Thursday, July 10, 2008

walls breaking

I was sitting in a coffee shop, and was talking to a friend about prayer. No, this was not some random church nerd was actually pretty provocative. We talked about the fact that a lot of our friends now, when they are asked about how they "feel" about praying, it seems "boring" or "useless," like nothing really happens when we try to talk and listen to God.

That's a hard pill to swallow on something that seems so much apart of the Christian life. A man that makes his living thinking and writing about God, Karl Barth, said this: "To clasp hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world." So much of the experience of our generation considering prayer surely doesn't seem to reflect that--and it's a scary thing.

I have problems or hard times in prayer just like everyone else. There are some days where I feel like the wall between me and God is so high, I can never see the other side, and am tempted to just give up on it all together. But just like in a relationship, there are always barriers to communication. I always have to remind myself that there may be something deeper that I'm not paying attention to that makes me and the one I love "miss the mark" on some days--whether it be one of us is having a hard time at work and it spills over into afterhours relationships, or one of us doesn't feel like the other is "listening..." These are problems, but small struggles that, with a little honesty and a good bit of time, can be easily healed and overcome.

So going back to my conversation about prayer, we were talking about walls we experienced in our own spiritual lives. We thought, among many, two of the big barriers to prayer are 1) feeling distracted so much so that you can't focus and 2) not knowing what to say. Starting to see these patterns between the two of us, we were almost sure that we are not alone, and that there are a lot of us out there that have some major soul searching to do.

So over the past couple weeks, I've been "trying again." One thing that has helped recently is something I learned about a few years ago and tucked away in my mind file, just bringing it out again to try something fresh and new. It is breath prayer, a way of praying that provides a helpful antidote to those two barriers. It's basically a short, simple petition (request) that can be prayed in one breath (either aloud or silently). As you pray it over and over, like a mantra, you internalize the prayer and become more and more open to God.

One of the ancient breath prayers of the Church is the Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God (inhale), have mercy on me, a sinner (exhale)." You may want to try that one. Or, "Gracious God, remove my fear." Or, "Kind Friend, show me how to love." Lately, I've been praying my own breath prayer on the lakeshore running path-a wonderful place to pray and be awake to God's creation. I invite you to create your own breath prayer this summer (see the instructions below). Practice it and see what happens. You may find the Scriptural invitation to "pray without ceasing" a little more possible.


Breath Prayer Exercise, adapted from Prayer by Richard Foster
•Find some uninterrupted time and a quite place and sit in silence, opening yourself to be held in God's presence
•After a few moments, allow God to call you by name. Hear God call your name.
•Next, allow this question to surface from God to you: "Child, what do you want?"
•Answer this question simply and directly. Maybe a single word will come to your conscious mind-Peace, Courage, Faith, Strength-or a phrase-to understand your desire for me, to feel your love.
•Next, connect this phrase with the most comfortable way you have of speaking about God: Jesus, Holy One, Kind Friend, Holy Spirit, Abba, Father, Mother, Gracious Lord.
•Finally, write out your breath prayer, sewing together all of the parts into one phrase, such as: Help me feel your love, Gracious Lord. Or, Help me cast out my fear, Holy Spirit.
•Practice this prayer and amend it as you may find that your first thoughts are just cover for what you really need/are looking for.
•With the breath prayer, you can pretty much use it anywhere...on the train, before the meeting, in traffic, before an exam

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The real story

Hope your Lenten journey has been going swimmingly. I know that over these past few weeks, I have had difficulty sometimes keeping of with the pace of being "faithful" or "focused" on Jesus...time gets away from us, and it's hard to find time to breathe in the midst of the chaotic day.

Those of you who know me well know that I'm someone who's interested in why people come or don't come to church. I have a friend that did some focus groups this summer with people who don't go to church where he lives. He is in Chicago--a place that most Christians in America would deem a "post-Christian" city, in that people don't have brand loyalty to church much anymore as they did back in the 50's and the percentage of people actually belonging to a congregation is astronomically lower than those in the Southeast or South Central areas, where religion continues to be a major part of life. He heard again and again that they experience the church/religion as inauthentic, bogus, fake, not willing to live out what it says it's about. Interesting.

There's a book that comes on good recommendation to me called unchristian: what a new generation really thinks about christianity, and though i know y'all have TONS of time to read (NOT), I'd encourage you to pick it up sometime. Guess why greater and greater percentages of young adults aren't going to church anymore: that's right, because they think it's not authentic.

As individuals and community, how can we be authentic people? How can we provide a very SPECIFIC ministry of authenticity to the world as young adults and become a witness to those watching us as role models and those above us who claim they have the "experience" to teach us how to live? And what blocks us or makes us cower in fear from that? How can Jesus help?

I'm struggling with these questions along with you. Join us sometime soon on our Wednesday/Sunday line-up so maybe we can begin to tap into the possibilities...

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

So what is this whole "Lent" business?

Happy Mardi Gras, everyone! (Hope this last day of revelry, however you celebrate, is fun for you...)

A new Christian at Asbury recently asked me a simple but compelling question--"So what is this whole 'Lent' business y'all are talking about?" Being in North Louisiana, it doesn't seem like Lent takes such a prominent place in the life of the we contort our faces and get confused or scared sometimes when the word comes... And that's okay...coming from the uber-Catholic Southern Kingdom of the state, there are parts I'd take and others I'd certainly leave behind. But I figured for those of us that are new to Christianity or re-newing our Christianity (hopefully that's all of us...everyday) it would be important thing to mention here on our blog. Someone has called it a time for the greening of the soul. I love that image: a fresh shoot coming from a place that's been crumbling for a long time. A hard heart made soft again. An icy spot melting.

Some Christians like to use Lent to rehearse the old script that human beings are pitiful, desperate worms, and that there's nothing good in us, nothing worth using. We don't believe that at Holy Covenant. Methodists have emphasized the deepest truth that humanity is created in the image of God, and understand the renewal of that image in our lives as the goal of faith...that's what salvation is: the renewal of the image of God in us.

Some say, Oh, but that's a new, modern take on Lent. Well, no. Even from the time of the early church Lent was a season of preparation in solidarity with those who were coming into the Church--being baptized. Some say it was a "fast" to help the whole church prepare or those about to die and be raised in [Christ] is how it all begins. (So erase your visions of sackcloth and ashes and abstaining from meat being mandatory right here). It was a time less of negative penitence than of positive preparation for the whole Church to relive and renew its own conversion to Christ.

So the journey begins again. As we move towards Easter, join us for worship, House Church, and Sunday School that blends eclectic music, diverse faith and challenging questions-a place of hope where God can shake us up by reminding us who we are and send us out to re-create and re-arrange the world.

...oh, and peace to you.



Wednesday, January 16, 2008

new beginnings--PLEASE READ

It's here! It's finally here!

If you've been coming to 8:30 or 10:35 church service with no place to connect in between, here's your chance! We FINALLY have a Sunday School classroom (old FOCUS room) for college students and Young Professionals 18-30ish...this class is for YOU.

We will start meeting on Sunday, Feb 17th at 9:40am.

Reply to this thread and give me a sense of what you want the format to look like, what types of things you'd like to discuss. Jury is still out on who will teach, but be assured it will be someone way cool.

Oh, and just in case there was any question, there WILL be coffee...I promise. BRING YOUR FRIENDS TO THE BIG GRAND OPENING DAY!


ps, HOUSE CHURCH starts again TONIGHT, the 16th, at 7:30.

Monday, January 7, 2008

remembering who we are

Matthew 3:13-17

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Sometimes i need reminding of where I come from. I confess that I'm shamefully one of those kinds of people that gets whisked away really easily with the chaos and rush of the day, of the week, or even the year...and once the tide subsides, and I'm left finally sitting still, it's hard to say with intention where I've been. I think that's parly why I look forward to these holiday times so much...not for the presents, not for the deep and lofty hopes that my resolutions will be maintained and achieved this year (it's always THIS year that's the golden one). No, I like the holidays cause once all the family leave and the leftovers are finally cleared from the refrigerator, I'm able to breathe and see more clearly what's coming. That being said...

Happy New Year. I don't know about you, but I'm having a little problem moving from the relaxing, sleeping-late time-off rhythms back into the regular rhythms of work, study, and responsibility. While on vacation last week, I was reflecting that I tend to operate most of the time at one of the two extremes: either overwhelmed with work, anxiously moving from thing to thing, or totally checked out-lying on the couch, nearly comatose before the TV.

I think that is not actually the kind of life God desires for me. I really believe that, and yet, that is the kind of life, I confess, that I lead most of the time.

I am hoping and praying and resolving that this year may be different-maybe only a little bit different, but different all the same. I am praying for a more integrated life. I am going to find time daily to reflect and pray. I am going to get enough sleep. I am going to be more faithful to relationships with friends and family-relationships that give me life. I am going to be more vulnerable to God. That is, I'm going to try.

Part of the attempt, for me at least and I believe for human beings in general, relies on community. I hope that, whatever commitments you are accepting or relinquishing this year, you might share your life with God and community at Asbury and house church.

Relax into the worship of God. Reflect theologically about a complex social issue, and then act. Join a small group to find authentic community and have fun. All these-and more-are ways you can connect more deeply to the life that God desires, I believe, for all of us.

Working hard is great. So is lying on the couch, listening to my I-Pod. But maybe together we can learn how to incorporate those things into a balanced life--a blessed life. A life that lives up to the fact that, no matter what we do or don't do this year, God is well-pleased with us because we try.

I hope to see you around this year...make a committment to surround yourself with people you love and who love you back...and love you well.

All my love, to you...