Tuesday, December 01, 2009
This year's theme is: "The Unopened Gift: Recognizing and Receiving the Gifts of Others." We will be focusing on how churches can welcome guests and recognize the unique gifts that each new person in the congregation brings with them. Keynote speaker will be Vance Ross, Deputy General Secretary of the General Board of Discipleship. Preacher will be Bishop Gregory Palmer, Bishop of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference of The United Methodist Church.
Registration forms are available online for download. Go to: www.eocumc.com, click on "Events Calendar," and find the event's date: January 5-7. By clicking on the event, you can download the registration flyer.
I hope to see you there!
Monday, June 29, 2009
Monday, June 22, 2009
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Types of Prayer:
Adoration (Give glory to God)
Confession (Say sorry for sins)
Thanksgiving (Give thanks for blessings)
Supplication (Pray for yourself and others’ needs)
Focus on an object, picture, word from scripture, or phrase (such as “Glory be to God”)
Be silent and still and ask God to speak to you.
Relax your body, mind, and spirit.
Giving thanks to God before a meal.
Daily Prayers said at specific times of day
Examples can be found in The United Methodist Hymnal, pages 876-879
The book of Psalms in the Bible was originally a prayer book for the Jewish people.
Prayer for and in behalf of other people.
Consider praying for people you know, people at school or work, people in your church, and people who have important responsibilities in society.
Prayers to bring God’s blessing to people, places, or things.
Blessings usually include an action that accompanies them (laying hands on a sick person, for example, or placing oil on a person’s forehead in the sign of the cross).
Just offering your thoughts and feelings to God without any special formula can be a type of prayer!
An ancient posture for Christian prayer.
Usually done standing, with face turned upward or out toward a congregation/group of people.
Hands outstretched and palms facing:
Upward, for prayers of confession or supplication
Downward, for prayers of blessing (such as at communion)
Outward, for benedictions and thanksgiving prayers.
As it suggests, this position is done while down on your knees.
Hands may be folded, at your side, stretched out in front of you, etc.
Good for private prayers, prayers of confession, and prayers before the cross.
Back straight (for good posture, and helps breathing)
Feet flat on the floor
Hands may be folded or laid in your lap, palms up or down.
Flat on the floor, face down.
Used in the early Church for prayers of confession.
Used in some Christian tradition for ordaining ministers/priests.
A good way to connect with the earth, and to show God (and ourselves) that we are humble and read to receive God’s Spirit.
The collect (pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable) is one of the most ancient forms of Christian prayer. Once the format of the collect is learned, it is very easy to construct simple prayers that are relevant to any situation. It is always best to keep the phrases short, simple, and always addressed to God.
The phrases in bold print below are taken from a very old example of a collect, as an illustration.
1. Address to God. (Almighty God)
2. A Characteristic of God’s nature. (To whom all hearts are open,)
3. A petition. (Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts)
4. The purpose for the petition. (That we may perfectly love you)
5. Doxology/Conclusion (Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
One God, now and for ever. Amen.)
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Richard Foster (Celebration of Discipline): “Christian meditation, very simply, is the ability to hear God’s voice and obey his word. It is that simple. I wish I could make it more complicated for those who like things difficult. It involves no hidden mysteries, no secret mantras, no mental gymnastics, no esoteric flights into the cosmic consciousness. The truth of the matter is that the great God of the universe, the Creator of all things, desires our fellowship.”
--For the early Church, this “listening to God” took the form of a practice called Lectio Divina. Lectio is a Latin word that means “reading,” while Divina is the Latin word for “holy” or “sacred.” So, Lectio Divina literally means “holy reading” or “sacred reading.”
The early monks, who were among the few who could read in those days, used the words of Scripture as the basis of their meditation.
There were set Scriptures that were read each day, or sometimes the monks would simply begin with Genesis, and practice Lectio the whole way through the Bible. In other cases, monks would meditate on the Psalms, beginning with number one, and sometimes meditating their way through all 150 psalms in one day!
Lectio Divina has four basic steps, which also have Latin names to identify them:
Lectio (Reading): In this step, the reader chooses a passage of Scripture—the shorter the better (just a few verses or a chapter at a time). Then, the passage is read (usually aloud, so the reader can hear the words and say them as they read along). Reading is done slowly, and without concern for memorizing the words or “getting it right” as far as meaning or understanding is concerned. Lectio is about encountering God in the Scriptures, not about passing a knowledge test.
Meditatio (Meditation): After the Scripture has been read through once (or sometimes several times), the reader will choose a word or phrase that stands out or has a particular ring to it. I always describe this as the “ah ha” moment of reading the Bible. Sometimes, after reading through the passage of Scripture several times, I will find myself stopping and looking at one word or phrase several times, over and over again.
Contemplatio (Contemplation): Contemplation is a time of silent reflection. Often, after dwelling with your chosen word or phrase for a while, you may find yourself simply being—settling in completely, and listening quietly for the voice of God. (Do not expect an actual voice here—that happens, but very rarely! Unless your name is Moses, you may have to settle for simple a nudge or a poke in the right direction.) If you find yourself getting off track—thinking about what to have for dinner, or the big meeting you have coming up this week—simply smile to yourself (we’re all human, after all), and go back to Meditatio for a while. Conjure up more images of your word or phrase in your head, and turn it around and around again until you find yourself coming back to Contemplation.
Oratio (Prayer): For the ancient Church, prayer came only after the long extended period of silence that accompanied Contemplatio. Julian of Norwich, the 14th Century mystic, once said that “God is the ground of our beseeching.” In other words, we need to first listen for God’s voice, and then add our own voice to the conversation. Sometimes, I never get to this point in my practice of Lectio. Sometimes, I simply sit in silence and listen for the voice of God, or listen to the voice of God speaking to me through Scripture.
--The profound point of this type of meditative prayer is that it is not about us—that’s a different kind of prayer completely—one we’ll talk about in another sermon. This type of meditation is about God—and more specifically about our relationship with God. As with all the practices we’ll cover in this series, meditation is not about “getting it right,” but about “getting right in” with God.
Watch this space this week for more information on other types of meditation!
Thursday, May 14, 2009
The Sisters of the Humility of Mary, our friends in Villa Maria, PA, have spiritual directors who can guide people through the "Spiritual Exercise of St. Ignatius." Their website is: www.humilityofmary.org .
You can also find a min-version of this type of guided meditation at www.sacredspace.ie , which is a site run by the Irish Jesuits. This site has a daily meditation based on a scripture reading. It is a text-only site, but if you prefer a more interactive approach, you can check out www.pray-as-you-go.org, which has the same type of scripture meditation in MP3 format--you can listen online, download to your computer, or put it on your iPod or MP3 player.
p.s.--watch this space for guidelines about the topic of Meditation, beginning next week!
Sunday, May 10, 2009
--Pick one of the first three Gospels: Matthew, Mark, or Luke, and read the sections of that Gospel that focus on how Jesus interacted with his disciples. How did he act as a spiritual director to them? How did his stories, prayers, and conversations with them act as a spiritual guide in their quest to come closer to God?
--Call a trusted friend or mentor this week, and get together with him/her for coffee (or tea) and a conversation. It doesn’t have to be about anything major—or maybe there’s something you’ve been dying to tell this person for a long time. Experience what it is like to take time away from the business of your life to reconnect with another human being on a different level.
--If your mother is still alive, call her today and thank her, and wish her a happy mother’s day. If your mother has passed on, pray to God for her, and know that God cares for a loves those whom we hold dear in our hearts, even after they have died.
--Read Paul’s letters to Timothy. These are great examples of spiritual guidance. Reflect on how Paul both respects Timothy’s gifts and graces for ministry, while at the same time offering his own thoughts on how to practice ministry. What words of wisdom does Paul offer you as you “listen in” on his spiritual direction sessions with Timothy?
--Come to the meditation group tomorrow night at the Eastwood Mall. This is not a commercial, I promise! We meet at 7 p.m. in the community room, which is now located in the Dillard’s wing, across from Payless Shoes. Okay, it sounds a little bit like a commercial, but really, the meditation group is an opportunity where we kind of mentor each other in our spiritual practices.
--Reflect on the key verse from today’s Scripture reading: Galatians 5:25—“If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” What does it mean to be guided by the Spirit? Have you ever asked the Holy Spirit for guidance when facing a problem? What happened? If you haven’t ever asked, try it today. Watch how it changes your perception of the problem, and journal about your thoughts and experiences this week. Or, talk to a trusted friend or mentor about how you’re feeling about God’s guidance.
--Check out the website of Spiritual Directors International: www.sdiworld.org
Find out more about what a spiritual director is, and what a spiritual director does. You can also find a spiritual director near you, and learn about what it takes to become a spiritual director. If you feel yourself being called in that direction, a good place to start is by finding yourself your own spiritual director, and explore what that process looks and feels like.
Watch this space--as I get more ideas this week, I'll post other ways you can think about/practice the spiritual practice of guidance.
Sunday, May 03, 2009
Here are some pointers on cultivating the spiritual practice of solitude:
--Begin by finding the quiet spaces in your life. What part/parts of your day is the most quiet? (For me, it’s about 6 a.m., before anyone else, including the dogs, have awakened.) Richard Foster told the story in his book about playing “the quiet game” (all the parents reading this will know what he means by that) “Who can be the quietest?” Find those moments when you feel the quietest, and remember what that feels like.
--Then, find a quiet place. Where do you go to be alone? (A place in your house, a park, the church, the library—some other place.)
--Go to that place and spend some time alone on a regular basis. (If you are an extrovert, it is usually best to do this in conjunction with spending time with others—don’t take anyone else with you to your quiet place, but spend time with others, and then go there. If you are an introvert, don’t spend all your time in the quiet place, but find a way to interact with others, too.) Remember what it feels like to be in your quiet space.
--Quiet your mind; settle in (There is a Quaker expression that is used for this—“Centering down.”) Remember that this is not a contest. It will take time to learn to center yourself—many times of going to your quiet place.
--Cultivate the practice of “centering down” in your quiet place. Find out what helps you center down most easily. Then, remember that feeling, and what it was that got you there.
--While you are centered, do not speak, but listen. Listen for the voice of God. Sometimes, despite what the psychological tests say, it is o.k. to hear the voice of God. Find God speaking to you through whatever you are reading or experiencing while you center down. Remember that. All of this will become very important later.
--Ease yourself back into the world. Don’t shock your system. Remember what they tell you when you bring a fish home from the pet store? You keep it in the baggie and put the baggie in the fish tank at home for about an hour before you let the fish go. That way, the water in the baggie can take on the temperature in the tank, and the fish won't be shocked when you let it loose. Take a “buffer time” between solitude and plunging yourself back into life full steam. Remember how you do that, and how it feels.
Why is it so important to remember how you feel as you go to your quiet space?
--Because solitude is a frame of mind, not necessarily a place. (I’ve met too many people who say they can only experience the presence of God in one particular place—it limits your ability to be attuned to God’s presence and God’s voice.) If you practice enough, you may be able to center yourself in a shady glen or in an airport, in a church or in an office building. Even in the midst of noise and distraction, if you can remember what helps to center you down in your quiet space, you can find solitude and peace.
The pitfalls and dangers of practicing solitude:
1. Feeling like you’re not doing it “right.” (It’s different for everyone. What centers you may feel like torture to someone else. Do what works for you, but don’t use the lack of finding any one method as an excuse to say that you can’t practice solitude, either. It often takes months or even years of practice to get to a solitude that works best for you, and sometimes even then, you might find yourself growing and finding new ways to experience solitude.) Don’t feel like you have to “get it right.” Practicing a spiritual discipline is not about “getting it right,” but about getting right with God.
2. Restlessness—or the wandering mind. One of the desert “Abbas,” or fathers, of the early monastic movement was once asked, “What do I do when I am meditating in my cell and my mind wanders?” Abba replied, “Smile to yourself, and then get back to your work.” [Work, here, meaning, the work of practicing solitude.] Our minds wander; how many times have you spent at least a few moments during worship thinking about what you’re going to have to eat after church? Be honest! Smile to yourself—smile at yourself—and then get back to what God has called you to do.
3. Rushing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people come to me for pastoral counseling or spiritual direction, and they come in for one session, and I teach them some method of meditation or prayer, and they go away and come back the next time and say something like, “I tried it, and it didn’t work!” I ask, “Really? How many times did you try it?” “Once.” Practicing a spiritual discipline—especially solitude—takes time. It’s like taking care of a plant--you water it a little bit at a time and let it grow. If you tried to give a plant all the water itwould need in its lifetime in one gulp, it would die. Practicing solitude is the same way.
4. The “long dark night of the soul.” This is not my phrase--it comes from St. John of the Cross. Often, we try to avoid the dark places in life; St. John of the Cross invites us in. “The dark night of the soul” is a time of struggle—think of Jacob, wrestling with God (or an angel) in Genesis. It was only after the struggle that he was blessed. Rather than a place of dread and fear, the dark night can be a great teacher. The greatest mystics and teachers of the faith have all had this experience. In her recently released letters, Mother Teresa is seen to be struggling quite often with this very issue. The dark night of the soul teaches us patience with God, and with ourselves. It is the time during which we deconstruct all our pre-conceived notions about ourselves and the world around us, not so we are left quivering and confused, but so we can put it all back together again in the end.
St. John of the Cross wrote this about the dark night of the soul:
O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
The Lover with His beloved,
Transforming the beloved into the Lover.
In going through solitude, and eventually the long dark night of the soul, we go through the exact experience of Jesus. What does Luke tell us happened while Jesus prayed on the night before his death? He sweat blood! (That’s a powerfully dark night of the soul…)
--Working through all of these pitfalls, with some fits and starts, and allowing yourself enough grace to learn from your silence and solitude, you can begin to build up for yourself a practice of solitude. You will not become a monk—I don’t expect that—but if you do feel that call, let me know, there are ways to express a monastic vocation in a Protestant environment. But you will find yourself cultivating your own flower of solitude to the point where you can find that quiet place inside yourself whenever you need it most. And in the stillness and the silence, you can listen for the heartbeat and voice of God.
Grace and Peace to you in solitude,
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
May 3-- Solitude
May 10-- Guidance
Check back here each week to find "special feature" material-- stuff you won't be able to get anywhere else! I'll post suggestions for each day of the following week of how you can practice what you have learned on Sunday morning all through the week.
I pray that this time of learning and reflection will be a benefit to everyone in our congregation, and all those who read this blog.
God Bless You,
Thursday, April 16, 2009
I think I need a break--next week, I'll be in Nashville for a conference called "A River Deep and Wide: Spiritual Practices in the Twenty-first Century." It will be a whole week full of prayer, meditation, and learning about how to maintain a balance between body/mind/spirit. From what I've been reading of my own writing lately, I'm pretty sure I need it.
Thanks to Earl for owning up to your comments--I still don't agree with you, but that's fine. That's what makes this country great. We can disagree and we don't get out guns and kill each other over it.
I'll try to update the blog while I'm away.
Pace e Bene,
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Today, people all around this great land of ours decided to slag off work and march around in protest of what they call "taxation without representation." Modeling themselves after the original Boston Tea Party (ala the Sons of Liberty--look it up in a history book), they dumped tea and/or tea products into various waterways to protest the government's stimuli of various parts of the economy using taxpayers' dollars.
I have two major problems with this:
1. It is a huge waste of tea, and you know how much of a sin I think that is!
2. It is a mockery of what this country is built on. Sure, the Framers might not recognize what we have today as the ideal of what they had in mind when they wrote the Constitution, but they also only had thirteen states to deal with, and were fighting a war. In a vast land like ours, we need government to keep everything from dropping off into the ocean sometimes, and yeah, we're going to have to pay for it. Like the better part of $7,000 that my family paid this year, and the millions and billions that others contributed. Some got refunds, but the government does "owe" everybody a refund--that's just what they say on the H&R Block commercials so that you'll come get your taxes done there. So, yes, I find it offensive that some would compare our current government and president (whom I actively campaigned for) to George III and his Parliament. It's not fair, it's not accurate, and it's just not nice.
Here's the deal, people--we're in this mess together. We may not agree on how we got here (although I do think it's unfair to saddle Mr. Obama--three months into office--with all the blame), but the one thing we should all agree on is that it's going to take all of us to get out of it. Not just "all of us" in the sense of a few of us who really care, but ALL of us, in the Great Depression, get-off-yer-butt-and-do-something kind of way. It's going to take machinists and artists and executives and congressional representatives and preachers and teachers and garbage collectors to help us get out of this. It's going to take sacrifice--a thing we're afraid to latch onto in this country because we're afraid that someone else might get ahead (meaning, what? That we're going to get behind? Why does it have to be one or the other?)
So, say it with me, "We the people of the United States. . ." we're in this for the long run, and we're in it for the promotion of the general welfare of all. That means you too, tea partiers! Get off your high horses and plow a field. Put down your signs and go feed a starving child in the inner city. Make a cup of tea and sit down with a Depression-era granny and get her story of what it's really like to suffer. Just don't throw your tea in the river, or you're gonna have to put up with me. And I don't deal with tea abuse very lightly.
Sitting down to a cup right now,
Tuesday, March 03, 2009
It all happened at the Niles Choir Festival, held at First Christian Church on Sunday afternoon. After each choir sang a few numbers, the entire ensemble gathered for a stirring rendition of the "Hallelujah," which in itself was strange for me, since I am of the impression that the "Hallelujah" or "Alleluia" of our liturgy gets "buried" during Lent. In fact, I know of one church where they literally buried the word "Alleluia" in the ground, only to dig it up again on Easter morning!
As the first few bars of Handel's mastework were played on the organ, some members of the congregation, exchanging knowing glances, stood to their feet, followed by others, and still others, until all the congregation (including me--I rose out of sheer embarrasment for not rising!) were on their feet. And we stood. . .and stood. . .and stood, until the piece was over.
It was not until today, as I was thinking about it again, that I looked this strange little custom up on the internet, and found that it is indeed customary for audiences to stand during the "Hallelujah Chorus." There are various sources for this tradition, but the one that cracked me up was the one that said that George II (of England) stood during the playing of the piece when it premiered in London. Now, there are some who doubt the reasons given for his standing (that he was moved by the music or that he was standing to relieve his gout), or even that he was at the premiere itself, but this odd quirk leads me to ask some questions:
1. If everyone else in the audience stood when the king stood, as the legend suggests, then why do American audiences still hold to this practice? Surely, our independence from Great Britain would have moved early hearers of this legend to eschew this practice.
2. Why do such traditions persist, long after the original significance has passed? I know that "Hallelujah" is a stirring piece, but is it as worthy of a standing ovation as others, or even, as the tradition seems to indicate, more worthy?
I have never been one to do things "just because we've always done it that way," a trait that has sometimes gotten me in trouble. I think I would not have such a problem with this tradition if the author himself had suggested it, as the best way to hear his music, but in the 21st century, it seems to me that doing it "just because" doesn't make sense anymore. On one hand, it's just a quaint tradition, one of many that we observe. On the other hand, it's a way to tell who's in and who's out--those who know of the standing tradition seemed much more at ease than those of us on the outside. I found it quite uncomfortable to stand for the entire piece--I chose to be in the audience, after all, not in the choir. And, it made me self-conscious--not the best mindset to be in whilst listening to music.
I have read that some conductors find the practice annoying, and put a note in the program to tell people not to stand. Stand or no, it would be helpful if those performing this work would indicate which is preferred, so that audience doesn't spend the first 20 to 30 seconds shuffling to their feet while looking around, sheepishly wondering if they are in the in crowd or not.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Today is traditionally a day of final celebrations and "whooping it up" before Lent, hence the massive Mardi Gras festivals and parades in New Orleans and other heavily-Catholic areas.
How will we be celebrating Mardi Gras? By eating pancakes, of course! IHOP has free pancakes all day today, so make sure to head out and enjoy!
But, don't forget that Ash Wednesday comes tomorrow, when all the confetti is swept up, and we begin again our journey toward the cross, and eventually the empty tomb. Today is but a brief and temporal reminder of the eternal and heavenly festival that will take place when we all gather together in God's Kingdom.
Happy Mardi Gras!
Thursday, January 29, 2009
So far, it's working on me.
Tonight, we heard from two bishops and a seminarian. Guess which one got the biggest response from the crowd? (Hint--he doesn't have a crozier or a red shield pin)
Jay Williams (not the mayor of Youngstown--the seminarian), talked about what he sees as the crux of our leadership issue in The UMC--too many of us are married to our ideas of what it means to be properly "Methodist," and we've missed the point on what it means to be gifted followers of Christ. He also pointed out that not everyone has the spiritual gift of leadership, and that just because someone has years of service (or happens to be the next young hotshot on the block), he/she may not be qualified for leadership. One of my favorite lines, "Many young people are frustrated because we cannot get a seat at the table, because there are some who have stayed for too many courses of the meal." (Paraphrase)
The bishops were good, too.
But, it's nice to see a 27-year old being recognized as having a valid perspective on the world, and especially on the church. This year at General Conference, with the first-ever Young People's Address, someone from my generation finally spoke for me at the general church level. Tonight, that trend continued, and the pride that comes from hearing such wisdom from a person so young is overwhelming and encouraging.
Tomorrow's a busy day, but it should be good. More speakers and workshops to attend, more networking to do. Pray for sun in Jacksonville.
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
Next year's event will be in East Saint Louis, Illinois, January 5-7, with the theme of "Accepting the Gifts of Others in a Multicultural World." I know all these details becuase I've been asked to chair the event! I look forward to hearing from all my friends who are in urban ministry as I help facilitate this learning opportunity.
Well, I've got to get back to listening to the speaker. I've got a long drive home today on some nasty roads.
In the Grace of God,