Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Spiritual Direction Training

This past weekend I began spiritual director training led by David Nixon through Sustainable Faith. I have looked for this training for a few years now but location always seemed to be a barrier. This is in Norwood which means that I can easily drive back and forth. The location and timing are a blessing.

I have always been intrigued by the process of spiritual direction because, unlike counseling, the goal is to help a person discern the answers that lie between God and that person. A spiritual director is there to listen, notice, and guide with tools such as prayer and spiritual disciplines. I have always resonated with the Quaker notion of “inner teacher” described by Parker Palmer in his book, Hidden Wholeness. Your path is something that only God and you can pave together. Some may call this inner voice the Holy Spirit.

I chose this design by Jeff Nabors because it is a striking visualization of spiritual direction. The cross represents the truth of the matter. The designs around the cross represent the many barriers we have to wade through to get to that truth whether those barriers are spiritual, physical or emotional. A spiritual director focuses on the spiritual, encourages physical care (which I’m much in need of myself) and will direct a person toward counseling if they detect that a person is stuck in an emotional area. We come alongside to help another person maneuver through the barriers in order to move toward a more authentic version of their life. It’s a safe place where one listens and the other is truly heard which moves both toward the center/cross.

I love the honesty of this role because I can’t even pretend to have any answers for someone else. But I can walk with another seeker and together we can search for those answers. The title “spiritual director” bothers me a bit. I think the directee’s inner teacher/Holy Spirit is much more in the role of director than I.

It will be interesting to see if my thoughts change over the course of this training….

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Church/Worship Conversation Continued

Our discussion regarding church continued with new faces around the room. A reference was made to the book, Pagan Christianity, by Frank Viola and George Barna. This book allows us to explore the roots of our church practices and not assume that these traditions are biblically based. For example, a participant in our discussion pointed out that the early church consisted of meetings instead of a service. People were expected to bring something to the conversation and it was not a passive event. Our conversation came back to the point that the current intent of the church is to engage people in worship and spiritual formation which works for many while some find that, over time, they have become less engaged. Again, different gathering points are needed because people are at different points in living out their faith.

This particular band of believers is in agreement that a missional focus defines our faith. Discussing theological issues is helpful in the sense that we can examine how we approach the community. Otherwise, there is a restlessness to be out there and doing which makes talking about it feel like a contradiction. As it said on the many reports cards that I filled out over the years, “Uses time wisely”, talking doesn’t seem like the best use of our time any more.

We ventured into the topic of worship and agreed that worship takes place in a corporate setting and is also an ongoing individual experience. Revelation comes out of both. Individual worship allows us to look at life as an act of worship. We are often surprised by what moves us toward the sacred. No doubt, there will be some in our group who will have a very worshipful experience at the U2 3D movie coming up soon. Worship is always close to us. As a wise sage in our group pointed out the paradox of worship is that in focusing on God we are also getting in touch with the deepest part of ourselves. In finding God, we find us.

We look forward to the next meeting where we'll hear about ways to serve at St. Raphael in Hamilton. My sister is an outreach nurse there and this had been her vocation and ministry for many years.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Practicing Church

Disclaimer: this is my vision for the church and does not necessarily reflect the views of anyone else in my family or small group.

I understand why churches went the seeker sensitive direction. I know the purpose in being more culturally relevant and all that. The music became contemporary (although the style is still about ten years behind) and the message became more like an Oprah or Dr. Phil show with some proof texting (little or no regard for the context of scripture).

I actually enjoyed this shift (not the proof texting part) having grown up in traditional church settings. In this new model we were freed from hymnals, choir robes and condemnation. But even with the welcomed changes, the novelty began to wear off over time. The worship allowed for praise and celebration but rarely, if ever, made room for pain or grief of any kind. Worship is always in a musical form and so people have not been taught to associate the sacred with any other art forms. This is a sin in itself because it has limited how we are guided to God. I believe all artistic forms were created in order to bring us into sacred space.

The seeker sensitive direction was implemented so people would not feel uncomfortable. The hope was that they would have such a positive experience that they would want to come back. That intent left us with a religious group of people minus the spiritual practices. That left no room for those of us who waited before each communion to see if there was any opportunity for people to reconcile with each other before taking the elements. My personal desire for such moments is not spiritually motivated as much as just wanting to experience the deep psychological and emotional affect that the practice of forgiveness could have on a community. I would even welcome small moments of silence to think if I had offended anyone (no doubt, I had) with encouragement to plan when and how I was going to made amends. Yes, this is very uncomfortable but placing the focus on healing and restoration is the basis of community building.

A church or community that practices their faith is not Church Lite. This is for those who want something more than what happens on a Sunday morning. These are not people who need a sermon. These are people who can dialogue and teach each other. They need a “guide on the side” and not the “sage on the stage.” These are people who can handle questioning and know you can’t program spirituality. They can hang in there with people who don’t believe exactly as they do because it doesn’t threaten their faith.

Planning and implementation of a gathering of people seeking spirituality and not religion would take work and the actual gathering would probably happen once a month. Meeting once a month would be enough because these people have their own spiritual practices that keep bringing them back to the Center. They would welcome accountability and have found ways to be held accountable to others through their family or a small group. They prefer to spend their time in actual service in the community or to their own family depending on their circumstances. Some may choose to serve on a Church Lite Sunday morning because both types of gatherings are needed.

I know changes were made with the hope of bringing people into the church. But as many of us began to deconstruct and reconstruct our faith and truly make it our own, we have moved beyond Sunday morning. Church Lite has a revolving door and there are vast numbers of us moving through it.

Friday, January 11, 2008

What is Church?

Our small group began the new year with a discussion of the question "What is church?". We acknowledged the revolving door effect. When I was part of a church staff I remember asking if anyone had ever tracked the people who had come through the door and didn't come back. There didn't seem to be any interest in tracking that number or asking those people why they moved on. I wondered if the follow-up would let people know that they did not exit without being seen and if that acknowledgment would imply that the church was about people instead of numbers.

Our past experiences had taught us that the church was more about what happens on the inside. Time and resources were used to serve themselves. We expanded that thought to acknowledge that an inward focus did nurture the people but the purpose of the nurturing was to move out and nurture others.

We discussed the purpose of Sunday morning and how that meets the needs of many people. The community "gathers and scatters." The intent is that they scatter into the community to be agents of change. While working in the church I saw some come to the point in their spiritual transformation to a place that was more about "scattering" than the "gathering." They still sought community but the focus of their faith had shifted from inward to outward. They had received so much and wanted to direct their time and energy into doing. Taking that shift in combination with the reality of how much time people actually have outside of work and family we are forced to recognize that some must move beyond the traditional models of what we call church. This is the focus of the emergent movement in many faith communities today.

We agreed that there is no one formula that is going to work for everyone. The truth is that we need a wide variety of collection points for people to gather and grow in their faith. Even the inflatable church in the picture must serve some purpose. Although for the life of me, I'm not sure what that is!

Thursday, January 10, 2008


I am an avid blog reader. This endeavor will determine if I am a blog writer. I need to let you know that this may not be the best time for me to start blogging. My husband and I have recently left a church and there is a residual sense of failure and frustration. I had already left a church in 2006 and I processed that leaving to the point that I really don’t have much left in me to put the time and energy into processing this second leaving. In the 2006 leaving I went to counseling so I could understand my part and to try to not repeat the same patterns. Apparently, I did. But no matter how much processing or counseling I’ve done, these are life events that have changed me and I will carry forever.

So, I preface this first entry with these experiences so whoever reads this is aware that my journey has become more about moving away from the church than toward it. I can say that no matter what my experience has been with the church that I have always been drawn, intrigued, and tethered to the divine.

When I left the first church there were a few women who figured out how to attend that church and still maintain a relationship with me. I owe much of my healing to them. I still ached for others to reach out to me from that community. And the realization that I had caused pain to others haunts me. I compared it to a divorce and the father (or the lead pastor, in this case) got the kids and the house.

In this most recent departure I am very grateful that we will be able to continue building relationships with a small group. I have their permission to write about our discussions and I hope their comments will clarify anything that has come through my filter. As I have already confessed, my filter is biased. I will try to be clear when thoughts are going through my filter but I’m sure there will be some overlap. They know they can slap my hand when I misrepresent them.