Tuesday, December 19

On being hosts and guests…

For those at BCC you'll see the following in the church newsletter this week (hey, we emergent types are all for recycling!)...

I was deeply struck by the story in the paper this week of the Orkney minister who opened his home for Christmas lunch to all on the island who were lonely. There’s something about radical – even reckless – hospitality that speaks of God to me. After all, God is pictured in Luke 14 as a host who holds a party and instructs his servant to “go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” and even pulls people in from the streets to fill his house. What recklessness! Our God: the radical host.

In this story of course, the invited guests refuse to go to the party. Are we prepared to allow God to be our host? Can we receive gifts from him? Or do we, like Peter, say “No, you shall never wash my feet” (John 13:8).

I watched ‘The Da Vinci Code’ the other night (I know I'm a couple of years behind - always have been!). Apart from its obvious confusion of fact and fiction, the thing that struck me most was that, for the characters in the story, the big scandal – one the Church would kill to cover up – was that Jesus might have been married (or even a father). For me, the greater scandal is that God might have (and did!) become man. The ‘scandal’ of Christmas is that the divine and human touched. God, the consummate host of creation, became its guest: a guest in a stable, a guest at a wedding, and a guest at many a supper. Mary was, for nine months, host to God. God made himself vulnerable – and was a guest of humanity.

This Christmas, and in the year to come, we will have many opportunities to be hosts to our community – and maybe “entertain angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2)! We will also have time to be guests of God – as he seeks to go on (as he always has) giving us gifts and inviting us to feasts. Let us be humble guests, allowing the Saviour to “wash our feet”. And let us, like God, take the risk of radical hospitality and welcome in “the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” without judgement. Above all, “by thought, by prayer, by every tried and untried means, let us do all that we possibly can to make known that astonishing mystery, which is also a historical fact, that God became one of us so that we might become like Him.” (J. B. Phillips).

Emmanuel: God is with us! Happy Christmas!

image: Christina Saj, Madonna and Child (1998)

Tuesday, December 12

"Prayer life"

...words which used to make me feel instantly guilty!
I don't know about you but I've never been able to get a good "quiet time" routine into my life. I can't sit quietly in the morning before work - my mind either fills with the days challenges or falls asleep.

So recently I've started a 34-week Ignatian prayer retreat - but one that continues through my working day and not as I step away from it. I'm in week 5 now, so I thought I'd share a little about the prayer retreat so far.

Ignatian prayer uses what some call the "background" (that part of your thought life that usually gets filled with the last song you heard on the radio this morning). In weeks one and two, I tried to fill this thought space through the day with memories of my life so far and using my imagination to picture God with me in all of it, good and bad, bringing me to this time and place as the person I am today. I moved then to considering creation - allowing the world around me (including urban things, not just idyllic pastoral scenes) to show me God, present in all creation and all creation created to allow me to worship and serve him more. I'm in quite a tough bit now - Ignatius talked of a kind of holy 'indifference' which leads to balance and peace in life. He said:

"We should use God's gifts of creation however they help us in achieving the end for which we were created, and we ought to rid ourselves of whatever gets in the way of our purpose. In order to do this we must make ourselves indifferent to all creation, to the extent that we do not desire health more than sickness, riches more than poverty, honor more than dishonor, a long life more than a short life, or anything at all in and of itself. We should desire and choose only what helps us attain the end for which we were created."

I'm still working on this one! I'm slowly unpacking what I think Ignatius was getting at, but there's something about being "indifferent" that is counter-intuitive to me. Maybe that's the point. Thoughts?

Anyway, common themes of this kind of contemplative prayer are:
using imagination
sharpening my consciousness (of myself, of creation, of sin - noticing God!)
journeying with God

I am finding this new way of praying immensely liberating - no more measuring my spirituality by how many (or few) minutes I have spent in prayer this week. I am finding a life of prayer that permeates all that I do (ok, I'm making a pig's ear of it some days and have to consciously get it going again). I wonder how many other people are in this sort of rut.

The online version of the retreat (which I have sync-ed to my PocketPC with AvantGo) can be found here.

For fellow youth pastors, Mark Yaconelli's book "Contemplative Youth Ministry" takes these themes into the practical sphere of youth ministry in an equally liberating way (more on that in another post I think).

Practical Theology

It's been the longest break in SFT posting since inception. May be something to do with a) new job b) new house and c) new baby (her blog is running nicely though!).

I was speaking at a youth event the other week and before I spoke I was asked a few interview questions. One of them was "if you were a kitchen implement what would you be and why?". My on-the-spot answer was "a whisk - because I like stirring things up", but my wife said I should have answered "microwave". It seems she has noticed that I want everything to go "bing" and happen NOW!

Having spent a lot of time in the last couple of years thinking and theorising I am now doing my best to put some of it into practise. This can be quite frustrating. It's more a slow-cooker than a microwave. Sometimes I even have to check the slow-cooker is plugged in. As a result I think the direction of SFT may shift more towards practical theology and less theory. I'm sure that's a good thing, but I don't quite know where to start - I reckon I've probably got 5 years' worth of ideas already (and they keep coming)!

So here's a list of what's on the top of the messy pile that is my mind these days (I think I'll post in more detail on these over the next week or so):

1. Building an authentic community of worship and discipleship which genuinely involves all ages
2. A new kind of prayer life, Ignatian-stylee
3. Developing a personal vision statement
4. Trying to be a good youth pastor, but maybe not a great 'youthworker'
5. Church and the arts

Anyone who knows me will know that that's an abbreviated list!

Thanks for checking back here from time to time. I'm looking forward to some more conversation soon...