Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Moving in Next Door

Hi, all. This is the last post I'm making at this blog address. I will continue to blog, just at a new address. Please point your web browser to:

The New Adventures of Experiment House.
The group blog thing doesn't play well with my new Facebook account.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Reborn



On the cusp of seeing the dream
become the reality of where I'm waking.

On the edge of taking the chance,
like walking on water or
new steps to that dance.

On the cusp of waking from pain
to see my own life being born again.

Drinking in life and exhaling hope.
Delivering new moments that are yet to be wrote.

Taking in air to sing once more,
This time the melody won't whisper -
I'll roar.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

This is where I'm at...

teach me how to see

hey
broken
one

hey
you
who
hurt
look
at me

let
your eyes
lock on to mine
and shed
the hidden secrets of
your troubled journey
your interrupted innocence
the muddied waters
of your broken memories

teach
me how to see
teach me how to see
because i am blinded
by my dollar bills
and the light
of my impending career
but i want to see
i want to see
who you are
who God created you to be
who He wants you
to become

so
take my trembling finger
and place it
gently
on that part of you that hurts
that lurks in darkness
that suffers in silence
because i want to
feel
your pain

but
i have ignored my own pain
for so long
i have forgotten how to feel
but my desire
shrouded in frustration
my desire is to see
and feel
that broken space
because i am confident
that my healer
the wonderful counselor
the pierced one
can come
and heal
as he's done
for me

so
would you give me your eyes?
lend me your heart?
i want to feel
i want to see
i want to
LIVE
and
i want to say
in my own stuttering way
that God knows
that God cares
that God sees
that God can
that God
will

------------------
by Andrew Jones, 1996

Waiting



I had hoped to hear some good news earlier this week. I have come to realize how important this matter has become to me.

I'm blessed in so many ways, why is it that this ONE thing has seem to overshadow all the great things in my life?

Some of my myspace friends would say I'm being "emo"about this, because I feel as if I could write many, many sad poems while I continue to wait for this issue to be worked out.

I'm tired of the word - Issue.

So many of us have them and we become so wrapped up in them - it's impossible to see anything else but - the issue.

This situation isn't what I thought it would be, but it is. It is. It is.

I want to be wise, thoughtful and patient in this whole matter... but I'm not. I feel so tired of waiting.

As the dawn of a new year approaches, I desire for freedom - progress and movement.

This is my prayer. As I wait. As I trust. Open the doors that seem stuck - help me to become unstuck - help me to not be the issue anymore.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Journey

I have a vague recollection of people during the early 1980s wearing buttons emboldened with the words, "I FOUND IT!" Whether it was a conversation starter for evangelization or a promotional item for a pyramid scheme is still unclear. It would have served either purpose quite ably in the Reagan years. Today—not so much. The most significant development in my spirituality has been the recognition over time that life is a journey rather than a destination in which I have arrived.

At the end of a busy and stressful week, my wife's car broke down on her long commute home from work tonight. There was nothing more that she wanted to do than to continue to her destination without hindrance, but found herself waylaid by the roadside. All she could do was wait.

I feel similarly stuck in many aspects. Our family had every indication that we were going to receive some long-awaited good news on Monday, but it never materialized. A family member is going through a serious personal crisis that is not easily resolved. The flu that I thought I was over and done with earlier in the week came back stronger than ever today.

The Israelites were guided throughout their passage by God who appeared as a "Cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night" (Nehemiah 9:12 NIV). What I would give for that kind of moment by moment guidance right now. Yet it is the same God that beckons me forth on my journey—even if I'm not sure of the precise direction at the moment.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Conqueror Worm


I love the Edgar Allan Poe cycle of films directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price. After Corman departed after six or seven films, American International Pictures kept the series going with a series of different directors. Most genre fans -- myself included -- consider that a big mistake. Corman had a real vision and flair for the material that the other directors lacked.

The one notable exception is the 1968 film, The Conqueror Worm, directed by Michael Reeves. It's a gruesome and unrelenting tale of witchhunting in civil war England. Vincent Price plays Matthew Hopkins, the "Witchfinder General", in a cruel and humorless manner that is a million miles away from his usual campy screen portrayals. The fact that Hopkins is convinced that he is a humble servant doing "the Lord's work" makes him all the more menacing.

I watched it on panned-and-scanned VHS last night and was convinced that it ranks up with Night of the Living Dead and The Wicker Man as one of the few truly great horror films. Why isn't this gem on DVD?

Friday, December 15, 2006

Life is Good Part Two

I ended part one with the words, "I can't wait to find out how the next four weeks of class turn out!" The answer turned out to be, "Better than I could have ever imagined!"

The last month was a time of unprecedented spiritual growth in my life. I don't know how to explain it any better than that—for once my words fail me. All I can say is that my life is significantly different than it was when I began this course in spiritual direction. I will do my best to at least record my experiences, even if I can't fully articulate how it all occurred. But be prepared for some fumbling around!

I began to squawk as soon as I was born and have never really taken a break in the ensuing 38 years. Personally and professionally I spend much of my time "making noise": writing, making videos, recording radio shows, designing websites, and public speaking. God used this class as a tool to develop some necessary balance in my life. The recurring theme of the last four weeks can be summed up in one word: listen.

My prayer life has changed significantly. I approach God with a holy expectation. It's not some feeling that I've mustered up on my own. I just now have faith that there is two-way communication going on and it is the most natural thing in the world. I have seen a number of specific prayer requests answered during the last month. I don't mean to imply that I've unlocked some secret way of prayer that gets God to do my bidding, rather it is more like I am finally am "in tune" with God after all these years.

I was somewhat overwhelmed by my coursework during the first four weeks and I found that my journaling suffered. My interest in journaling grew during the final month of the course. I found myself approaching it more as something I enjoyed rather than as yet another item on my to-do list. Plus, I had more to write about!

Meeting with my spiritual director was helpful. Direction continues to help me clarify issues related to my rule of life and discerning a call to ministry. Feelings of vulnerability continue to be a concern to me and I will address this with my director. Really!

God is directing my attention towards the harsh realities of life. It is becoming apparent to me that much of the way we live in the 21st century is destructive and unsustainable. I haven't received some huge plan from God or anything about how I'm going to stop global warming or unjust economic systems, but at least opening up my eyes is a start.

I finished my last assignment for Spiritual Direction tonight. It was sad to complete this class that has been such a catalyst for spiritual growth. Of course, the disciplines practiced and lessons learned will continue to impact my life even though the course is over!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Confessions of an Introvert

My life is characterized by busyness, noise, and distraction.

FERGALICIOUS! I am jolted out of sleep by the sounds of what passes for pop music these days. It is still dark, but my home is quickly filled with activity: someone let out the dog, you can't wear that to school, other people need to use the shower too you know, if we're out of milk make toast, who's turn is it to shovel the walk, and we are leaving in 5 minutes and that's final!

Then the day gets busy.

I have e-mail, voice mail, meetings, the internet, a cell phone and a PDA to keep me on task at work. I use the phrase "on task" in the loosest sense of the words. I find that the lines of communication that keep me so well connected to the world of business and industry often tangle, twist, and constrain me. For every one item checked off my to-do list, three tasks are added.

Evenings find me taxiing my children to and from activities, doing household chores or church activities, and keeping up with my school assignments. Somewhere in between this I gulp down some food and sneak in some conversation with my wife and kids before collapsing into bed to restart the whole cycle in seven hours.

Fergalicious, indeed.

I read in my devotions that Jesus said, "…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10 NIV). I wade out into a stream of living water and am dragged away by the undertow of the urgent, routine, and predictable. I am drowning but am distracted by the frenetic flailing of my arms and legs.

The thought of this terrifies me. The Old Testament recounts how God had to send prophets to rouse his chosen people out of their complacency. The New Testament records how the Pharisees—maybe the most staunchly devout people ever—utterly missed God when he was right there staring them in the face: "'When evening comes, you say, "It will be fair weather, for the sky is red," and in the morning, "Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast." You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times' (Matthew 16: 2–3 NIV). God's word makes it abundantly clear that my religious pedigree is no guarantee against spiritual blindness.

Moon and Benner point out that "…many in the Christian world have recently awakened to the truth that wearing the label 'Christian' is not synonymous with experiencing the intimate, moment-by-moment relationship with God that souls were designed to enjoy" (13)… Yet, my blindness is not strictly a private matter. As my practice of lectio divina regularly reminds me, "I exist in a web of relationships—links to nature, people, God" (Sacred Space 9). My inaction and disengagement can costs the people of this world dearly, the people Christ came to redeem.

Right now as I write this it occurs to me that millions of individuals are in slavery right now throughout the world. A third of the world is at war. Humankind is rapidly heading for a massive ecological crisis and no one has a clue how to wean ourselves off of the lifestyle which is causing it. The Third World gets stuck with holding the tab for our low, low prices.

I am overwhelmed and do not know where to start.

The good news—great news—is that God knows and his plan is more wonderful than I could ever imagine! "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9 NIV). The first step in becoming engaged in this plan is to listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying. Spiritual Direction is helping me in this endeavor.

William A. Barry and William J. Connolly penned the most common definition of spiritual direction: "We define Christian spiritual direction as the help given by one Christian to another which enables that person to pay attention to God's personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with this God, and to live out the consequences of this relationship" (Moon 15).

For all the esoteric baggage that its name carries, spiritual direction is really a rather simple proposition. Tony Jones explains, "The belief implicit in spiritual direction is that God's Spirit is alive and active in the world, constantly moving in the believer's life. The second premise is that believers who are experienced in life and faith and who are committed to spiritual disciplines themselves may be able to help others to notice the movements of the spirit" (123).

While never referred to as "spiritual direction" in the Bible, it is nevertheless evident in the relationships of Eli and Samuel, Jesus and the disciples, and Paul and Timothy, just to name a few examples. Christian history abounds with influence through the Desert Fathers and Mothers, John Wesley, and even in the prolific correspondence of C.S. Lewis.

Protestants are the individualists of the church and I am no exception. When I first heard of spiritual direction I had a hard time comprehending what it could accomplish that my own personal prayer time could not. The answer is perspective. As Reginald Johnson writes in Your Personality and the Spiritual Life, "We really do need each other in the body of Christ. Our experience of the Lord is always partial and it is inevitably impoverished when we keep ourselves from the contributions which others could bring to us…In this way our understanding and experience of God can be expanded" (165). Jeremiah 17: 9 puts it this way: "The heart is deceitful above all things" (NIV)…

A spiritual director can be a ministry professional or a lay person. They may or may not be formally educated and trained in soul care. God can use people from many different walks of life to accomplish his purposes: "Although a spiritual director may have many natural gifts, trusting in their competency or expertise is not our main objective. Instead, we seek to trust God in them, and in the Holy Spirit through them. The most helpful qualities they have to offer are a heart surrendered to God and a willingness to listen to God with us" (Bakke 73-4).

I believe that I have found a spiritual director with these qualities, yet I find that I often struggle with really opening up in the sessions. Growing up, my family never really shared their feelings. My church valued answers and shunned questions. While logically I don't fear judgment from my spiritual director, I am overcome with an irrational fear of being rejected. I have much growing to do in this area.

M. Robert Mulholland suggests a relation between openness with other people and God:

"When we are in control of our relationship with God, when we try to maintain a privatized spirituality, we have to maintain a defensive posture towards others. We have to protect ourselves against them because we sense, unconsciously if not consciously, that there is a fatal flaw somewhere in our privatized spirituality—and anyone might disclose it. I have to keep you at arm's length lest you reveal the weakness, the flaw, in my privatized spirituality. …if I can release that obsessive self-control of my relationship with God to God, then I no longer have to fear you. I can welcome your insights into my incompleteness, because you can be a means of God's grace to awaken me to the blind spots in my life and my relationship with God. I can receive the gifts of your temperament preference and openly share mine with you. I can disclose to you the growing edges of my spiritual pilgrimage, the tender places of my brokenness and the hard places of my bondage, and receive God's healing, liberating grace through you. You can become a means of transforming grace, and I can welcome you. I can also commit myself to you in your brokenness and bondage and allow God to work through me in God's way, not my manipulative one" (Mulholland 154-5).

It may be a painful process by which to submit, but I am committed to working through this issue of vulnerability. The results of spiritual direction are far too vital for me to forgo: "Discernment of spirits is necessary for the sake of the People of God, so that they may recognize and participate in the act/work of God in their midst as this relates to the unfolding of His great plan of salvation; in effect, it is God's gift of 'spiritual sight' which helps identify the critical path of our pilgrimage to God" (Stravinskas 312).

There is no denying that this world needs Christ. There are places where he wants me to be his hands and feet. I only need listen and spiritual direction is vital to this goal. W. Paul Jones writes in The Art of Spiritual Direction, "Without lifelong support and disciplined accountability within the context of Christian vision, Christianity does little more than justify, make palatable, and provide coping skills for a life that is intrinsically secular and often un-Christian" (29) May we all experience a deep, vital relationship with God. This planet is depending on it.

WORKS CITED

Bakke, Jeannette A. Holy Invitations. Grand Rapids MI: Baker, 2000.

Johnson, Reginald D. Your Personality and the Spiritual Life. Gainesville FL: Center for Applications of Psychological Type, 1999.

Jones, Tony. Soul Shaper. Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 2003.

Jones, W. Paul. The Art of Spiritual Direction. Nashville TN: Upper Room, 2002.

Life Application Bible: New International Bible. Wheaton IL: Tyndale House, 1991.

Moon, Gary W. and David G. Benner (eds). Spiritual Direction and the Care of Souls. Downers Grove IL: InterVaristy, 2004.

Mulholland, M. Robert. Invitation to a Journey. Downers Grove IL: InterVaristy, 1993.

Sacred Space. Notre Dame IN: Ave Maria, 2006.

Stravinskas, Peter M.J. (ed). Our Sunday Visitor's Catholic Encyclopedia. Huntington IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 1991.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Does psychology help or hinder spiritual formation?

Being informed about human psychology is almost a requirement of contemporary soul care. It informs us of the workings of the human psyche and the mind’s relationship to the body. Understanding the techniques of counseling can assist us in our dealings with people and our ability to provide a compassionate response to people in crisis. (I’m going to use the terms psychology and counseling like they’re interchangeable during this post even though they aren’t.)

Psychology can be helpful in making a person self-aware. For instance, people can learn about stimuli that trigger certain behaviors in themselves. It can help them understand the stages of life and characteristics of a crisis. Behavioral counseling in particular can be very helpful in changing behavior. These are just a few of the beneficial aspects of counseling and each of them can have “Christian” applications.

Psychology can be misused, too. A person can say “That’s just the way I am” as a way of avoiding responsibility for their behavior. (Actually, come to think of it that’s more of a misunderstanding of psychology.) We can all be “victims” forgetting that we’ve all done our share of victimizing.

It’s critical to keep in mind that we don’t rely on counseling techniques any more than our business expertise in working with sinners. We rely on God and our work is Spirit inspired and Spirit empowered.

Full Circle

The Bible doesn’t exactly say how long our parents dwelled together in the garden before the fall, but my feeling is something along the lines of five minutes. A break in fellowship with God quickly became a break in fellowship with each other as minimization, denial, and blame befell the day. I don’t think the behavior of humankind has changed that much in the subsequent years.

Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer imparts much spiritual wisdom about how we relate to God, each other, and ourselves. It is an uncomfortable book to read because the theologian so precisely calls out our sins. But it ultimately serves a redemptive purpose for the brave souls who are willing to submit to the examination. A reader will no longer be satisfied with a pale imitation of community life.

Bonhoeffer early on defines the objective of Christian community, which is to “…meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation” (23). The final chapter, Confession and Communion, appropriately concludes with a vivid description of that purpose actualized: “As the members of the congregation are united in body and blood at the table of the Lord so will they be together in eternity” (122).

There are no shortcuts to realizing that unity. We must look at the Christian community as “not an ideal but a divine reality” (26). Our lives must be bathed in scripture, prayer, and ministry to each other. After all, if those conditions are not met, a safe environment for confession and communion will never exist.

Work Cited

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich and John W. Doberstein (trans). Life Together. SanFrancisco CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1954.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Spiritual Formation is good for the church

I attribute the current interest in spiritual direction to a hunger for God that isn't being satisfied in our parishes. Actually, I would widen the scope of interest beyond spiritual direction to include other spiritual formation activities and even things like praying the liturgy.

I shudder to think where I would be in my relationship with the Lord if I would have left my spiritual nurture up to my church. There are no corporate disciplines, no meaningful expectations or boundaries, Sunday School functions as a support group, and I get to listen to downloaded prep for a sermon every week. Perhaps if there were more growth opportunities available in my local congregation, God wouldn't have fostered in me an interest in spiritual formation. Who can say?

I've written much about my leanings towards isolation and how I initially carried that preference into my practice of spiritual formation. The good news is that the practice of the disciplines has steered me back into the corporate life with a greater love, devotion, and understanding. I bring back those experiences and way of doing things into the life of the body.

Candle Lighting Ceremony Remembers Children

I thought this might be of interest to those in Jamestown, NY or Warren, PA.

Friend to Friend Support Group invites you to join with tens of thousands of families around the globe for the tenth annual Worldwide Candle Lighting Ceremony to remember all children who have died. The event is free and will be held at First Lutheran Church of Warren, corner of Third Ave. and East Street on Sunday, December 10 at 6:30 pm.

“This is truly a worldwide event that allows bereaved families everywhere the opportunity to unite following their combined loss and to show the world that while a child may have died, that child was important and will never be forgotten,” says Carna Chamberlin, LSW, who facilitates the support group on behalf of Family Services of Warren County. “Whether someone has suffered the personal loss of a child, brother or sister, or grandchild, or simply wants to show compassion to those who have, we encourage all to join with us in remembering those children who are no longer here.”

The names of loved ones will be read during the ceremony. Participants can bring a picture or memento of their loved one to display. A time of sharing and refreshments will be held after the candle lighting.

Family Services of Warren County provides comprehensive and professional counseling, drug and alcohol services, and youth programs. It is a United Fund Member Agency. For more information about this special event or any of its other services, please call (814) 723-1330.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Community & Early Methodism

Spiritual direction is defined by Barry and Connolly as "…help given by one Christian to another which enables that person to pay attention to God's personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with this God, and to live out the consequences of this relationship" (Moon 15).

John Wesley's connexionalism, as described in the book Covenant Discipleship, appears to serve the same goals. Connolly describes the bands as "a process of mutual confession" (Lowes 30). The class meeting is explained as a "supportive structure for discipleship, grounded in the realities of daily living in the world, and undergirded by common sense" (Lowes 41). I get the impression that connexionalism blurred some of the lines between mentoring and spiritual direction. That is perhaps a consequence of its more rigid structure.

I won't say that spiritual direction and connexionalism are twins as much as cousins… But anyways, early Methodism rocks!!!

The Mulholland and Johnson texts last semester helped me recognize the importance of others in my spiritual development. This class is examining the theme in greater detail and I find myself with a desire for corporate spirituality that is quite unlike anything I've experienced before. (Which is really saying something—remember, I'm so introverted I'm actually invisible.)

I find that I'm agreeing with much of what Lowes is writing about in Covenant Discipleship, but don't have a clue how to implement any of it in today's church. The extent of individualism in the Christian experience today is staggering. (And I type this realizing that I'm often part of this problem.)

I would guess that there is a lot of spiritual direction that goes under the radar in our churches. Many "spiritual directors" probably have never heard the term. It's got me thinking about ends and means. New trends continually snake through our churches. It's often hard to remember a few years later why a particular program or method was even attractive. But if we keep the ends in mind—discipleship and service—much spiritual direction will occur no matter what it's called.


Works Cited

Watson, David Lowes. Covenant Discipleship. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1998.

Moon, Gary W. and David G. Benner (eds). Spiritual Direction and the Care of Souls. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2004.

Disconnected and Connected

Least Connected is how I feel when all the rushing to duties
removes the possibility of time to steal a chat, a smile, a hug or a look.

Most Connected is how I feel when the friend that I'm thinking of digits
are on my caller id blinking.

Least Connected is what happens when my life has lifted,
out of my hands and placed within reach of someone that would be happy to see:
me pushed, shoved and locked into their controlling, cold, dark closet.

Most connected is what happens when walking down a November street -
a resturanteur friend I know shouts, "Hey Tara come in, relax and take the world off your feet.

Inhale
Exhale
Connect and Release.
Connections that teach me how to live are the ones that I keep.

Most connected is the "Wow" moment when I realise
that the people that try to confine me
are really the helpless captives in disguise.

Isolation and division break the foundations of a plan.
Purpose, excitement, encouragement and vision
help me to stay focused and stand-
when others refuse to see the connections before them
they miss the Promised Land.

Inhale
Exhale
Connect and Release.
Connections that teach me how to live are the ones that I keep.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

A better way of doing church staff meetings?

I recently spoke with a friend of mine after a long absence. Both our families had attended church together in the 1990s but had lost touch after we both moved on to new congregations. I recognized the church he said he was now attending as one with a great reputation in the community. I asked him how things were going.

"Great!" he replied. "I stay away from committees and boards and just enjoy myself now!"

We shared a chuckle at the expense of our previous church. In its denomination, that congregation is known as one of the most traditional churches in the nation. My friend and I were both veterans of the "worship wars" of the mid 90s. We joked about numerous wasted evenings wrestling with critical issues like the color of carpeting and the menu of the annual church picnic.

I have lived through my share of crazy power struggles, too, so I empathize with my friend. However, I also feel sad for him and his church. He is an individual at the "top of his game" and the congregation would surely benefit from his experience and insight.

Mark Yaconelli, founder of the Sabbath retreats and co-director of the Youth Ministry and Spirituality Project, addressed the need for a more contemplative approach to the staff meeting in a 2003 Youthworker Journal article. Although Yaconelli never directly states the words "spiritual direction" he describes a group discernment process.

The process doesn't fit into either the informal or business models in practice at churches today. Rather, it "...seeks to assign prayer, relationships, and discernment as the primary tasks of a Christian meeting."

The beginning of the meeting features a short opening ritual that consecrates the meeting, changing the context from ordinary to sacred time and space." The meeting then proceeds into steps of relating, receiving, ruminating, and reflecting. These steps will be familiar to anyone who has ever practiced lectio divina, except that it is played out in a group setting. Only after this process are the business items on the agenda addressed. The meeting ends with prayers of thanksgiving and blessing. It is suggested that the leadership of the meeting is shared or rotated. Yaconelli states that two criticisms of taking this approach over more common models will be "lack of productivity" and "wasted time."

Anticipated criticism aside, I am interested in participating in a meeting with this structure. There is no denying that current models leave much to be desired, so why not try something that may allow for a better discernment process? An attitude of expectation may go a long way in snuffing out the sometimes adversarial relationships that are often evidenced on boards. It may also have the benefit of coaxing good people like my friend back into leadership!

Work Cited
Yaconelli, Mark. "Staff Meetings: A Contemplative Approach." Youthworker 2003.

Secret Squirrel

Lamont decided to try her hand at vlogging. This is her first effort, documenting the girls' trip to State College to see Last Tuesday. I thought it turned out pretty cool, especially when you take into account that Lamont has never touched iMovie before!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Step Into The Ooze

I really can't stand the way stuff overshadows the Light of the World during the holiday season. So I wrote an article about it and the good folks at The Ooze published it on their website. Check it out here!

Sisters


I watched Brian De Palma's 1973 film Sisters this morning. It's a real jem from the vaults of American International Pictures. A reporter witnesses a murder through a window and the police don't believe her. There is a definite Hitchcock influence throughout, but the story develops in some disturbing and wild directions in a way that the master would have ever thought. Recommended!

It was interesting picking up on the cultural and social background of the film, especially in some dialog regarding group homes for the mentally ill, which would have been a novel concept at the time. The reporter attributes the police detective's apathy to racism. I hadn't actually noticed that the man was black and his lover was white -- I guess I was watching it with 2007 sensibilities.

Rumor has it that this is yet another classic seventies thriller getting the remake treatment. Do yourself a favor -- skip the multiplex and rent the original on DVD!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Turkey Legs O' thanks



I was pondering the turkey leg image above wondering if i could come up with something for each letter that I'm thankful for. I don't want this to be just another list, quiz or forward... I just want to become more aware of the care God has given to me over the last thirty-something years.

A- Apples that are crisp and not too sweet.
B- Babies that smile and wave at me.
C- Cars that get me to work and home again.
D- Donuts on Saturday morning ( Angel filling chocolate frosted Krispy Kremes!)
E- Energy to create new things.
F- Family
G- Grace to try again each day.
H- Help that I can give and not being afraid to ask for help.
I- Insights into what really matters.
J- Joy in the midst of struggle.
K- Keeping the lines of communication open.
L- Love, life and light.
M- Making up and working problems out.
N- Needing each other.
O- Open doors to new adventures.
P- Presence of God everywhere I go!
Q- Quilts that I can cuddle under with my kids.
R- Reading my Sacred Space.
S- Soup that I get to make from scratch.
T- Time with family.
U- Unconditional love of family and friends.
V- Vast potential for the future and the vison to chase after.
W- Welcome of new friends. Thanks to WPC and all the members that have shown their support and care for me since we met this summer.
X- X-ray glasses and silly toys that my son loves. It reminds me of his laughter.
Y- You - for reading and commenting.
Z- ZZZZZZZ... Sleep precious sleep at the end of a long day.

Thanks to God for all this and more.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Finding My Balance

When I read the Gospels I am often surprised at how many situations just intrude on Jesus as he goes about his life. One interruption after another -- how did this guy ever accomplish any ministry? Yet the Gospels record that Jesus took time away, too, even though there were many urgent needs everywhere he went.

I can't offer you any great insight, but I'm praying that God shows us how to achieve the balance in life that we so often lack!

The Ministry of Meekness

In chapter four of Life Together, Bonhoeffer describes a few ministries not commonly found in spiritual gifts inventories, like The Ministry of Holding One's Tongue and The Ministry of Bearing. While I found the whole chapter constructive, the section that impacted me the most was The Ministry of Meekness. I was convicted by the statement, "He who would serve his brother in the fellowship must sink all the way down to these depths of humility. How can I possibly serve another person in unfeigned humility if I seriously regard his sinfulness as worse than my own" (97)? Before reading that, it never occurred to me how much how much pride I have in my own lifestyle and accomplishments. Bonhoeffer's words often cut me to the quick, but make me want to strive for more in the journey.

Cult Film Sunday

You don't catch a cold -- you earn one. Well, I earned mine this weekend via a packed work and school schedule. I spent Sunday drifting in and out of sleep while watching a VHS tape of cult movies that Mister Oblivious dropped off.

I started out with the delightfully bad Plan 9 from Outer Space...

...then watched Ed Wood's "other" epic, The Bride of the Monster...

...then went onto Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! I can honestly say I've never seen anything like this... And don't ever expect to again...

...and ended the mini-fest with George A. Romero's neat little thriller The Crazies.

Lamont sat in on Faster Pussycat, but I was on my own for the rest of the films.

"If it's the worst movie ever made, why should we watch it?" asked my son in reference to Plan 9. He has so much to learn about cult movies!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Life is Good

I was reminded of God's care and attention as I looked over my journal entries from the last four weeks. It has certainly been a time of reflection and spiritual growth.

I am learning very much in my current class, but even more than that, the assigned reading and discussion of the text on the message board has been a source of ministry and encouragement to me. It has helped me develop an awareness of God's presence in my life in a more "real" way that before. I also find that I am approaching prayer and circumstances of life expecting to meet God in those experiences.

It has been a challenge to keep up with my journaling requirement this last month. This doesn't greatly concern me as my time for personal writing always recedes when school is in session. A good thing about my journaling is that I find it being more true to life and heartfelt than it has been in some time. I think this is connected to being more aware of the presence of God.

The school schedule made it impractical to take this class before securing a spiritual director. But God is faithful and I couldn't have found a better spiritual director, despite being ignorant of some of the necessary qualities of this role. Spending an hour a month together to "listen" is very different from anything in my spiritual background, but I am finding it to be one of the most beneficial disciplines for me right now. I anticipate continuing on with spiritual direction after I graduate.

My Rule of Life has been the topic of discussion with my spiritual director and a matter of much personal reflection. It is currently a great compilation of the classical disciplines, but I am sensing that God is calling me to focus more intentionally on a few items than trying to "do it all."

I want to encourage certain qualities and virtues in my life, such as letting love rule my interactions with others. I also want to be more intentional about building relationships. I want to attach these ideas to some specific goals, but I need to be careful that I choose goals that cause me to stretch without becoming an unworkable burden. My director and I are going to talk about this at our next meeting.

I am incorporating aspects of spiritual direction into my Sunday School class. I now put a greater emphasis upon prayer for my classmates during the week and before class begins. A byproduct of this is that I feel a greater sense of expectation during our time together. I have incorporated some silence at the beginning of class. I also find that I have stopped being such a know-it-all with my class, preferring rather to ask people how they think God is leading them in a particular area.

I can't wait to find our how the next four weeks of class turn out!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Holiday Help for Grieving Families

This may be of interest for those in the Warren, PA or Jamestown, NY regions...

Any day can be difficult for a parent who has lost a child, but the upcoming holidays can be especially difficult to manage because of the many strong feelings associated with the season.

The Friend to Friend support group from Family Services of Warren County is holding a free seminar entitled Holiday Survival Tips for Grieving Families, Thursday, Nov. 16 at 7 pm at First Lutheran Church of Warren, corner of 3rd Ave. and East St.

“There’s a song that says It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. But the festive holiday season can find the bereaved feeling acutely alone in their grief,” says Carna Chamberlin, LSW, who facilitates the support group for the charitable agency. “This seminar will help grieving families discover ways to manage the difficult days ahead.”

Topics of discussion will include: Creating a “new normal” to address old traditions, maneuvering “well-meaning” family and friends, walking at your own pace on your own path, and how to handle holiday spirit filled people.

Family Services of Warren County, Inc. provides comprehensive and professional counseling, drug and alcohol services, and youth programs. It is a United Fund Member Agency. For more information about this seminar or any of its other services, please call (814) 723-1330.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Ethics and Spiritual Direction

Trust must be established for a relationship to work properly. In a professional association between individuals such as psychotherapy, pastoral counseling, or spiritual direction, procedures and standards of conduct must be established to provide soul care that will be beneficial to the client.

In Spiritual Direction and Psychotherapy: Ethical Issues, a chapter from the book Spiritual Direction and the Care of Souls, Siang-Yan Tan presents his award winning address about the topic that was delivered to the American Psychological Association (187). As both a Professor of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary and Senior Pastor at First Evangelical Church Glendale, Tan is uniquely qualified in this subject area (249).

The need for ethical guidelines for spiritual direction is becoming increasingly important as interest in the discipline continues to grow among individuals. It is possible to conceive of a time in the future when spiritual direction will be as equally regarded as a profession as it is a ministry today. For this transition to occur, a standard for the ethical behavior of spiritual directors must exist and be followed. (Educational standards and perhaps a certification process of directors will become necessary as well, but that is another topic for another paper!)

Of course, a more pressing reason for ethical guidelines is the recognition of the rights of directees and a standard of behavior that directors must observe on their behalf. In common language, a person seeking spiritual direction must be informed and protected. Tan highlights a variety of issues that have arisen out of the integration of spirituality and psychotherapy. These are valid propositions for the practice of spiritual direction as well:

  • "Therapist-religious leader associate dual relationships should be avoided" (192).
  • Collaboration with a client's religious leaders may be beneficial. "[W]ritten informed consent to contact" (192) must be sought, and it is a client's right to decide if that permission shall be granted.

  • Ecclesiastical boundaries must be maintained (192).

  • Client values must be respected (192).


There are some other important ethical considerations that were not mentioned at all or only briefly inferred by Tan, but would be important to consider in regards to the ethical practice of spiritual direction:

  • Case notes should be documented. (This actually protects both the client and the director.)

  • A standard of confidentiality must be maintained, except in the case that a client is a danger to themselves or others, or a disclosure of child abuse. The client must be informed of this upfront before their first session.

  • A formal intake or screening process is to be performed on a client to determine if spiritual direction is the most appropriate service for their needs. If not, to what service will a client be referred?


In a formal practice of spiritual formation, the needs and rights of the client must always be maintained for a beneficial soul care experience. It is the right thing to do.

WORK CITED
Moon, Gary W. and David G. Benner, eds. Spiritual Direction and the Care of Souls. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Missing the forest for all the trees...

"Begin with the end in mind" is a phrase often heard in my workplace as we work on strategic plans for the new year. That wisdom is why I page ahead each chapter to read about a particular tradition's indicators of spiritual maturity—I like to know where I'm going…

The author of the section of the Reformed tradition is hesitant to commit to a precise definition of being conformed to the image of Christ. I think there is some wisdom that some of us in the Wesleyan-Methodist tradition could heed: "Cause-and-effect thinking leads to cause-and-effect practices, resulting in a self-generated spirituality that depends on us instead of God" (107).

I am sometimes frustrated at myself for not being as conscientious about observing my rule of life as I would like. It is a good to remind myself that I'm in pursuit of God and not a set of practices.

WORK CITED

Moon, Gary W. and David G. Benner. Spiritual Direction and the Care of Souls. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Differences in role of Spiritual Director

I was blessed reading about the practice of spiritual direction in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions. What rich and varied expressions of the Christian faith! The most striking contrast I noticed was the different role of the spiritual director between traditions.

Spiritual direction in the Roman Catholic tradition was described as a "… relational process in which the director and directee develop attentiveness to the actions of the Holy Spirit in this particular directee" (56). The Orthodox description appeared to describe something more along the lines of a mentoring or discipleship relationship: "The spiritual guide is to teach and advise, to answer specific questions and give specific direction for how we are to live our life" (43).

In the Roman Catholic tradition, spiritual direction is intended "… to be a free relationship, not a master-disciple relationship" (67), whereas the St. Simeon of the Orthodox tradition described a much different dynamic: "[a director] whom you ought to obey as though he were God himself, whose instruction you must carry out without hesitation, even if what he enjoins on you appears to be repugnant and harmful" (43).

Spiritual direction in the Roman Catholic tradition is a clearly delineated role and process. The Orthodox tradition appeared to overlap the roles of director, mentor, and discipler. Interesting reading!

WORK CITED

Moon, Gary W. and David G. Benner. Spiritual Direction and the Care of Souls. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004.

Out of the Cold Tour

I have been working on a benefit concert for my local soup kitchen and have had a great deal of help with getting this graphic and project together.

Thanks to Audio Closet for working so flawlessly on the booking and planning for the OOTC Tour.
Thanks to Jamie for listening to me dream and rant on and on about it.
Thanks to Michael and Tim Johnson for the finishing touches on the flyer.
Thanks to Westminster for sponsoring the event and having the vision to see the opportunity for such projects as this concert. Thanks to God for putting all the pieces together with the venue ( Reg Lenna Studio/Tonic Production), WRFA in Jamestown and St. Susan Center.

Please try to make it to this event, but if you can't come to this event, I hope you will be willing to pray for us and the hearts of the people that will be with us on December 4th.

I hope that you're holiday season is cheery and bright and that you will be kept out of the cold physically, emotionally and spirtually as well.

Peace on Earth

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Helter Celtic

I appreciate all things Celtic, so my spirit perked up when I noticed the mention of the anmchara or soul-friend in tonight'slecture. The role fulfilled many of the same functions as a spiritual director, but in many aspects resembled more of a peer relationship. As the lecture noted, it was a ministry of lay people.

One of the neat things about the Celtic expression of Christianity was how it fit into the already existing culture, rather than trying to impose a Roman-style culture among the people. An interesting book about this topic is The Celtic Way of Evangelism by George C. Hunter III, a professor at Asbury Theological Seminary.

There are some interesting folks in Hamilton, Ontario who run a coffee house that is also their church. The staff and congregation take turns as baristas and engage hundreds of people each day. Could the missional or emergent church emphasis upon engaging the community where one worships be a modern day expression of the anmchara?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Holy Clubs

I find that I am rather intrigued by the idea of group spiritual direction as described in Holy Invitations. This may be a nudge from the Spirit, as my personality preference is as introverted as they come!

It is possible to attend a holiness church week in and week out and never be challenged in our spiritual growth. We more often possess a belief in sanctification rather than its daily lived out reality. We need reminded that holiness is an experience that proceeded its doctrine.

I am no expert on the early Methodist movement, but I am impressed with what I've read. There is something powerful about a group of individuals who united around a common goal. I think a group of "Holy Clubs" devoted to seeking the presence of God would be transformative to the life of the church.

Rose Mary Dougherty is quoted in the text, "Members must agree to commit themselves to 1) an honest relationship with God; 2) wholehearted participation in the group processes through prayerful listening and response; and 3) opening their spiritual journeys to the consideration of others" (139). I know that I would benefit from this sort of interaction with my peers! And aren't these guidelines something the church could benefit from?

Confidentiality appears to me to be the biggest issue in group direction, but maybe that says more about me than the process! I also wonder how appropriate a group would be for the paid staff of a church—for instance, I can't imagine a pastor exploring a call to a different church with the group! There are other issues related to running a church that couldn't be discussed either and I wonder how effective a group would be with one or more members having to watch what they say!

I guess the question to ask concerning the need for group spiritual direction is, "When and where else can I share these longings with my brothers and sisters?"

WORK CITED

Bakke, Jeamnette A. Holy Invitations. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Wrapped in a blanket of love...

I am becoming more and more convinced that there is nothing better in life than spending time with the people you love.

I suppose after being in a self admitted funk for a week or so that its time for me to remember that even in the hard timesGod gives wonderful blessings if only we would take the time to look for them,or listen for them in this case.

It's been a tough couple of weeks. Lots of rain, lots of work and not enough "time" for the loved ones in my life.

Tonight was so fun to go to the WASU and be greeted by the ever loving Pam with a huge hug. Walk into the movie room to find Phantasm still playing ( I was working until 8:30 so I thought I would miss them - I didn't :)! ) Next my girl Heather turned around and reached her hands out to me and smiled one of her winning smiles - I love her! Jackie, Mary almost all saw me at the same moment and the girls hugged me and shouted, "Tara's here!"

Steve overheard and shouted over the PA - "Hey, I glad you made it, we were afraid you wouldn't make it". So the band continued to play until about 9pm. The tour they were on showed as the music was really tight and together. Good show boys!

So I danced, sang and blew off all the stress and anxiety and let the music wrap me up in a blanket of vocals, bass. guitar, scratching and percussion. Everybody was dancing, singing and wrapped up in the blanket of music as well - it was a precious blessing to my tired spirit.

Kaddisfly had played earlier in the evening - sadly I missed another performance by them, but I picked up their new cd and am listening to it as I'm typing. I looked at their shirts and other merch for sale and my eyes fell upon a phrase on one of the tee's.

"Without tears, is to be void of love."

These words really seemed to connect with the fact of life bringing a mix of both sadness and joy. You really can't have a "life"one without the other.

I've had so many friends and family facing tears daily lately and I know that life is a mix of both good and bad, but it was truly wonderful to have a moment, an hour or two with folks that I love so much and I know love me in return.

You all are in my heart - and you make my life filled more with blessing and less tears. Unless you count the happy ones!

Mostly, I need to thank God that in the midst of trials - there is always a fountian and oasis to be found; no matter the desert you are traveling through.

'1 Corinthians 13:13
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.'

Wherever you are, whatever you face - hold onto God and he'll wrap you up in a blanket of love that can't compare to anything else. Just ask, he's waiting in the wings for all of us to invite him in.

I will open the door. Help me never to shut you out.

Peace and Joy,
Tara Lamont

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Finding a Spiritual Director

A requirement of the learning community was to participate in spiritual direction on a regular basis. I don't recall receiving much, well, direction in the process of choosing a spiritual director, but then again, those first few weeks were quite a blur…

I didn't really understand the nature of spiritual direction at the time and imagined it was more akin to mentoring or even giving advice. So I definitely was going to proceed very cautiously into a relationship where somebody was going to tell me what to do.

In the end I chose a pastor that I have known for years. I don't attend his church and he is not a part of my denomination. The qualities that influenced my decision were as follows:

He has a solid reputation among people.
He is involved in both the religious community and the wider community life as a whole.
He's educated.

It turns out that I was completely wrong about the nature of spiritual direction, but the spiritual director is working out just fine.

I think the Bakke text offers some well thought out guidance in the selection of a director. The quality that stands out to me the most is "depend on the Spirit's leading in the direction relationship and want to listen to God rather than be guided by agendas set by themselves or directees" (105). I've already had my quota of pat answers and wrongheaded advice in the name of God, thank you…

Knowing what I do now, I probably would have asked him about his philosophy of spiritual direction and his own pursuit of the inner life. But like I said, the choice of director is working out great regardless.

WORK CITED

Bakke, Jeannette A. Holy Invitations. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Contemplation

School work goes regardless of trick or treating. But at least I got an interesting lecture and discussion out of it!

My professor posed the question, "Richard Foster describes the contemplative life as 'the steady gaze upon the God who loves us.' Is such a steady gaze possible, practical or realistic?"

I believe a steady gaze upon God is possible. After all, people fixate their attention on what they love—be it their career, hobby, politics, sports, or Star Trek. So I can say, "I love God and my attention is naturally drawn to him" and I would be truthful in a sense.

Contemplation, however, implies a thoughtful observation. It is my experience that this kind of observation does not often come naturally. But we can train ourselves to be observant. When I first began directing television programs it seemed impossible that I could pay attention to the output of multiple cameras, VU meters, waveform monitor, vectorscope, and the clock simultaneously. Over time I found that it came easily and could carry on a conversation at the same time with my camera operators.

The quality most helpful to me in the practice of thoughtful living was noted in this evening's lecture: “living the tensions of life reflectively rather than avoiding them." I missed out on a lot of spiritual growth in the past because I tried to make my life fit an ideal of Christian living where no tensions existed and every issue could be easily resolved. (Oddly enough, I didn't learn about living life reflectively so much from any of the works I read on spiritual formation as I did by catching a glimpse of this quality in the writings of Frederick Buechner.)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Roger Corman Double Feature

Can I just take a moment to point out that television's treatment of Halloween is pretty poor this year? Unless of course, your idea of horror is Ghost or The Butterfly Effect... Sheesh...

I decided to scope out the new Family Video store in Jamestown, NY to see if I could find anything more suitable for my weekend viewing. To my surprise, they had a large collection of Roger Corman films. Jackpot!

First up was Death Race 2000, a cross country car race where racers score points for killing people. This is a film that played endlessly on cable TV in the 1970s and it was just as fun as I remembered it!



The second film was Pirahna. Although the poster and concept would lead one to believe that it's a takeoff on the previous year's Jaws, Pirahna is actually a pretty original little horror/adventure flick. The big bag U.S. Goverment develop a highly-intelligent mutant strain of Pirahna which are accidentally let loose to munch on summer campers and scuba divers.



Neither of these films fit into my beloved category of so bad they're good, because both films avoid the pitfalls common to most low budget pictures of this type. The films are very action packed and the directors accomplish some high production values on a shoestring. Thank you, Roger Corman, for saving my weekend!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Warning Signal

What do you do when you feel restless?

We often distract ourselves from restlessness. We can turn on the TV, surf the net, smoke some weed, take a nap, go shopping, eat a Whopper, listen to the iPod—well, you get the drift. Anything to not feel the restlessness. As if being restless is inherently bad.

I think anesthetizing the restlessness is akin to pulling the batteries out of a wailing smoke alarm and probably just as dumb. We short-circuit a warning system that is pointing out that all is not well with our soul.

I'm writing this from experience. (Except the weed part in case my mother is reading this.) A lot of spiritual growth began to occur in my life when, instead of trying to snap out of a mood, I began to ask myself questions like:

Why am I feeling restless/sad/angry, etc?
What does this mean?
When did I start feeling this way?

Interesting thought about discipleship & evangelism

I am reading Organic Church by Neil Cole right now. I picked it up at the Missional Church conference we attended a few weeks ago. The author, in his commentary on the parable of the sower and the seeds, points out that the majority of soil does not bear fruit. He writes:

"One might find this parable discouraging, as only one out of four soils actually bears fruit. I find it encouraging and life-affirming, because it reflects my true experience. I have now come to expect two-thirds of those who accept the message of the Kingdom to fizzle out and not bear fruit. This has given me hope. Why? Because I no longer feel responsible for the fruit, or lack thereof, in the lives of disciples. If ten people accept the Gospel and only two bear fruit, I no longer babysit the unfaithful eight. Instead, I invest my life in the two. These two will bear much fruit" (69).

WORK CITED

Cole, Neil. Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Two Texts About Spiritual Direction

I am enjoying reading the assigned texts, Holy Invitations and Spiritual Direction and the Care of Souls. I think the concurrent reading of two books about the same topic will result in a more balanced understanding of the art and discipline of Spiritual Direction.

In Holy Invitations, Jeanette Bakke defines spiritual direction as a "particular kind of helping relationship whose primary objective is to discern how God is inviting someone to be, to live, to appreciate, and to act in the midst of life" (11).

In Spiritual Direction and the Care of Souls, Gary W. Moon and David G. Benner do not offer their own definition of spiritual direction. They rather endorse a definition by William A. Barry and William J. Connelly: "…[a] help given by one Christian to another which enables that person to pay attention to God's personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with this God, and to live out the consequence of this relationship. The focus of this type of spiritual direction is on experience, not ideas, and specifically on religious experience, i.e., any experience of the mysterious Other whom we call God" (15).

The former definition emphasizes discernment while the latter emphasizes a lived out experience in addition to discernment. In my opinion, that makes the latter statement a more complete definition of spiritual direction. (However, Bakke does address obedience in her book.)

A difference that particularly stands out to me is how the authors saw spiritual direction in the greater scheme of things. Moon and Brenner view it as a component of soul care, which involves a wider group of relationships such as pastoral care, pastoral counseling, and clinical psychotherapy. Bakke, however, sees spiritual direction as "…a part of many elements of faith life" and states it is most closely related to "pastoral counseling, mentoring, and discipling" (27). I will withhold my verdict until the end of my reading, but preliminary indications point to Moon and Brenner placing spiritual direction as a discipline that can be learned, whereas Bakke indicates that it is a ministry more along the lines of a spiritual gift.

WORKS CITED

Bakke, Jeanette. Holy Invitations. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000.

Moon, Gary W. and David G. Benner (editors). Spiritual Direction and the Care of Souls. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

All Christians need spiritual direction

Our lecture tonight included a quote by Douglas Hardy, a professor at Nazarene Theological Seminary. Professor Hardy indicated that all Christians need spiritual direction and gave several reasons in support of his claim. I agree. Listening and responding to God's spirit is a characteristic that desperately needs to be nurtured in Christians today.

We have largely lost a sense of the supernatural in our faith. In the void has grown a subculture that substitutes routine for surprise and wonderment. We no longer participate in God's dreams, but rather shrink our image of God to fit ours. We have systemized a love affair into rules and regulations.

We all have routines with which we have to comply. People have expectations of us that we feel obligated to live out. Our good intentions consistently outnumber our productive hours. All of these things can drown out that still, small voice, which ironically, is the only voice that matters in the end.

Spiritual Direction, for me at least, provides a place for those half-heard or un-reflected upon conversations to be revisited. Sometimes I can easily recall a statement and other times I struggle to piece together the words or the meaning. But the process eventually gets it all out there.

Spiritual Direction makes time to heed the still small voice. My director helps bring clarity to the situation. Sometimes he only acts as a sounding board. But it's important to have someone to keep me accountable to this kind of introspection—otherwise I would probably have a full calendar and a lot of regrets.

I wonder what it would take to get our churches from here to there? Perhaps a good place to start would be to introduce some of the concepts of Spiritual Direction into already existing aspects of the church. Maybe we could pursue some group guidance for a start in Sunday Schools or with a ministry team. An old tradition that might be revived in churches is the question, "How is your soul?"

An important aspect to keep in mind is that direction should be part of the life of the church and not just the domain of the "experts".

One of the most detrimental things for young people today is that we have fooled ourselves into thinking that professionals and programs are the only people capable of working with youth. A lot more good would be accomplished at a fraction of the cost if adults just became engaged with kids where they are. (Learning the names of kids in the neighborhood, volunteering for youth programs, etc.) I'll get back of my soapbox now.

The point is, we can't let the same thing happen in the church. Looking back I can see where I've had plenty of mentors in my Christian walk, even if they didn't carry any official title. As I've been reading through this week's assigned text I've become convinced that my friend Brad and I were already doing mutual spiritual direction even if we didn't know it!

Spiritual Direction is an important but by no means the only aspect of spiritual development. Spiritual Direction needs to be part of a well-rounded program that includes corporate worship, Christian education, discipleship, mentoring, and service.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Spiritual Direction

I began my new class tonight. It's called Spiritual Direction: Seminar for Spirituality and Ministry. I'm not sure yet if spiritual direction is something that can be taught or if it is a spiritual gift, but I'm looking forward to finding out over the next 8 weeks.

A few years back I heard an individual from my old church describe himself as the spiritual director of a particular ministry in town. To be honest, the title seemed a bit "Gothardy" to me. Plus I knew from my previous experience with this individual that he was in no way, shape, or form trustworthy to give direction to anyone under any circumstances.

Ahem.

So that's my lovely story of the first time I heard about spiritual direction. Of course, later I read about the topic in Celebration of Discipline and understood it in the wider context of guidance. A year or two ago I started attending some programs at a monastery in my region, but never quite got around to taking advantage of spiritual direction.

I began sessions with my spiritual director last semester as a requirement of the MARSF program. I chose a pastor in town who has a good reputation and whom I personally admire. It's a good experience seeing this relationship unfold.

My understanding of spiritual direction at this point is that it is an encouraging relationship between two Christians. The relationship is a formalized mentor/mentee relationship. (Is mentee a real word or did I just make that up?)

Actually, the mentor description isn't totally apt. It's more like the spiritual director is a sounding board for the thoughts and feelings about God that I have kicking around inside myself. He asks questions and helps bring that stuff up to the surface.

Spiritual Direction is a positive experience for me–-how else can I so intently focus my attention on the things of the spirit?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Quote of the Day: Names

“Names are not always what they seem. The common Welsh name BZJXXLLWCP is pronounced Jackson.” — Mark Twain

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Little Hands

I was away from home for a few days again, and I missed my family terribly. The time I have with them is too short, too packed with things to do and places to be. I find myself longing for the salad days when my kids were babies and I had time to actually read a book for fun every now and again.

It may be that as soon as Halloween get here I automatically begin to feel the pressure of the Holiday season bearing down on me. The hoopla that comes along with it; either the kind we create or the kind that others establish as necessities makes it difficult to appreciate really what we're celebrating.

This morning, I awoke to my son snuggled in bed beside me. He was so happy to just be with me that he smiled and said, "I missed you." from his still closed eyes. I rolled over and hugged him, told him I missed him too and then took his hand in mine.

He squeezed my hand in return.

How many times have I held my son? How many times have I held his hands as I used to sit in the rocking chair with him when he was so small. It struck me this morning as he squeezed my hand just how blessed I am. My husband loves me, my daughter loves me, my son loves me - so much love surrounds me. God love me, more than I can even imagine. God loves me! Then I could go on to all the extended family and friends that are there for me, that care for me, and that love me. But by now, I'm sure you get the idea - there are alot of people that love me and I see that and appreciate that so much.

Mary the mother of Jesus probaby held her child's hand, rocked him and saw and felt how he missed her if she had been away for a day... she was a Mom just like me. Her son's love for her was so big that he was willing to miss a great deal in life. I can't imagine the loss she felt when she saw his hands injured and bleeding. They were her little one's hands'.

Jesus gave himself as a ransom for the world. Jesus sacrificed his life so that others could live. Jesus essentally took the world by the hand and said, "I missed you - so I gave myself up to make a way for us to be close."

Jesus had little hands once, but his hands grew up and became the hope for all of us. So as the holidays rush towards me, I hope to remember that Christmas can be a time where I reach out to others: family, friends, strangers; with my heart and hands. It can be a time where I can say, "I missed you." or "Get out of my way - I'm in a hurry."

What lessons we can learn from little hands. They now how to get to the heart of the matter and stay there.

You can sit with us

I have this habit of going to meetings and conferences by myself. Not that I dislike going with friends, it's just that calenders and personal schedules make it difficut to make a group trips happen. So I sometimes make the trip flying - well, driving solo.

This week marks trip number 3 to the Pittsburgh area for such meetings. Last fall I attended the Youth Specialties National Conference, this year Emergent Mission Conference and finally the Alph Course Conference. (All of which would be well worth the time and money - I'm rather thrifty concerning both resources.)

Two of the three (ys and Alpha) I attended by myself. There are some things that make attending anything in the Pittsburgh area helpful - a live navigatior to look at your mapquest print out or a GPS system. I have driven in New Jersey area and had an easier time finding my way around than I did in the Mkeesport and Pleasant Hills area of Pittsburgh. Between the landscape and road built on hills perfect for a mountian goat and the various belt colors (orange, yellow, blue...)its a miracle that I found my location two days in a row and in one collective piece. Be prepared with maps a plenty if you are heading to Steel City anytime soon.

Alson, it can be very tiring always talking about: 1. Who you are, 2. Why you are there, 3. Are you there alone (gasp!) 4. and Did you drive here? (gasp! gasp!) Maybe it's because I'm a woman, or maybe it's because I'm a woman in a field primaraly filled by men - but I felt somewhat a spectacle and a tired one at that. It helps to ask other people these questions as soon as you get in conversation. This is the only talking rest that occurs in these circumstances that I've found. Also, I'm a talker. There are times when it is nice to have people that know you already with you. Thankfully, I stayed with my parents so when I go back in the evening it wasn't necessary to recycle my conversation yet again.

Sometimes, if you are lucky you will find people that a genuine and kind and willing to include you in their group. Sometimes you get stuck in a never ending cycle of conversation that you know by heart and are bored to tears with, but is all new to the audience.

Thankfully there were three wise men that asked if they could sit with me during coffee break the first morning. They asked the typical questions and carried on with polite conversation, but they took it one step further...

" You are welcome to sit with/ hang out with us during the conference if you like - you don't have to feel like you have to, but we'd like it if you would."

So let me make something clear. No they were not hitting on me. No they were not Jeff Dahlmer wanna bes. Yes they were three nice guys from a Vineyard church in the Philadelpha area. It was their kindness and hospitality that helped a frustrated, directionally challenged, and road weary traveler feel at home.

Thanks guys - your friendship was greatly appreciated! You can sit and have coffee with me anytime.

Peace.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

"42"

What does it mean to be human?

It is to have a conscience and free will.

Conscience is defined as "the sense or consciousness of the moral goodness or blameworthiness of one's own conduct, intentions, or character together with a feeling of obligation to do right or be good" (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary). I argue that conscience is not merely the result of socialization; it is something that inherent and unique to humankind.

Nietzsche believed that it made no sense to speak about right and wrong, to wit: "No act of violence, rape, exploitation, destruction, is intrinsically unjust, since life itself is violent, rapacious, exploitative, and destructive and cannot be conceived otherwise" (Pojman 188). Yet, humankind does conceive of life differently all the time.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis gives a few examples of everyday quarrelling and then delves into the assumptions behind them: "Now what interests me about all these remarks is that the man who makes them is not merely saying that the other man's behavior does not happen to please him. He is appealing to some standard of behavior which he expects the other man to know about. And the other man very seldom replies: 'To hell with your standard.' Nearly he always tries to make out that what he has been doing does not really go against the standard, or that if it does there is some special excuse…It looks, in fact, very much as if both parties had in mind some kind of Law or Rule of fair play or decent behavior or morality or whatever you like to call it, about which they really agreed. And they have. If they had not, they might, of course, fight like animals, but they could not quarrel in the human sense of the word. Quarrelling means trying to show that the other man is in the wrong. And there would be no sense in trying to do that unless you and he had some sort of agreement as to what Right and Wrong are; just as there would be no sense in saying that a footballer had committed a foul unless there was some agreement about the rules of football" (Lewis 17-8).

Saint Augustine said much the same thing in his Confessions some millennium-and-a-half earlier: "Theft is punishable by Thy law, O Lord, and by the law written in man's hearts, which not even ingrained wickedness can erase. For what thief will tolerate another thief stealing from him" (Pojman 73-4)?

It may be argued that this sense of right and wrong is something learned through the process of socialization. Although it is true that behavior is taught and modeled to others, there are also many cases where this kind of instruction is inadequate. Even so, "A person might be badly informed about what the right and wrong are; yet conscience is an urge to do the one and avoid the other" (Grider 238).

Another analysis might be that morality is a function of the state to keep people in line. Morality is nothing more than adherence to the law. The weakness in this view is that societies are remarkably similar in their approach to right and wrong: "There have been differences [in] moralities, but there has never amounted to anything like a total difference. If anyone will take the trouble to compare the moral teaching of, say, the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks and Romans, what will really strike him is how very like they are to each other and to our own…[I] only ask the reader to think of what a totally different morality would mean. Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of doublecrossing all the people who had been kindest to him…Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to—whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or everyone. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself first. Selfishness has never been admired. Men have differed as to whether you should have one wife or four. But they have always agreed that you must not simply have any woman you liked" (Lewis 19).

A people with a radically different sense of right and wrong will never emerge because it is an impossibility. One might just as well search for an island where waterfalls run upwards and people can taste purple.

A human being possesses a conscience. A human being also possesses the ability to obey or disobey its impulse. Free will is defined as "the power of making free choices that are unconstrained by external circumstances or by an agency such as fate or divine will" (Yahoo Online Dictionary).

The biological determinist would disagree with the previous statement, as "…every act and event in the universe is caused by antecedent events" (Pojman 250). In other words, everything, including human behavior, is determined by other events. Free will is an illusion. But biological determinism grossly oversimplifies the complexity of human behavior. As Steven Rose, Richard Lewontin, and Leon J. Kamin point out in their critique of sociobiology, "Humanity cannot be cut adrift by its own biology, but neither is it enchained by it" (Stevenson 311).

The materialist is also in opposition to free will, believing that "…what we call a mind is really a function of the brain" (Pojman 234), which is to put all of our decisions down to instinct. A cursory survey of history demonstrates that humans have higher capacities in their thinking: "Animals may seem to make decisions at times, but they are only acting on the basis of stimulus-response programming. They make decisions, but not moral ones. They make decisions, but not costly ones. Human history shows that moral decision is a capacity of ours" (Grider 237).

C.S. Lewis illustrated the difference between instinct and a moral conscience: "We all know what it feels like to be to be prompted by instinct—by mother love, or sexual instinct, or the instinct for food. It means that you feel a strong want or desire to act in a certain way. And, of course, we sometimes do feel just that sort of desire to help another person: and no doubt that desire is due to the herd instinct. But feeling a desire to help is quite different from feeling that you ought to help whether you want to or not. Supposing you hear a cry for help from a man in danger. You will probably feel two desires—one a desire to give help (due to your herd instinct), the other a desire to keep out of danger (due to the instinct for self-preservation). But you will find inside you, in addition to these two impulses, a third thing which tells you that you ought to follow the impulse to help, and suppress the impulse to run away…But at those moments when we are most conscious of the Moral Law, it usually seems to be telling us to side with the weaker of the two impulses. You probably want to be safe much more than you want to help the man who is drowning: but the Moral Law tells you to help him all the same" (Lewis 22).

This impulse to do the noble, the altruistic, and the courageous when it would be more expedient to cut and run is a compelling argument against animalistic instinct. As Immanuel Kant put it, "When we have the course of nature alone in view, "ought" has no meaning whatsoever. It is just as absurd to ask what ought to happen in the natural world as to ask what properties a circle ought to have" (Pojman 133).

To be human is to know the difference between good and evil and to have the ability to choose between the two. This can inform the process of spiritual formation in many different ways.

First, it is an important reminder that humankind knows the difference between right and wrong. That is not to say that the decisions that life thrusts upon us are easy, but neither are they perhaps as complex as the culture of today would have us believe. So often an issue is covered in layer after layer of debate and point/counterpoint when a simple and direct examination would lead to clarity.

There is an increasing shift in our religious communities to use the language of psychology, business, education, and social work to explain the problems of humankind. While these sectors contribute a lot of insight to life, it is also important to be reminded that good and evil still exist. Good people will lead to thriving neighborhoods and communities. People behaving in right relation to each other will alleviate poor social conditions.

Free will means that we aren't victims of fate or circumstance. We have choices. Knowing good and evil isn't enough—it is important to act on those "oughts" too.

WORKS CITED

Grider, J. Kenneth. A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology. Kansas City: Beacon Hill, 1994.

Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. New York: Macmillan, 1960.

Pojman, Louis P. Who Are We?: Theories of Human Nature. New York, NY: Oxford, 2006.

Stevenson, Leslie (ed). The Study of Human Nature. New York: Oxford, 2000.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Life together

We've been discussing the merits of small groups and Sunday School in regards to people's spiritual growth. Personally, I think you can call it whatever you want, but the important thing is that people are sharing life together. You can't love your neighbor in a vacuum.

One of the missional churches my wife and I scoped out in Pittsburgh last week was the Open Door. One of the covenants of spiritual formation that they've made is to eat together with people:

"We strive to eat with at least 2 people we don't live with (1 from the Open Door and 1 not) each week.

"Jesus regularly ate with friends and strangers. He culminated his ministry in the last supper, where he told us to do likewise. Eating with others is a place of conversation, community and hospitality and it is practiced throughout scripture in regular celebrations, feasts, sacrifices and gatherings of the people of God. Whether with one or many, whether coffee or a feast, whether serving or being served, sharing a meal together provides an opportunity to grow in relationships, to build trust, and ultimately for Christ to work through us in those relationships" (The rhythms and practices of the Open Door).

If eating counts as spiritual formation, just call me Thomas Merton!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Spiritual Formation and Groups

My wife and I participated last week in a conference about the Missional Church organized by Emergent Pittsburgh. On Thursday evening I took part in a conversation about Missional Rhythms and Practices. The session was unique because it emphasized the neglected role of community in the process of spiritual formation. I only mention this because tonight's readings and last week's experiences are all stirring together in a stew.

Matt Ridley points out in his interesting essay about trust, "Utopia is impossible because society is an uneasy compromise between individuals with conflicting emotions" (326). While I wouldn't state it quite that starkly, I think it is important for individuals involved in a group process of formation to address those emotions, attitudes, and behaviors that work against cohesiveness. The only way that we're ever going to be able to love our neighbor is to be in relationship with our neighbor, conflicts and all.

The authors of Not in Our Genes went after biological determinism and demonstrated that if you go far enough left or right that you'll end up in a big circle. Some people use biological theories to explain the superiority of traditional values. I would caution against this in group formation, despite how ingrained is the vision of a superior past in many faith communities. Faith development is about conforming to what God is up to in the world now, not trying to resuscitate the church of the 1950s. As Rose and company point out, "Humanity cannot be cut adrift by its own biology, but neither is it enchained by it" (311).

The description of the "New Left...[as seeing] human nature as infinitely plastic, to deny biology and acknowledge only social construction" (311) reminded me of some unpleasant churches I've observed, where spirituality somehow trumped "real life" as if the two could be separated. Discipleship should challenge people to stretch, but do so in a way that takes into account the stages and rhythms of life. For instance, a youth program is not composed of fifteen-year-old "adults".

WORK CITED

Stevenson, Leslie (ed). The Study of Human Nature. New York: Oxford, 2000.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

It's about time you get to work...

I've been greatly frustrated lately by situations that I have no power to change. I've tried to express my thoughts and feelings, but all the response I get is "Be patient, pray about it, try to understand where that person is coming from..."

I've had it.

I was discussing the importance of community and how the church could access so many more connections if it were willing to adapt it's approach by being relationship/people centered instead of building centered. In the midst of this conversation, I was derailed by a phone call. On my way to address the call an individual said to me, "It's about time you got up and did something."

At first I was ticked. Every day it seems this person has to comment on the why, how, and what I could be doing to be "working". It became apparent that this person has no clue of what my kind of work is, so that takes the sting away from all the sarcastic remarks. In fact, I have no issue with this person at all, because my eyes were opened to something rather important by the continual commentary on my work ethic.

I've been functioning in the wrong system.

Community, hospitality, worship, creativity, social action and relationships are at the heart of who I am and who I was created to be. It is when these aspects of my life are used that I have a sense of well-being, effectiveness and peace. So back to the comment about getting back to work.

The work I need to get back to is the work of building community, hospitality, creativity, worship, relationships and social action into my everyday life. The repeated comments on my work ethic are the expression of others seeing the short circuit of what I'm trying to attempt in a system focused on program, numbers and time clocks. The two worlds are difficult to merge.

So instead of being offended, I will take the comments as conformation of the work that is to come. I've had it living and working in my current shoebox - it's time to break down the walls and live in community. God help me rebuild and move into the place you intended all along.

It's time to go back to work..

Monday, October 09, 2006

Today's topic: Sex and Race

The soul is the essential distinctive of humankind. That makes sex and race so much window dressing... Sadly, we have a tendency to notice differences between the sexes and races rather than how we are similar. Henry M. Braken recounts a sad history of racism where "...we get into the ranking business in the first place because we want to justify...our pushing people around" (269). Who says philosophers can't get to the point?

John Stuart Mill's assessment, "...what is contrary to women's nature to do, they will never be made to do by simply giving their nature full play" (161) is interesting as it reveals the philosopher's gender bias -- it is implied that man's nature is the mean. (And he was advocating for women's rights!) That said, the essential point he was making is still valid. Women have more opportunity than they've had in the past and are thriving. That would indicate to me that the "weakness" or "differences" of the past had more to do with the way society functioned than a distinctive female nature.

WORK CITED

Stevenson, Leslie (ed.). The Study of Human Nature. New York: Oxford, 2000.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Darwinism, Part Two

My professor asked me to follow up my comments on Darwinism with my assessment of the theory. However, this may turn out to be more of an assessment of myself than the theory!

I've discovered that I'm inconsistent in my opinion of science. That is to say that I'm quite content to let scientists be the authority on all things scientific, except this one particular theory. (Similar to fundamentalists who hail archeological discoveries that lend credence to the Biblical account but then criticize or try to undermine the integrity of archeology when it digs up dinosaur bones.)

The theory, for the most part is almost universally recognized. Wide acceptance isn't a proof of anything -- just look at the continued popularity of Adam Sandler -- but it is a good barometer of its worth among people who understand the methodology.

One approach to take is that God is the creator and it doesn't really matter how it happened. But isn't that kind of like the story of the Gremlin and the watch (247)? Does Occam's Razor indicate that the most obvious answer is usually the best?

Another approach is that God formed Adam as an adult, so perhaps the earth was created as a certain age? The fossil record, oil deposits, etc. were already there. Is this just another variation on the Gremlin?

Teilhard de Chardin got put away by the Catholic church for suggesting that religion and science were compatible. Still, I don't have a lot of faith in his Omega Point, in which "humanity...[evolves] toward perfection...where it will be fit for the Kingdom of God" (209). (Maybe I should write my final on this guy.)

Another opinion, which I alluded to in another post, is just to pick and choose what I like from a variety of philosophies, which doesn't make me any different from the other six billion people on the planet. This just doesn't sound intellectually honest anymore after this course.

The final thing is that my personal experience with God is so powerful that no philosophical arguments can chip away at it. There's something "burning bright" that keeps me connected. I can't explain it, but I live it. Maybe in the end that's the best account I can give of the hope that is in me.

WORK CITED

Pojman, Louis P. Who Are We? New York: Oxford, 2006.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Road Trip for 2

We got to go to Pittsburgh for a conference called "Heart of the Missional Church". What a great group of people to bounce ideas off of and share our hearts and what we feel God is calling us to.

Go here to see what we had a chance to be a part of...
www.emergentpittsburgh.org

Also we met on the East side of Pittsburgh at the Union Mission -- the building is beautiful and has been converted from a delapidated old Baptist catherdral to a community center, pottery and stained glass art center, cafe' and more.The church that meets there is called, "The Open Door"--- here's the url.
http://www.unionproject.org/

http://www.pghopendoor.org/

One other location we met at in the burbs was called Fountain Park Church...http://www.fountainpc.com/

We're home and feel refreshed knowing that there are other Christians out there that see the church in this new light.

Peace,
Lamont

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Free Will, Determinism, and an inappropriate use of a Matrix quote

Tonight's million dollar question is: are humans free?

I found the assigned reading tonight challenging, but enjoyable. There are many good arguments both for free will and determinism. I'm not trying to sidestep the question, but is it possible to be as free as we perceive ourselves to be?

My options in life are a result of my experiences and my current environment. If I want to quit my current job, I'm reasonably sure that my education and work experience will make it possible for me to find a new one in a similar career field. I am free to make a change.

I know a genuine millionaire. If he looked at my life, he may see me as having little to no options at all. His options in a similar situation might be to not work at all, travel the world, go back to school, or any number of other choices. Similarly, an unwed 16-year-old mother may feel that I have a world of opportunities awaiting me.

It's kind of like the part in the Matrix where Cypher says: "I know this steak doesn't exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious."

What do you think: Sense, no sense, or nonsense?