Meanderings . . .

From StillSpeaking:

Can reading be a form of prayer? I think so.

Not all reading. The books that are marketed as “page turners,” or with words like, “you won’t be able to put it down,” aren’t in my experience all that conducive to something like prayer (though they may get you through a long plane ride).

But many books – not only the Bible – but all those books that cause us to listen, to wonder, to pause and to ponder, can lead us to reading that is a form of prayer. A listening for God, a being seized by something deep and holy and true.

“Why are we reading, if not in the hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed?” asked Annie Dillard.

“Why are we reading, if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so that we feel again their majesty and power?”

For most of my life, I’ve begun my days early and by reading. For me it is a form and time of prayer, a time to listen for and to God. It is a time that leads to other prayers, including this one:

“Loquacious, still-speaking God, thank you, thank you, thank you – for books and for writers, for words and for reading, and for those who taught me to read and to learn to love it.”

Reflection by Anthony B. Robinson

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From Bruce Reyes-Chow:

Every once in a while during some online interaction, I find myself pounding my head on my keyboard in frustration and asking myself, “Why bother?” The frustration is usually born out of a conversation about a political or theological tweet or update, when it becomes clear to me that some folks are more interested in winning battles than building community. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for vigorous and passionate debate, and I am often complicit in exacerbating unhealthy dialogue, but too often it seems that we slip into modes of communication that seem to say that the only way I can be built up is for you to be torn down.
Honestly, sometimes building community just gets too damn hard and I want to quit. It’s not worth my time, my energy or my effort. After all, I could be doing so many other things that would be so much more worthwhile. And then I remember this great exchange from the movie, “A League of Their Own,” when star player Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis),wants to quit the team and she is challenged by manager Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) to ask herself, “Why?”

Jimmy Dugan: Shit, Dottie, if you want to go back to Oregon and make a hundred babies, great, I’m in no position to tell anyone how to live. But sneaking out like this, quitting, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. Baseball is what gets inside you. It’s what lights you up, you can’t deny that.

Dottie Hinson: It just got too hard.

Jimmy Dugan: It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard … is what makes it great. (Read the rest of this post here)

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From Emergent Village:

What you give leadership to will always grow. That is, if I give my time to getting in shape, I’ll get in shape … If I give my time to creating a great teaching ministry on Sunday morning, then we’ll provide a service to people who really like that kind of ministry. Since we know most Sojourners don’t wake up Sunday mornings looking  for a good sermon, we’ve decided to put our energy, efforts, and focus into the  incarnational aspects of our church instead of the presentational aspects. – Hugh Halter

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From Diana Butler-Bass on the Future of Faith:

In many cases, I’ve learned from “enemies” how NOT to behave in the world. Indeed, a dear friend, who once watched as I was struggling with an institutional crisis, said to me, “Diana, the point of this is to teach you how to be a leader. You now know how to listen because no one has listened to you; you now know how to respect others because you haven’t been respected; you now know the importance of the outsider because you have been cast out.” I hadn’t thought of that until he underscored this for me–I realized how often we take negative experiences and return evil for evil. That’s a primary problem in our political life and global relations–not to mention the life of denominations and congregations. But Christians should be able to break that cycle—and turn even the most painful experiences and worst criticism into a life of learning how to do better, how to forgive, how to love more. Understanding, listening, discernment are the basic practices in living a life of forgiveness—and when one is hurt, those practices are often blocked by fear.  But the more you do them, the more habitual they become. And it becomes easier to learn from everything from mere differences of opinion to verbally violent attacks.

That’s what I’ve learned personally. As a church, I hope we can learn defensive-less-ness. Jesus was not one who was much interested in protecting or defending. Jesus was about loving and laying aside. Movements that are about “protect and defend” are far outside the Gospel narrative, outside the witness of Jesus.  They aren’t Christian. We need to understand the fears that motivate such movements and the people attracted to them. But we must be equally clear that there is another way–and we must always, always, always stand as communities of conviction based in love. (Read the full interview here)

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“Faith is the courage to accept acceptance.” – Paul Tillich

“What the Gospel forever takes away from Christians is the right to judge between the poor and the unworthy poor.” – Dorothy Day

“Be wise not to use or abuse people to pursue vision and projects. Vision and projects may perish. People don’t. Value people.” – Eugene Cho

‘”Good morning, God,” I said to start the day. “Good God, morning,” I said after sighting headlines “Police slam Catholic Church”.’ – Father Bob

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From Eagle Brook Church:

Clearly, the most creative Church promotional video I’ve seen in a while. But then what would you expect from a church with nearly 15,000 members?

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And now for something weird and wacky: For the Bible Tells Me So? And our ‘worm’ on ‘Can of Worms’ tonight is: “Should parents be allowed to execute their own children?”

Meanderings . . . (Worth Retweeting)

Worth ReTweeting

“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.” – Mark Twain

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” What books are you reading? Need some ideas? Check out The Discerning Reader or  Englewood Review of Books.

Every human is an artist. The dream of your life is to make beautiful art.” – Don Miguel Ruiz

“If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”C.S. Lewis

Here’s a video from Dan Kimball of Vintage Faith Church called ‘We Dream of a Church.’ Well worth a look. It may just inspire you!

And this may not:

Prayer

“Contemplation,” or meditation as it is called by some, became more popular in contemporary times through the writings of Thomas Merton. The word most Christians were more familiar with was simply “prayer.”

Unfortunately, in the West prayer became something functional; something you did to achieve a desired effect—which puts you back in charge. As soon as you make prayer a way to get something, you’re not moving into a new state of consciousness. It’s the same old consciousness. “How can I get God to do what I want God to do?” It’s the egocentric self still deciding what it needs, but now often trying to manipulate God too.

This is one reason religion is in such desperate straits today. It really isn’t transforming people, but leaving them in their separated and egocentric state. It pulls God inside of my agenda instead of letting God pull me inside of his. This is still the small old self at work. What the Gospel is talking about is the emergence of “a whole new creation” and a “new mind,” as Paul variously calls it. – Richard Rohr

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A ‘Magic’ Faith vs a Biblical Faith

A person engages in “magic” insofar as they believe there are special behaviors that empower them to gain favor with, or to otherwise influence, the spiritual realm to work to their advantage. Depending on the culture or religious system, the “spiritual realm” a magical practitioner seeks to influence may be anything from an impersonal force (e.g. the “Tao”), to particular angels, to the God who created and sustains all things. Also depending on the culture or religious system, the relevant magical behaviors the practitioner engages in may be chants, spells, sacrifices or other sorts of rituals. Or the practitioner may simply court the favor of God or angels to gain their favor by obediently embracing revealed truths or by obediently engaging in specific acts that align the practitioner with the will of God or angels.

Among the many differences between “magic” and biblical faith is the fact that magic is about engaging in behaviors that ultimately benefit the practitioner while biblical faith is about cultivating a relationship with God that is built on mutual trust. And while the God-human relationship, like all trusting human-to-human relationships, benefits both God and the person of faith, it is not entered into as a means to some other end. While magical faith is utilitarian, biblical faith is simply faithful. (Read the full post at ReKnew here.)

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The ‘God’ Drug

A University of Washington study posits that worship services at megachurches can trigger feelings of transcendence and changes in brain chemistry – a spiritual “high” that keeps congregants coming back for more.

“We see this experience of unalloyed joy over and over again in megachurches. That’s why we say it’s like a drug,” said James Wellman, an associate professor of American religion who co-authored the study.

The study, “‘God is like a drug’: Explaining Interaction Ritual Chains in American Megachurches” was presented on Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Denver.

,,,“The upbeat modern music, cameras that scan the audience and project smiling, dancing, singing, or crying worshippers on large screens, and an extremely charismatic leader whose sermons touch individuals on an emotional level … serve to create these strong positive emotional experiences,” [Kate] Corcoran [co-author of the study] said.

The pastor functions as an “energy star” who engages the congregation through an accessible, informal and emotional sermon. Rather than being analytical or theological, the message “just feels right” or “just makes sense” for congregants, Wellman said. (Read more on this study on the God’s Politics blog here.) Source: http://t.co/GQfNjbc2

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Genuinely, Welcome!

Jon Acuff (Stuff Christians Like book and blog) writes about a most welcoming Welcome given in a church and muses, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if every Church extended this kind of welcome every week?’

We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.

We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.

We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too.

If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.

We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts … and you!

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Room for Doubt

We opened the windows
of the sanctuary on Sunday
and a gentle questioning
breeze blew through,
changing the atmosphere
in the room.

The dust of accumulated ideas
and layered tradition that
laid undisturbed on the
windowsill of our collective
consciousness was carried
on currents of fresh air.

These are the
questions that
were lifted on
the Breath’s inviting
currents:

“Who has doubts about
Jesus’ virgin birth?”
About half the
gathered flock
sheepishly confessed
with hands halfway raised.

“Who, without doubt,
believes the virgin birth?”
The other half raised their
hands swiftly and confidently
as if to salute a
sacred truth.

When in the Sabbath Pause
the dust settles like snow in
a snow-globe it shall be seen clearly
that we are all rooted and grounded
in the love of the One in whom we
live and move and have being.

And we, doubters and believers
alike, shall once
again say what we
believe:  “. . . born of
the virgin Mary. . .”

Only this time as if
for the first time.

Terry Chapman

Book Burnout

I’m experiencing book burnout at the moment. I really enjoy reading, but need to do so in small doses at the moment. My system is a little overloaded.

The unfortunate fact is that there are some really great books out there at the moment and it’s tempting just to get onto the Book Depository or Amazon Kindle Store and get my hands on them. But I’ve got so much information going around in my head that my thought-train is threatening to de-rail.

Recently, I’ve been challenged greatly by Brian McLaren‘s Naked Spirituality and by Rob Bell‘s Love Wins. These two recent publications have joined Hugh Halter’s And: The Gathered and Scattered Church in giving me hope in what is possible for the Faith, Christianity and the Church at what many have called a crossroads in its existence.

Mike Foster’s Gracenomics inspired me to lean more towards mercy in my life and give people a second or third or fourth chance.  

Shane Hipps’ well-researched volume, Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith, shows how this marketing guru-turned-pastor sees the way our faith is faring, growing, changing amidst the onslaught of new technology at our disposal (I am still digesting this one).

I really enjoyed the way Pete Rollins underhandedly sparked my thinking in his collection of modern-day parables, The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales. What a great, creative gift of storytelling this man has been given!

Then there are a couple of books that are more challenging to read since they are written by people who do not share my same belief-branding: The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church’s Conservative Icon by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, and Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became one of America’s Leading Atheists by Dan Barker. I say “challenging to read” because sometimes what these men have written unsettles me, makes me squirm, and necessitates that I put the book down and do some further searching, study and praying. So many of the questions asked need to be asked–answered, re-phrased, discussed–not simply dismissed. The sad truth is both of these books contain truth, and sometimes address in very direct terms the deficiencies that pervade Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christianity today.

I have often heard the comment (from those with the best of intentions): “We shouldn’t be reading anything but the Bible,” or a variant, “We should only be reading books that are solidly based on Scripture” (what actually qualifies in this capacity usually are those books that agree with my own interpretations.)

While I see the value of not constantly surrounding oneself with “error,” it also must be said that we do ourselves no favour by blocking our ears and crying out “la la la” while others are raising genuine questions. We who claim to want to be like those of Berea who “searched the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so (Acts 17),” have much to answer for if we fail to understand the claims of those different to us so as to critically (Scripturally?) give a credible response.

And what McLaren has penned in A New Kind of Christianity and Ken Howard in Paradoxy: Creating Community Beyond Us and Them gives me hope that we can have meaningful dialogue–and find friendship–with those who differ from us.

Meanwhile, too much thinking is “doing my head in.” I’ve removed the half-read stacks of books next to my easy chair and on my bedside table. For now I need to sit back, draw some deep breaths, mull over some well-written words and ideas and pray.  I think I’ll be back in the library or on the ‘net before you know it. But, for the moment, I’m taking a little time out for sanity.

BBQ (Blog, Book and Quote)

Blog … Brian McLaren: Notes from Mombasa. Brian writes briefly about creation and shares 5 possible ways of seeing Genesis 1. Read more here.

Book … I’m currently reading two great books–If God is Love: Rediscovering Grace in an Ungracious World by Philip Gulley & James Mullholland; and The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation by Barabara Rossing. Both books contain some degree of controversy (if you are part of the Evangelical movement in the Christian Church), yet answer some rather meaningful and necessary questions that people ask–and should be allowed to ask. While I haven’t read these books in their entirety yet, what I have digested is enough to recommend them to anyone who is (or has been) entertaining a suspicion of what is mostly the conventional fare in Evangelicalism.

Quote …  “A selfish love seldom respects the rights of the beloved to be an autonomous person. Far from respecting the true being of another and granting his personality room to grow and expand in its own original way, this love seeks to keep him in subjection to ourselves. It insists that he conform himself to us, and it works in every possible way to make him do so.” – Thomas Merton, quoted in If God is Love by Philip Gulley & James Mullholland.