Your Purpose – Explained By Downton Abbey

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Imagine if he’d lived.

I’ve recently become addicted to Downton Abbey. Yes, I know I’m late to the party. I usually avoid shows like that because I am weak. I am drawn to my couch, popcorn and tv shows, like an alcoholic to vodka, and like the alcoholics say, one is too many and two is not enough.

Approximately four episodes in yesterday, (it might have been five, don’t judge) I had the following thoughts:

  1. My house would look a lot better if I had servants.
  2. Every member of Downton Abbey dreads the same thing:

Redundancy. Lack of purpose and meaningful work.

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Poor Mosley.

Their concern is not just economic – though it is that. It’s a deeper and perhaps more familiar issue than we care to admit.

Mosely the valet is bubbly at the chance to serve Lord Grantham, then crushed to find Mr. Bates back on scene. Lord Grantham is thrilled at being sent to lead troops on the front lines, then humiliated to find his role was titular only. The women scheme constantly for a husband and a house, so they might have something more to do than dress for dinner.

It’s interesting because despite the social stratification, the human condition runs through every vein in the grand Abbey.

Put another way: We’re built for purpose and lacking one, we cobble and scrap for it; by helping a grown man get dressed or relentlessly meddling in the affairs of the grandchildren.

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Go on – practice making the Dowager Countess face.

But as Captain Matthew, the on-again off-again heir to Downton said, it’s all shifting sand. That’s why the characters plot and maneuver all the time. Don’t even get me started on these two.

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Got to have a villain.

Misery and self-promotion are rarely far from each other, and I think we’re loath to admit how we often we engage both. It’s not just that we fear the economic ruin of getting sacked, it’s that many of us completely lack identity outside the one provided by our work.

So when the sand shifts, we panic, secretly thinking:

“If I’m not this, who am I?”

Are you miserable in your job, but terrified to leave? Retiring soon? In possession of a “good job” that feels to you like eating a whole sleeve of saltine crackers?

If so, perhaps wrestling the question, “Without this, who am I?” is a useful, if terrifying, first step.

I was forced into answering it myself seven years ago. Standing on the back porch of the historic, if crumbling, farm house Sam and I bought on a windy West Texas ranch. I got everything I said I wanted and discovered it wasn’t enough.

I stood there howling into wind. “What am I doing with my life?”

When you’re that loud about it, I believe someone is bound to answer, and someone did. It still pains me to think of that time, but I don’t even recognize that girl now.

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I’ve recently begun a new venture that I hope to roll out next week. It’s a tool really to help you answer three questions:

  1. Who created me?
  2. What for?
  3. And how do I do that?

I’ve learned the hard way, I cannot be the center of my own life. There too many days I wake up depressed or fearful and lack the fuel to drive myself in any other direction. On those days, self-help is, by definition, a mobius strip.

I now have a supremely reliable external power source, a fire burning in me that someone else lit. I believe all of us have that fire, it may just need a little stoking.

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They’re catching fire.

If you are lost, feeling useless or done, or like the ladder you’ve been climbing leans against the wrong building altogether, I invite you to subscribe, so you can come along as we grow and figure out together what it means to catch fire.

I promise, I hardly have it all figured out, but I’m hot on the trail and I don’t want to travel alone. As the African proverb says:

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

Je Suis Nice

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Nice, France June 2013

It should be pretty clear by now, nobody knows what to do.

And I find myself asking, “Is this our new normal?” But I keep rejecting that, because God forbid I ever accept as normal, one suffering human taking down hundreds of strangers.

But how do I respond?

Author Anne Lamott has some pretty good thoughts here.  She says Cain is still killing Abel, just as he always has, but grace still bats last.

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Taken from the Promenade des Anglais Nice, France August 2011

My sister lives in Nice.

She was having dinner five blocks from the truck massacre. She and her friends were swept into waves of people running from what they didn’t know. They just knew they should run. The friend she was dining with wrote this in the Huff Post about the experience.

It prompted someone to say on her Facebook page, “that was a little too close.”

Let us not delude ourselves. We are all a little too close now. The idea that anyone can “keep us safe” from a guy driving a truck into a crowd, or the other terrors we imagine but don’t speak, is just foolish.

Unfortunately, this rage, this sickness, this despair is alive to some degree in all of us, and only in that space can a meaningful response begin.

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Castel Plage. Promenade des Anglais. Nice France. June 2013

Don’t believe me?

Pick a tragedy. Ataturk Airport Istanbul. Dallas PD. Bangladesh. Iraq. Orlando. Nice. Did you know there are pages-long lists of terrorist attacks organized by month on Wikipedia?

How did you react to the news of each? Rage? Invective? I alternate between that and sighing defeat, but what does that accomplish? Nothing. It just releases more anger, fear and despair in my orbit.

Maybe you’re not enraged by the carnage.

But how do you react when you see a Black Lives Matter rally? Do you murmur and grumble? Make surly comments? What about Trump and Hillary? I. Can’t. Even.

What comes out of your mouth then? What do you release into your orbit? Certainly, (hopefully) it’s different by degree, but not in nature.

It’s not what goes into a man that defiles him, Jesus said. It’s what comes out.

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Vieux Ville, Nice France. June 2013

Someone told me once, the key to victory in spiritual warfare (and don’t kid yourself, that is happening) is entering the battle bearing the opposite spirit. St. Francis explained it like this:

Where there is hatred let me sow love. Where there is injury, let me sow pardon, where there is despair, let me bring hope. We saw that this week in Dallas. Thank God.

But after Bastille Day, with our Nicoise brothers and sisters lying dead in the street, nothing could be more irrational and impossible. Nothing. Yet, Jesus said to do it, so it must be possible. But He never said it would be easy or cheap.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ He said.  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

To do such an impossible thing, we have to believe that Jesus is the God of impossible redemptions. Which I do.

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Overlooking the Promenade des Anglais

Kindness is the fruit of the spirit I most want to cultivate right now.  So when I find myself shouting expletives at my tv, I try to catch it and consider how unkind that is. It only poisons Sam and me and our home.

What I’m trying to do instead is stay within my circle of influence – controlling the things I can – like my mouth, my interaction with people I love, and my service to people around me.

So I’m choosing kindness when what I want to do is scream. I’m choosing quiet, unseen service to other humans when I want to be selfish and angry. I’m choosing to slow it down and respond carefully in conflict, rather than just reacting in my same old ways.

And I’m choosing to pray and fill this space with beautiful images from one of my favorite cities on earth. Nice. Mon coeur est brise´.

What else can I do?

Maybe this sounds naive in light of the shocking and seemingly relentless terror that plagues the world now. If I could do something about all that rage and violence, I would.

Maybe what I can do is deal with my own.

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#PrayingforNice

Love Jesus and Yoga?

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Recently, a Jesus-following friend expressed deep concern about my yoga practice. She believes I am in grave danger and felt compelled to warn me.

Isn’t that an amazing kindness?

For some of you, living in busy urban areas where yoga studios and coffee shops are equal in number, that’s crazy talk, but I live in the Bible belt where a lot of people consider yoga demonic.

I don’t. Let’s talk about it.

I am hardly the first to weigh in. In fact, if you Google Can Christians … “do yoga” autocompletes fourth after drink, eat pork and get tattoos. Opinions vary, but one article said by practicing yoga you’re unconsciously offering worship to Hindu gods.

Wait, what? Unconscious worship?

Maybe I don’t understand the meaning of those words, but I think that phrase is an oxymoron at best, fear mongering at worst. So I had an imaginary conversation with the writer.

Anti-Yoga Writer – “I don’t believe yoga can be separated from Buddhism, Hinduism and/or the occult. I think you’re wandering around in idol worshipping territory.”

Me – “Do you meditate?”

AYW – “Yes. The Bible tells us to meditate on scripture.”

Me – “Did you know Hindus meditate too?”

AYW – “Of course, but I don’t meditate on Hindu texts.”

Me – “So when you meditate, you choose the object of your focus, and meditation is the vehicle?”

AYW – “Basically.”

Me – “Interesting.”

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Survival is her focus right now. Photo: Robert Bejil


Yoga As Vehicle

A lot of yogis try to calm the fears of their Christian students by insisting yoga is nothing more than exercise, but that just isn’t true. We rob it of its power by promoting that. Oh oh. Yoga has power?

It does.

Yoga’s secret sauce lies in its ability to cultivate a calm, working relationship between our bodies and our minds. There is nothing in Western culture I know of that does that more efficiently than this 5,000 year-old Indian practice with its Hindu roots. Perhaps that’s why it is prescribed for sexual abuse survivors, traumatized refugee populations and soldiers with PTSD.

Done well, in good sequence, the poses demand a singular focus on breath and movement, which is why after a well-taught class you’ll be sweaty, breathing deeply, with a calm, quiet mind.

When was the last time you experienced those three things at once?


On Focus

I can spot the moment in my classes when people really start to focus.

Are they focusing on Buddha, Jesus, Hanuman, Shiva, nail polish on their toes? I have no idea. Their thoughts are their own, and how absurd would it be for me, a non-Hindu, to encourage some sort of Hindu observance? Asking them for long spines, soft hamstrings, quads on the edge, a level sacrum, and ujjayi breathing, while standing on one foot is plenty.

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“Ok but what about the giant Buddha on the wall,” says anti-yoga writer.

I know people will disagree with me here, but I’m open to that.

Thought #1 I feel about Buddha or Shiva statues exactly as I do about pink flamingoes in your yard. You like them, but they are meaningless to me. I love to shop at Pier 1 and there are a thousand Buddhas in there. Should I avoid that store? Am I really that suggestible? Do people follow Jesus because they saw a cross once? Come now.

I think the average Pier 1 shopper, (certainly not all, but many) who buy Buddha statues, exhibit the same dedication to Buddhism they do to Christianity – observing the easy parts, and ignoring the hard ones. I know some committed Buddhists, and they are remarkably disciplined. Spiritual devotion will cost you deeply. Statues at Pier 1 will cost you $12.95.

Photo: Ann Harkness

This costs something. Photo: Ann Harkness

Thought #2 –  My goal is to be so filled with the light and love of Jesus that you won’t see me anymore, you’ll only see him – certainly a lifelong and costly endeavor. Therefore, when I walk into a yoga studio, a medium security prison full of maximum security offenders, or down the street in Santa Cruz California, a town known for it’s tolerance of every possible spiritual practice, my aim is to be as light there as I am anywhere else. Same person. Different place.

So do I teach “Christian yoga?” No. I teach yoga. Square your hips, engage your locks, drop your tailbone and hold for five breaths. Modify if you like, but dismiss the voices saying you can’t. And if you can hold hanumanasana and smile – rock on!

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Hanumanasana

The funny thing is, I work for a Christian NGO that sends me to Africa a couple times a year. Often, my yoga students, who may or may not be Christians, ask me about that, and I happily tell them about my job and my Jesus.

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 1Peter 3:15

These conversations happen under a big picture of a silent Buddha. I have nothing against Buddha, in fact, my childhood nickname is Booda, but I follow Jesus because I need God to tell me, in real time, when to open my mouth and when to shut it, and that he loves me.

Jesus does that regularly.

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Who is she worshipping? Maybe no one. Maybe she’s just holding Warrior I.

There are countless out of shape, stressed out, pharma-dependent Christians, whom yoga could help, but I think many are afraid to show up in a random class in case someone is bowing to Shiva, which they sometimes do.

But millions of Indians bow to Shiva every day, does that mean you should never go to India? What a pity. The Taj Mahal is awesome. Devotion is an act of will, into which nobody can trick or force you. Use your holy discernment.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline.

II Timothy 1:7

Your polite, thoughtful comments are most welcome.

*As ever, my thoughts are my own, not those of my employer.