Ken L. Hagler

Author's details

Name: Ken L. Hagler
Date registered: March 3, 2012

Latest posts

  1. Jedi Pastor Ken: For Lack of Better Words? — September 22, 2014
  2. Jedi Pastor Ken: Where Does Spiritual Direction Fit In Christianity and Methodism? — August 28, 2014
  3. Jedi Pastor Ken: On the Trail as the Pilgrim: Praying the Jesus Prayer on the Journey — August 6, 2014
  4. Jedi Pastor Ken: Hike Your Own Hike: Giving Grace to Others on Their Spiritual Journey — July 30, 2014
  5. Jedi Pastor Ken: Continuing to Open Our Eyes to Disabilities in the Church — July 19, 2014

Most commented posts

  1. Jedi Pastor Ken: Undoing Our Souls — 2 comments
  2. Jedi Pastor Ken: How Losing My Sight Has Helped Me to See More Clearly — 2 comments

Author's posts listings

Jun 30 2014

Jedi Pastor Ken: Practicing Awareness Means Trusting That God Can Speak To Others

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My daughter and I hiked for seven miles this morning as we prepared for and extended backpacking trip.  We got on the trail around 6am, it was still dark but the sun was just beginning to influence the lighting.  What was unique was the rain and water left over from the evening thunderstorms.  It was the same  trail as other mornings and yet, it was completely different.

The trail was more slick than usual in some places.  The spider webs glistened with rain drops.  Our sweat clung to our shirts and shorts in the Georgia humidity.  It was all different.  It was all the same.

Here at Bethelview United Methodist Church, I find myself in what is a new office to me.  It is a new building and sanctuary and new friendships are beginning to be formed.  That is what I am aware of right now.  For the people of this church, it is different too.  A new pastor is here in the pulpit.  I bring a different style and different ideas.  It is all different.  It is all the same.

My vision disability requires of me to be more aware of what is going on around me.  I have to be more aware when I drive and when I walk.  Going up stairs or down a trail, I must be more aware of certain conditions.  My daughter, while hiking on the trail, was aware too.  She pointed out the inchworm climbing his string.  She got to laugh at crazy squirrels running about and the massive snail making his own way up the trail.  I was not aware of these things, not until she pointed them out.  We were on the exact same trail but it was all different and it was all the same.

Awareness is a practice of attentiveness.  It can include all our senses or it maybe we need to only use one of them.  Being aware means we also can benefit from other people’s senses, on their awareness, on God’s voice speaking to them (this can happen only if we believe truly, that God might speak to another person).  In the book of Acts, in chapter 9, we find that when Jesus was speaking to Paul… “The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one (Acts 9:7).”  I suspect Jesus didn’t intend for them to see him but do we know for sure?  We find at the tomb Mary didn’t recognize it was Jesus after the resurrection (John 20:14).  Even those who knew Jesus were found to be unaware it was Him!

In this day and time where we face so much division, is it not surprising we are not aware when Jesus is in our midst?  Is it any wonder that we resort to frustration and anger?  It may well be all the more important for us to be about the spiritual practices and learning to listen to God and one another.

We are all different.  We are all the same. 

We all yearn to hear God.

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Jun 10 2014

Jedi Pastor Ken: Five Questions I’ve Learned from Vision Loss that Improve Awareness

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Over this past year, the upper part of my eyes and vision, has grown stronger and adapted to being able to read better. Because reading is such an important part of my work, I have effectively given up reading for pleasure. Your eyes really can get tired!

I have also found that movies and television can allow my eyes a chance to relax. Movies are really great because everything is so big and the theater is dark, so my vision doesn’t have to strain. So with no new episodes of The Walking Dead right now, I’ve picked up watching two detective shows, Longmire and The Glades. While the shows are very different in their design, settings, and characters, both main characters are very aware of everything and everybody.

From the details of crime scenes, behaviors of suspects, and in the searching out for evidence, these two detectives are almost hyper aware of what is taking place. They are always observing, always questioning, and always learning. And like any good character (really the writers) knows, it is not just about the crime, they also have to be aware of themselves.

Just how aware are you of you? 

Because of my vision loss, I have to be hyper-aware of the
environment, people and traffic around.  I have found most people are completely unaware of others around them and it could be easy with low-vision to get upset when others are not paying attention.  I can get mad at myself for not being more prepared too.

As I have learned to be more aware of my environment and that has led me to consider my spiritual awareness.  Think about this five questions:

  1. How aware are you of your motivations, your passions, your thoughts, your questions, or your behaviors? 
  2. How aware are you of your responses to other people and are you aware of what assumptions you are making regarding them? 
  3. Are you projecting previous experiences onto a new experience? 
  4. Are you projecting your motivations onto other people? 
  5. Are you doing all this with God too?

I am pretty certain, even after 2,000 years, we don’t fully understand or have learned all there is to know about the Sermon on the Mount. It is at once liberating and convicting. Jesus is on a roll of examining the fulfillment of the Law when He says, "You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY'; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:26-28 NASB).” Just how aware are you of this inner orientation? Adam Clarke’s words on this verse (and the passions), call us to being aware of our reality:

         Many would abhor to commit one external act before the eyes of [people], in a temple of stone; and yet they are not afraid to commit a multitude of such acts in the temple of their hearts, and in the sight of God!

Is it possible we are, at times, too quick to think the best of motivations of others and ourselves? Are we really aware of our inner condition or are we quick to think so well of ourselves we miss the ancient truth of Jeremiah that, "The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it? (17:9 NASB)”

The desert fathers and mothers went to the desert, in part, to be away from the distractions of the world so they might become more aware of their passions and to wrestle with demons in their various forms. The practice of bands and class meetings of the early Methodists was to ask questions, to use these methods to be aware and be accountable. Sometimes we miss our motivations because we don’t take the time to be aware of ourselves.

This is part of what I think having a process of ordination does for the Church. My intent isn’t to cast stones at other traditions. However, we need to realize the Board of Ordained Ministry is more than just a gate-keeper in the United Methodist Church’s process. I think one underlying principle might be expressed this way: Those in ministry need to be aware of their own motivations, passions, and demons.

I do not always agree with the process or the decisions made by these boards who examine. What I do know, looking back on my process, was how being deferred made me more aware of myself and what God was preparing me for the work of ministry. I needed to be more clear, more aware. I needed to ask better questions.   I needed to know myself better.

This same awareness is what spiritual direction offers. It gives us

opportunity to have someone listen to the Holy Spirit with us, so we might be more aware of God’s voice and God’s leading in our lives.  I have found an experienced spiritual director makes a huge difference but this could be in accountability or even just daily time set-aside to be more aware of God. It is so much easier to be blissfully ignorant of the spiritual nature of our world. We can just tune it out as many have done or just crank the volume up and drowned out the Spirit’s silent voice as others have also done.

There is a hunger and desire in us to treasure the unique and the rare. To know ourselves and voice of God, we must make time to be aware.

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Jun 02 2014

Jedi Pastor Ken: Sit Down and Shut Up: Learning to Be More Aware

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“Sit down and shut up!”

Every day of the school year, we’d get on the bus and hear our bus driver, Doug Crow, shout it out to us.  Sometimes it would be just him looking in the mirror.  Other times, he’d pull to the side of the road and get up, red faced and ramped up, and give us the line, speaking each syllable with the force of a semi-truck willing to incinerate anything in it’s path by shear force.

I don’t know if he graduated college or just finally got a better gig, but one school year, on the first day, Doug was gone.  His memory wasn’t though.  He is one of those who is forever present in my thoughts of growing up in Mississippi.

“Sit down and shut up!”

The story has been passed down from the early church that tells of a monk who went to Scetis to visit with Abba Moses.  He had gone to ask him for a word.  The desert father said to him, ‘Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.’ (pg 139, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers)

“Sit down and shut up.”

One of the great gifts I have experienced in participating in the Upper Room’s Academy of Spiritual Formation experiences has been the gift of your “cell.”  Don’t confuse it with a prison.  In our day it might be a “prayer closet.”  For the monk or the desert abbas and ammas, the cell was where everything was kept even though that “everything” was  not usually very much.

For me, the cell, my living space for a week, was a treasure.  It was more than just a hotel room or retreat space.  It was a space where I could be aware.  Awareness, writes Joan Chittister, is what we are practicing when we ask, “What do I see here of God that I could not see otherwise?  What is God demanding of my heart as a result of each event, each situation, each person in my life? (23, Illuminated Life).  It is a practice of not just hearing the words of another, but of listening to their soul and to the word of the Spirit of God.  It is a time to engage ourselves in what God is doing around us.

I think this is part of what Elijah is doing in 1 Kings 19, of being aware enough to hear God say, “What are you doing here?”  For Elijah, the cave was his cell, the place where he could be aware of God.  To be attentive, fully, not to what others are saying, not the noise calling for attention, but to be able to hear and know the voice of God; this is the practice of awareness.

So many voices seem to be claiming to speak for God.  There is pressure and influence being placed for people to choose sides for this issue or that issue. 

“Sit down and shut up.”

And so Abba Moses speaks again. 

May I Ask:  Who has told you recently you need to “Sit down and shut up?”  What maybe preventing you from being more aware?

May I Suggest:  If you’ve got time to read this blog, or watch a movie on Netflix, you’ve got time to sit down and shut up.  Just try it.  If nothing worse happens, you might just get a good nap.

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May 28 2014

Jedi Pastor Ken: The Cost of Trust: One Behavior Being Ignored In Our Talk of Schism

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Like many other clergy and laity in the United Methodist Church, I’ve been reading the proposals and responses again and again related to the idea of schism, the talk of dividing the church.  For some time now, I have been listening to discussion and the varying points of view.  I’ve tried to remove myself from my own beliefs and convictions to try and hear all sides with fresh ears (it has been difficult).  I’m still not done.  I still have people I want to talk with about it, clergy and laity both, as well as United Methodists and those outside.

This week however I put my finger on something that had just been gnawing at me.  I
think it had a lot to do with my son going before his Eagle Board of Review last night (which he passed and is now an Eagle Scout).  Each week in my High School years, I stood, held the Scout sign and repeated the values Scouting seeks to instill in boys starting with the first words, “A scout is trustworthy…”  For a number of years now, I’ve stood and done the same ritual, believing those are values which are timeless and I wanted to pass on to my son, “A scout is trustworthy…”

Quite honestly, it hit me hard.

Like others I'm sure, I was impressed by Dr. James Howell's appeal for the UMC to stay together.  Among other articles I read, I read Dr. William Abraham’s post from a few years back, “United Methodists at the End of the Mainline.” In his comments he references a sermon from a clergy in the Reconciling Movement who spoke about his position and the Reconciling Movement.  The message of that preacher went…

“Now it is our turn to get honest…We have moved far beyond the idea that the Bible is exclusively normative and literally authoritative for our faith. To my thinking, that is good! What is bad is that we have tried to con ourselves and others by saying ‘we haven’t changed our position.’”

           Then yesterday there appeared an article in The Daily Beast, a very thought provoking article I might add, entitled “Were Christians Right About Gay Marriage Along?”  In it, author Jay Michaelson, speculates that to some, gay marriage isn’t the end nor was it ever the goal.  In truth, their goal is to do away completely with marriage.  Michaelson writes,

“If your agenda is liberation, then the vision of same-sex marriage, in which gays become domesticated and live happily ever after, is a kind of nightmare. It is, at best, the squandering of a revolutionary potential, but at worst the growth of exactly what we were supposed to have shrunk: repression, patriarchy, convention, religion.”

      Is this really the end game for some in this movement?  And if the one is true, how far away is the other?  Can I even take your word if you told me you are against the second statement if you agree with the first.  I pray this is not shared within the UMC as a desired outcome. 

      I can’t help hearing those words, “A scout is trustworthy…”  I guess some could care less what comes to my mind.  You may think Scouting is a waste.  Fine.  But I think it is a critical, and clearly understated or entirely ignored part of the conversation.  Like scouts who stand and proclaim at their meetings regarding what they value (even though they are just starting to learn it), we clergy do the same thing in essence during our ordination processes.  We give our word, confirming our commitment to the polity and discipline of the church.  Our approach, I think, is very much in keeping with Jesus' words on giving our word too (see Matthew 5:36-37).

           In the book, “The Speed of Trust,” Stephen M.R. Covey describes giving our word or keeping commitments as the “Big Kahuna” of all trust behaviors.  He goes on to write, “…when you make a commitment, you build hope; when you keep it, you build trust (214).”  Throughout the book which reflects an extensive study on trust in organizations, Covey also notes the impact of betraying trust and the impact on relationships.  He often notes Warren Buffet’s famous quote, “It takes twenty years develop a reputation and just 5 minutes to destroy it.”  

     To break the bond of our word is what we are talking about when we speak about the breaking of our covenant vows of ordination.  I get we have disagreements of conviction, theology, and psychology regarding the issues related to sexuality.  I am of the conviction still to listen and learn what else we are not seeing clearly in the debate at hand.  But I’m also of the conviction that we have given our word, we have established a bond of trust (and we have a polity which says how we conduct debate and change) and some have chosen to break it.

           I am not ignoring the conviction and belief of those of you who see this as a justice issue.  I can respect you see it as worth the sacrifice to break covenant to bring the argument into the open, to try to change the perception and beliefs others hold regarding sexuality.  I want us all at the table but I find myself with a trust betrayed.  I don’t think this is a “straw-man argument.”  I am also not for the break-up of our denomination, I want us to be in connection but a trust betrayed is far from being quick to heal.  If you feel the sacrifice of betraying trust is worth the price, realize you still have sacrificed.  

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May 21 2014

Jedi Pastor Ken: I Want What I Want When I Wants It. Striving for Simplicity

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Simplicity is more than just scaling back what we buy or going through and cleaning house (be that literally or figuratively). I think, in part, it is taking the time, no, let me change that: making the time to get back down to the most basic levels of life.

I have long been captivated by Jesus image of
the “birds of the air and flowers of the field (that would be found in Matthew 6:26-30),” yet I feel at times I must clearly be the only one. As a 21st century Christians living in the affluency of western civilization, we do not take Jesus seriously that God cares for our needs so intimately. And before we pull out the political and economic cards, this is not a Republican, Democrat or Libertarian argument nor is it a capitalist versus socialist issue. We can each live more simply REGARDLESS of politics. The question is will we choose to do so? If you think government needs to tax more, fine. Write the government a bonus check. If you think churches or non-profit orgs are the ones who can work better at caring for the needy, great! Log in and start giving away online with your credit or debit card (I recommend supporting UMCOR by the way.)

No one is stopping you from giving. No one is keeping you from living more simply than yourself.

I think Maslow’s Theory on the Hierarchy of Needs really hits on Jesus’ point. The most basic level of need in a human being consists of meeting a person’s biological and physiological needs such as; air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, and sleep. Sounds a lot like what Jesus was implying when it comes to what we ought to be worried about. Maslow’s theory has since been examined and the website link above will do a great job of explaining things.

As a present for finishing middle school, we have given our kids smart phones (I should say, upgraded. They had flip-phones that worked just fine). It wasn’t anything fancy but it is the same phone I have. As we set-up my daughter’s phone, I thought about my own phone, “hmmm, mine is a year and a half old. Should I trade it in?” I caught myself and was like, really?!? There is NOTHING wrong with what I have! It does far MORE than I even use it for anyway and the little computer brain probably wishes someone else owned it.

The salient point is this: I didn’t NEED a new phone. Period.

But I started thinking about some of the things I have been using to live simply, some of the guide posts I have put in place.  Ultimately, I think living simply means we have to make some choices:

1. Talk to Yourself. – Do I need it or do I just want it?

2. Live the Bottom Line. – Stop spending and living beyond your means.

3. Trading up or staying put? – Does trading up benefit the Kingdom of God? What part of your life does God get?

4. No Remorse. Ever buy something and then wish you didn’t? Only buy what you need and even then, schedule the trip and make a list.

5. What Matters? This one really takes work. Jesus seemed to keep putting that question to people in different ways. I think He still is doing it but do you listen?

Maybe those might help you or maybe not. Try one or all or maybe they just seem stupid to you. I get it, doesn’t hurt my feelings. I do like what Brother Lawrence said though. He, the simple cook and banger of pots and pans said simply, “That our only business was to love and delight ourselves in God. (The Practice of the Presence of God. 21).” Pretty hard to argue with that but if you want to do so, go back to number 1 above.

Nobody and nothing is keeping you from following Jesus; from beginning the work of casting off what you can’t take with you anyway.

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May 19 2014

Jedi Pastor Ken: The Hard Way: Choosing a Simple Way

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I find myself incredibly frustrated with myself sometimes. It usually occurs when I have to organize my garage, my office, my bed side table, or the basement. “How did I come to have all this stuff,” I wonder as I begin work to clean up. As I clean, more times than not, I have found that I have held onto things of no value, of no use and of no meaning. Why can I not give things up I don’t really need?

The words of Abba Pambo, one of the Desert Fathers in the early centuries of the Christian faith, is credited with s
tating, “The monk’s garment should be such that he could throw it out of his cell for three days and no-one would take it.” Before moving past those words, read them out loud for a moment. Consider the real meaning of it.

The Desert Abbas and Ammas were generally in the desert to fight the trappings of the world’s temptations and wrestle with their own demons and passions. You might say, simplicity was a given. They had very little. So this statement is not about a monk that has no need for his cloak, for it would likely be the only one he had. Nor was it in regards to the integrity of his fellow monks. It is that this one cloak was his only one and is in such a condition no one would consider it a trade up to take it. It would have been all he had and even what he had was worth nothing.

Simplicity is a choice for sure but it is more than that if we truly believe the example set for us by Jesus Christ and the early apostles. Clearly the example of Pope Francis has been refreshing to see but how is this impacting the everyday Roman Catholicism? I keep reading he is inspiring protestants as well, so I am wondering where in the protestant churches and mainline churches, are we seeing a similar standard being set for us? Whose giving up their cloak? Yes, there are those like Shane Claiborne, but who else? And who is following the path of simplicity who are clergy? Yes, I am looking in the mirror. I know this, my sin.

What would be your “cloak?” Your salary? Your house? Your position? Would anyone want it? Could you give it up if Christ Jesus were to ask, “Come and follow me?” Yeah, sometimes I really don’t like looking in the mirror. The idea of living simply is not hard but the actions it will demand? Well, that is a whole other point, one I suspect we’re uncomfortable with for ourselves. Could we say with Paul, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need (Philippians 4:12 ESV).”  Maybe it does start with one cloak (or coat). Really, how many do you need? 

I think you ought to know, I haven't really got this all figured out in my own life.  I don't for one second claim, I am living simply.  I am being formed right now, wrestling with what God has been doing in my soul and life.  So the idea of spiritual formation as some way to introduce new age or pagan practices into the Church, is tragically flawed. It assumes the worst rather than examining the evidence, evidence that spiritual formation is about forming our lives according to the example of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  That is not some simple, easy, navel-gazing work.  Because where it leads me is to consider that maybe rather than giving away a cloak or coat I don't want anymore (and maybe one no one would want), you and I need to give away one we do want and keep the one a bit more worn and tattered. Wouldn’t that be closer to giving our first fruits? 

Yeah, I know. I gotta clean out my closet now and maybe buy a coat for someone.

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