All posts by Paul Sigafus

Compassion, Sacrifice, Courage, Kindness

Hunger for Hope

We hunger for hope.

Like many of you, I find that my sense of hunger increases in proportion to the negative tone of our public discourse. The hardening of boundaries between us increases our fears while starving our hopes. In this context, we need nourishment, inspiration, and empowerment.

This quote from Howard Zinn recently fed some of my hunger:

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.

“What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

“And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
– Howard Zinn, “A Power Governments Cannot Suppress”

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Others have passed this way before

My Dilemma 

I feel profoundly concerned about the direction our our politics are headed. Just reading the headlines depresses me—but ultimately, I don’t want to check out from what’s happening in the world. My children are counting on me to preserve a just, free, and beautiful world for them to inherit.

Perhaps you’ve felt this too; concerned about the direction we’re headed, but helpless to influence any change.

The Cure for Helplessness

As I work through my discouragement about struggles both abroad and at home, I try to remember this one fact: 

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The Essence of Bravery

I want to live bravely.

I want to stand with courage for my convictions. Yet my courage can sometimes degenerate into reactive fault-finding with others. I do this in relationships, I do this with institutions, I do this with politics.

It’s easy to find fault. It’s easy to stay blind to my self-deception.

As Pema Chödrön teaches, it’s much harder to look in the mirror.

“The essence of bravery is being without self-deception. However, it’s not so easy to take a straight look at what we do. Seeing ourselves clearly is initially uncomfortable and embarrassing. As we train in clarity and steadfastness, we see things we’d prefer to deny—judgmentalness, pettiness, arrogance. These are not sins but temporary and workable habits of mind. The more we get to know them, the more they lose their power.” (from The Places that Scare You, p. 75)

If I really want to be part of the solution (and not only point out problems), I have to courageously and clearly identify my own weaknesses and faults. Jesus said it this way:

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Love from the Borderlands: A Letter to the Mormon Church

Love and Loss

Love and the fear of loss often go together.

The other night before bedtime, my older son spoke to me tearfully about an alarming  thought: he’d imagined me and my wife leaving to go somewhere—and never returning. Cuddling up with him, I felt his terror and his grief.

Embracing my son with my arms and my heart, I validated how distressing that image must have been—because I know how deeply he loves us, and how much we need each other. Lying there in the dark room, I held my dear son and soothed him until his fears relaxed into love and trust.

Change and Fear

In a similar way, as my faith grows and changes, I feel the sadness and fear of some who love me in my faith community. Understandably, they fear losing something that we’ve shared and cherished—a bond of love and the hope of being together forever. In moments of fear or insecurity, the changes in my faith can feel to them like a rejection of those bonds, an existential threat to our deepest desires for lasting communion and connection.

Just like my son’s imagined fears of losing his parents, my faith community’s fears of losing me (or people like me) can take on fathomless proportions; the depth of their fear and pain commensurate with the depth of their love.

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The Hungers of Our Hearts

We hunger for relationships and a spiritual community where we can bring ALL of ourselves—without fear of judgment or exclusion. We’re connected by our common longing for an authentic and safe place for our spirituality.

Earlier today I read a beautiful poem that captures some of this yearning:

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God’s Straitjacket: Is Fundamentalism a Safe Haven?

Fundamentalism & Fear

I woke up this morning to read the news of the horrific terror attacks in Brussels. My heart feels heavy with the burdens of fear, poverty, and violence in our world.

It’s hard to build authentic safe havens in a time of uncertainty, hostility, and apocalyptic fear. When fear dominates our cultural and emotional landscape, we understandably want to find shelter. It’s natural that we seek it in our spiritual communities. Unfortunately, in the face of fear, churches and religions sometimes unwittingly abandon true safe havens (e.g., a spirit of love, belonging, tolerance, invitation, potential, and freedom) in favor of more restrictive fundamentalist values and practices. Communities that could offer warmth, freedom, and potential can transform instead into suffocating straitjackets of fundamentalism.

What kind of communities do we want to create?

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When God Gets Lost at Church

“He who would travel happily must travel light.”
— Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

We have the tendency to complicate things that should stay simple. Nowhere is this more true for me than at church. Good intentions, fear, and the momentum of cultural expectations can push us into being too busy, too stressed, and overburdened. Life is heavy enough without religious life becoming a burden too.

Under those burdens, God can get lost at church. A return to simplicity could help us find Him again.

Why I Walked Out

I’d like to explain why got up and left in the middle of a leadership meeting (again) after church last Sunday.

I first want to emphasize that I love both the people in that meeting as well as in my church. I didn’t leave the meeting because I was offended by someone; I know each person in the room humbly gives their best efforts. I’m trying to do the same. I didn’t leave because I wanted to make a scene; in fact, I feel a little embarrassed about having left like I did.

I do want to have the chance at being understood, though. I hope that what I share can help us to be more aware as we try to balance our relational need for community with our spiritual need for simplicity.

I left the meeting because I’m struggling under the immense load of too much church.

President Uchtdorf (one of the leaders of the church I belong to) recently made this observation:

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Telling Your Truth at Church

A good friend of mine recently said something that hit me like a lightning bolt:

If you tell the truth, your path gets clearer.

In that moment of illumination, I knew that her statement could provide desperately needed guidance as I navigate the tricky waters in my relationship with my church. Telling the truth struck me as the only possible way for me to maintain spiritual peace as I try to find my place within my church community. If I’m to maintain my integrity (and I think that’s what God desires from me), then being honest about my experience, struggles, joys, questions, and desires is the only way forward.

But telling the truth is dangerous. 

It’s not always safe to tell the truth. People can get really reactive when they feel afraid or challenged.

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His Name Shall Be Called Wonderful

Many Names

Jesus has been called many things by many people. An ancient Hebrew prophet foretold that Jesus would bear the various titles Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. 

Of these, Isaiah’s first choice is also my favorite:

and His name shall be called wonderful.

Although the other majestic titles have their place, wonderful doesn’t focus on Jesus’ wisdom (Counselor), power (Mighty God), or nobility (Prince).

Wonderful focuses on something made beautiful by its simplicity: the natural feeling of delight and pleasure that you feel when in the presence of a true friend.

Why do I call Him wonderful?

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Why I Stay In the Church

During a morning leadership meeting I attended before church a week ago, much of the discussion focused on a recent controversial change in church policy. I took a risk in expressing my belief that, whatever the intentions and reasoning behind the policy change, the larger challenge remained for each of us to reach out in love and inclusion to those who feel marginalized or hurt. I expressed my conviction that ministry is a higher calling than judgement.

Then another person asked: “If people don’t agree, why don’t they just leave?”

At the time, this man’s disdainful comment felt like a sucker punch aimed at people whose experiences he truly didn’t understand. After further conversation with him and with a few others after the meeting, my heart ached so much that I burst into tears and rushed outside to gather myself for a few minutes before returning to attend the worship service with my wife and kids.

Here’s my sincere personal answer to “why I don’t just leave.”

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