Nov

21

2014

The Grinch At Seminary

This quarter at Northern Seminary, I took a class for which I had low enthusiasm before I walked in the door back in September. In fact, the words “low enthusiasm” might be overstating it a bit. If it hadn’t been required to complete my degree, I would have probably found a way to avoid taking this course altogether.

However, you can’t opt out of core theology courses when you are enrolled in seminary.

I’m not anti-theology. I noted in my first paper for my Theology I course this quarter that I’ve done a fair measure of theological reading in my life, and my primary structure through which I’ve learned to think theologically to this point has been through…

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/pilgrimsroadtrip/2014/11/the-grinch-seminary/#ixzz3Ji8hibH2

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Nov

21

2014

“Done” At Midlife

The conversation around the relationship between those at midlife and the local church clicked into a higher gear last week with these two blog posts:

At Thom Schultz’s Holy Soup: The Rise Of The Dones. “After sitting through countless sermons and Bible studies, they feel they’ve heard it all…The Dones are fatigued with the Sunday routine of plop, pray and pay. They want to play. They want to participate. But they feel spurned at every turn. Will the Dones return? Not likely, according to the research. They’re done.” Though Schultz doesn’t specifically I.D. those at midlife and beyond in his post, the typical leaver in the “Done” category is someone who was for years committed to a local church and burned out or faded away; in other words, people at midlife. Again, the comments section in this post is perhaps even more instructive than the post itself.

At Wartburg Watch: The Consequences For The Church That Focuses On Youth While Ignoring Baby Boomers. This excellent post uses my column in the September print edition of Christianity Today as a jumping-off point to visit some stats and offer some important reflections about marginalizing older members. As of this writing, there are 172 comments on the Wartburg Watch post. The number may reflect the high level of engagement in the WW community, but I believe the topic itself drew strong opinion and debate. You may not have time to read all the comments, but they’re certainly worth a skim if you’re interested in this subject.

 

The comments following both posts echo the things I heard when I launched my own informal survey a year and a half ago asking those over 40 original about their relationship with their local church (click here for a summary), as well as some of the other writing I’ve done on the topic here and at Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog. A version of my own experience with spiritual disorientation and a sense of disconnection from the doings at church seemed to be taking place in the lives of many of my age/life-stage peers. I discovered early on that looking for answers or remedies was a fruitless task, as this disconnect wasn’t a problem to be fixed by applying 7 Simple Steps, praying a prayer or swallowing hard and signing up for more [Read more]

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“How are you doing?” There’s a lot of different ways in which those words can be voiced ranging from a casual aside with no desire for an answer to the way the pastor of the church we’d attended for a year and a half asked it of me. It sounded as though he really wanted to know because he really cared about the state of my soul.

I hesitated for a moment. Could I trust him? I’d worked hard with the help of the Holy Spirit using the gfits and training of an excellent counselor to unpack some of the baggage I’d been carrying from a couple of toxic churches. The bags weren’t gone, but they were significantly lighter in weight than they’d been in years. Me with overstuffed baggage would have kept my mouth shut in response to this question. But the current me, the one now toting this lighter-weight baggage, took a measured risk. I trusted him. I told him a little bit about the challenges I was facing at work. He listened with great empathy, and I was grateful for his quiet assurance that he’d keep me in prayer.

A couple of weeks later, I ran into one of his young adult children as I was on my way to grab a bite to eat in the middle of my workday. A couple of coworkers were within earshot as this young woman called out to me from the bottom of a crowded staircase, “Hey, Michelle! How are you doing? My dad said you were having a hard time with things around here.”

The challenge of icky workplace politics was nothing compared to the realization that the trust I’d been working so hard to regain had just been violated. Again.

* * * * * * *

In my first post in this series, I took a look at some of the kinds of baggage people carry with them from involvement in toxic church cultures. My second post talked about the kinds of patient, prayerful questions that might help a trust-damaged person begin to unpack those suitcases they’re lugging with them.

Today, I’d like to talk a bit about what rebuilding trust might look like.

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/pilgrimsroadtrip/2014/11/unpacking-spiritual-baggage-part-3/#ixzz3IsfUJrBY

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Nov

12

2014

The Paradox Of Retreat

In military terms, a retreat is the decision for an army to withdraw because they’re losing a battle. In Evangelical church circles, a retreat is a weekend packed to the rafters with activity, teaching and relationship-building.

Jesus often retreated from the go-go-go of his ministry to seek his Father in solitude. Solitude was the life-giving marrow of his ministry as the Spirit shaping his communion with the Father. His withdrawl into retreat was an advance for him. Solitude was not about frantic activity filled with people and doing. Retreat for Jesus was a going away in order to be, not to do. Retreat was where he could simply be beloved.

A retreat is a little bit for me like fasting. When I’ve fasted, it never fails to amaze me about how how much airtime my brain devotes to whatever it is from which I’m abstaining. I have planned Thanksgiving dinners in May when I’m fasting from food.  When I’ve chosen to pack a bag and spend a day or two at a retreat center in silence, I discover the same sort of thing about my relationships with others and with God. There is a lot of racket going on in my brain most of the time. It sounds like the kaBANG kaBANG of a washing machine on the spin cycle with 13 pairs of dirty Chuck Taylors in it. When I start getting a little too aware of how anxious I am not to feel lonely (and this time of year is almost always an especially lonely one for me), it is just like Jesus to invite extraverted me into solitude instead of a party.

Heading away into a time of silence makes me realize how deafened I’ve become to that kaBANG, and how much I miss the sound of the Lord’s still, small voice. I also realize my own temptation to find a bit too much of my worth in the things fill my daily dance card. When I am too much a human doing to be a human being, it’s time to retreat. I was too busy to take some retreat time until I realized I was too busy not to do so.

My long-time prayer partner and I have led several small groups in guided silent retreats over the years, and those have been rich and wonderful times. But the past couple of days, the two of us headed to the brand new retreat space at the Siena Center, just north of Racine, WI. Lots of silence, punctuated with companionable prayer and meaningful conversation as we shared our simple meals in the room next to the gray-haired nuns who live there, reminded me again that grace indeed has a rhythm that can best be heard in silence.
Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/pilgrimsroadtrip/2014/11/the-paradox-of-retreat/#ixzz3IsfC0dWJ

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If you attended a church service this weekend, you may have been sitting in a roomful of suitcases. There’s no way to tell what percentage of people in a given congregation are schlepping baggage from a previous negative church experience, but I suspect the numbers would startle even veteran church leaders. Bad baggage is often eagerly recycled by leaders. This may serve the needs of the organization. It may even be called good pastoral care by some leaders, who rationalize that putting hurting people back into service as quickly as possible will promote healing. In some cases, this may be true. But it is often self-serving expediency at work in this line of thinking.

I would like to suggest that creating an environment where it is safe for people to unpack their baggage is Discipleship 101 in a way that many other church activities packaged under that banner isn’t. [Read more]

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