Posts Tagged ‘Christian Living’
Book Review: Relational Theology
Edited By: Brint Montgomery, Thomas Jay Oord, Karen Winslow
Publisher: Point Loma Press || Wipf and Stock
A few weeks back I received a request to read and review this book, Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction, I am so glad that I accepted the invitation. Let me tell you why.
First, at its core, the subject of relational theology is a common language and means of exploring and discussing with others the relational nature and activities of God. This is important; and I do not mean to sound obtuse, but before reading this collection of short essays, I would not have understood the need for this book…much less the need for creating or sub-categorizing another field of theology. It would have seemed redundant to me and prone to creating more confusion and division. I think the Bible and much of the theology we have developed from it already support the belief that God is relational, but that begs the question; “What does relational mean from one person to the other?” This brings me to a second point.
In his introduction to the book, Thomas Oord writes that, “Relational theology is like a big umbrella idea under which various theological alternatives reside.” The collection of short essays, and there are over thirty included in this contemporary introduction, have been incredibly helpful to my own understanding of this vast and diverse field of study. My eyes have been opened to new possibilities and my curiosity stoked; I’m hungry for knowledge and eager for lively conversations, all for the purpose of knowing more about the incredible relational nature of the great Creator God.
About the book
As I have mentioned, the book is a collection of thirty-one essays written by almost as many men and women. Each essay or chapter introduces a specific topic under the heading of relational attributes of God and the outworking of those attributes in the Bible, Community, and Christian Mission. Generally speaking, the chapter essays are very concise and high-level views of their respective topics. There are pros and cons to this approach of introducing information and ideas to an audience, and I’ll share more on that in a moment, but on the whole I thought the essays were more than sufficient to present the main point(s) of the chapter subject matter and to stimulate the reader’s thinking.
The chapters are grouped into four main sections, which follow: Doctrine of Theology in Relational Perspective, Biblical Witness in Relational Perspective, The Christian Life in Relational Perspective, and Ethics and Justice in Relational Perspective. Each of these chapter-essays was fascinating to me in their own rights, but I especially enjoyed the chapters on Biblical Witness and Christian Life.
I stated there were pros and cons to the format of this introductory piece and I think the pros are numerous. In this case, a number of extraordinary thinkers have been introduced to an audience they may not have been previously exposed to; this is certainly the case for me and I am thankful for this exposure. Similarly, a great amount of information, both deeply rich and broadly diverse, has been sown. These, I believe, are the great strengths of these short essays. Where the brevity of this style falls short, at least in this case, is the fact that there is no bibliography or recommended resources list. Here I have been introduced to language, ideas, concepts, and challenges to my own thinking that are new to me. My curiosity has been piqued, but the questions raised in my own mind aren’t answered in these short chapters. Where do I go for more information? It seems it would have been of great benefit to include a reading list and an end notes section to assist the hungry reader with direction for deeper study. That one nit aside, I’m grateful for the future conversations this book has sparked in me and look forward to digging deeper into the realms of relational theology. Overall, I think the book is a success in that it introduces a huge scope of study within the confines of one hundred fifteen pages. It utilizes the talents and personality of many men and women to introduce ideas minimizing “one-sidedness” and does so without bogging the reader down with too many details. In my estimation this is a perfect springboard for many deep studies.
Advent 2nd Sunday: Year C [14DEC12] Theme for week 2—Preparation & Love
“This is my body, which is given for you… This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you. But here at this table, sitting among us as a friend, is the man who will betray me.” (Luke 22:19-21)
Most of the day I have been meditating on another aspect of preparing; actually, I have been reflecting on the opposite of preparing or not preparing. I don’t think there would be many people, Christians, who would openly and honestly confess that they are not preparing for the Kingdom of God. Most Christians would not think they are not engaged in the process of becoming transformed into the living image of Christ. I believe most people probably think they are actively preparing themselves, and perhaps helping others, ready themselves for the Kingdom of God. I wonder how accurate our self-assessments are. I wonder; are we really in the process of preparing, actively surrendered to Christ Jesus, engaged in the slow and arduous process of losing ourselves so we might truly find our lives in God.
I heard a quote from John Wooden, who said; “Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.” As pithy as this might sound, it is loaded with wisdom and deep truth. The past couple weeks, our readings from the Book of Common Prayer have served up several chapters from the Prophet Isaiah. The story that is told is of a people who have become ambivalent and apathetic toward their God…taking Him for granted and making assumptions that He would be there for them no matter their state of “preparedness.” They were wrong and it led not only to their failure, but the destruction of both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. Time and again, God sent prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and others to the people and their leaders admonishing them to repent and prepare the way of the Lord—make their hearts ready—for they were supposed to be a holy people set aside for the work and purpose of the LORD.
Christians who permit themselves to be shaped by secular culture are guilty, not only of betraying God, but of losing their own true selves. -W. Paul Jones
The parallel is not so dissimilar for our own lives. Too often I think it goes unnoticed by us that we put our spiritual lives on auto-pilot and cruise through our days blissfully ignorant to the call of God. We tell ourselves that God wants us to be happy, but I think we want us to be happy and we tell ourselves that it is what God wants. Sadly, much of the time, our happiness will come in direct conflict with what God truly desires for us. We surround ourselves with wealth, comfort, building stockpiles of insurance and material goods, so we have little need of trusting in God. All the while, the Scriptures teach us about lean operation and simplicity, admonishing us to redistribute our wealth to those who are in need.
“Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.”
I’m afraid when I think about my own failure to prepare. When I consider the things I know and I realize the directives that Jesus has given to me in his word…and how often I try to excuse myself from obeying it, I think I am no different than Judas in my betrayal. Perhaps it sounds harsh, but many of us go around professing to be Christians—”Little Christs”—followers of Jesus, but we talk ourselves out of doing the things he taught us to do. It amounts to one of two alternatives: hypocrisy or betrayal.
More is required of those who wake up to reality than the passive adoration of God or intimate communion with God. Those responses, great as they are, do not cover the purpose of our creation. The riches and beauty of the spiritual landscape are not disclosed to us in order that we may sit in the sun parlor, be grateful for the excellent hospitality, and contemplate the glorious view. Some people suppose that the spiritual life mainly consists in doing that. God provides the spectacle. We gaze with reverent appreciation from our comfortable seats, and call this proceeding Worship.
No idea of our situation could be more mistaken than this. Our place is not the auditorium but the stage—or, as the case may be, the field, workshop, study, laboratory—because we ourselves form part of the creative apparatus of God, or at least are meant to form part of the creative apparatus of God. He made us in order to use us, and use us in the most profitable way; for His purpose, not ours. To live a spiritual life means subordinating all other interests to that single fact. Sometimes our positions seem to be that of tools; taken up when wanted, used in ways which we had not expected for an object on which our opinion is not asked, and then laid down. Sometimes we are the currency used in some great operation, of which the purpose is not revealed to us. Sometimes we are servants, left year in, year out to the same monotonous job. Sometimes we are conscious fellow workers with the Perfect, striving to bring the Kingdom in. But whatever our particular job may be, it means the austere conditions of the workshop, not the free-lance activities of the messy but well-meaning amateur; clocking in at the right time and tending the machine in the right way. Sometimes, perhaps, carrying on for years with a machine we do not very well understand and do not enjoy; because it needs doing, and no one else is available. Or accepting the situation quite quietly, when a job we felt that we were managing excellently is taken away. Taking responsibility if we are called to it, or just bringing the workers their dinner, cleaning and sharpening the tools. All self-willed choices and obstinacy drained out of what we thought to be our work; so that it becomes more and more God’s work in us. -Evelyn Underhill
O God, Come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me.
O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light riseth up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou wouldest have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see light, and in they straight path may not stumble.
Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my might rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.
May the Lord lead our hearts into a full understanding and expression of the love of God and the patient endurance that comes from Christ. Lord, hear my prayer. And let my cry come unto you.
Advent 2nd Sunday: Year C [10DEC12] Theme for week 2—Preparation & Love
Good and upright is the LORD; therefore, he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees. -Psalm 25:8-10
Today, as I have considered the theme of preparation and love, my mind and my heart both have been challenged a bit. I’ve returned to some previous writing (here and here) of mine on the topic of love and spent time with the defining characteristics of love as taught by the apostle Paul (1 Cor. 13). I’ve concluded that no matter how high the standard, it is a standard that God has empowered us to live by and the goal for which we are to strive.
Some of the questions I’m considering this week as I ponder love include the following: What is my “working” definition or standard for love? Is there a context where truly “knowing” someone equals loving them? Is this the way that God wants to intimately know us? Jesus taught us to love our enemies, so I’m curious about that. I wonder who my enemy is? How do I love someone that may not want my love? How do I express love to someone I hardly know or do not know at all? Do you even have to know someone to love them?
I’m also pondering what it means to prepare the way or preparing in general. In the context of my life, how do I define and execute the command to “prepare the way for the Lord.” Does this command and act of preparing look the same for everyone; are there universal constants? Is there a lowest common denominator; am I doing what is necessary for the life of my soul to be ready…prepared for the coming of the Lord?
I culled the definition or what I think represents the definition of love from the writings of Paul to the Corinthian church. In 1 Cor. 13, I found the following characteristics of love:
These are the things love is: Patient, Kind, Rejoices with truth, Always protecting, Always trusting, Always hopeful, Always persevering, and Never failing.
These are the things love is not: envious, boastful, proud, rude, self-seeking, easily angered, a keeper of wrong-doings, and love is not a delighter in evil.
If this is my mark, how do I measure myself? I believe ground zero is measured by how I love my wife and my children. These would be the closest people to me and arguably the “easiest” to love. Perhaps this is the starting point of my preparation. Does my love for them exhibit the characteristics determined by the definition from 1 Corinthians 13? If not, how might I be preparing myself to grow more faithfully in achieving that mark?
Part of preparation requires a plan, another part requires action and determination, and a third part requires sacrifice. Evelyn Underhill describes some of this thought with the following words:
It is this constant correlation between inward and outward that really matters; and this has always been the difficulty for human beings, because there are two natures in us, pulling different ways, and their reconciliation is a long and arduous task. Many people seem to think that the spiritual life necessarily requires a definite and exacting plan of study. It does not. But it does require a definite plan of life; and courage in sticking to the plan, not merely for days or weeks, but for years. New mental and emotional habits must be formed, all our interests re-arranged in new proportion round a new centre. This is something, which cannot be hurried; but, unless we take it seriously, can be infinitely delayed. Many people suggest by their behaviour that God is of far less importance than their bath, morning paper, or early cup of tea. The life of co-operation with Him must begin with a full and practical acceptance of the truth that God alone matters; and that He, the Perfect, always desires perfection. Then it will inevitably press us to begin working for perfection; first in our own characters and actions, next in our homes, surroundings, profession and country. We must be prepared for the fact that even on small and personal levels this will cost a good deal; frequently thwarting our own inclinations and demanding real sacrifice. –Evelyn Underhill
Indeed, how then do we prepare. I plan to explore these themes (love and preparation) in more detail as the week progresses. I hope you will explore them with me.
God is with me, but more, God is within me, giving me existence. Let me dwell for a moment on God’s life-giving presence in my body, my mind, my heart, and in the whole of my life. God is not foreign to my freedom. Instead the Spirit breathes life into my most intimate desires, gently nudging me towards all that is good. I ask for grace to let myself be enfolded by the Spirit.
How can a young person keep their way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to you, O LORD; teach me your decrees. With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.
Heavenly and merciful father, it is from you that redemption comes to us, your adopted children. Look with favor on the family you love. Give true freedom to all who believe in Christ, and bring us all alike to our eternal heritage. We pray this in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ your Son. Amen.
Advent 2nd Sunday: Year C [09DEC12] Theme for week 2—Preparation & Love
And hath raised up a mighty salvation for us : in the house of his servant David;
As he spoke by the mouth of his holy Prophets : which have been since the world began;
That we should be saved from our enemies : and from the hands of all that hate us;
To perform the mercy promised to our forefathers : and to remember his holy Covenant;
To perform the oath which he sware to our forefather Abraham : that he would give us;
That we being delivered out of the hands of our enemies : might serve him without fear;
In holiness and righteousness before him : all the days of our life.
And thou, Child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest : for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;
To give knowledge of salvation unto his people : for the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God : whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us;
To give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death : and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Merciful God, who sent your prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Our Themes for reflection for Advent Week Two:
Love and Preparation
Advent 1st Sunday: Year C [07DEC12] Theme for week 1—Waiting & Hope
For Jerusalem will stumble and Judah will fall, because they speak out against the LORD and refuse to obey him. They provoke him to his face. (Isaiah 3:8)
Maybe there are others who think like me or maybe not, but this passage reminds me of a period in my life when all my actions and the way I lived “spoke out against the LORD.” I lived entirely for myself, refusing to obey the Way of God. The saddest point of all this is that I knew better. I had been taught the Way of God and even believed it to be true, but I wanted to do my own thing. I provoked him to his face.
Today my reflections teeter between solemn and joyous, although more to the joyous because I have clear witness to the work God has done and continues to do in my life. I look back to a time when I did not know how to wait. Impatience, greed, selfish-ambition, and a host of unhealthy attitudes ruled my spirit. Today, I am not free from the temptations of these attitudes, but the Spirit who lives within me helps me to overcome them day by day.
5 LORD, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing. You guard all that is mine. 7 I will bless the LORD who guides me; even at night my heart instructs me. 8 I know the LORD is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me. 11 You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever. (Psalm 16)
Today I consider the state of mind of the man I used to be when I did not embrace “waiting” time. I am so grateful to the Lord, my God; I am no longer that man. What I remember of him, he was narcissistic, selfish, relentlessly ambitious, and oblivious to the souls that surrounded him. Blind to the divine, he sought spiritual fulfillment in selfish pleasures—trinkets, toys, food, drink, popularity, and power.
“Not everyone can wait; neither the sated nor the satisfied nor those without respect can wait. The only ones who can wait are people who carry restlessness around with them and people who look up with reverence to the greatest in the world. Thus Advent can be celebrated only by those whose souls give them no peace, who know that they are poor and incomplete, and who sense something of the greatness that I supposed to come, before which they can only bow in humble timidity, waiting until he inclines himself toward us—the Holy One himself, God in the child in the manger. God is coming; the Lord Jesus I coming; Christmas is coming. Rejoice, O Christendom! -Dietrich Bonhoeffer; God is in the Manger
Turning to God changed him (me) and with the change brought the discipline of waiting and savoring the presence of God in each and every moment of life. This is the place where God is always most prominent—in the moment—in the now. Learning to wait is a priceless gift that has taught me more about misplaced priorities and how to reorient them in a God honoring manner than any other exercise or discipline. For this, I am grateful…for the life it has given to me, to my family, to my friends, and to the communities that I serve.
“Be holy. Love one another. Love one another even more. Live quiet lives, mind your own business, and work with your hands, so people will respect the way you live.” (1 Thess. 4:1-12)
Today my hope is active, in part, because of the reflection on my attitudes toward waiting, both the former and the current. I see how far I have traveled by trusting and following my mentor, Jesus. The awareness of how far he has brought me in such a short time brings confidence to me that his promise to “see me through to completion and maturity in Him” is true. No matter how far I have yet to go, my Triune God, is with me—working in me—to see my completion through to the end.
“As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your righteousness.” (Psalm 17:15)
O Lord, open my lips. And my mouth will proclaim your praise.
O eternal Glory of heaven, blessed Hope of mortals, give your right hand to those who are getting up; let the soul arise sober and, ardent in praise, returning thanks to you.
Lord, our eternal God, you alone are worthy of our highest praise. Help us to love you above all things, that we might serve our brothers and sisters with a love that is worthy of you. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.
Lord, hear my prayer, And let my cry come unto you.
Advent 1st Sunday: Year C [05DEC12] Theme for week 1—Waiting & Hope
Today, my waiting is a lament. In the past 24 hours I have been overcome with a virus, a cold or flu of some sort. My muscles, bones, head, and lungs all hurt. I have a fever and it is difficult to breath… sinuses plugged, ears plugged, head aching and stuffy; no fun at all. Already, I’ve had to adjust my schedule and cancel meetings and the complications continue to mount. While I know there are people in far worse physical health than I am, I lament the fact that my present condition is not the way that things are supposed to be.
He restores my soul. He guides me along right paths. (Psalm 23:3)
As I take the time to consider my sickness, I realize in this lament is a different kind of waiting… a waiting that says to me; “I will endure and persevere through this season of situations and circumstance that should not be, for the sake of and hope for things that be and are yet to come.” These things that “should not be” certainly extend beyond the situation of my flu bug. We experience all manner of grief, sorrow, and tears while we wait. The scourge of disease, a myriad of health afflictions, and death surround us at every turn. Emotional turmoil, relationship ills, and the inability to experience shalom in our present world are reminders that things are not the way they should be. We are reminded by the circumstances of our waiting that we are meant for something more, so hope blooms and swells waiting to burst forth with the promises of something more, something better, and something eternal.
He restores my soul. He guides me along right paths. (Psalm 23:3)
Richard Beck offers thoughts about Advent as a lament, which I believe adds insight to my own.
Advent is sort of like a lament. Advent is being the slave in Egypt, sitting with the experience of exile. Advent is about looking for God and hoping for God in a situation where God’s promises are outstanding and yet to be fulfilled. So I wonder if our rushing through Advent to the celebration of Christmas might have some spiritual consequences, akin to skipping Lent so we can get to Easter. Might Christmas be too triumphalistic without Advent? Much like Easter Sunday without Good Friday? Waiting for God and enduring the pain of that waiting is a spiritual discipline. Advent is a time to cultivate that discipline. A time to chasten the rush to happy endings in our spiritual lives. We must learn to wait on God. We must learn to celebrate Advent. (from Experimental Theology by Richard Beck)
The more I consider these thoughts, the more I wonder if part of this season of “things that should not be” are part of the sanctifying process brought on by our Lord. Even the oppression and slavery of the people of Israel in Egypt was a season of being set aside for the LORD’s purposes and use—this is the definition of sanctification—being set aside for the purposes of God. Enduring hard places and hard times are quite possibly a means of sanctification for us. We wait in them and through them, trusting God will lead us to what we hope for on the other side—wholeness, health as He intended, and eternal shalom with Him.
When you realize that the only thing worth living for is sanctity. Then you will be satisfied to let God lead you to sanctity by paths that you cannot understand. You will travel in darkness in which you will no longer be concerned with yourself and no longer compare yourself with other men. -Thomas Merton (from New Seeds of Contemplation)
He restores my soul. He guides me along right paths. (Psalm 23:3)
To you, O Christ, King most loving, and to the Father be glory with the Spirit, the Paraclete, for everlasting ages. May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations. May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you… May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples justly and guide the nations of the earth. May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you.
The starting point for the early church was this awareness of the abyss of sin inside each person. God, who is all charity and light, wants to make us perfect as he is perfect, shot through with his radiance. The first step in our healing, then, is not being comforted. It is taking a hard look at the cleansing that needs to be done.
Throughout this day, O LORD, I will pause, take a breath, and listen with my heart. I will release my need to know and embrace trust that You have put me on the right path, which will help me to become all that you intend for me to be.
A Week (weak) of Reflections & Examinations—Jeff’s Journal
I’ve been reviewing and reflecting on the writings in my journal from the past several days. As we approach this season of Advent, the season of expectant waiting, I notice in my writing the tension of a long period of waiting already. I am not sure if the analogy is an appropriate or “right” one, but it goes something like this. Many of my spiritual days over the past few years have been spent as if I draw in a deep breath, hold it until almost blacking out and then exhale with loud, “wooshing” sigh—feeling tired and almost spent—then deeply drawing in another big breath to hold…starting this exhausting process all over again. I think this sounds something worse than it actually is, but there is a certain “yes” and “not quite” that I experience on the way of my Christian journey that is difficult to explain. I “see and hear” these deep inhales and exhales in my writings…I’ll let them speak for me.
(17NOV12) To whom shall I go, O Lord? You alone have the words of life, and I have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God. Praise be to You, Lord Jesus Christ, King of endless glory. Sometimes though, I admit, I get tired…I get tired of praying, I get tired of waiting, I get tired of looking. But I will keep on praying, watching, looking, and waiting because as Peter said to you, “I have nowhere else to go.” Even as you are God in flesh, Jesus, You know all the sufferings and loneliness that a man will face. You were driven into the desert wilderness, You were rejected by your people as well as your closest friends…and you were also given over to the cross to become an innocent—murdered for the sins of humanity—even my sins.
You are God… Teach me to count my days that I might gain a wise heart. Satisfy me in the morning with your steadfast love, so I might rejoice and be glad all my days. (Ps. 90:2, 12, 14)
(18NOV12) “This is but the beginning of birth pangs.” -Jesus (Mark13:8)
(20NOV12) As I sit here, the beating of my heart, the ebb and flow of my breathing the movements of my mind are all signs of God’s ongoing creation in me. I pause for a moment, and become aware of this presence of God within me and respond with these thoughts… I am the reflection of Your image, O God, as broken and fragile as I am, it is amazing that I still bear the image of the great God who created me. I ask for Your help and Your forgiveness for the many ways I “miss the mark” of Your image and thereby sin against You and Your image. I pray, O Lord, for more of Your presence and more of Your Spirit in my life—a reminder that You are always near—forever with and within me, faithful to complete the good work You have started in me. I pray that I might see all You have planned and foreordained for the people who follow You and proclaim You as their God. Amen.
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the LORD, is my strength. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
(21NOV12) In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I will ask God’s help, to be free from my own preoccupations and pretensions; I will ask to be open to God in this time of prayer, to come to love and serve Him more. Help me, O Lord, to be ever more conscious of Your presence. Teach me to recognize Your presence in others. Fill my heart with gratitude for the times Your love has been shown to me through the actions and words of others and help me to be aware of the times it is You who works through me. I believe and trust in God the Father Almighty; I believe and trust in Jesus Christ His Son. I believe and trust in the Holy Spirit. I believe and trust in the Three in One.
I will study the way that is blameless. When shall I attain it? (Psalm 101:2)
And this is part of my heart’s cry… I think it is what drives me to the place of mourning my own “unworthiness” of poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3-4). I read the remaining words of the psalmist from Psalm 101 and he asks; “When will I attain the way of blamelessness?” Here follows his list of “ways to walk.” (1) with integrity of heart (2) no evil or wicked thing before his eyes (3) avoid the works of those who are not on-the-way (4) steer clear of perversity and evil (5) no slanderous talk (6) refrain from haughty and arrogant attitudes (7) no quarter given to any lies or deceit (8) seek to eradicate evil and evil doers. I like to tell myself that I am onboard with this list, but every time I take inventory and do a sweep of my heart, I find another pile of this junk. Ugh! Is there no end??? I will study the way that is blameless. When will I attain it?
My eyes fail from watching for your salvation and for the fulfillment of your righteous promise. Deal with your servant according to your steadfast love, and teach me your statutes… My eyes shed streams of tears because your law is not kept. (Especially with me) Psalm 119:123-124, 136
From James (James 3:13-18) come additional words that can be helpful for cleaning crud from my heart. James says; “Show your good life with works done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts do not be boastful and false to the truth… Wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” I pray, O God, You to help me act on these areas you bring notice of in me. Help me to yield and be open to all the areas that need refining within me. Do Your work and help me to partner with You in the ways that are blameless and in some way… through the suffering You endured, attain the righteousness You impute to me. I pray Your help. Amen.
(23NOV12) “Hear my prayer, O LORD: let my cry come to You. Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress. Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call. I do not sleep; I am like a lonely bird on the housetop. (Psalm 102:1-2, 7).
Pray always—and do not lose heart—will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry out to Him day and night? …When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth? (Luke 18:1-8)
James (James 5:7-8) continues his wise counsel to me; “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord, The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” I’m learning patience, with fits and starts, stumbles, crumbles, and some successes…I’m learning to wait. Perhaps the tension will always be with me; I don’t know how it will all work out, but I do know that in the tension and with the wait God is near and within me. It is with this knowledge and affirmation of His word that I will persevere. Where else can I go?
Book Review: The Paraclete Book of Hospitality
Author: The Editors of Paraclete Press
Publisher: Paraclete Press ISBN: 9781557256652
I have just finished a genuinely heart-warming and seriously challenging book. I found the Paraclete Book of Hospitality a remarkable book considering that it was able to achieve both responses from me; that is “warmed” and “challenged.” I don’t believe those feelings are mutually exclusive, but it is rare that I put down a book feeling as significantly challenged (maybe even spanked a bit) as I did and still have the very real sense that I was loved deeply in the process. I know I sensed a special nearness of the presence of God as I was reading.
This is a small book; at less than 120 pages, it is also short. It is not a difficult read, nor does it take long to read… but I recommend taking time to chew the content slowly. The content is best digested along with thoughtful self-examination or it was for me.
The book is based upon the teachings of hospitality from the Bible; “love your neighbor as yourself.” The inspiration for Benedict’s Rule and the subsequent teaching that focuses on the subject of hospitality (see The Rule of St. Benedict 53:1).
All who arrive as guests are to be welcomed like Christ, for he is going to say, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
I found an especially challenging quote in chapter three from Lonni Collins Pratt and Father Dan Homan who reflect in their book Radical Hospitality the following:
“Benedict finds God in people. You can’t ignore people when God is looking out their eyes at you. In the tiresome, the invalid, the rebellious, we are faced with God. It is our own failures to love that we have to deal with when we talk of hospitality.” (pg.41)
Page after page, chapter after chapter, raising-the-bar challenges are seasoned with loving examples and practical suggestions to enter the practice of a life-giving hospitality. There are suggestions for practicing hospitality at home (probably one of the places it might be needed most…), there are creative ways suggested to care for others, and a chapter I especially enjoyed (Chapter Five) teaches ways to celebrate and practice hospitality through the seasons of the year (the Church Calendar).
“Every human encounter I holy.” (page 76)
Chapters Seven and Eight are also full of great suggestions for integrating hospitality into the dailyness of our lives. These are also very challenging chapters as the editors include additional teachings from the Bible and other monastic rules of life. A couple of quotes I will continue to ponder…
“Do not be nowhere in your effort to be everywhere, or attentive to no one simply because you are running after everyone.” And “Welcome God. Unless you are God-filled there will be no sharing and giving, unless he lives in you, you will be unable to welcome people sincerely.” Both quotes from -Jerusalem Community Rule of Life.
This is a delightful little book…and one not to be taken lightly. There is wisdom for the ages found in these pages. We can learn much by putting to practice the words and suggestions from this Paraclete Book of Hospitality.
Book Review: Creating a Life Together
Author: Diana Leafe Christian
Publisher: New Society Publishers
Wow. This has to be THE “mother of all books” on intentional communities. It certainly lives up to the title and subtitle on its cover. I think practical tools is a likely understatement as the book goes into much detail on many of the serious nuts and bolts of forming intentional community. I was and am beyond impressed with the information I found in Creating a Life Together; Diana Leafe Christian has done an exemplary job of bringing together a large amount of information and summarizing it into an intellectually digestive form. I am surprised at the breadth and depth of detail she has been able to bring into one volume and still maintain a level of readability that is unexpected for a book that seems like it should read more like an encyclopedia or some multi-step manual. My point; it reads very well. In fact, I read most of the book during a 3-hour flight…finding it almost as exciting as a mystery or action-adventure title on the NY Times Bestseller list. Really!
As I have already said, the book is everything it claims to be and more. The book draws on the collective experience of the author, Diana Leafe Christian, who has served as the editor of Communities magazine since 1993 and has many years of experience observing and living as a member of intentional communities. Additionally, the book also shares insight and example from a number of community models—their best and worst practices—so the reader is provided with “real world” experience to examine.
Creating a Life Together is divided into three primary sections. Part one deals with start-up issues; this section of the book is worth its cost alone. Part two is what I might refer to as the “engine room” of the intentional community and includes discussion about agreements, policy, legal advice and entity, property concerns, zoning issues, neighbors, and financing. It covers most of the mechanics involved with forming an intentional community. While this aspect of community might seem burdensome and/or boring, it absolutely cannot be overlooked and I believe Diana has done a great job of presenting this information fairly and highlighting its importance as well. Part three shares about the nature and development of the community itself…the people factor as it were, describing how people thrive, are nourished, and deal with conflict within the close confines of this type of neighborhood. There are many great examples of how it is done right and how it is done wrong in this section along with a number of very good resources. The book is rounded out with a great compilation of resource material found in the appendices featuring examples of community vision documents, sample community agreements, and information that I found extremely helpful for setting up a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. There is also a great list of books, websites, and other organizations at the end of the book that can serve for next steps or deeper study into specific areas relative to the intentional community model.
I am so very glad to have found this book. Certain aspects of it caused pangs of depression as I considered some of the aspects of community forming that aren’t so exciting for me, but I am glad to have the reality check and awareness of these aspects brought to my attention, so I have both eyes open as I proceed with learning about (and hopefully becoming part of) an intentional community. If you are considering this type of lifestyle, this book is a “must have” for you. Don’t miss it!
Book Review: Thin Places
Authors: Jon Huckins w/ Rob Yackley
Published by: The House Studio
I purchased this book because I’m interested in intentional Christian communities. I read it and I come away with the feeling of… hmmm… okay. I think this is good. No, I think this is great and here’s why. Thin Places is not selling hype, glitz, glam or gimmick. What the NieuCommunities is sharing in their Thin Places experience is real life, everyday life, plain old life… that is, as plain as living life under the authority and mission of the Almighty God of all Creation can be.
The book is about community and I learned about community from it, but it is not about the “nuts and bolts” of establishing or managing an intentional community. There is some of that, but more, the book is about attitude of mind and heart. The sub-title of the book reveals this attitude in these words; “6 Postures for Creating & Practicing Missional Community.” The introduction of the book does well to establish the tone and the pace for the chapters that follow with these words:
Cloaked in the covering of covenant community, we pilgrimage through each of the following posture as learners and practitioners:
Listening: We desire to be attuned to God, to self, and to our neighborhood.
Submerging: We desire to embody Jesus in our neighborhood while participating in an apprenticing community.
Inviting: We desire to grasp the depth of God’s invitation to kingdom life and to become more inviting and invited people while welcoming our neighbors into God’s redemptive story.
Contending: We desire to confront the things that hinder the full expression of the kingdom of God, both spiritual and natural, in our community, among our friends and neighbors, and in our city.
Imagining: We desire to discern God’s intent on our lives and help shape transformational faith communities.
Entrusting: We desire to entrust people to God and to others, celebrate our deeper understanding of God’ call on our lives, and lean confidently into our future. (p.28)
This is Thin Places. The remainder of the book walks the reader in a contemplative, yet practical, example of what it means to live in this nieu-monastic posture of “life intertwined” as emissaries of Christ in the heart of the neighborhood/community in which he draws and plants you. I found Thin Places a practical, real, and beautiful story. It is the story I’m pursuing for my own life and hope to find a group of people committed to living out this everyday way of faith.
I loved the ending words from the back cover of the book and find them appropriate to conclude this review; “Through Thin Places, create a fertile soil to commune with God, live in deep community with others, and extend the good news of the kingdom in your local contexts.” Yes. Thin Places might awaken you to do exactly that.