Friday, June 30, 2006

Part IV of VI: Relevance

[note- this post originally appeared on my Xanga blog. Clicking the link will take you to the original article, which will allow you to read the original comments]

Currently Reading
In the Name of Jesus : Reflections on Christian Leadership
By Henri J. Nouwen
see related

What is it about submitting to a structured pursuit of personal spiritual disciplines as an integral part of a corporate experience (i.e. CTI) that turns so many of us off?

Is it the fact that we’re told by other people that this is what we should be doing? That we’re often led down the path of spiritual discipline by our peers – people that we don’t see as any more qualified to guide us spiritually than we are to guide ourselves?

“Don’t tell me what to do to maintain my own spiritual health.If you like to read the Word, then that’s great for you, but God hasn’t given me that same passion, and therefore it doesn’t have as much bearing on my spiritual development as it does on yours. I have other ways of staying intimate with God… like playing Mario Kart.”

Maybe it turns us off because personal quiet time, corporate prayer, team devos and the like… don’t feel like they’re much more than just “going through the motions” and are therefore not authentic or relevant enough for us.

Henri Nouwen was like 52 when his book In the Name of Jesus was published in 1989 (long before any of us knew what it meant to be postmodern,) yet in it, he makes a statement about the seeking of relevance in ministry that ought to be startlingly convicting to the emergent generation that we’re a part of:

Aren’t we priests and ministers called to help people, to feed the hungry, and to save those who are starving? Are we not called to do something that makes people realize that what we do makes a difference in their lives? Aren’t we called to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and alleviate the suffering of the poor? Jesus was faced with these same questions, but when he was asked to prove his power as the Son of God by the relevant behavior of changing stones into bread, he clung to his mission to proclaim the Word and said, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4)

Sometimes I am able to see my personal hangup on authenticity and relevance for the stumbling block that it is. If some motion or degree of action doesn’t 100% represent how I feel, what I believe, or what I’m about… I won’t go forward with it. I thereby effectively declare that no motion at all is better than motion that contains any degree of misrepresentation.

And so, though I won’t be wrongly associated with something I don’t fully buy into, I don’t produce anything good either. Not in the outside world… not in my inner world.

Nouwen goes on to make this assertion:

The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation that allows them to enter into a deep solidarity with the anguish underlying all the glitter of success, and to bring the light of Jesus there.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Part III of VI: Discipline

[note- this post originally appeared on my Xanga blog. Clicking the link will take you to the original article, which will allow you to read the original comments]

I am persuaded that most CTI fulltimers come into the ministry wanting and expecting to experience significant personal spiritual growth. I know I did. Most of us said as much on our applications:

Q: What do you expect to receive during your time with CTI? What do you want to see happen in and through your life?

A: I expect to grow closer to God and deepen my desire to serve Him and others. I expect Him to use me to reach the world. I want to develop a deeper passion for His word. I want to develop a deeper love for people. I want to seek Him more regularly through personal devotions…

newsflash:::… Most of us end up at least partially disappointed in these expectations, and I think it’s because we’re expecting an institution, ministry, or program to turn us into the kind of person we say we want to become, without having to expend a lot of personal effort to see it happen. We expect it to be a passive process. We want it to be relatively painless - maybe a little bit sacrificial - but overall, fun… because of the camaraderie of knowing that other people are on the journey with us.

We expect that by just experiencing a program, our desire for significant personal spiritual growth will be realized.

I believe that we make a critical mistake in assuming that any program can be an effective replacement for the rigorous personal pursuit of the spiritual disciplines that truly bring about this kind of change in a person. We rely on an environment to do the work for us. And then we feel cheated when the environment doesn’t come through.

Our expectations of having an experience of significant spiritual formation through CTI (or any other program) will only be realized through our willingness and commitment to be set apart and allow ourselves to be structured by an active pursuit of spiritual disciplines that are independent of our environment.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Part II of VI: Free Will

[note- this post originally appeared on my Xanga blog. Clicking the link will take you to the original article, which will allow you to read the original comments]

I think one of our biggest issues with structure is this whole generational/cultural hangup on authenticity. I know that the quest for the ultimate in authenticity and relevance has often hindered me from just doing something because it’s tested and true and right. I’ve often felt like I’m not qualified to direct others spiritually, or challenge them to live within a structure and be disciplined, because I hold fast to this idea that God has granted everyone the sovereignty to choose their own path.

Where did I get the idea that structure prohibits choice, and somehow limits free will??

I struggle with this on a political level too. I’m very much in the camp of people who believe that there are moral absolutes, but I’m also repulsed by the image that we too often tend to present as politically active Christians (which seems to be that our real goal is changed laws and political systems rather than changed hearts resulting in changed lives.)

Should we legislate morality?

Here is truth: God has revealed His will to us about many things. There’s not a lot of argument as to whether or not it is okay to take another person’s life or property from them. And we’ve gone ahead and legislated that kind of stuff. But people still have the choice, given them by God, to do what is right, or to do what is wrong. That’s free will. And the structure provided by law hasn’t taken away anyone’s free will. It has only set up a system by which we can measure action and apply consequence.

God’s extension of free will doesn’t exempt us from the consequences of our actions. He gave both structure and freedom to Adam and Eve when he provided them with the capability to touch something which He also commanded them not to touch. They chose to touch, and He did not prevent them from doing so. And the consequence of that choice is what we now refer to as the fall of man.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Part I of VI: Focus

[note- this post originally appeared on my Xanga blog. Clicking the link will take you to the original article, which will allow you to read the original comments]

moving as though fast was too slow
the chick cranked loud her radio
and crashed into a bus full of screaming dancers

Ever played with one of those magnetic poetry sets? We have a “rock star” themed edition on the fridge at the ministry. The team members joke about how it sucks me in. It’s true - I’m addicted. There’s just something about creating phrases out of a pre-determined set of words that I find irresistibly compelling. I’ll just zone out between the pantry and the trash can, pushing the little magnets around and losing track of time…

get me backstage punk
drunk groupies screaming my name
I’m number one here

That one isn’t actually mine. It’s Heidi’s. It’s one of my favorite offerings from our fridge over the past year or so. (It’s actually a haiku too, which just enhances the inherent coolness.) Heidi commented on the one I did about the chick and the screaming dancers. She liked the first line (though she wasn’t a big fan of the third line.) She particularly liked the imagery of “fast” being too slow. As if fast were an absolute.

Here’s the thing: I never would have thought to use that kind of imagery if I had the entire English vocabulary at my disposal. There is something about constraint and limitation that brings definition to creativity.

Consider a certain amount of water that flows placidly through a large culvert. If you take that same amount of water and pump it through a garden hose at the same flow rate, you’ll have the power to erode a hillside.

Have you ever participated in a jam session that left you frustrated? One where no one seemed to be on the same page… everyone was going their own direction… you never felt like you ever “arrived” anywhere? Yeah, that’s how most of the ones I’ve ever been involved with go.

One of my favorite jam experiences of all time was made possible by Brian Kingsley, who happens to be a fantastic guitarist. Only he didn’t play the guitar. I think there was already another guitarist there. I was on keys, and someone (Ramirez?) was on drums. So Kingsley picked up the bass. But he definitely “led” the session. He just started a groove that was predictable and repeatable. And he did that for like 10 minutes straight each time. He set the structure within which the rest of us had the freedom to create. We went on for hours. It was amazing.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Serving Notice

[note- this post originally appeared on my Xanga blog. Clicking the link will take you to the original article, which will allow you to read the original comments]

I'm going to be posting a multi-part exposition of my thoughts on the concepts of being set apart, living in the structure of spiritual disciplines, and the impact of those and other concepts on our ability to exercise the free will given to us by God.

As friends and alums of CTI, I want to invite you all to take part in this discussion with me.

I'm organizing these thoughts as I plan for next year's fulltime program. My basic premise here is that CTI team members (summer and FT) come with the expectation of having a somewhat monastic encounter with God through the CTI experience. For summer, I think this is reasonable, because CTI summer = uberstructure. Thus far, I haven't really seen this expectation realized for FT, and I think that is mostly because we haven't presented it as a choice for fulltimers.

So here's my thesis: TM’s expectations of having a “monastic” experience through CTI will only happen because of their willingness and commitment to be “set apart” and allow structure to focus them.

And by the way, I'm serving notice that I intend to incorporate blogging in multiple formats next fulltime year, and want you all to feel welcome to live fulltime life vicariously by participating in them. Not totally sure what that is going to look like yet, but I'll let you know.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Donald Miller on culture and the church

Currently Reading
Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality
By Donald Miller
see related

[originaly posted on my Xanga blog]
A friend of mine, a young pastor who recently started a church, talks to me from time to time about the new face of church in America - about the postmodern church. He says the new church will be different from the old one, that we will be relevant to culture and the human struggle. I don't think any church has ever been relevant to culture, to the human struggle, unless it believed in Jesus and the power of His gospel. If the supposed new church believes in trendy music and cool Web pages, then it is not relevant to culture either. It is just another tool of Satan to get people to be passionate about nothing.

Passion about nothing is like pouring gasoline in a car without wheels. It isn't going to lead anybody anywhere.

Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz