Spiritual tinkering: good or bad?

We’ve been having a stimulating conversation at the campus ministry summer institute at Candler School of Theology about the nature of young adult spirituality. Part of the presentation described many millennial young adults as “spiritual tinkerers,” a phrase which had a slightly pejorative edge to it and rubbed some people in the room the wrong way. The implicit critique in this phrase is that you need to make up your mind whether you’re “in” or “out” instead of just dabbling. Are you going to submit to another person or institution’s authority completely or are you appropriating pieces of a thought-system for your own personal agenda? I know that I myself am definitely a spiritual tinkerer. I tinker in all sorts of things: fasting, taking Roman Catholic communion illegally, praying in other languages, using physical objects as prayer tools, walking labyrinths. And yet I don’t think I’m just being a navel-gazing, perpetually adolescent dilettante when I engage in these practices rather than just adopting a single tradition that I embrace completely. So I wanted to ponder what kind of tinkering is healthy and should be encouraged and what aspects of it do we need to call people away from when we’re discipling them.

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Can we stop using “I’ll pray for you” as a retort in social media?

I’ll pray for you. How many of you have tweeted or commented that on facebook when you were in a huff over something somebody else said and you wanted to stick it to them in a way that would show that you’re rising above it like a good Christian? I’ve done it before. And it’s time for us to stop doing it, because it mocks God to turn “prayer” into a retort on social media. As Dianna Anderson very astutely observes, “I’ll pray for you” often serves as saccharine Christianese for “F*** you.” If the first phrase is being substituted into a heated conversation where the second phrase would fit, then it doesn’t matter if I can’t see what’s really in your heart, because you’re using the word “prayer” in a way that mocks prayer.

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Would Jesus pray at a city council meeting?

The more that I think about the recent Supreme Court ruling defending the use of explicitly Christian prayer to open government meetings, the more it offends me. I have no problem praying in public. I do it all the time walking on the sidewalk mumbling the Jesus Prayer to myself with my prayer beads. When somebody else needs prayer, I don’t have any problem laying hands on them in the middle of a Walmart or any other public space. I don’t want to be the pastor who says, “I’ll pray for you” in the disingenuous way that we say “Let’s do lunch sometime” instead of actually praying for people right then and there. But prayer as a pro forma function of “civic religion” really bugs me. And Jesus himself had something to say about it in the sermon that is more widely ignored by supposedly “Biblical” American Christians than any other Biblical text.

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Some Henri Nouwen thoughts on prayer

A woman from my church gave me a bunch of spiritual books because she was downsizing, including an old Henri Nouwen book about prayer called With Open Hands. Yesterday, I read this book by Lake Accotink since we had the only fifty degree day we’re going to have for the rest of January. I underlined some quotes that I wanted to share on my blog. Continue Reading

We are always praying; the question is to whom

Yesterday our senior pastor preached a thought-provoking sermon on prayer based upon Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6. He talked about the way that prayer is a privilege, not just an obligation, and that it can encompass a variety of behaviors that are done intentionally in the presence of God. What hit me today as I sat in mass at the basilica is that we are always praying; we just often aren’t praying to God. Continue Reading

The voice you long to hear (a gathering at Burke United Methodist Church)

There’s a voice of love in the world that is always telling each of us who we really are and drawing us into the embrace of our Creator. The problem is that we are caught up in a swarm of other voices who tell us lies which distract us and keep us from hearing the Holy Spirit. Tomorrow night (Wednesday) at 7 pm, something beautiful is going to start at Burke United Methodist Church: a series of conversations called “The voice you long to hear,” led by our brand-new Barnabas ministry of spiritual companionship. The hope is to discover together how to listen to God and thus gain a much richer and deeper taste of the eternal life that He is constantly offering to us. Continue Reading

Is yoga Satanic? E.W. Jackson and Al Mohler think so.

An Atlantic Monthly article yesterday took a look at some comments made by one of the candidates in the race for Virginia’s lieutenant governor, Bishop E.W. Jackson, about how yoga makes people susceptible to Satanic possession. Several other prominent evangelicals were quoted, including Al Mohler whose comments are very instructive. My wife does a fair amount of yoga and so far she hasn’t exhibited Satanic behavior (but maybe the next time we have an argument I’ll bring this up). I thought I would share Jackson and Mohler’s comments and add my own thoughts. Continue Reading

Prayer: the antidote to suburgatory?

Some of you know that I hate living in suburgatory. I love the friends that I’ve made over the past two and a half years, I love my church, and I especially love my small group. But I hate suburgatory. I’m not sure how much is my own personal projection and how much is the actual ambiance of the suburbs. Anyway, I’m trying to process why spending the past three days in a spiritual retreat center in the middle of the city in Richmond was like heaven to me. And I’m trying to figure out how to carry the rhythm of prayer that I had down there with me to this suburgatory to see if I can create my own personal monastery here in the land of soccer and traffic jams. Continue Reading

Why you need to listen to Brian Zahnd

I’m about to leave on a youth retreat so I don’t have time for a full post on this, but Brian Zahnd’s Friday night and Sunday sermons from last weekend blew my mind. He is the pastor of non-denominational Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, MO and a leader in the exciting movement among evangelical churches to embrace the sacramental and spiritual practices of the ancient church. In his Friday sermon “Ring them bells,” he talks about the way that church bells used to serve as the city’s call to prayer before they became passe to churches seeking to be “relevant” and modern. The church bell is a metaphor for a public Christianity that is prayerful and prophetic rather than entrenched in worldly political power. Then in his Sunday sermon “The Mount of Beatitudes,” Zahnd talks about the Beatitudes, closing with a fascinating account of how every single beatitude is in play among those gathered around Jesus as he was being crucified. Zahnd says, “The kingdom of God will only come through little reenactments of Calvary.” I have a lot more to say but I don’t have time so go listen. Peace.

A prayer for peace and integrity at the polls

Lord, we take many things for granted in our country, but the fact that we are able to accomplish a peaceful transfer of governmental power every two years is truly a blessing for which we should thank you. We thank you for the judges who were able to put their partisan affiliations aside and rule justly concerning measures that could have compromised the integrity of our voting process in Ohio, Florida, and other places.  We thank you for all that you have accomplished in our nation throughout our history by compelling your people to face down mobs, water hoses, and dogs in order that everyone would have the right to vote. We thank you for the way that you have softened our bigotry so that we could have a presidential election in which we have one Mormon, two Catholics, and the only Protestant is a black guy. Continue Reading