What Is “The Mission Podcast”?


Last year, I began a journey that has taught me a lot about myself and the type of man I desire to become. I didn’t take a long trip or have an of out-of-body experience,

I started a Podcast.

In my last blog post, I wrote about the search for my identity. I also wrote about the struggle I have endured on the path to finding out who I really am. This post will serve as kind of a Part II to that post, as my journey starting a podcast has lead me to learn about myself and my passion for justice.

For much of my life, I have desired to create balance. I like things to be even and to be fair. Moving to a big city, like Los Angeles, showed me that life is, most often, not fair. I see things every day that make me scratch my head and wonder how life could be so cruel to someone who once was so innocent. When I feel this way, I feel helpless, out of balance, craving justice. Thankfully, I have learned to change my perspective. I have learned that I can use my desire for balance and fairness to help those that have endured systematic, cultural persecution.

As my perspective on inclusivity and justice become more solidified, I continue to find myself outside the four walls of a church. I started to feel this way towards the end of my seminary journey and it was confirmed as I was interviewing for positions within various churches throughout Los Angeles. You would think a progressively liberal place like LA would be a haven for a “progressive-seeking church guy” like me.

It’s not.

Church in LA is, often times, big business. Not my thing. I am not interested in repeating the “party lines” or swaying with whatever trends seem to be “working” to “grow” your community. I’m interested in giving people the truth, and sometimes the truth is not what people want to hear. If there is one place on Earth you can tell it how it is, it’s the internet, not in church. So, I took my thoughts, passions, crazy ideas, whatever you want to call them, and I am putting them on the internet, in the form of a podcast.

I picked the title of the show, The Mission Podcast because I feel that embodies what each episode is. Each episode has a goal of providing honest, truthful, and practical content. When I am scheduling guest, I look for people that are active in their field. I want to talk with folks that are passionate about making a change and are facilitating change both locally and globally.

The Mission Podcast is also a mission to help the world remember that is it both necessary and important to have an honest dialogue about issues affecting all of us.(Us, humanity, we are not separate from one another. We are all connected.) It is our mission, as human beings and inhabitants of this planet, to relearn how to live together in harmony. We have to know how to talk about and how to talk through tough issues and topics. My hope is that The Mission Podcast will be a stepping stone for your conversations. But the conversations are only the beginning of change. After the conversation begins, then the discussion on how change happens also need to begin.

With so many issues arising in the news every day, it is hard to even try to begin to think about affecting change in our communities. Where do we begin? How can we know if we are really helping? How do I get involved? I have asked myself these questions many times during the course of my journey. After asking these questions for so long, I realized that it was time to move past the action of asking, and move into the action of learning. The best way I found to learn was to read from perspectives that were both parallel and perpendicular to my particular beliefs. It is usually easy, and fun, to read something that parallels your own perspective. Taking a step outside of your perspective is not so easy.

But it is so enlightening.

As I began to read more, I felt I could share what I am learning with my circle of friends by sharing resources and suggesting books or talks have taught me along my journey. That became the second component of The Mission Podcast, the weekly resources.

Each week, along with new content and (most weeks) a new guest interview, I am putting together a list of resources that hopefully represents the message and guest for that episode. For example, February is Black History Month. Each episode released in February included resources that have helped me learn more about the injustices and oppression that African American have endured since coming to American on the slave ships. The resources varied from books to short clips to articles. After preparing a resource list for a few episodes, I began to see how easy it was for me to source these resources and to share them with the members of my community. But the show notes for the podcast are not always the easiest way to get this information to anyone that is interested in having it. So I have come up with a solution that will hopefully allow folks to access the resources, even if they are not able to listen to each episode of the podcast.

Starting with next week’s episode, I am going to post the show notes and resources in a weekly blog post. This way, the resources will be easy to find and can also be shared within your network. My hope is that these resources will lead you to start and continue your own conversation about important topics such as systemic injustice, equal rights, and environmental concerns. The resources will come in various forms such as books, articles and talks/short clips. Whatever your preferred method of learning, either reading or watching, I hope to have you covered with the resources I find and publish each week.

As I continue to learn along that way of my personal journey, I am looking forward to sharing what I have discovered in my community. As Dr. Leah Gunning Francis said during our interview, “Whatever your passion for justice is, start now. Start right where you are, start right within your circle.” My passion is for helping others learn how to become better individuals, to learn how to think differently and to learn how to have more compassion.

This is my “start.” In a way, The Mission Podcast has replaced the church in my life. Church will always provide me with an abundance of relationships, but when it comes to actual tools for getting through life, I have felt the church has left me woefully unprepared.

 

I wonder if there are others like me that also feel this way?

I have a hunch there are others like me. I hope they find The Mission Podcast and I hope it gives them hope. I hope it gives them a community where they can feel safe. If you are reading this post, my guess is you are also on your own journey of self-discovery. If so, keep a bookmark on this site. My hope is to provide you resources to help you along your way. If you are not ready or have already completed your journey to self-discovery, use this site to help those you care about who are looking for answers. Let’s welcome everyone into our community that is willing to learn and let’s continue our journey of learning, together.


 

Who am I?


Who am I?

Where do I belong? Why does the search for my identity continue to plague me at various points throughout my life? Am I always going to question my place in existence? (I hope not, it is exhausting.) What am I missing? Am I broken? Am I incomplete? Where did I go wrong?

Why do I have so many questions?

I’m sick of questions. They keep me up at night. They break my spirit. They don’t allow me to be present with the people that mean so much to me.  The questions keep me from moving forward. I am stuck convincing myself I am more than these questions, but the questions are all I can focus on.

I want the questions to stop. I want to be confident. 

My questions continue to get in the way of my confidence. They cloud my vision. They make me angry. They turn me into the worst version of myself, the version I despise and wish was not a part of me. While I continue to succumb to the weight of my questions, I am moving to a point in my life where I have to say, “Enough.”

Enough. 

I’ve had enough of the questions. They are not helping me get anywhere. What I am now starting to see is that my questions are exposing the tension that life naturally brings each and every one of us. I am not being singled out by life or being tested by some higher power. Questions, doubt, struggle, all of these are part of the imbalance we humans create when we ignore the important things that make us who we really are.

I am not the only person with questions about the direction of their life. Nor am I the only person that has ever felt incomplete. 

In my case, my questions expose the reality that I have not committed myself to anything substantial in a long time, maybe ever. Even just saying those word, I have anger towards myself. I hold two degrees, both from exceptional institutions, and I did not invest enough in either of them. I have lived in two amazing cities, New York and Los Angeles, and I have not invested enough in either of those cities.  I have been given so many opportunities, and I have yet to invest in any of them. I no longer am willing to risk not investing in things that really matter to me.

I am no longer willing to risk losing out on the joy that comes with investing in life.

My time at Michigan State could have been better. I should have invested more. Fuller Seminary gave me a chance to do better. While I did invest in small groups and some extra circulars, I did not invest enough in my education, my studies. The things I was being exposed to and was learning should have been coupled with my passions to help me embark on making them a reality. During my time at both MSU and Fuller, I ignored the important questions I should have been asking. I should have been asking questions about my passions and how I can bring my passion to life through work and daily life. I ran away from these questions and now realize how disappointed I am, at myself.

Because I did not invest in the important questions during the formative times in my life, I am now piecing together a broken mosaic of mismatched pieces from various memories and experiences. I imagine myself sitting in a room and all of the dreams and memories I have created are laid out in front of me. When I look at them, I see a shattered mirror. My dreams reflect me, but the picture is distorted. I can see some resemblance to me in my dreams, but they are no longer clear. Does this mean my dreams are no longer me?

Great, more questions.

The truth is, my dreams are me. But this is the hard truth, I let some of my dreams die. I also killed some of my dreams. This is not my fault. This is part of life. 

My dreams got me to where I am today. I owe them more than I am willing to admit. An important life lesson for me right now is knowing that I will dream more dreams. I will live more life, and, I will encounter more questions.

That’s just living life.

If I want to continue to grow, and I do, I really only have two questions to answer, “Do I want to grow or do I want to stay the same?” 

I want to grow. So I guess its time to face the questions.

It is time to be at peace with my questions. And also, I can ask different questions. Maybe asking such hard questions of myself is part of my hang up. Maybe if I spent some more time with my dreams, both new and old, I will start to regain a stronger sense of my identity. I think it is also time to move away from, “Maybe.” “Maybe” is part of the old me. I can do better than “Maybe.” But it’s up to me to make the change, to face the questions. That’s the tension. I know that moves and changes need to be made, but am I really willing to put in the work to get there?

I’ve answered that question with an emphatic, “Yes!” I guess that means its time to get to work.


Into Something New


I have recently started Richard Rohr’s book Falling Upwards: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. It is a really wonderful book so far and I am enjoying it so much I had to put it down and write down what it is teaching me.

To distill what I have read so far, Rohr is guiding readers into what he describes as our “second half of life.” This is the part of our lives that comes after we have “built” our foundations and are now seeking to “fill” our foundations with something meaningful. Rohr says fear is one of the most prevalent factors keeping someone from moving into this second phase of life. Fear keeps us locked into a rut.

But, my friends, there is hope.

This idea of moving into the second phase of life reminds me a lot of the story in Mark’s gospel where Jesus meets James and John, sons of Zebedee. The writer states that Jesus came upon these men and that they were “mending their nets.”

Imagine you are one of these brothers. Imagine you have to spend every day of your life mending nets. Fishing seems to be the only way for these men to earn income and yet, one interaction with Jesus, and they leave their nets, their security, and their family, and set their lives onto a new course. The writer records no hesitation and in fact, goes on to record details of their father watching them leave until he “could no longer seem them in the distance.”

This means the life change was permanent. There was no turning back.

Even if you don’t believe in Jesus, this story provides hope. We all have interactions with people that change us. In the same way, I’m sure most people have felt stuck in a rut with no hope of ever getting out.

Rohr states, “Like skaters, we move forward by actually moving side to side.” Let that give you some hope. Skating is hard and yet in a few days, we are going to be enamored by the gifts of the young people that dance all over the ice to mostly bad music. (No offense to classical but man to they hit all of the Classical B-sides.) Ok skating tangent but the idea is helpful, we move side to side and we actually move forward.

I’m not sure how this book is going to end. But that reminds me that I am still writing my own story. I don’t have to spend all of my days “mending nets.” I can take a leap of faith into something new.

The point is to move. Step into something new and don’t ever look back. 

So now its time to move. Take your first step and then ask yourself, Now What?


 

Fire.


This week, I was fortunate enough to attend an event hosted by one of my favorite thinkers and writers, Peter Rollins. The event was called, Playing with Fire, and was an introductory course on how to incorporate theories of radical theology into your chosen ministry practice. It was at this event that I had a bit of a revelation.

I realized I was at the beginning of something new.

I have been trying to find the best way to utilize the space I have created with this blog and during Pete’s event last week, I was inspired to try a new approach to the posts I create.

So I am going to leave you with that. I am going to try some new things and I hope you enjoy them.

More to come…


It’s 2018, Now What?


January can be a complicated time for a lot of people. For me, January tends to bring a lot of reflection. I think about the past year and, usually, I regret all of the things I didn’t accomplish. What a way to start off the new year;

With regret.

Not all people are like me thankfully and, in the case of my wife, January is a rich time to set goals and to visualize the person you desire to become over the next 365 days. That’s how I want to start my year;

With direction.

But how do you set a direction for the new year? I used to hear the phrase, “A New Year, a New You” and immediately succumb to an anxiety attack because the reality was, I am the same person In January as I am in December.

How can I manifest change when I feel stuck?

Over the past few years, I have adapted small changes in my perspective on success and in how I consume and make purchases. I would like to offer two easy ways for you to become “un-stuck” and able to set your own goals in 2018.

For most Americans, when it comes to setting goals for the year, the goals seem to focus on a few different themes theme; self-improvement, financial security, better relationships, etc. These goals are an essential part of becoming a happy person but they tend to leave out one essential component of finding happiness; doing good for others. I don’t believe it is our fault that we have become so disconnected from our need to help our fellow human being. American culture has always championed the individual over the collective. A quote from His Holiness, The Dalia Lama summarizes how our perspective should change to better understand our individual social responsibility. His Holiness states;

“Human rights, environmental protection, and social and economic equality are all inter-related. In all these issues, I believe a sense of universal responsibility is the key to human survival and progress. It is also the best foundation for world peace and promotion of human rights and political culture of non-violence and dialogue in resolving human conflicts.”

This means, in 2018, set a goal or resolution to do something good for someone who needs it. If that makes you uncomfortable, then do something good for the environment or your local community. Don’t limit this to a one time gesture, make this a part of your daily, weekly or monthly routine. If you live in a major city, there are plenty of ways to get involved in helping those in need. If you live in a small town, odds are you know of an elderly person or single mother who could use some extra help. Whatever it is you decide to do, make 2018 the year you put others needs before your own. Begin to value the connection between helping others and generating peace. If you believe in God, then trust that you are bringing the presence of God to this earth each and every time you serve those who need it.

Giving your time to others in need is one way to make positive change if you are feeling “stuck” but that is not for everyone. What if you can’t give up your time? If you can’t give up your time, I suggest changing how you spend your money.

Altering my spending habits has allowed me to be relieved from consistent buyers remorse for purchasing items I did not need. I no longer had the need to acquire more things simply because I am unsatisfied with the things I already have. Step one of this process is understanding that you have enough and buying more things will not bring you more happiness. Step two comes when you begin to think about more than just purchasing the item in front of you; you also take a moment to think about the person who made this item, and it’s effect on the environment. This is an idea I picked up from an influential documentary.

The Minimalist documentary really changed how I approached buying “stuff.” (If you have not seen it I highly recommend it.) One of the many important things this documentary showed me was how I can still have and buy things that I want and need, I simply need to be more selective with what I buy. This takes some extra discipline on my part, but it helps when I also think about the person on the other side of the item I am buying. I ask questions like;

“Did they receive a fair wage for making this item?” 

“Will this item negatively affect the environment when I discard it?”

“How many navy blazers does one man really need?”

Ok, so that last one might not apply to you but we all have our own version of the “navy blazer.” When we can let go of the need to acquire more things we can learn to live a life free from scarcity and competition. There is no more “keeping up with the Jones’”; there is always a Jones that will have more than you.

To be clear, I am not saying give up everything and live a life churning your own butter. It is fine to have nice things. What I am suggesting is,  this year, when you shop, take a second to think about the person on the other side. Place yourself in their shoes. Will the item in front of you really bring you more happiness? If so, then go ahead, treat yo’ self! However, if the answer is no then walk away without making a purchase. Maybe with the money you save, you take a friend who is struggling to see a movie. Whatever your choice is, you can better your self in 2018 by making a goal to better your surroundings. Take chances on people and not purchases. Make 2018 the year you become “un-stuck” and also the beginning of the “new You.”

You’ve reached the end, now what?

Sharing the Gift of Honesty

“Giving the gift of honesty can be achieved in many ways, but a great place to start is with prayer. Presenting our honest needs before God, with other members of our community, helps to release us from feeling trapped by negative thoughts. Sharing the gift of honesty also helps to resolve any hurts that may have been left by holding back from others.”

A few months back I was asked to write for the community blog for Pacific Crossroads Church in Santa Monica, CA. I was inspired to write about a funny memory I had with my niece. I just returned home from Michigan for the holidays and I miss that little one so much! I thought I would share the piece I wrote that was inspired by her with you this week. You can read the full post by clicking here.

It is so special to spend time with little children. They are so honest and full of joy. While my nieces both have their momentary breakdowns, I can always see the truth that comes in its most raw and authentic form. Maybe I’ll feel different when they are my kids, but for now, I am so thankful for the gifts of honesty both of my nieces shared with me over the holiday season.

I hope to be back in the rhythm of weekly posts when I am back from holiday next week. I hope you had a wonderful holiday season and I wish you a Happy New Year!

-Ryan

Best. Gift. Ever.


“As I have gotten older, I have realized that the truest joy I experience during the Holiday season is not in the receiving of gifts, but in giving them. There is something about going shopping, trying to find that perfect gift for each person my list that brings me an abundance of happiness and joy.”

Last week, I was the featured author of the Mission Hills LA community blog. I share some thoughts on the Holidays and how my perspective on the Holiday has shifted as I have gotten older.

Read the full piece here!

Happy Holidays!


 

Advent Series Week #4; Blessing Others


nina-strehl-140734
The final week of the Advent series is going to be a little different than the previous three weeks.  This week, we are turning our attention to the ones that mean the most to us, our loved ones.

Now that we have spent some time reflecting on how we can improve our daily lives, it is important to now reflect now how we are able to bless those that have made a positive impact on our lives. Just like the past weeks’ topics (lament, gratitude), I don’t often take the time to think or to thank, those individuals in my life that help to keep me going.

This year, I would like to change that. 

People really are the fuel that keeps me going. I love interacting with people and getting to share experiences and stories with them. I have always been a pretty social person but as I get older, I now realize how fortunate I am to have such amazing support from my friends. I feel it is only fitting for the final week of Advent, the week that ends with the blessing of the birth of Jesus, for us to turn our attention to those who have blessed us most.

I have heard the Nativity story many times in my life, in many different forms. Most often, the story centers around the birth of Jesus and how miraculous the events were leading up to his birth. While I think it is very important to acknowledge that aspect of the story, I feel it leaves out a critical aspect of the reason behind the miraculous events. When you focus only on the events leading up to the birth, you tend to miss the actual birth event and what it signified for all of humanity. The coming of Jesus was meant to bring reconciliation within all of creation.

Jesus is a blessing for everyone to experience.

Over the past few years, Christmas has felt more like a battleground than a time of peace and joy. The Christmas season has been overcome with our earthly desires of “getting this” and “buying that.” Instead of hearing joy and peace from people getting ready for the holiday season, I seem to hear more negativity and angst than any other time of the year;

“This company changed their cups, they must hate Christmas!”

Happy Holidays? Ugh! How about Merry Christmas!

Make Christmas Great Again!

These quotes speak nothing of the gift of peace, born in the quiet of the night.

The blessing of God’s presence to the world can be replicated in our blessing those that have blessed us. This does not stop at reciprocity, in fact, it goes many steps beyond that. Matthew’s gospel affirms this idea when Jesus says to walk an extra mile with anyone who asks. It is assumed in this story, that you are also not to ask if it is only just one additional mile, it should be assumed that it can be as many miles as the person requires.    This is what we mean when we talk about blessing others. We don’t make the terms, we just show up, sometimes miraculously, and give the gift of our presence, just like the baby Jesus, one magical night a long time ago.

As we close this series and begin the New Year, I hope that you have found a new way to cultivate peace and harmony in your own life. I have been richly blessed in creating this series and have personally grown from taking the time to slow down and reflect each week. I want to thank you for taking this 4-week journey with me. I wish you a safe and peaceful 2018.

You can access the final guided meditation by clicking here.

Read week 3 of the Advent series; Gratitude by clicking here.
Read week 2 of the Advent series; Peace by clicking here.
Read week 1 of the Advent series; Lament by clicking here.
You can find the introduction to this series, In Preparation; a 4-Week Meditation Series for Advent by clicking here.

Advent Series Week #3; Gratitude

With Gratitude


One of my favorite authors on the practice of gratitude is Christine Pohl. Her book, Living Into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us, is full of practical ways to incorporate gratitude into a practice or ritual for everyday life. I think it is very fitting as we move into the third week of Advent, for us to take inventory of all we have to be thankful for. By doing this, we can all try our hand at incorporating our own practice of gratitude.

“Change your attitude to gratitude”. – Source Unknown.

When speaking about gratitude, Pohl writes, “Practices of Gratitude can be distorted when we imagine Christians are always supposed to be smiling and cheerful, even in the face of suffering, tragedy or grave injustice.” Pohl concludes this thought by saying, “Gratitude [in practice] involves knowing that we are held secure by a loving God and that the God we worship is trustworthy, despite the nearly unbearable sorrow we might encounter along the way.”

It is an interesting concept to think of practicing to be grateful. However, if you are anything like me, I rarely take the time to think back at all of the great things that I encounter each day. So often I neglect the small gifts I am given in the form of a green light when I am late, an extra few bucks in my account when I need a coffee, or even the affirming touch from my wife when I come home from a long day. I never say “thank you” for any of these gifts.

I don’t think I am alone in this.

If you continue to read Christine Pohl, she will tell you it is very difficult for people to adopt a posture of gratitude on a daily basis. But there is hope if we consciously make an effort to break out of our “normal” daily rhythms and incorporate time to express our gratitude. That might sound a lot easier said than done. But if you really think about it, I bet you can find a minute or two throughout the day to say thanks to God for the day you have had so far.

Red lights.

Canceled plans.

Just before you get out of your car to go inside.

These are all great time to take just a moment and say, “Thanks for getting me home today.” I think even something this simple will help to lift your spirit and help remind you, regardless of the day you had, that there is something we can all be thankful for. Take time to be thankful this week, and take your new ritual of gratitude with you into the New Year.

Please click here for this week’s guided meditation.

Read week 2 of the Advent series, Peace, by clicking this link.
Read week 1 of the Advent series, Lament, by clicking this link.
You can find the introduction to this, series, In Preparation; A 4 Week Meditation Series for Advent, by clicking here.

Advent Series Week #2; Peace


Peace.

Where have you gone?

Peace.

Will you ever come back?

Peace.

Why did you leave us?

Peace.


Growing up, I always enjoyed reading the story where Jesus calms the storm that threatened to sink the boat carrying him and his disciples. For me, there is something about the imagery of Jesus, getting up from his posture of rest, and silencing the wind and the waves with simply his voice, that brings me an incredible amount peace. As I have grown older, I have learned to appreciate another side to this story.  In the gospel of Mark, the author records a short, but very important, interaction with his followers. After calming the storm, Jesus turns to his disciples and asks, “How can you be so afraid? After all you have seen, where is your faith?”

“After all you have seen, where is your faith?”

I feel like those words could be spoken to me every hour of every day recently. When I think about the absence of peace in my life, I can usually trace that feeling to an absence in my faith. When I am not at peace in my heart, or in my mind, I am not in the presence of God. When my mind is racing and I start to challenge and question every move or motive in my life, I am not in the presence of God.

When I am not in the presence of God, I am not at peace.

In the story above, it is easy to focus the attention on the calming of the physical storm. But what about the individual feelings of distress, fear and worry the disciples where experiencing? I think those emotions, given the context of the story, could also be considered “storms.” When I look at this story from this perspective, I truly see Jesus as the giver of peace. I feel the need to ask myself, “After all I have seen (experienced, lived through, lost, gained), where is my faith?

This is the unacknowledged gift of peace.

Our peace should come from the comfort of Jesus asking, “After all you have seen, where is your faith?” This subtle question is a provocative reminder that our lives will not always be peaceful. We can choose to be afraid of that, or we can choose to live with faith. I believe it is questions, and stories like the one from Mark, that give context to Jesus as a true figure of peace. His presence today may not be able to calm the storms or atrocities that seem to be happening daily, but His spirit can remind us that we have hope. This hope should bring us peace. As the second week of Advent begins, bring more of the peace of Jesus into your life through the guided meditation provided here.


Read week 1 of the Advent series, Lament, by clicking this link. You can find the introduction to this, series, In Preparation; A 4 Week Meditation Series for Advent, by clicking here.
*If you are finding you are having a hard time focusing during the meditation, repeat the lines from the opening of this post quietly in your mind as you meditate. This might help keep you focused.