March 2, 2011
In this session from the Society of Vineyard Scholars conference in Seattle, Stanford Anthropologist DR. Tanya Luhrmann presents her findings after studying what and how Vineyard churches teach people to experience God. One of the fascinating pieces is her exploration of the spiritual disciplines implicit and explicit as a member of a Vineyard community, which help to form us, and it’s correlation to Ignatian spirituality. Enjoy!
March 26, 2010
March 2, 2010
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” - Hebrews 11:1
When I was in 4th grade (Miss Logan’s class! Go locomotives!!), I volunteered to be one of several students to be ‘blind-for-a-day’. We were blind-folded as soon as we got to school and paired with a classmate with sight, who would be our guide. This experience left quite a lasting mark on me. I vividly remember having to ask my guide for everything and about everything, and through our interaction, I learned that I could trust my guide. I learned it through asking and then living the questions I was asking, like:
- where is my pencil (like I could actually write anything?!)
- where exactly were we in the hallways? (and where was the restroom?)
- what was for lunch? (I trusted them to help me sit down in a seat at lunch time and that the seat was there…and that it was my lunch in front of me.)
…but probably my most vivid memory is of my other senses coming alive in Miss Howell’s music class as I experienced music without eyes and only with my auditory and feeling senses…I could feel the music! It made me realize that something that I could not see even with my eyes open had substance and verve and delved deeper inside me than merely my ear-drums. And while I was utterly dependent for almost everything from my guide to live this one day in a disoriented fashion without sight, I discovered something: there was substance to things I could not see, like music and fresh air and even closed air inside the building felt different than outside at recess; I could live by faith (trust) only as I allowed myself to risk trusting my guide and then actually step into the experience that hobbled some of my senses but activated others.
“…for we walk by faith, not by sight…”
2 Corinthains 5:7
The eternity in that teachable moment in my life has had a formational effect that echoes in my journey of faith. As I have reflected on it since that time, quite possibly because of that profound experience, I am comfortable with mystery and living out questions that I may not fully answer completely. I love this quote from Henri Nouwen:
“…we need to live the questions of our lives, both alone and in community, as we seek our mission in the world…frequently, we are restlessly looking for answers, going from door to door, from book to book, or from church to church, without having really listened carefully and attentively to the questions within…Without a question, an answer is experienced as manipulation or control. Without a struggle, the help offered is considered interference. And without the desire to learn, direction is easily felt as oppression.”
Pat answers are seen for what they are: unreal and unloving. Instead, as we interact with people who are truly struggling, I find this piece of advice from the prophet Jeremiah– as translated by Eugene Peterson in The Message at Jeremiah 23:25 – to be essential: “Instead of claiming to know what God says, ask questions of one another, such as ‘How do we understand God in this?’ But don’t go around pretending to know it all…”
Having studied and practiced spiritual direction for a few years, I have come to realize not only how important being non-manipulative is, but also how important the questions are – and following those questions by living in them, toward them in a centered-set kind-of-way; this means I need to trust Jesus. I think we need to trust God in our endeavours to live the questions. The advice the poet Rainer Rilke once wrote to a younger poet seems to ring true for us today:
“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.”
January 6, 2010
the soul environs itself with friends, that it may enter into a grander self-acquaintance or solitude; and it goes alone, for a season, that it may exalt its conversation or society. - ralph waldo emerson
I have been contemplating this quote from Emerson, and I think our culture increasingly misses out on the interplay between friendship and solitude. It’s rare that we choose to enter seasons of solitude, yet rarer still having that experience of solitude enrich our conversations and relationships. Our “environ”-ing ourselves in non-obligatory affinity groups has become a wasteland of isolation in shallow community. In this wasteland of isolation, our actual experience of both friendship and solitude is ever-atrophied, even as the desire continues to grow for both of them. We have become lost in our own space - our profound isolation among society aggravated by our desire to be known and to know ourselves. In pursuing to meet our increasing desires for knownness, we have become our own cause célèbre, as our growing pang for real intimacy is merely being aggravated by following someone on Twitter or Facebook: “Steven is sitting with his mug of dark roast contemplating the life of birds in his backyard“…no he’s not, that dark roast is sitting there getting cold as he pauses to type and the contemplation of the life in nature becomes secondary and shallow because he interrupts the moment to tweet about some now non-existent state of being and moment in time that has been interrupted by his own need or felt responsibility for the celebrity of having others know what he’s up to this morning before he even experiences it or digests its significance. In this, I trade depth and significance for a shallow celebrity. And the irony is that in that moment my connection with God or nature or people fades or stops as I set aside the dark roast and contemplating the life of birds to log-in and type it out. Rather than actually experiencing something that can eventually be shared and rather than being present to someone in sharing it, I short-change my experiences and substitute real presence for a distributive and insipid presence that more and more just leaves me exhausted in isolation. This kind of profound isolation eats at many of us, and gets ever-aggravated as we go looking for knownness and intimacy in all the wrong places.
We want to be known, and yet nowadays we impoverish ourselves in a faux knownness – in a virtual connectivity - yet fewer and fewer people actually know us and the experience of presence recedes. Chaundra and I met an old friend at a pub last year, and over a few pints and a lingering meal got re-connected. At one point, I excused myself from the bar to go to the restroom, which was all the way in the back of the place, past the dining room. As I was making my way through the dining room, there was a couple all dressed up and obviously out on a date, and as I passed their table twice I noticed they both had their noses in their iPhones, and at least one of them was on Facebook, probably typing a note about being with the one they love and having a delightful dinner. Except it was only partially true, because they weren’t with the one they loved except in terms of shared spatial coordinates on a map, because they were both lost in their own separate virtual worlds. Admittedly, in arranging to meet our friend for a nice dinner, we set up the experience via Facebook, but we did eventually leave Facebook behind to actually experience relationship.
See, it’s not that the Internet hasn’t been a great tool for social networking and making connections or renewing old acquaintances, it’s that we have substituted actual connections for virtual ones, and also prioritized the virtual ones. Who hasn’t been interrupted in a conversation with a friend by their cell phone as they take a non-urgent call or they tune out from being present to check their Blackberry to see how many e-mails are piling up. We accentuate the virtual at the expense of the real. Oh, sure, people may read my tweets and smile wryly at some comment I make in a virtual community, but they don’t really know me and we are not present to one another. The person they know is mediated by internet access and the virtual masks I construct therein. People imagine that they know me, and I imagine being known, but neither is actually happening to any depth that feeds our souls and sets us on a journey greater than our random comments to no-one-in-particular. We’ve traded an intimacy rich with depth for something shallow and hallow. It’s like my 4 year-old trading her well-worn $10 bill for a shiny new nickel…it’s shiny, but not worth half as a much! Intimacy with others is actually enhanced by the discipline of solitude in our lives, and yet we don’t really believe that to be true or more people would practice it. In fact, as William Deresiwicz insightfully laments, our culture entrains us to never be alone…never disconnect:
“I grew up in the 60s and 70s, the age of television. I was trained to be bored; boredom was cultivated within me like a precious crop. (It has been said that consumer society wants to condition us to feel bored, since boredom creates a market for stimulation.) It took me years to discover — and my nervous system will never fully adjust to this idea; I still have to fight against boredom, am permanently damaged in this respect — that having nothing to do doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The alternative to boredom is what Whitman called idleness: a passive receptivity to the world. So it is with the current generation’s experience of being alone. That is precisely the recognition implicit in the idea of solitude, which is to loneliness what idleness is to boredom. Loneliness is not the absence of company, it is grief over that absence. The lost sheep is lonely; the shepherd is not lonely. But the Internet is as powerful a machine for the production of loneliness as television is for the manufacture of boredom. If six hours of television a day creates the aptitude for boredom, the inability to sit still, a hundred text messages a day creates the aptitude for loneliness, the inability to be by yourself.”
In a culture of constant virtual connectivity, solitude becomes a discipline to be embraced. In a world where friendship has become a comfortable illusion of a virtually-constructed self that merely acquiesces to the Facebook request to be a friend, the challenge of sacred friendship must be met to spur us onward, upward and inward. It’s time for the cultivation of the precious crop of Christlikeness, which embraces both sacred friendship and solitude. But we may ask: OK, but what might this depth look like, how do we do it? The Apostle Paul says it this way: “If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends.” (from Philippians 2 – The Message) I’ll end today with David Benner, who points us toward the essence of sacred friendship in a practical way when he writes in his book Sacred Companions, “Spiritual friends share with each other at the level of the soul. This does not mean that they talk about only serious, personal or spiritual matters…Friends who enjoy soul intimacy never settle for gossip or simple information exchange, [they can be comfortable in silence.] Instead they use the data of events as springboards for the sharing of feelings, perceptions, values, ideas and opinions. The conversations of such friends are never merely about what happened in their lives or the world but move from this to how they experience, react to and understand what happened. Dialogue continually moves from the surface to the depths, from the external to the internal. This is the crucial distinctive of dialogue in spiritual friendships.”
December 30, 2009
If you are a climatologist or even a lukewarm environmentalist, you may have heard the echoes of a storm out of Europe a few weeks ago. An online entrepreneur hacked into the University of East Anglia’s prestigious Climate Research Unit. The result? Apparently climatologists and scientific researchers have been revealed for either the height of arrogance or the stupidity of short-sightedness. As the Washington Post reported:
“They appear to exaggerate their public certainty on disputed issues, shade the presentation of information for political effect, tamper with the peer-review process, resist reasonable requests for supporting data and urge the destruction of e-mails to avoid embarrassment. Other scientists in these e-mail chains resist these abuses. But the dominant voices are ideological. The attitude seems to be: Insiders can question, if they don’t go too far. Outsiders who threaten the movement are “idiots.” This attitude is demonstrated not only by private e-mails but also by the public reaction of prominent scientists to those e-mails. They show “scientists at work.” They are “pretty innocuous.” They are “understandable and mostly excusable.” “We are all humans; and humans come with dogma as standard equipment.” This “kind of language and kidding goes on verbally all the time.” Criticism is based merely on “ignorance” and critics have “more screws loose than the Space Shuttle Challenger.” It is the scientific equivalent of discounting Watergate as a “second-rate burglary.”
All of this back-and-forth in the scientific community should probably be an aside for followers of Jesus, because whether one side gains an up on the other in the media, one of the first and primary commissions given to all humans in Genesis is to care for and steward the resources of the earth: that means the environment, the animals and all of the creatures/creations. Yet surely this gives the nay-sayers of global warming and climate change adversaries ammunition for attacks against the scientific evidence of climate change. But even moreso: if this eventually gets into the “public consciousness” it can affect the priority of environmental policy, because Senators and Congressmen – not to mention the President - will feel the scrutiny and pressure of pursuing and spending public resources on something suspect in the eyes of the public that elects them. In fact, it casts such a long shadow on the endeavour of climatologists seeking to understand global warming [since the advent of reliable records in the 1800s, the overall trend goes in one direction: warmer. All 10 of the hottest years on record have come since 1997.] they might find their huge government grants shrinking because of the political fallout. What has happened? Their credibility is in crisis.
What can the Church learn? I’d like to suggest three things we can learn from this “scandal”:
- Integrity matters. It’s as simple as that. Surely – as Ecclesiastes proclaims – there is season for everything – a time to be provocative and a time to be understated - but integrity is never out of season. And if you are pimping your message and if your ideological dogma outweighs the spirituality of the Way, Truth and Life to such an extent that you are willing to sacrifice integrity to garner support or short-circuit community discernment because its “messy” and inefficient or sacrifice the struggle with doubt for shallow certitude…you just might end up sacrificing the most important things that you need in the long haul.
- Discernment matters. Delving deeper into the truth beyond 24-hour-news-cycle media headlines and scandals must take place in the community of Jesus. We have to look deeper and ask the Spirit to empower us beyond of prejudices and to guide us into all truth, in every aspect of truth, including climate change and global warming.
- Grace matters. The truth is we are all fallible and messy people, particularly when we are in community. Mess happens in church, mess happens in community, mess happens in the scientific community. Yet the weight of the glory of the people of God is that we can reach, endure and see beyond the mess via the grace of Christ Jesus so that the Spirit can guide us all into the truth.
May 18, 2008
“We do not exist for ourselves alone, and it is only when we are fully convinced of this fact that we begin to love ourselves properly and thus also love others …. It is because of [our deficiencies] that we need others and others need us. We are not all weak in the same spots, and so we supplement and complete one another, each one making up in himself for the lack in another …. [The] meaning of my life is not merely in the sum total of my own achievements. It is seen only in the complete integration of my achievements and failures with the achievements and failures of my own generation, and society, and time. It is seen, above all, in my integration in the mystery of Christ.” (Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island)
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It is impossible to live the Christian life alone. Period. And what passes as “shared life” in most western world churches is so weak and tasteless that it’s an insult to the Christ who redeemed us to be his body.
The level of interaction between Christians in many local churches consists of nothing more than a coming to and going from a weekend event at a public building where those who profess Christ, right alongside those who are looking for him, sit together as strangers. If we do have conversations, they’re fleeting, shallow and safe because, after all, it isn’t the time and place and there’s too much to get into and you don’t know who can be trusted. We are alone in the same room (alone together), consuming what is passed out by “religious professionals” and then returning to our fortresses to live in relative isolation, apart from the the church: the body of Christ which is his people. And in this isolation we struggle to sort out family life, marriages, finances, vocations, and the press of daily life. Cloistered we struggle to overcome vice and to put into practice all the things we heard over the weekend.
How are we doing in this respect? Well, statistics say that collectively we’re failing miserably in this task, and that the life we have gained in turning to Christ is virtually indistinguishable from the life of those who have not turned to him. We lie as much, have affairs as often, and are addicted to the same level as the world in which we live. And in the area of divorce we slightly outpace the rest of society.
Many of us know that we’re failing. Deep down we know it but have been afraid to admit it, so we console ourselves with two fictions that help us live with the unease of not being in relationship and not living with much power. The first fiction is that we don’t have to be deeply involved in one another’s lives because “we’re a family linked in our perspectives and attitudes.” Because, then, we’re a “society of spirit,” even when we go our separate ways we’re still “together in our hearts.” This is real fellowship, we say.
But the truth is that no society of hearts is capable of existing only in the realm of the mind. If we’re to hold each other in mind when apart, it will only be because we’ve held each other close when together, which is the way it’s meant to be. If we’re to be saved at all, we will be saved together. Through Jesus, God has penetrated life in a new way in order to create a people who are necessarily linked. They are joined not only in their attitudes but in a type of life so different in kind from the society at large that it stands out sharper than fresh blood on white linen.
The second fiction we console ourselves with says that the profound brokenness we experience is okay, because what really sets us apart from the rest of society is a profession of faith that guarantees us eternal life. In other words, we’ve prayed the “sinner’s prayer” and others haven’t. We have a divine insurance policy and they don’t. But what good is a “sinner’s prayer” if it doesn’t, in communion with others sinners, lead us together from our individualism to become a holy ethnos, the new people, the body of Christ, the temple of God — all biblical images? At its worst it becomes a superstitious formula, some magic key that gives us, we believe, automatic entrance into the kingdom of God. It’s what we speak when God says, “Psst! What’s the password?”
The good news is that we can overcome this deficit of imagination and understanding. At least some of our inability to live in life-transforming relationships with one another is rooted in our ignorance of “the shared life” as it’s presented in the New Testament. We take our cues from present day church life and mistakenly believe it to be the truth. But what if we saw and decided to live the according to our calling? What if we looked at the portrait of the early church as it’s actually presented? And what if we allowed that picture and understanding to reform our current practice? There’s still space for a revolution.
May 13, 2008
A few years ago I petitioned the abbot of the the Abbey of Gethsemani for an extended stay at the monastery in order to write and also interview several of the monks. He granted the request on the condition that I also work with the brothers and participate in their seven daily prayer offices. Even though it meant getting up with the bells at 2:45 a.m. in order to make the 3:00 a.m. Vigils, I jumped at the chance. (I also hoped I’d probably get daily samples of the bourbon fudge and artisan cheeses they make.) In one of the most memorable interviews for me, I asked an older monk, “Over these many years, what’s been your greatest consolation in this way of life? His simple response was, “My brothers.” I then asked, “And what’s been your greatest difficulty? What have you struggled with most?” He chuckled and said with equal terseness, “My brothers.”
Sometimes I think I don’t need friends. Whenever I’ve gone away for an extended period to be alone, I’ve never really missed anybody, a fact which sometime concerns me more than a little, but what am I to do about it? Manufacture feelings? I love my children when I’m with them, but when they’re gone, sometimes a couple weeks can pass before they even enter my mind. The same goes for my wife who bore these children and to whom I’ve been married for over 30 years. The adage “out of sight, out of mind” applies perfectly in my case.
But there’s more. Not only do I not miss people, but I even enjoy the time alone. Alone I feel entirely at home. My fantasy (an open joke with my wife and friends) is that my ideal vacation would be to live alone in the wilderness (preferably in the mountains) for several months, having only the most basic things available to me, and indoor plumbing doesn’t fall into that category. A rude structure (e.g., a teepee or yurt) to keep me dry and warm, a little food to eat (I’d be happy to hunt & forage for my own), and some durable clothes. And something to write on.
So do I need friends? Contrary to my own personal fiction, yes. They’re a part of sustainable faith. They’ve not only been comfort and joy (in addition to being irritants), but they’ve saved my scrawny butt time and again. The old adage that there’s strength in numbers is in fact true, if for no other reason than finding protection in the pack. Another person with me in the wilderness I often desire (as long as that person’s not a complete idiot) will increase my chance of survival. Now my odds of being the one eaten by a grizzly bear are only 50%. But another friend anywhere is a good thing.
Studies have shown repeatedly that people who have close friends are happier, enjoy better health, and live longer than those who don’t. Even dogs and cats can help in these matters. When elderly people who live alone are given pets as companions, they fare better. What’s that all about? We don’t know all the reasons behind it, but generally speaking we’re hard-wired to thrive as social beings. In America we think of ourselves primarily as a collection of individuals, but it would be a lot more helpful (and healthful) if we could see ourselves as collectives, families, groups, etc. simply because that fits the physical reality.
We demonstrate our knowledge of community’s importance by the way we have and still do punish people: you shun, ostracize or isolate. Exile your enemy to a remote island (like John on the island of Patmos.) Punish someone emotionally by not talking to her. Put the prisoner in solitary confinement. It takes much more poison to kill a rat in community than it does to kill one in isolation. The child standing alone in the corner of the playground at recess is always weak and suspect.
Here’s an excerpt from a New York Times article, “The Lonely American Just Got a Bit Lonelier,” written by Henry Fountain almost two years ago:
There is a new installment in the annals of loneliness. Americans are not only lacking in bowling partners, now they’re lacking in people to tell their deepest, darkest secrets. They’ve hunkered down even more, their inner circle often contracting until it includes only family, only a spouse or, at worst, no one. And that is something the Internet may help ease, but is unlikely to cure.
A recent study by sociologists at Duke and the University of Arizona found that, on average, most adults only have two people they can talk to about the most important subjects in their lives — serious health problems, for example, or issues like who will care for their children should they die. And about one-quarter have no close confidants at all.
This aloneness and isolation is a social experiment of epic proportions. Never before in recorded history have we as humans willingly embarked on such a radical and stupid course. Shouldn’t this make us a little wary? A little nervous? Some of the strongest metaphors for the community of faith are based in this social understanding: we are “the people of God” (an ethnic grouping) or the “family-household of God” or the “assembly-church of God? Daniel Goleman’s book Social Intelligence highlights in wonderful and compelling ways how exquisitely formed we are in our neural hardwiring and chemistry to act socially.
This point was driven home both to me and my wife last night as we met with a younger couple really struggling in their marriage. We began the time with them by telling something of our own story and the great difficulties we faced for the first fifteen or so years. “And what helped you turn the corner,” the wife asked. As we reflected on that and gave answers, it was obvious to us that opening ourselves to others and coming into the experience of community was a key part of our healing. No surprise there. I still remember with crystal clarity one particular turning point from well over a decade ago. My friend Owen walked with me one morning through the streets of Norwood while I keened and wailed over the fact that my wife wasn’t my “soul mate” and didn’t enjoy the things I enjoyed to the degree that I enjoyed them. (Poor me. It all sounds so selfish and melodromatic in retrospect.) At the end of my lament Owen gently and simply said, “Why does it have to be your wife? I like all those things, and so do the other men in our group. Isn’t that enough for you? Why do you want to impose on her a burden of enjoyment she’s not wired or meant to bear?” Ouch. But it was a good ouch, and a tension along a marital faultline eased because I had a friend who acted like a friend.