings.  Negative feelings like frustration, anxiety, irritation and anger are correlated with ragged or jagged rhythms.  They lead to illness, emotional upset and other unsettled ways of being. Positive feelings like peace, contentment, compassion and joy are correlated with smooth, ordered, coherent rhythms.  The more coherent the heart rhythms, the more coherent the messages that are sent to the brain, the nervous systems and every other cell in the body. Coherent heart rhythms lead to clear thinking, unexpected problem solving and improved health.

A heart full of love and compassion, joy and peace has measurable impacts beyond that. Our hearts have a large electromagnetic field around them.  We can radiate distinct energies to the people, and pets, around us.  They pick up on these vibrations, which in turn, affects their heart’s coherence.

There is even evidence that our own individual coherence can impact the electromagnetic fields of the earth.  That our love can encircle the globe and create a peace that others can tap into. The bottom line is this:  It all starts within our own hearts.  Maybe that’s what Jesus meant when he said the Kingdom of God is within.

Loving God, neighbor and especially our own selves makes a difference.  And it’s never been more important.  This love impacts our spiritual well-being, our physical health, our key relationships.  It also impacts our neighborhoods, our societies, and the creation itself.  It contributes to a positive resiliency in the collective consciousness of the world.  It creates coherence in times of chaos.

This is affirmation for people of faith.  Here’s what it means:  The prayers we pray, the love we radiate, and the intentions we form have a real and lasting impact.  The actions we take that are grounded in love and compassion multiply.  The kindness we show to one another creates a measurable good.  Let us not grow weary in well-doing, church.  Let us craft bold visions of compassion and care that make manifest the love in our hearts.  The Kingdom is near indeed.

EQ of the Heart

Ann Miller —  March 27, 2017 — Leave a comment

When I teach emotional intelligence or EQ, I empower people to communicate in ways that bring out the best in those who frustrate heartthem the most.   But studies show that emotional intelligence goes much deeper than what we say or don’t say.  It’s more fundamental than how we hold our bodies or what we telegraph with our faces.  It turns out that EQ is coded into our cells and hardwired into our bodies.  Our hearts are at the center of this.
This is good news for churches.  It gives us yet one more way to help people connect the life of faith with faith in life.  And to expand the loving, peaceable Kingdom of God!
Scripture tells us that we are wonderfully and fearfully made.  A sense of wonder and awe is woven into our very beings.  Science is now revealing that the heart is at the center of this wonder and awe.
HeartMath Institute has been studying the heart and its rhythms for decades.  It turns out that the rhythm the heart beats is directly correlated to positive or negative feelings.  Negative feelings like frustration, anxiety, irritation and anger are correlated with ragged or jagged rhythms.  They lead to illness, emotional upset and other unsettled ways of being. Positive feelings like peace, contentment, compassion and joy are correlated with smooth, ordered, coherent rhythms.  The more coherent the heart rhythms, the more coherent the messages that are sent to the brain, the nervous systems and every other cell in the body. Coherent heart rhythms lead to clear thinking, unexpected problem solving and improved health.
A heart full of love and compassion, joy and peace has measurable impacts beyond that. Our hearts have a large electromagnetic field around them.  We can radiate distinct energies to the people, and pets, around us.  They pick up on these vibrations, which in turn, affects their heart’s coherence.
There is even evidence that our own individual coherence can impact the electromagnetic fields of the earth.  That our love can encircle the globe and create a peace that others can tap into. The bottom line is this:  It all starts within our own hearts.  Maybe that’s what Jesus meant when he said the Kingdom of God is within.
Loving God, neighbor and especially our own selves makes a difference.  And it’s never been more important.  This love impacts our spiritual well-being, our physical health, our key relationships.  It also impacts our neighborhoods, our societies, and the creation itself.  It contributes to a positive resiliency in the collective consciousness of the world.  It creates coherence in times of chaos.
This is affirmation for people of faith.  Here’s what it means:  The prayers we pray, the love we radiate, and the intentions we form have a real and lasting impact.  The actions we take that are grounded in love and compassion multiply.  The kindness we show to one another creates a measurable good.  Let us not grow weary in well-doing, church.  Let us craft bold visions of compassion and care that make manifest the love in our hearts.  The Kingdom is near indeed.

There’s much talk about and evidence for decline in the church. I myself write extensively about it. But what if lack of vision or discipleship systems, or the changing culture aren’t the only explanations for this decline? What if the church is in decline not because it has failed but cancer runprecisely because it has succeeded?

Here’s what I mean. In many ways, the Kingdom message of Jesus has effectively made its way out of the cloistered environs of religious literature, liturgy and institutions to star on the world stage. The Golden Rule is known everywhere. Servant leadership is taught in colleges, universities and business schools. Exercising care for the poor has been taken up by untold numbers of non-profits and NGO’s. Increasing standards of housing, education, healthcare, and equal rights are concerns in countries the world over. And as I wrote about recently, Steven Pinker observes in his quantifiably optimistic volume, Enlightenment Now, equal access to these elements of communal well-being has been increasing over time. Not coincidentally, communal well-being is an important aspect of the biblical definition of salvation.

The bottom line is that loving our neighbor as ourselves, and loving God has made its way into the culture at large. Christian principles permeate the secular world. The light indeed shines brightly in the dark. The church is not the only way that people bring love into the world.

In fact, people are excellent at organizing themselves to do good. There are races and walkathons for every cause. Shelters and food banks are staples in communities of almost every size. The non-profit sector is growing much faster than the for-profit sector. Even the for-profit world has shifted. Social entrepreneurs and B Corporations bring about positive societal change even as people shop. Personal and professional growth organizations such as Landmark Worldwide empower participants to spearhead projects benefiting the communities around them.

Just as John the Baptist had to decrease so that Jesus could increase, perhaps the church’s decline is a sign that at last Jesus’ Kingdom-consciousness has gained a firm footing in the world. If this is the case, the decline of churches is a good and necessary thing. It’s just might be a sign of our success.

Church leaders, as you look to the new year, rejoice that Jesus’ message is alive and well in the world. Take heart that your collective sermons have shifted the consciousness of the planet. Be assured that your work matters, that your efforts count, and that you are indeed co-creating Kingdom miracles with Jesus. At the same time, be of good courage in leading your congregations into their next vision. A new generation awaits.

Learn more about how we empower church leaders and the congregations they serve through our flagship program, Creating a Culture of Renewal.

An AA Christmas

Rebekah Simon-Peter —  December 23, 2018 — 10 Comments

This Christmas, my husband I will celebrate the holiday surrounded by a variety of family and friends. Most of these folks have an unusualNew Year And Christmas Background. Christmas Candy Cane Gingerbr characteristic in common: they are recovering addicts and alcoholics. Their length of sobriety ranges from 10 days to 30 years. We have found real community with this circle of folks who are members of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Transparency and honesty, joy and laughter, friendship and service are their hallmarks.

As I consider our upcoming holiday celebrations, I want to bring to light three ways that AA recovery reflects and enhances the Christmas story.

BEFORE AND AFTER During Advent, we Christians are encouraged to open our hearts anew to Jesus. At Christmas, we rejoice that the birth of Jesus somehow births new life in us. While there may not be dramatic differences year to year, many of us can name what life was like before Jesus was part of our story and how things shifted when—in the words of Eugene Peterson—Jesus “moved into the neighborhood” of our lives. We can even name how this ongoing relationship has positively impacted us and the people around us.

In AA, recovering alcoholics and addicts have a story too: what it used to be like in active addiction, what happened that they chose to get clean and sober, and what life is like now in recovery. Click To Tweet This story continuously evolves as people recover from the devastating physical, emotional and spiritual effects of active addiction. Once people open themselves to a new life, dramatic before and after stories are the name of the game. They are inspiring and faith-building.

GOD AS YOU UNDERSTAND GOD From the time Jesus was conceived and born, no one knew exactly what to make of him. The Magnificat records how Mary supposes a political and societal revolution. Joseph dreams that this surprise baby will save people from sin. The shepherds get an angelic message that a savior has been born. Simeon perceives that Jesus is a messianic figure; he foresees division, pain and suffering. Anna beholds the child and prophesies that the city of Jerusalem will be redeemed.

No one gets the same message. While we have strung these stories together into an overarching narrative, the elements of the story remind us that Jesus is more about possibility than dogma. All we really know is that Jesus is going to make a difference in the world.

In AA, recovery from addiction requires God. But AA’s understand that God is different for each person. In fact, there’s an insistence in the rooms of recovery that no one can define God for anyone else. No limits, definitions or dogma allowed. While this seems unnatural for the Christian, it’s strangely freeing for people in recovery. Here faith is not about orthodoxy or right belief. It’s about orthopraxy or right practice. The proof is in the pudding. Has your life transformed? Are you happy, joyous and free? Are you serving others? If so, nobody cares exactly how or what your Higher Power may be. Only that the fruits of this Power are evident in your life.

UNLIKELY CAST OF CHARACTERS The Christmas narratives place a diverse group of people together: families from the priestly line, shepherds and people of the field, Simeon a devout old man, Anna a prophetess who never leaves the Temple, a rather poor young woman, her older husband, and a surprise baby of divine origin. Let’s not forget angels and heavenly hosts. Later on, foreign dignitaries make an appearance. Oh yeah, and one crazed ruler. It’s a wild story. Who but God could have brought together this unlikely cast of characters?

Similarly, our addict and alcoholic friends form an unlikely assemblage. They include convicted felons, once-respected academics and clergy, school and healthcare administrators, construction workers, carpenters, painters, bikers, oilfield workers, psychologists, former menaces to society, and garden variety down-on-their-luck-just-lost-everything people who are scraping by. These are folks who would not ordinarily know each other, let alone mix. Who but God would but able to put together this unlikely cast of characters?

Wherever you may be this Christmas, and whoever you are with, I invite you to relive your own before and after story, to lay claim to God as you understand God, and above all to appreciate whatever crazy cast of characters you are with. It’ll be a sign that Jesus has been born among us.

“They want me to preach a three-point sermon, finish worship within an hour so they can beat the Baptists to breakfast, and not make any the elderly man prays in the churchchanges they don’t first approve. Above all not to push them.”   Ruth sighed, deeply discouraged. This Native American pastor is a strong leader: compelled by vision, in tune with the Gospel, led by love. “I thought things were going so well,” she continued. “But then they told my district superintendent how they really felt.” She shook her head, eyes not meeting mine. “I’m not sure my leadership style really works here. Actually, I think it’s because I’m Native American. And female.”

“Girl,” I said, “It’s not you.  It’s them. Don’t take this personally.”

How do I know? I had a similar conversation with Veronica, a skilled and talented African-American female pastor. Almost word for word. She, too, took it personally. It’s hard not to. I told her the same thing I said to Ruth.

As both of these conversations unfolded, echoes sounded from my own past. Previous congregants once said the same kinds of things to me. Yes, I’m female. But I’m neither Native American nor African American. But here’s what all three of us have in common: we each serve(d) congregations in the life-stage of retirement.

When a church reaches the retirement stage of development, a living vision is a thing of the past. Dreams of the future no longer guide them. In the post-glory days of the church, it’s all about managing the faded fruits of vision: activities, building upkeep, and finances. On their way down the far side of the bell curve, these congregations feel the pinch of smaller offerings, shrunken worship attendance, diminished possibilities, and the loss of friends and acquaintances. More pews are empty and the congregation is decidedly more gray.

Blame is a defining dynamic of retirement. “Whose fault is it?” is the unspoken question. The pastor is the most visible person to tag. Chances are, though, the decline started several pastorates before you got there, has been unfolding for at least 10-30 years and the congregation has resisted changes suggested by you and your predecessors.

At the time my congregation blamed me, I took it very personally. I figured the decline was somehow my fault.  If only I worked harder, tried harder, was a better Pied Piper I could turn this church around. If only I had the wisdom to say, “Church, it’s not me. It’s you.”

Truthfully, for congregations in retirement it’s not you, and it’s not them either. They’re simply saying and doing what people say and do when they are afraid, uncertain of the future, and resisting the change they know they need. So just like you don’t need to take their comments personally, don’t make it about them either.

Instead, continue to step into your role as visionary leader. Much as they may want you to be a chaplain, your job as a leader is to be brave, bold, and faithful to the Gospel. Stand and cast the vision. A Jesus-like dream is the only thing that has any chance of making a significant difference. Otherwise, they’ll have every right to say: “It’s not us. It’s you.” Click To Tweet

Here are three best practices and two cautions when casting a vision in a retirement stage congregation.

Best Practice #1: Identify your sub-congregations. At this point you have several sub-congregations, even if they all worship at the same hour. Your people have come in waves under different pastorates and that pastor’s particular style, vision or goal. So, each sub-group is expecting something different of the church. Find out who joined when. Discover what they remember of that particular time and pastor. As you cast a new vision it’s important to scout out and address each sub-group distinctly and intentionally.

Best Practice #2: Connect the dots between the past and the future. Help each sub-group see how the new vision fulfills the vision they were first attract ted to. If the old vision was about growing the Sunday school with a promise of more young people, and the new vision is about easing suffering by reaching out to the homeless families in your neighborhood, help them see the common underlying principle: sharing the hopeful story of God’s love to create better lives for people.

Best Practice #3: Provide a strong rationale. Base your vison in a strong rationale that answers these questions: Why us? Why now? How will we partner with God to realize our vision? Include a strong biblical and theological foundation that connects the Gospel vision with your people and your context.

While you’re carrying out these best practices, do exercise caution. To bring retirement folks on board requires heartfelt emotional intelligence.

Caution #1: Be kind. Change isn’t easy. Look, they know they need to change. They just wish they didn’t have to. Give them as much input on the vision as possible. Even if you don’t take all their advice, complete the circle of listening by letting them know you heard them.

Caution #2: Give in on the things you can. I encouraged Ruth to preach a 15-minute sermon and finish worship in under an hour. Instead of fighting it, use that hour to gain their trust, love them, and begin to lead them in prayer for a new vision. Don’t waste the hour. Otherwise, I might say: “It’s not them. It’s you.”

Conflict can take us out when the stakes are high. But it needn’t have the last word. Build your emotional intelligence as you discover how to handle your own anxieties and fears during times of stress. Join me in January for a 2-part online Mastering Conflict workshop.