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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Where the most urgent thing is - to wait

One of the blogs I read is Inward/Outward. I love it because it often shares short quotes from folks on a journey, both inward and outward. It encourages me. I would encourage you to bookmark it and visit it often. This quote appeared recently and it spoke to me.

In the desert the most urgent thing is—to wait. The desert does not take kindly to those who tackle it at breakneck speed, subjecting it to their plans and deadlines. It soon takes its revenge and makes them pay dearly for their presumption. Instead, the desert welcomes those who shed their sandals of speed and walk slowly in their bare feet, letting them be caressed and burnt by the sand. If you have no ambition to conquer the desert, if you do not think you are in charge, if you can calmly wait for things to be done, then the desert will not consider you an intruder and will reveal its secrets to you. - Meditations on the Sand By Alessandro Pronzato

The American version of Evangelical Christianity that I have been immersed in most of my life looks at the desert as a bad place. One might respond to to a question about how things are going in God, with "oh, I have been in a bad place, a real desert." Often times what we mean is nothing is going right, God seems so far away, or I am so dry I may just quit this thing. We desire a fast, instant, no work, no mess, instant growth Christianity, and when God doesn't show up on cue we get irritated, agitated, lose heart, and maybe just get lost in a desert.

That kind of desert is not what is being described here. It is not the bad place we find ourselves in. It is the place of being alone - we avoid it at all costs. For many of us being alone reveals our restlessness, and our discomfort with ourselves. Being quiet can reveal just how full of ourselves, our things, and our times we are. Alone is not the same as lonely. But alone often reveals how lonely we are and how full, and satisfied we are with illusion.

We tend to avoid being alone. But the desert is about being alone. In the 3-4th centuries Christianity was being watered down first by being tolerated, they approved, and finally co-opted by the Roman empire. During that time there was quite a number of Jesus followers who specifically sought out the desert. They did so as a means to connect with God and develop a Christ-like spirit.

When we embrace the desert and then discipline our hearts to depend on God, being along can slowly become a place of peace and solitude. Alone does not immediately equal solitude, just as it does not equal lonely. The desert deprives one of whatever we depend on. There is nothing left but just our self. And then we find that we just aren't enough. There is nothing to do but to wait, hope, and trust God. That is the lesson of the desert. it is a hard lesson. It quite frankly may be the battle of our lives.

"Desert" Christianity is as different from American Christianity as marinading a good piece of meat is from microwaving processed patties. Marinading takes time. Not much is happening while it is slowly prepared for cooking. You can not stand in front of the refrigerator and put your timer on for 1:30 minutes and bing it is done. It takes time. Developing Christian character also takes time. Time in the desert, time alone, time developing solitude so we can meet God in the secret place of silence and rest.

Our microwave version of Christianity fits well with our lifestyle. It is a busy one. It fits our deadlines, and our plans. It facilitates filling more of our time with more things, more activities so we don't have to be alone. With our microwave god all we need is a little time and bing it is done. We get what we want. Well ... not exactly. But what we get we think will do .... at least for now.

The problem is that God is more like the desert. His work in us is more like marinating. It is slow, consistent, pretty uneventful, unexciting, but soking through our whole being. He works deep transforming our character, our desires, our life so that we reflect his love brilliantly.

A while ago I was in a spiritual desert place. I actually mused about writing a book titled "The Desert in my Lincoln". A couple years ago I started commuting to work a little over an hour away. For many years I was 10 minutes away from home. I often would go home or meet with friends for lunch. I met with people for breakfast regularly. If something was going on during work I wanted to do, I might be able to scoot away and do what I wanted to do. Everything changed when I began commuting a in my 1996 Lincoln Town Car. As a result I felt isolated and alone. I felt cut off from family, friends, co-laborers in ministry, and things that were familiar. Gone was a lot of my freedom to do what I wanted. I was bound to that Lincoln and where it took me from 6:30 am to 6:20 pm. But I have grown to love my Lincoln, my desert. It cut me off from the familiar, the comfortable, and the pleasant so I could experience being alone. I fought it, but I eventually began to learn to wait. It has transformed me in small ways. I actually now seek out my desert and I seek out new deserts.

Although our deserts may be different there is really only two responses to them. You can try to "tackle it at breakneck speed, subjecting it to (our) plans and deadlines." The other is to" shed (our) sandals of speed and walk slowly in (our) bare feet, letting them be caressed and burnt by the sand." The desert does not deal kindly with the former approach, but welcomes the latter.

If you are on a similar journey, I would love to hear from you. I would love to hear of your journey and the small transformative things you have experienced in your desert. If you are battling in your desert with demons, maybe we can support each other. If you are avoiding it, fighting it, trying to conquer the desert, I know how unkind the desert can be. Lets talk about it.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Eight Ways to Be Missional

I have shared this in the past through my google reader. Jonathan rencenly re -posted it because of the response. I thought it would be good to share it here. This is a great, simple suggestions about how to be missional, being apart of God's sending into the world.

  1. Eat with Non-Christians. We all eat three meals a day. Why not make a habit of sharing one of those meals with a non-Christian or with a family of non-Christians? Go to lunch with a co-worker, not by yourself. Invite the neighbors over for family dinner. If it’s too much work to cook a big dinner, just order pizza and put the focus on conversation. When you go out for a meal, invite a non-Christian friend. Or take your family to family-style restaurants where you can sit at the table with strangers and strike up conversations (Mighty Fine Burgers, Buca di Peppo, The Blue Dahlia, etc). Have cookouts and invite Christians and non-Christians. Flee the Christian subculture.
  2. Walk, Don’t Drive. If you live in a walkable area, make a practice of getting out and walking around your neighborhood, apartment complex, or campus. Instead of driving to the mailbox, convenience store, or apartment office, walk to get mail, groceries, and stuff. Be deliberate in your walk. Say hello to people you don’t know. Strike up conversations. Attract attention by walking the dog, taking a 6-pack (and share), bringing the kids. Make friends. Get out of your house! Last night I spend an hour outside gardening with my family. We had good conversations with 3-4 neighbors. Take interest in your neighbors. Ask questions. Engage. Pray as you go. Save some gas, the planet.
  3. Be a Regular. Instead of hopping all over the city for gas, groceries, haircuts, eating out, and coffee, go to the same places. Get to know the staff. Go to the same places at the same times. Smile. Ask questions. Be a regular. I have friends at coffee shops all over the city. My friends at Starbucks donate a ton of left over pastries to our church 2-3 times a week. We use for church gatherings and occasionally give to the homeless. Build relationships. Be a Regular.
  4. Hobby with Non-Christians. Pick a hobby that you can share. Get out and do something you enjoy with others. Try City League sports. Local rowing and cycling teams. Share your hobby by teaching lessons. Teach sewing lessons, piano lessons, violin, guitar, knitting, tennis lessons. Be prayerful. Be intentional. Be winsome. Have fun. Be yourself.
  5. Talk to Your Co-workers. How hard is that? Take your breaks with intentionality. Go out with your team or task force after work. Show interest in your co-workers. Pick four and pray for them. Form mom’s groups in your neighborhood and don’t make them exclusively non-Christian. Schedule play dates with the neighbors’ kids. Work on mission.
  6. Volunteer with Non-Profits. Find a non-profit in your part of the city and take Saturday a month to serve your city. Bring your neighbors, your friends, or your small group. Spend time with your church serving your city. Once a month. You can do it!
  7. Participate in City Events. Instead of playing X-Box, watching TV, or surfing the net, participate in city events. Go to fundraisers, festivals, clean-ups, summer shows, and concerts. Participate missionally. Strike up conversation. Study the culture. Reflect on what you see and hear. Pray for the city. Love the city. Participate with the city.
  8. Serve your Neighbors. Help a neighbor by weeding, mowing, building a cabinet, fixing a car. Stop by the neighborhood association or apartment office and ask if there is anything you can do to help improve things. Ask your local Police and Fire Stations if there is anything you can do to help them. Get creative.Just serve!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Contemplation and Missional Activism

"Through the years I have notice that among the people most dedicated to missional activism, you find either (a) people burned out because of the difficulty of the task, or (b) people who have learned to undedrgrid their activism with contemplation, with quiet resting, finding God in the center of normalcy -- including the normalcy of struggle and hard work. "  (Brian McLaren, a Generous Orthodoxy, pg 197)
I ran into this observation while re-reading Brian's book.  It kind of sums up my experience and longings in relation to my own missional activism through Common Heart / Common Cupboard.  The only difference is I am both of the people he describes.  I guess kind of a schizophrenic amalgamation, a burn out / contemplative.   Maybe I am a slightly chard wanna be monk struggling to find that place of Shalom in the busyness of 21st century America.

Too often I am losing it.  I feel the flames flaring out.  And as I do I find comfort in prayer, scripture meditation, my daily rhythm, listening to the Bible,  and reading spiritually supportive books.  One area I lack, that I think would certainly help me, is to connect more with folks who are traveling a similar journey.

With all that in mind I have begun to set aside Sunday 6pm - 8pm for Vespers (Evening Prayer) and Scripture Meditation at The Commonplace.  It is not really something that Common Heart is doing.  It is really just me and anyone who wants to join me.  I want to take this time to focus, lifting up my heart to the Lord allowing him to restore, form, and fill.