Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Missional Church

I am part of a facebook group that turned me onto this video by Alan Hirsch. He is a gifted missiologist- that is the fancy term for student and teacher of the mission of the church.

It is worth 18 minutes of time to watch.

Favorite quotes...he is rephrasing Einstein in the first one:

"The problems of the church cannot be resolved with the same kind of thinking that created those problems in the first place."

"If we want to dig a hole over there, its no good digging deeper here."

"Part of our problem is the death of imagination."

God has no grandchildren comes to mind. How the church responds to the truth that Christianity is in decline will have enormous import for the future. I am praying that creative, life giving ministry will flourish.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I just read this blog post, which I found here and thought it worth sharing.

My Faith: Suffering my way to a new tomorrow

Editor's Note: Rob Bell is the Founding Pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His latest book and DVD are called Drops Like Stars.

By Rob Bell, Special to CNN

One Friday evening in the fall of my senior year of college I got a headache.

I took some aspirin, laid on the couch, and waited for it to go away. But it didn't; it got worse. By midnight I was in agony, and by 3 a.m. I was wondering if I was going to die.

As the sun rose, my roommate drove me to the hospital where I learned that I had viral meningitis. A neurologist explained to me that the fluid around my brain had become infected and was essentially squeezing my brain against the walls of my skull.

So that's what that was.

The doctor informed me that it would take a number of weeks in bed to recover.

This didn't fit with my plan.

I was in a band at the time. We'd been playing shows in the Chicago area for a while and had just landed our biggest club dates yet in the city - all of them scheduled over the next several weeks.

We had to cancel all of them.

As this reality hit me, laying there in that hospital bed miles from home with a brain infection, I distinctly remember asking no one in particular "Now what?"

I was devastated. This was not how it was supposed to go. The band was my life, my future, my singular focus. We had just canceled our biggest gigs ever. Eventually I recovered enough to return to school but things weren't the same. Whatever had been driving us in the band wasn't there like it had been before and so we came to the mutual conclusion that it had been great while it lasted and now it was time for the band to come to an end.

I don't think I'd ever felt more lost. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I had all this energy and passion and I wanted desperately to give myself to something that mattered, but I had no plan.

I would walk around campus in a daze, muttering the same prayer over and over, which took the form of "Now what?"

Do you know that feeling when you're playing soccer and you lunge for the ball but you aren't fast enough and the player on the other team has already kicked it quite hard and the ball travels with ferocious velocity and force into your groin region and you keel over, gasping for breath, your voice several octaves higher?

It was like the existential version of that.

And then, things took a strange, beautiful turn.

In the days and weeks following the band's breakup, people I barely knew would stop me out of the blue and say things like, "Have you thought about being a pastor?" Friends I hadn't talked to in months would contact me and say, "For some reason I think you're going to be a pastor."

Me, a pastor? Seriously?

The idea began to get a hold of me and it wouldn't let go. A calling welled up within me, a direction, something I could give myself to.

I tell you this story about what happened to me 19 years ago because I assume you're like me - really good at making plans and plotting and scheming and devising just how to make your life go how it's "supposed" to go.

We are masters of this. We know exactly how things are supposed to turn out.

And then we suffer. There's a disruption - death, disease, job loss, heartbreak, betrayal or bankruptcy.

The tomorrow we were expecting disappears. And we have no other plan.

Suffering is traumatic and awful and we get angry and we shake our fists at the heavens and we vent and rage and weep. But in the process we discover a new tomorrow, one we never would have imagined otherwise.

I have interacted with countless people over the years who, when asked to identify key moments, turning points, and milestones in their lives, usually talk about terribly difficult, painful things. And they usually say something along the lines of "I never would have imagined that would happen to me."

Imagined is a significant word here. Suffering, it turns out, demands profound imagination. A new future has to be conjured up because the old future isn't there anymore.

Now I realize that what happened to me - the fluid around my brain swelling up and squeezing it against the walls of my skull – is nothing compared to the pain and tragedy many people live with every day.

But that experience irrevocably altered my life. Nothing was ever the same again. My plans fell apart, which opened me up to entirely new future.

This truth, about the latent seeds of creativity being planted in the midst of suffering, takes us deep into the heart of the Christian faith. We are invited to trust that in the moments when we are most inclined to despair, when all appears lost and we can't imagine any way forward - that it is precisely in those moments when something new may be about to be birthed.

Jesus hangs naked and bloody on a cross, alone and abandoned by his students, scorned by the crowd, and yet defiant, confident, insistent that God is present in his agony, bringing about a whole new world, right here in the midst of this one.

This is a mystery, and one we are wise to reflect on it, because of the countless disruptions we experience all the time.

God is in those moments, grieving with us, shedding tears with us, feeling that pain and turmoil with us, and then inviting to trust that something good can come from even this.

So keep your eyes and your heart open. Be quick to listen and slow to make rash judgments about how it's "all going to turn out," because you never know when you'll find yourself miles from home, laying in a hospital bed with a bad case of brain squeeze, all of your plans crashing down around you, wondering how it all went wrong, only to discover that a whole new life is just beginning.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rob Bell.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Devotional Guide I Love

While I was on retreat, I began using a new devotional guide for some of my prayer time. The book is Openings: A Daybook of Saints, Psalms, and Prayer by Larry James Peacock. It is published by Upper Room books and came out in 2003.

It is a wonderful combination of daily reflections about great Christians throughout time, psalm reading, and suggestions for various prayer practices. It teaches breath prayer, lectio devina, prayer of presence, and much more. It is a calendared book; the author often uses particular dates significant in the life of a saint to write about them on a particular day. But I think it would be fine to just start at the beginning, regardless of what the actual date on our calendar may be. Better to read it front to back rather than start on the correct date because it builds on itself over time.

It never ceases to amaze me how a good prayer guide can make a difference in my day.

You can find it here at the Cokesbury website (our UM Publishing house) for about fifteen bucks. Or you may find it elsewhere.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Silent Retreat

I had a wonderful experience at the Jesuit Retreat Center on a 7 day silent retreat. For years I had wanted to participate in a silent retreat; it was as much a blessing as I hoped it would be. That said, I went into the retreat with low expectations. I was tired. I don't mean tired in the sense of needing a good night's rest. I mean my spirit was tired, and I didn't expect that a week could do enough for me.

I arrived on Tuesday evening. After dinner, we had worship and entered into silence. The first two days, I spent trying to recover from being physically tired. I slept, I read, I knitted, I got a massage and a pedicure (the least expensive I have ever found, sixty dollars for everything). But my spirit was still tired.

By Friday, I was ready to begin praying with Scripture. St. Ignatius was the founder of the Jesuit order; my spiritual director and the retreat center are in the Jesuit tradition. He is the saint who focused upon praying with Scripture by using all five senses to imagine entering the story. Over the rest of the week, I spent time doing yoga and spiritual direction and worship each morning, walking each afternoon, and praying with a story or two each day. I prayed with one story in the afternoon and one in the evening. I would imagine the story, and see where I felt led to imagine myself participating, and listen for what I was to hear from the story. Afterwards, I would journal my experiences.

I spent time with the story of the woman with the issuance of blood reaching out for Jesus' healing by touching the hem of his garment. At first, I wanted to imagine Jesus getting off the boat wearing Jeans, but then I didn't have a hem to reach out and touch. So I had to change my mental image to the more traditional flowing robe look. It was powerful to place myself in the role of the woman seeking healing and listen to Jesus say "daughter, your faith has made you well."

The story in John 5 where Jesus sees the man lying in the portico was also a great story for me. I was led to it because I had been hearing "do you want to be made well?" for weeks prior to the retreat. I was amused and chastened to find that the man's response was to complain. He complained that he couldn't get to the water because whenever it was stirred up, others stepped in front of him. What I heard being spoken to my heart was to let go of my complaints and to focus upon the healing waters of Grace. I confess I was not immediately able to let go of my complaints. I imagined floating in the pool after my conversation with Jesus (and tried not to think about what gets stirred up in the pool). I was reminded of one of my favorite images of grace. It is picturing grace like a flowing river and seeing whether I am running next to the river, or allowing God's grace to carry me as I float along in the river.

I prayed with stories including Ezekiel and the valley of dray bones, the Samaritan woman, and the images of heaven in Revelation 21-22. Each time, I followed my heart in deciding where to imagine myself in the story, and as I imagined the story unfolding, I listened for what was being spoken to me through the story. Sometimes, I would also follow the Ignatian practice of the 3 fold colloquy. I would imagine meeting with Mary, then Jesus, then the Father. It's amazing how many different ways I can feel led to envision these meetings and conversations, and how much I feel spoken to by God as I listen in this way.

On the last day of the retreat, my spiritual director suggested I spend time with "resolutions," writing down what I have learned, heard, and feel I need to hold onto going forward.

To have time to be silent before God, spend time communing with God in so many ways, was truly a blessing and gift.