Solitude not Isolation

The past 7 months have been rather full and engaging. I have been working at my school as a Special Education Teaching Assistant, recruiting for Northeastern Seminary as we expand to Syracuse, and leading Church of the Common Table all while being a husband and father to my wife and children. It has been a great time, but it has begun to take its toll.

Recently, our community of Common Table took time to reflect on our individual and communal practices. We firmly believe that Jesus held in tension the three “loves” God calls us to: love of Godself, love of our own family centered on Jesus, and love of our neighbor. (On a side note, it’s interesting how these three things are the core of what we’re called to as Jesus’ disciples, and yet we’ve made it increasingly complex and muddled as to what “Christian life” looks like; perhaps so much so that now there is a common attitude that only the “professional” Christian [read: pastor, missionary] can live like Jesus.) And since this is the life rhythm of Jesus, it should be ours as well, both individually and communally.

By stepping back to actually reflect upon our calendars, it became increasingly clear as to how we actually use our time, not how we think we use our time. As best we could, we reflected upon both the quality and quantity of time we spend loving God (Up), loving our own family (In), and loving others (Out). These don’t necessarily have to be balanced – as in if I spend 3 hours doing Out, I have to do 3 hours doing In – but rather need to be held in harmonious tension. A big difference.

One of the glaringly obvious realities for me was my need to spend more time in solitude. I spend a lot of time with others over coffee, in meetings, eating dinner, and just hanging out. My extroverted nature usually dominates my time. As a result, I have often been overtired and overscheduled to the detriment of my family, friends, and neighbors.

Yet, notice I didn’t say isolation, because like balance and harmony, solitude and isolation are not synonymous. Isolation is being relationally cut off or separated from others for reasons generally only pertaining to oneself. Solitude is intentionally getting away for the sake of returning to and reinvigorating our church and neighbors.

Ruth Haley Barton takes what we call Up, In, Out and describes it as Solitude, Community, Ministry in her book Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation. She beautifully articulates the need for solitude with God as we follow and learn to live life with and like Jesus. In our overly busy, overly fragmented, overly distracted, and overly frenetic culture and lives, we need to look again at the human-in-tune-with-and-filled-with-the-Spirit found in Jesus. He is not just our Savior, but also our Teacher and as such we quickly realize that his way of life is the way of life. 

Jesus frequently went off by himself to pray and anchor himself in his Father. It was what he taught and is still teaching his disciples. Barton says,

When I reengage my life in community with others and live from that place of union with God, there is indeed a peace that passes understanding and transcends the longing.

We can’t expect to always be running despite what our culture tells us. Perpetual busyness does not equal fruitfulness. Rather what we need to develop are restful habits of listening to God and seeing what it is he would have for us in regards to our other loves: our faith community and our neighbors. Jesus says his sheep know his voice, but how we will hear him if we don’t slow ourselves down to actually listen for him? Ironically, Barton continues

Constant noise, interruption, and drivenness to be more productive cut us off from or at least interrupt the direct experience of God and other human beings, and this is more isolating than we realize. Because we are experiencing less meaningful human and divine connection, we are emptier relationally, and we try harder and harder to fill that loneliness with even more noise and stimulation. In so doing we lose touch with the quieter and more subtle experiences of God within.

Most of us are more tired than we know at the soul level.

Many times our communal lives and our ministerial lives suffer because we think more time and energy  focused on those areas equates to more fruitfulness. Yet the reality is that our fruitfulness only comes by resting in and listening to our Father. This was the rhythmic life pattern of Jesus and as his disciples/apprentices/learners we should be doing the same. In many cases, this is the huge difference between us building for the kingdom and Jesus’: he took time to enter into prayerful solitude and we do not.

So the question isn’t if I am resting, listening, and finding solitude, but when and where am I resting, listening, and finding solitude. It is essential to this abundant life in and through Jesus.

What about you? Does this resonate?

Invitation, Challenge, and Peter Block

At the heart of Jesus’ way of making disciples is the two-fold invitation and challenge. Our faith community, Church of the Common Table, has been thinking through these things as of late. When you look through the gospel accounts, it becomes evident that Jesus was constantly extending invitation into his life – this kingdom-of-God type life where loving one’s enemies is possible, where forgiving your brother is possible, where redemption and new life begin as small bits of yeast and yet leaven the entire bread. He does this by calling out to others and extending himself and his life unto them. My friend Ben Sternke describes it this way: “Invitation refers to an attitude that says, ‘I’m glad you are here, I’m committed to you and will welcome you no matter what.’”

But Jesus doesn’t end there. His mode of discipleship – of teaching others to both be and do like himself – is found in the tension of invitation and challenge. Again, Ben describes “challenge” as: “I want you to grow, I’m committed to holding you accountable to change for the better.” Or to put it another way, my friend Andrew Dowsett says, “By invitation, I mean that he opens himself up to others, makes himself vulnerable, and invites people to know him and be known by him. By challenge, I mean that his life inspires others to change the direction in which they are heading.” Challenge is what pushes people to go beyond themselves and realize that their way of living doesn’t line up with the realities of life in the kingdom of God. It urges us to “repent and believe” over and over again.

Although this is a very short and elementary understanding of invitation and challenge, it is the foundation of Jesus’ way of transferring his life into and unto his apprentices. It is with this (and much more of course) in mind that I read the following piece from Peter Block’s amazing work, Community: The Structure of Belonging. This isn’t a Christian book; rather it is a wise look at the nature of community in general. I find it interesting that at the heart of what Block is getting at is this tension between invitation and challenge.

Give it a read and let me know what you think. How does this give us a starting point for building community?

Hospitality, the welcoming of strangers, is the essence of a restorative community…The conversation for invitation is the decision to engage other citizens to be part of the possibility that we are committed to. The invitation is in itself an act of generosity, and the mere act of inviting may have more meaning than anything that happens in the gathering.

An invitation is more than just a request to attend; it is a call to create the alternative future, to join in the possibility we have declared. The question is, ‘What is the invitation we can make for people to participate in creating a future distinct from the past?’

The distinction here is between invitation and the more typical ways of achieving change: mandate and persuasion…An authentic invitation operates without promising incentives or rewards. Offering inducements such as door prizes, gifts, or a celebrity attraction diminishes the clarity of choice of those invited. The lack of inducement keeps a level playing field. When we try to induce people to show up through strong selling or the language of enrolling, we are adding subtle pressure that, in a small but important way, blurs the freely taken decision to say yes…To sell or induce is not operating by invitation. It is using the language of invitation as a subtle form of control.

Invitation is a language act. ‘I invite you.’ Period. This is a powerful conversation because at the moment of inviting, hospitality is created in the world.

So, the invitation is a request not only to show up but to engage. It declares, ‘We want you to come, but if you do, something will be requested from you.’ Too many leadership initiatives or programs are begun with a sales and marketing mindset: How do we seduce people to sign up and feel good about doing things they may not want to do?Real change, however, is a self-inflicted wound.People need to self-enroll in order to experience their freedom and commitment.Let this begin in the decision to attend, knowing there is a price to be paid far beyond the cost of time and perhaps money.

The best invitation I have run across, which got a lot of attention for awhile, was from Ernest Shackleton, who in the early 1900s was recruiting for an antarctic expedition. Supposedly he ran an ad in the London Times that read: ‘Wanted: Men for Antarctic Expedition. Low Pay. Lousy Food. Safe Return Doubtful.’ Perfect. He reportedly got 5,000 applicants.

taken from Chapter 11: “Invitation” of  Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block (pages 114-122; emphasis mine)

Open Doors and Hearts: An Opportunity to Love an Orphan

Alina

Dear Friends and Family,

Our family is walking an exciting path of obedience. We have been deeply challenged in our faith and would love to live this out practically by sharing our home with a child who hasn’t had a consistent one. The door has opened for us to welcome a 12-year-old girl from the Ukraine for the summer months. Her name is Alina and she currently lives in an orphanage in Ukraine. New Horizons for Children, a non-profit international hosting program for orphaned children, has accepted us as hosting parents for Alina. She will be staying with us for five weeks, from the end of June through early August.  This will be both an exciting and faith building experience for us as we learn to communicate with and welcome a stranger into our home.

Many of the orphans that are hosted through New Horizons are adopted because of this opportunity.  Alina, however, is not adoptable at this time because her parent’s rights have not been terminated.  She has been in the orphanage for some time though and her director thinks she is one the best kids there.  This is a great opportunity for us to expose her to a loving family environment, to the love of Christ, and to help her see that her life is valued and important. If at any point Alina became adoptable, this would be something that we would earnestly and prayerfully consider.

While our current family consists of just the four of us, we are also well aware that our family extends well beyond ourselves. The influences, encouragements, events, and celebrations – in short, the love that has formed us has come from all of you. And because of that, we consider you family and want to share the experience of this summer, as not just ours, but in a very real way as yours and ours. With all this in mind, we are asking for you to join with us in a few different ways that we deem important and vital.

Prayer Partners

We desperately need prayer partners.  We already have some committed folks on board but if this is something that you could commit to please let us know and we will share specific requests as they present themselves.  This is our most imperative need.

Financial Partners

Secondly, we need financial partners. The cost of bringing Alina here to the United States is $3000. We feel very strongly about loving the fatherless and are willing to go to great lengths to bring her here.  We are committing our finances to do all we can to help Alina.  However, we’ll need the greater community to come alongside us in order for it all to happen. Some of the expenses include: international and domestic travel, dental and eye appointments, clothing and luggage for her return to Ukraine.

If you would like to join us in sharing Christ’s love with this precious girl please consider the following:

As a prayer partner, we will send you updates on how to pray for Alina and our family.  Please leave me a comment below with some contact info and I’ll make sure we stay in touch.

For monetary donation you can go through the New Horizon’s website at www.newhorizonsforchildren.org.  On the home page there is a yellow “donate” button where you can donate through Paypal.  When confirming the donation, be sure to click on the special instructions box and designate the donation to Emery Family. If you prefer to give by check, then please indicate our family name in the memo line and send to:  New Horizons for Children, Inc. 3950 Cobb Pkwy. Suite 708 Acworth, GA 30101. Donations made through New Horizons are tax deductible.

If you are interested in giving to us directly, again, leave me a comment below and I’ll give you the proper info.  Donations of cash or checks made out to us are NOT tax deductible. These monies will be used to provide for her appointments and other necessities.

We hope this experience has a lasting impact on Alina and that she comes away from this knowing that she is loved by our family and by her Savior.

Blessings on the journey,

Scott, Mel, Lily and Ava

“And if we want hell then hell’s what we’ll have”: Jack Johnson on Culture and Entertainment

Now that it is extremely warm outside, I have to listen to Jack Johnson. If you’ve never listened to him, his sound is very laid back and relaxing. Some might say all his songs sound alike, but that hasn’t stopped me from listening to him.

His song “Cookie Jar” really stood out to me this afternoon as I driving home. Watch the video below and/or read the lyrics printed below that. It seems to me that he is not only a great musician, but has an eye and an ear to the culture at large.

What do you think?

 

 

 

“Cookie Jar”

I would turn on the TV but it’s so embarrassing
To see all the other people I don’t know what they mean
And it was magic at first when they spoke without sound
But now this world is gonna hurt you better turn that thing down
Turn it around

“It wasn’t me”, says the boy with the gun
“Sure I pulled the trigger but it needed to be done
Cause life’s been killing me ever since it begun
You cant blame me cause I’m too young”

“You can’t blame me sure the killer was my son
But I didn’t teach him to pull the trigger of the gun
It’s the killing on this TV screen
You cant blame me its those images he seen”

Well “You can’t blame me”, says the media man
Well “I wasn’t the one who came up with the plan
I just point my camera at what the people want to see
Man it’s a two way mirror and you cant blame me”

“You can’t blame me”, says the singer of the song
Or the maker of the movie which he based his life on
“It’s only entertainment and as anyone can see
The smoke machines and makeup and you cant fool me”

It was you it was me it was every man
We’ve all got the blood on our hands
We only receive what we demand
And if we want hell then hells what well have

And I would turn on the TV
But it’s so embarrassing
To see all the other people
I don’t even know what they mean
And it was magic at first
But let everyone down
And now this world is gonna hurt
You better turn it around
Turn it around

“We just don’t.”: Robert Benson on Prayer

A friend of mine called me today inquiring about a book I had recommended on Facebook. The book he was referring to was Robert Benson’s short and tremendously challenging and insightful In Constant Prayer. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it is by far one of my favorite books. I was quickly reminded of this as I flipped through it earlier today and came across this passage on the neglect of prayer:

“We who will get up and walk, or even run miles in the mornings, not to mention those of us who are not willing to wait for there to be enough light to see the bottom of the flag or for the frost to go away before we tee off; we who will haul ourselves through our neighborhoods in the dark to make sure that we have the box scores as quick as we can – for all kinds of reasons, including some good ones, I suppose, we will not, cannot, do not rise in the morning to greet the dawn with a song of praise on our lips, as did those who went before us.

We who will stay up late to watch the televised version of the news that we heard on our drive home at six, who will TiVo enough must-see television that we have to stay up late to keep up, who will not go to sleep without burning the candle at both ends and in the middle if we can figure out how to get it lit, will not end our days with praise and worship and confession and blessing.

We will not do these things in the name of love or discipline, devotion or worship. We will not even do it for selfish reasons, or even as a reliable way of self-actualization, to put it in its least favorable context- which, in our Western American, twenty-first century, self-help, and consumer-driven culture, is astonishing. And that includes some of us in certain communities of faith who made a promise to pray the office when we joined. Some of us did not even notice the promise we made at our confirmation, and the clergy do not point it out very often.

And if you believe the scholars and the media and the pundits who predict our increasing collective future irrelevance, then I am also a member of the generation that will preside over the death of the Church. Call it postmodern, call it post-Christian, call it Post Toasties if you want to, but there is a world out there that says we – the Church united, divided, militant, or otherwise – can do nothing to spread the gospel here on earth. Much less do anything to make each hour of the day or night any holier.

The witness of those who went before us is that we can. We just don’t.”

Jesus Manifesto: Restoring the Supremacy and Sovereignty of Jesus Christ by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola

This recent book by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola has been released and caught by many people. As the initial reviewers of the book found within it have stated, this book calls our attention to the reality of Jesus. He is not the fluffy, nice guy or boyfriend most of us have been told about. Rather he is the King of the cosmos. This is what Sweet and Viola want us to regain.

With a focus on the correct representation of Christ (Christology), the two authors move forward with a thorough description of who Christ is and what that means for us. Their theological impetus behind the book is crucial for their view of the Church and its role in the world. If the Church does not know who Christ is, more than an intellectual assent, but a lively, spiritual knowing, than there is no potential for interaction and transformation of the world. However, they do not write for the sake of the Church alone, but for the glory of Jesus himself.

I found this book to be interesting and challenging. I must say, however, that as an avid reader of most things theological and having a Masters in theological studies, most of this book was covering familiar ground with encouraging words throughout. For the person who hasn’t delved much beyond a Sunday school view of Jesus this book would be a welcome challenge.

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com <http://BookSneeze.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Prayers of Thanksgiving

The General Thanksgiving

Almighty God, Father of all mercies,

we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks

for all your goodness and loving-kindness

to us and to all whom you have made.

We bless you for our creation, preservation,

and all the blessings of this life;

but above all for your immeasurable love

in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ;

for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.

And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies,

that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise,

not only with our lips, but in our lives,

by giving up our selves to your service,

and by walking before you

in holiness and righteousness all our days;

through Jesus Christ our Lord,

to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,

be honor and glory throughout all ages.  Amen.

 

“Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have

done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole

creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life,

and for the mystery of love.

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for

the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best

efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy

and delight us.

We thank you also for those disappointments and failures

that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the

truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast

obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying,

through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life

again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.

Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and

make him known; and through him, at all times and in all

places, may give thanks to you in all things.  Amen.”

 

“For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food,
For love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

 

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”
Meister Eckhart

 

Psalm 100

1 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
2 Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
3 Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
5 For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Links worth checking out

1. Michael Bird has written a paper in response to one written by N.T. Wright. An interesting, and short, read on the kingdom of God and the cross.

2. Have you ever read Aldous Huxley or George Orwell? If not, you should. Huxley’s book Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984 have been read for quite some time now and are eerily seen as prophetic books for our current culture. Here is a cartoon breaking down the main points of each and how we have succumbed more to Huxley’s portrayal of his fears for the future. (If you click on the cartoon it will zoom in.)

3. David Fitch has been having a great conversation over at his blog on whether or not the New Calvinist movement, especially amongst Southern Baptists, is the new fundamentalism. Definitely worth checking out.

4. Some of the people from the Ecclesia Network put together a Missional Learning Commons recently. It was held in Chicago and focused on missional discipleship, family life, and leadership. They also had a discussion about James K.A. Smith’s book Desiring the Kingdom, which if you haven’t read is a great, great book. The audio from the MLC is available here. Good stuff.

5. Ever wonder what churches are located here in the greater Syracuse area? Ever wonder if  they have a webpage? This link provides some answers to that.

6. Speaking of churches, my friend Steve Evans and I have recently been placed as the interim pastors at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church. We’d covet your prayers for this time, both for us and those whom we will be ministering with and to.

7. Over at Faith and Theology, this post on smiling and happiness within Christianity is a must read. Good insights on the effects of our affects.

8. Have a good idea that needs some funding? Ever wonder how you may be able to help out others who are seeking to benefit the world at large? Check out Kickstarter and see whom you can help through all sorts of different avenues.

9. Check out the TED prize winner, JR, and the video on his photographic work. Pretty cool.

10. I used to live in Philly and was never privy to anything like this. The Hallelujah Chorus sung in Macy’s by hundreds of people is rather cool. However, it brings up some interesting ideas concerning consumerism and the irony of their choice of song, especially in our culture when shopping and money seem to “reign forever and ever.”

11. Here is a list of really good books I’ve read recently. Hopefully, these can be resources for you as well: The Next Evangelicalism by Soong-Chan Rah; Intuitive Leadership: Embracing a Paradigm of Narrative, Metaphor, and Chaos by Tim Keel; Beyond Smells and Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy by Mark Galli; and The Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groups by Joseph Myers.

Check these out…

1. A great piece on Scot McKnight’s blog by David Opderbeck. The savagery of child pornography and the Christian ideas of hope and justice.

2. J.R. Daniel Kirk asks the provocative question concerning Jesus’ death: Did he die for the same things he lived for?

3. Theologian/philosopher James K.A. Smith, author of the great book Desiring the Kingdom, interviews sociologist and author James Davison Hunter, author of To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. The interview is found here in The Other Journal.

4. Andy Rowell breaks down some recent stats on North American seminaries. Where does yours land? Check here and here.

5. Our current town made the news again. Thankfully, nobody was hurt.

6. The world’s fears concerning rising food costs put at ease by the UN.

7. Need some pictures taken? Here are some of my local friends:

- Tom Harmon

- Sarah Collier

- Kelcey Stoianoff

8. Here is an old video featuring some of the faculty of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary discussing the theology of N.T. Wright. In particular, they are talking about his ideas of justification. By the way, they don’t like it.

Enjoy.