Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Small Sips Typed "The" and Deleted It

Meditate before mediate. I made that up. Pastoral ministry brings its fair share of anxiety, from busy and diverse days to parishioners unhappy about some aspect of your performance to arguments in committee meetings to a million other things. Carol Howard Merritt acknowledges this, and proposes several small exercises to center and focus before delving into the latest fray:
•Sit down, close your eyes, and breathe. Your breath may be choppy. That’s okay. That’s fear. Keep breathing deeply. Remember that your breath is spirit. God’s Spirit animates you. Wake up to God surrounding you and embracing you. 
•I typically imagine one of two things, at this point. 
1) You are rising above the chaos. Somehow, try to transcend time and space. Look down on the conflict. See how small it is? See how little difference it will make if you win or lose this? Imagine how large your calling is in God. Now look with compassion on the people involved. Think about what has wounded them. Why are they lashing out? Keep breathing and keep rising above it. 
2) Imagine a stream. There are leaves floating on the stream, pulsing down the river. Think about the fear that is gripping you. It feels giant, like a mass of things crushing you. But try to imagine one thing. Put that one thing on the leaf. Imagine it floating down the river. Now, think of the next anxiety inducing thing. Put it on the next leaf. Watch it float down the river. Keep on doing this, as you breathe deeply.
It's embarrassingly easy for pastors to get so caught up in their own and others' anxiety that they lose sight of what grounds them, or the nature of their vocation. These are two small ways to remember. I myself make it a point to pray before a phone call or meeting I know will be difficult, even if all the prayer consists of is, "God, please guide whatever is about to happen." Even that one sentence helps center me for the time to come.

Related. Jan Edmiston reflects on the importance of clergy taking what she calls "thinking days:"
If you’ve ever been on a silent retreat, you’ll know that it takes a couple days to figure out how to be silent without a racing mind or (for me) excruciating smart phone withdrawal. Do I stare into space? Do I take a nap? Do I pray? Do I talk to myself? Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes. 
And then the brain cracks open. 
As the world continues to be a Ceaselessly Noisy Information Fest, one thing the Church can still offer for all people in all places is quiet space. If a used car company is open to offering Thinking Days, surely we who are in the spiritual life business could do the same.
I've heard of these before, and I think I even know a few colleagues who observe something like this. Every once in a while I'll take a morning to stare off into space in a coffeehouse, or an hour to just sit in my office to think and pray over what's happening. I still have my practice of wandering empty sanctuaries, although it's not nearly as frequent as it once was.

I've always found times like these to be worthwhile. They can jump-start my thought process on a particular issue that needs addressed or new energy. Sitting in silence has produced more than one moment of inspiration over the years I've been in ministry.

For me personally, a "thinking hour" is more effective than a "thinking day." But mileage varies.

I can still use "just" when I pray, though, right? Rebekah Simon-Peter names two words growing churches don't use:
I’d like to delete the words just and simply from church vocabulary. They’re dishonest. I know; I used them way too often as a pastor. As in, “To be a disciple of Jesus Christ, all you have to do is simply give your life to him.” Or, “To join this church, you just have to come to a new member’s class.” Or, “Just give what you are able.” Or, “To be on this committee, we just need you to attend a monthly meeting.” 
I used those words because I was afraid to scare people off. I wanted them to dive in, unafraid. Like the old Alka Seltzer commercial, “Try it, you’ll like it.” Here’s the trouble. Just and simply are indicative of a low expectation culture. One that practices mediocre grace and doesn’t bear much fruit. Jesus didn’t have much use for trees that didn’t bear fruit. Or churches that were lukewarm.
She follows this up by naming three words churches should use more: expect, vision, and try. As she argues, they're more direct and encourage a culture of greater commitment.

I appreciate her points about the church likely being the most optional activity on many people's to-do lists, and how even the smallest shift in how we speak about what we do could alter perceptions about the nature of the church and what we're called to do together.

So, calling them lazy and selfish won't work, then? Kaya Oakes reflects on the increasing demographic known as the "nones," and what may or may not appeal to them about religious affiliation:
The mistake religions often make of guilt-tripping them about adherence while ignoring the work they are doing to bring about social equality reduces them to statistics rather than trying to understand what their way of thinking about as “God” really means in a post-religious era. 
Some emerging religious leaders like Rev. William Barber or Rev. Osagyefo Sekou offer a new understanding of morality that is intrinsically linked with social justice, which might appeal to religiously unaffiliated people seeking a greater meaning in these troubling times. But more often than not, what religion is offering looks deeply unappealing. Hokey “young adult” ministries, clunky social media, static notions about gender, deeply skewed perceptions of sexuality, out-of-touch clergy with political axes to grind, and little to no evidence of religion as a meaningful presence in their daily lives do nothing to lure back those who have left. 
If religions are still asking what they can do to bring the religiously unaffiliated back, the better question might be this: what can religion do without them? Because all evidence points to this conclusion: they are not coming back, and given what they’re being presented, why should they?
I posted this link on Facebook and subsequently had a great back and forth with some colleagues regarding the possibilities for the church in light of studies like these. One suggested that "nones" are a mission field that holds quite a bit of potential, and that we pay attention to God's activity in the lives of those disinterested in religious involvement; to be ready to welcome those back who choose to come back.

My hope is that more in the church frame this in terms of being a mission field and in terms of God's presence and calling. A term I still like from my evangelical days is "seeker," which is a positive, hopeful, engaging sort of term that still has a lot of undriven mileage as mainliners and others think about and engage with these groups. Certain other popular narratives regarding how boring and lazy they are won't be so effective.

Accurate. Yep, this is how it breaks down:
Misc. Carol Howard Merritt again on stewardship opportunities many churches may be missing. PeaceBang points out how terrible starting a correspondence with "Dear Ones" is. If you aren't reading Aaron J. Smith's thoughts on mental illness, you should be. Bekah Anderson on "inspiration porn" and why it hurts. Thanks to Susannah DeBenedetto for this review of Coffeehouse Contemplative.