“Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices” by Brian D. McLaren [REVIEW]


This book is nearly a decade old now. It ages well, though now what it says may not seem as immediately new and fresh as it once was. Still, I believe its diagnosis and treatment are just as relevant today as it was then. 

Ultimately, as laid out in its introduction, this book (and the series of subsequent books which follow it), seek to lay out a fourth way (“third” ways are soooo 2008) “beyond a reductionistic secularism, beyond a reactive and intransigent fundamentalism, and beyond a vague, consumerist spirituality”. In this sense, this book is a great success. 

Implicit in its prescribed antidote, this book offers the same diagnosis for each of the three problematic ways of existing in the world, despite their radically different orientations–a fundamental disembodying of the human person, as exemplified by their anemic relationship to practices, both communal and private.

To that end, the book outlines ancient historical and theological foundations to spiritual practices. A refreshing aspect of this is that his list goes well beyond the typical Evangelical “pray-and-read-your-Bible quiet time” approach to spiritual practices. There are treatments given to Christian mystical traditions often overlooked by contemporary American Evangelicals, especially when it comes to contemplative, apophatic, and negative theological traditions, wherein one experiences connection through the divine by stopping activity and cogitation to experiencing an emptying rather than a filling.

Continue reading

I Am Unsure How God Meets Me & Is Real in This Life, Here & Now


Then this people will begin to prostitute themselves to the foreign gods in their midst, the gods of the land into which they are going; they will forsake me, breaking my covenant that I have made with them. My anger will be kindled against them in that day. I will forsake them and hide my face from them; they will become easy prey, and many terrible troubles will come upon them. In that day they will say, ‘Have not these troubles come upon us because our God is not in our midst?’ On that day I will surely hide my face on account of all the evil they have done by turning to other gods.
~ Deuteronomy 31.16-18

St Teresa & A Woman’s Longing to Preach


François_Gérard_-_St_Theresa_(detail)Saint Teresa of Avila was a 16th-century mystic and Carmelite nun who traveled around teaching and writing mystical treatises on the interior life of maturing Christian spirituality and contemplative practices. (Here’s a great intro on her life.)

To read her writings and to read about her life is one of the most powerful testimonies to a woman’s place in the Christian church. She constantly rubbed the male power structures the wrong way and in many of her writings one can see how she bends over backwards to accommodate their concerns about a powerful woman, trying to demonstrate how a woman can teach and lead while also living in accordance to the doctrines of the scriptures. And yet, more than any intellectual argument, it is her grace, maturity, and powerful insight into the Bible, the Christian Life, and the human soul that are some of the greatest apologetics for a woman’s full right to teach and preach and lead in the Church. I am currently reading through her magnum opus, The Interior Castle, and it is breathtaking. I ran across this brief passage and lamented along with Teresa… Continue reading

Rhythms of Faith & Freedom


schrott-bibles-paul-coffee

I’m currently reading through Ruth Haley Barton’s Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership. Occasionally, I’ll post reflections on my reading.

One big strength of this particular book on cultivating one’s spiritual existence is that it’s focus is entirely on the spiritual life as a response to what God has been doing. Most books focus more on the stuff you’re “supposed” to do. Some slightly betters ones spend their time unpacking and expressing the “beauties of the Gospel” (as they pretty narrowly, individualistically, and Evangelically define it) and then trust that these intellectual ideas and truths woo us and turn our “affections” to God. These are the same people that often see “preaching the Gospel to yourself” as the panacea for everything, be it doubt, fear, confusion, theological questions, or mental health issues.

Barton, however, comes at it from a different angle. She uses the story of Moses as a picture and type for the dance that exists between God and his people. And at each stage of Moses’ life and deepening of his calling and relating to God, she shows how God has actually been at work to, for, and with Moses long before this moment ever came.

So it’s not, “God died for you, so you can live for him!”, or, “See how beautiful God is and all the things he’s done for you! Now doesn’t that make you want to engage with him? (And if it doesn’t, there’s something fundamentally wrong with you.)”
Continue reading

The Refuge of the Embattled Soul


paul-dano-12-03
I’m currently reading through Ruth Haley Barton’s Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership. Occasionally, I’ll post reflections on my reading.

“Reach the campus, reach the world.”

That’s how they got me. With those words, I began an amazing three years in the campus ministry I was a part of throughout college. I was coming out of a fundamentalist evangelical fog, and was desperate for deep, impactful community. I found it in those incredible people.

They had pointed out that our college had students from almost every “closed nation” in the world (countries where missionaries aren’t allowed to go). The campus was a place of such diversity and nationalities; the thought was that this was the most strategic place to have the most global Christian impact. Playing a part in this excited me and stirred me to serve in this mission.

Compared to the few-hundred strong InterVarsity, our little band of 12 or so students were the definite underdogs of campus ministry. We were just starting out and decided to go legitimate and become an official student organization. This would give us access to room and equipment rentals, money, and advertising resources. But we needed “officers” and a board of leaders to do this.

I thus became the President of our campus ministry.
Continue reading

Cultivating Your Soul to Lead


paul-art-wingI’m currently reading through Ruth Haley Barton’s Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership. Occasionally, I’ll post reflections on my reading.

In my seminary program, there’s a lot of talk about one’s “True Self”. We live so much of our existence living from the place of masks, coping mechanisms, fears, anxieties, etc.–our “False Selves”. Articulating it like this is so helpful in some ways, but in others can be frustrating.

At least for me, this “True Self” seems so deeply inside of me, so elusive, that I’ve very much resigned myself to never actually knowing this self. Like a celebrity or historical figure, I’ve had to learn to live with the reality that I’ll never actually meet this person, no matter how much I may want to. I’ve come to terms with a reality in which I just need to be gracious with myself (just as God is) that most all of my life and existence will be more “False” than “True”, and I just need to make the best out of that.
Continue reading

Experiencing God in this Holy Present


flickr-sculpture-worship-kissAt my work, we recently had a training on mindfulness. Now, before you roll your eyes, it was maybe my favorite work training I’ve ever done. It was engaging, practical, and participatory like few trainings are.

Anyway, “mindfulness” is the fancy word used to describe a “non-judgmental awareness of the present”. It’s heightening your senses and calming yourself in order to fully inhabit the present without analyzing it, mulling it, or needing to evaluate it. For those of us with anxiety issues, it really is an amazing way of centering and calming oneself, as well as separating oneself from the internal busyness–at least for a moment.

Another way of putting it is that it is radical present-ness. It is letting this very moment not be merely something you’re passing through as a bridge from the moment that has passed and into the moment that is not yet here. It is to fully inhabit the moment you find yourself in, and let the future come to you rather than anxiously trying to run towards it.

Not gonna lie. It was very spiritual to me. I felt more in tune to God and it got me thinking about how we mystically experience Him in our everyday lives.

When an Atheist talks about this hard-wired human sense to feel the “Numinous”, it often carries with it the sense that it rises from within us. When a lot of Christians talk about meeting the Divine, it often sounds like a presence that comes pointedly at us from outside of us. I’m starting to think that neither of these is right.

Continue reading

Introducing Marginalia: a new part of this blog


schrott-bibles-paul-coffee

I’ll be honest. It’s been years since I’ve been able to find a way to regularly read the Bible that sticks and works for me. To be frank, readings plans usually don’t work for me because I get bored. Depending on the plan, you’re either stuck in the same book for long stretches of time or you’re jumping around so much that you lose the sense of the whole.
This year, I think I’ve started a regimen that is clicking: the M’Cheyne Bible reading plan. At any given time, I’m going through four completely different part of Scripture and for me, this is keeping me really engaged. As I’ve gone on through the plan these past couple of months, I started highlighting and writing up little notes on random verses here and there. Lots of themAnd I’d like to share them with you.

So today, I’m introducing a new little part of this blog called Marginalia, where I’ll be posting these short little meditations on Scripture as I go through this plan.
Continue reading

Advent & Hoping for God to be With Us


icon-Nativity-christmasThis is the meditation I wrote that appeared in this weekend’s reading and reflection in Liberti Church’s Advent 2013 Prayerbook, which can be downloaded for free.

The Reading:

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.

If you’ve been keeping up with this Prayerbook (or any Advent guide), then congratulations! I hope it’s spoken to you and you have experienced God in its readings and meditations.

That being said, you might be wondering: why is this Prayerbook continuing after Christmas Day?

It was only a couple of years ago I found out that in the Church Calendar, Christmas is not just a day—it’s an entire season! Advent Season leads into Christmas Season. Why is this? Advent has a similar relationship to Christmas that Lent does to Easter: it’s meant to be the time of reflection, preparation, and repentance that prepares us for the unbridled, no limits, over-the-top celebration and joy of Christmas. Our spiritual ancestors knew that celebration takes time and preparation. That’s what Advent has been.

But now we’re in the Christmas Season—the time of complete unfettered celebration. But why?
Continue reading

Advent & Longing for Home


Sandorfi-MadeleineThis is the meditation I wrote that appears in a reading and reflection in Liberti Church’s Advent 2013 Prayerbook, which can be downloaded for free.

There is an incredibly profound way in which we don’t feel at Home in our own humanity.

Too often, Christians see their own personal spiritual growth as a loss, a lessening, or an abandoning of their own humanity. This can lead us to subtly use people and things to try and find our soul’s Home. And so we awake to find anxiety, manipulation, doubt, guilt, and self-loathing ruling and reigning so many parts of our lives and relationships. (Am I alone in this?)

We can sometimes think of Christianity as a process of our souls leaving the “Home” of their weakened humanity and finding a “new, spiritual Home” in Jesus. The logic goes that you were originally one way, then Jesus “saved” you, and now you are able (and are commanded) to be something else, now that you are His.

But Advent radically flies in the face of this.
Continue reading

Advent & Hoping for Justice


Massacre-of-innocentsThis is the meditation I wrote that appears in today’s reading and reflection in Liberti Church’s Advent 2013 Prayerbook, which can be downloaded for free.

First, a question.

Think back on the Christmas story. After Jesus is born, when he’s about three-years old, King Herod puts out a decree calling for the death of all infants, trying to kill Jesus. An angel comes to Joseph in a dream and tells him to flee to Egypt to prevent Jesus from dying in this slaughter.

Here’s the question: why flee to Egypt?

If they stayed and Herod killed the child Jesus, wouldn’t that still be the Son of God dying unjustly at the hands of a Roman provincial governor? Why go to all that effort to wait 30 years later for the same thing to happen on a cross?
Continue reading

Advent & Hoping for Peace


Rothko-untitled-2This is the meditation I wrote that appears in today’s reading and reflection in Liberti Church’s Advent 2013 Prayerbook, which can be downloaded for free.

This world is anything but peaceable. Humanity is constant in its injustice and wickedness inflicted upon one another across this world. It makes you wonder if “humane” is a misnomer. And we can’t just blame all of this on free will, either. The natural world rages against us with its own violence with staggering regularity. And all of this hits home the most when it’s those closest to us that suffer under this world with little peace on hand.

We look at all of this and ask that oldest of questions: “Why?” But when we open the pages of Scripture, we don’t find answers to this seemingly core thread running through our existence. The God of the Bible seems far more concerned with answering “what” questions than “why” questions–what is the nature of reality? what is the problem with the world? what is the solution?

But there is good news for all of us that struggle against the violence of this world: Advent.

In Advent, God does not merely see our why‘s and disregard them as silly and human; he does not simply leave us to our own to wrestle and struggle and doubt. He doesn’t answer our whys. He simply looks at us and the world with compassion, acknowledges to us the way things are, and rolls up his sleeves to address it.
Continue reading

For Advent 2013: a Free Liberti Prayerbook & Devotional


GiottodiBondone-Adoration-Magi-icon-advent

As of this past Sunday, the Christian Church finds themselves in the season of Advent. I don’t know about you, but this season has snuck up on me (admittedly, I was a little occupied). I’ve been working on a new Advent Mixtape, but it’s not done (you can find last year’s here). I have an idea for an Advent series, but I haven’t fully thought through the concept (see past series here). I’ve had devotionals and reading plans set up on my phone to do, but I haven’t done even one day of them all this week.

But one of the beauties of the Church Calendar is that it doesn’t depend on us. The realities pointed to in these weeks are objective realities that happened (and are happening) in spite of us, and not because of us. Another beauty of the Calendar is that it happens every year, so even if we don’t engage one year like we’d like or hope, there’s always next year.
Continue reading

Lament & Remembrance (Nostalgia Can Hurt)


paul-window-bw-schrott

Lately, I’ve found myself getting very nostalgic, remembering past relationships, friends, places I’ve lived, and people I’ve known. And honestly, I don’t know why my remembering and thinking through all of these things in the past has caused more tears than laughter, especially in the area of relationships.

I have found myself lingering on the Facebook profiles of old roommates whom I’ve completely lost touch with inexplicably. I have been reading through old emails and blog posts that remind me of spiritual fathers and mothers with whom disagreements over the past several years have led to very real divisions..

And yesterday, I heard a song that reminded me of a situation a couple of years ago that was incredibly painful for me. It wasn’t really any one’s particular sin or moral failings that ended up causing all the hurt and pain; just the collision of people’s own baggage and immaturity and struggles. As I thought back on it I remembered the false ideal picture of reality I had blindly painted for myself at that time. I remembered the slow, painful process that was this picture being broken down brick by brick over the course of several weeks. I felt again the shadows of the anxiety and pain from that time.
Continue reading

My problem with “quiet times” (some rest for the journey?)


prayer-hands-bible

If you’ve spent any real time in the Church, you probably are well-aware that there are some practical things that “mature Christians” end up doing (or so we hear) to “pursue Christ” and intimacy with God on days other than Sunday. Usually, this is some set of practices, disciplines, and rituals that surround two key things: the Bible and Prayer.

In the Bible Belt, where I’m from, the common term to describe this is the “quiet time”. This can be a devotional that includes a snippet of Bible verses with some meditations and prayers. It could be reading a passage and then journaling about it. It can even be going through an established liturgy of prayer with rotations of Scripture found throughout (here’s my favorite).

Whatever form it takes, it’s usually a subjective engagement (prayer) with the “objective” revealing of God (the Bible). It is usually rooted in the Bible, and even the prayer or journaling is seen as a response to how God reveals Himself in the Scripture. “Quiet times” are, fundamentally speaking, time spent with God in the Bible.

I’m sure the experience is very different in other branches of the Christian family tree, but at least in Evangelicalism (my bread-and-butter), “quiet times” become the go-to litmus test for one’s own spiritual health. If people are going through difficult times, we nudge them towards the Bible more. If we are to feel spiritually vital, healthy and mature, we gain the impression, over time, that it must flow from regular, disciplined quiet times.

But as I have lived through my own pursuit of the elusive “consistent quiet time”, dealt with decades of feelings of spiritual inadequacy, and seemingly had every time of requesting prayer on my behalf be about trying to get the grace to have these quiet times, I have slowly realized there are problems with how we have conceived of the “quiet time”. Come walk with me a little bit.

Continue reading