By The Rev. Dr. Graham Standish, Executive Director


How much more can we take?

We’re in a pandemic. People are divided. Scratch that. People are angrily and violently divided. We’ve been shuttered for ten months. We’re both scared to go out and frustrated and angry at having to stay in. We’ve lost so much! What makes it worse is that we are about to go into a Christmas season where we can’t worship, gather, and celebrate the way it should be.


How much more can we take?

Perhaps that’s the wrong question, although we will keep asking it. Perhaps we should ask, “how do we accept and adapt to what is?”


Samaritan has been a light for people throughout the pandemic and our collective cultural division. We’ve been the place thousands have turned to for help in these times because we help people develop the capacity to adapt to truly tumultuous situations.


What do we do that helps people? We help people change their perceptions and their reactions to what’s taking place. There are a lot of different techniques and approaches we use, depending on the therapist and the client, but they all work on doing one thing—getting us to live in the NOW—in that place where we are aware of, and appreciate, what is rather than what we wish it would be.


Most of us don’t live in the here and now. We live too much in the past. We live in the pains of our past, as the misguided lessons of previous mental and spiritual wounds cause us to act in sometimes self-defeating, other times other-defeating, ways. I know that’s true for me. For a whole collection of reasons from my past I have constant, nagging feelings that people just don’t like me. I’m always surprised when I discover the people do like me. My wounded feelings can tempt me to react in ways that are self-destructive, and I have to constantly let those feelings fade into the past so I can connect with people in the present and live wisely.


We can live too much in the fears and anxieties of the future. Americans are obsessed with the future. Sometimes that’s warranted. Most of the time it’s not. We live in the anxieties of “what if.” Whether it’s the pandemic, the election, the state of the country, the state of the world, or worries over our jobs, our health, our relationships, our success, our failure, . . . our everything.


One of my favorite movie characters of all time is Master Oogway, the wise turtle from the film, Kung Fu Panda. He captured our struggles in one of his quotes: “You are too concerned about what was and what will be.” That describes about 90% of us.


We don’t just live too much in the past and future. We can also live too much in other places. So many people think that if they can just get a new job, move to a new city, move onto a new relationship, then things will get automatically better. In some cases that’s true, but more often what happens is something a pastor said to me after moving to a new church: “I though all my problems were behind me, but I found them already waiting for me in my new office.”


So how do we overcome all of this. Then answer is living into the NOW. I’ll quote Master Oogway again: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift.

That’s why they call it the present.” It’s not just this cartoon character dispensing this wisdom. His wisdom comes from a variety of traditions and fields.


One form of therapy all of our therapists are trained in is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It focuses on retraining us to think in ways that are grounded in what is rather than what our anxieties and worries teach us might be. Those trained in an older form of therapy, Reality Therapy, are trained in immersing clients in focusing on reality rather than imagination. Most other forms of therapy also do this in one form or another, focusing on what our life can be if we’re willing to let go of the past and the future, and reshape ourselves in the NOW.


The more recent focus in therapy on meditation and mindfulness lets the past be the past and the future to be what will be. The concepts of “mindfulness” and “meditation” came to the psycho-therapeutic world out of Buddhist practice, but it’s not as though Christianity hasn’t had a similar focus since the beginning.


In Christianity this idea of letting yesterday be history and tomorrow be mystery goes by a number of names: living in the present moment, living in the Eternal Now, contemplation, recollection. Jesus talks about it in his Sermon on the Mount: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matthew 6:34). The original monastic movements in Christianity were started by people living in tumultuous times (such as invading barbarian tribes and spreading pandemics) as they sought to live intentionally in the now. Other Christians followed their focus, if not their lifestyle, trying to live in the now whatever their situation was.


Whatever the name it goes by, the collective wisdom of living in the NOW applies to us today in the midst of the pandemic and divisiveness. People are fighting today over personal freedoms, but the real freedom in life isn’t whether or not we have to stay in and wear masks. Real freedom is found when we’re able to disconnect from anxieties, fears, compulsions, frustrations, anger in order to live in a space of calm, free from destructive emotions, where wisdom, health, and happiness truly reside. Too few today live wisely because they won’t live in the NOW—in that place where we are aware of our past, understand the need to prepare for the future, but are able to accept and adapt to what actually is. Living in the NOW means living in a place of healthy acceptance where our decision-making and life choices come out of the place where our psychology, our spirituality, and reality meet.


We have the resources to help you, whether that’s through counseling or spiritual direction, and I hope that if you decide in the new year to live more intentionally, you’ll let us be part of that transformation.


Blessings,

The Rev. N. Graham Standish, PhD, MSW, MDiv, MA

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The Rev. Dr. N. Graham Standish, Executive Director


She preached a sermon she thought HAD to be preached. So much was going on in the world around her with the presidential election, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the pandemic that she couldn’t stay silent.


Several weeks later we talked about the congregation’s response: “I don’t get it. I really didn’t expect the backlash I got. A few emails told me how brave I was, but man… the nasty ones were nasty! One member just left a note on the church door that said, ‘I don’t come to church to hear that stuff. I’ll be looking for a new church.’”


I asked her a question I’ve been asking a lot of pastors who’ve had similar experiences: “Was that a prophetic sermon?” “Yep,” they all reply. Then I follow up: “So why are you then so surprised to suffer a prophet’s fate? I mean, there’s a reason they usually lived in or ran to the desert. Why is it surprising to be treated like a prophet after preaching prophetically?”


They always push back: “Aren’t we supposed to preach prophetically?” “No,” I answer. “I think we’re called to preach apostolically.”


What’s the difference? Ever since Walter Breuggemann published his great book, The Prophetic Imagination, forty years ago, pastors have been trying to preach prophetically. I completely believe there are times when prophetic preaching is necessary, but even in the Bible it was a mostly an ineffective form of preaching. The sermons are remembered fondly but were received harshly. Jesus and the apostles offered a different kind of preaching that was more effective and transformational than the prophets’ preaching.


Apostolic preaching is the kind of preaching you find the Book of Acts. It’s not radically different from prophetic preaching. There’s definitely a “truth-telling” aspect of apostolic preaching, but there are also significant differences. Apostolic preaching is grounded first in trusting relationships so that the truth is said among those who feel like friends and family, rather than being like truth bombs dropped amidst a congress of foes. The apostles built up community and compassion first, and then encouraged change and transformation. They shared together, ate together, sacrificed together, prayed together, discerned together, and were healed together. Their preaching reflected those relationships.


Second, apostolic preaching is grounded in shared stories and shared experiences. Peter, for example, shares his message about Jesus after the amazing experience of Pentecost. He grounds his sermon in their shared history, showing them how it is a natural outgrowth of the Jewish story. Phillip preaches to the Ethiopian eunuch by sitting beside him and talking as a friend, showing how faith in Christ is rooted in the Hebrew story.


A third aspect of apostolic preaching is that it is tailored to the community. Paul talks about this specifically when he says, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:20-22). In other words, Paul preached in a way that reduced resistance and nurtured connection. Paul had no problem dropping truth bombs, but he tried to do so in a way that brought people together.


Fourth, apostolic preaching is grounded in prayerful experience that leads to personal and communal transformation. Philip is told by an angel to preach to the eunuch. Peter preaches about what to eat after a spiritual experience, and he preaches to Cornelius after seeing an angel in a vision. Paul is invited in a vision to go to Macedonia and preach. I’m not suggesting that we can’t preach until we experience the Holy Spirit or speak with angels, nor that the prophets didn’t preach what God told them to preach. I am suggesting that apostolic preaching is grounded in our prayerfulness rather than our busyness. It means making and taking time for a prayerful seeking of what and how God is calling us to preach. My simple way of doing this is reading passages spiritually and prayerfully early in the week, and then waiting for God to guide me in building the sermon. I’ve found that when I’ve done that, it’s unleashed a creativity that wasn’t there when I tried to craft rational, logical sermons on my own.


As a final example of the difference between apostolic and prophetic preaching, I’ll remind you that the only one who preached prophetically, Stephen, ended up suffering a prophet’s fate.


I’m in the process of writing about this kind of preaching in more detail for a book to be published in 2021, with a working title of Preaching to Those Walking Away. Until then, I’m inviting you to start thinking and reflecting on how to be more apostolic in your preaching—how to preach in a way that engages people in a relationship that makes them more available to being transformed.


The Rev. Dr. N. Graham Standish, is executive director of Samaritan Counseling, Guidance, Consulting in Sewickley, PA, and directs their Caring for Clergy and Congregations program, including their weekly worship services for pastors at www.congregationforclergy.org. He is the author of eight books on spirituality and congregational transformation, including his latest one, …And the Church Actually Changed.


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By Carol Stenger, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Spiritual Director at Samaritan

#Covid #counseling #spirituality


Covid-19 may not be what kills you, but some folks may die because of it. What do I mean by this? I have several elderly clients who live alone or are in a high rise where no one is permitted to visit them – not family members or neighbors. The lifeline I offer them is my weekly counseling session to make sure that they are still eating, caring for themselves, are emotionally stable, and are safe within their immediate surroundings.


In addition to physical needs, these seniors need to know that they “count,” that they are loved and valued. Initially folks were able to manage a few months of isolation. But when things were not improving, or hope weaned for them because they could not return to their former social events – like card club, meeting family and friends at a restaurant, or just being allowed to sit in the lobby of their high rise – it took a toll on their mental health. My clients' church services were cancelled, and although some services were lived streamed, these elderly people don’t have computers or tablets. Thus, they become even more spiritually isolated.


I continue to offer my services, bringing them hope in the midst these long days, weeks and months. I pray with them and for them, and encourage them to believe that God lives in their hearts. I remind them that they do matter and are important, and that together we will live beyond Covid-19 and not die due to isolation and loneliness.


We can and must be there for one another, especially those most vulnerable, like our elderly clients.

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