While I was in Chicago last week I finished reading my friend, Brian McLaren’s book, Finding Our Way Again. I don’t have time to do a full review you can read several here. I would highly recommend this book to just about anyone and in fact I am thinking about using it in our own faith community as some kind of study that everyone would go through at some point since this book puts language to the journey we have been on the last four years in so many ways. It is not your typical book on spiritual formation it is so much more. I am sitting having coffee with Rich before we go to the Vineyard this a.m. to engage in spiritual practices. Brian’s chapters on contemplative practices, communal practices and missional practices are really well said. I am working on a dissertation called “The Practicing Church” so this book is very, very helpful to me in many of the directions I am currently working on in my own story.
In missional practices Brian mentions my friends Jim Henderson and Dave Richards of Off The Map as coining the word “otherlyness” if you go to OTM’s site you can read about the spirituality of serving others. By the way OTM is hosting several live events beginning next month the events are called the Born Again Church Tour. Check them out and try to get to one, you won’t be disappointed. There will be great discussion around the way many folks move forward during this time of change and restructuring and if you have been to any OTM event you know there will be great music and a bunch of fun.
Back to Brian’s book. The Chapter on Communal Practices has a side note “THE WAY OF COMMUNITY IS ABOUT THE INWARD JOURNEY, NOT THE JOURNEY INTO ME BUT THE JOURNEY INTO WE. Brian’s premise is that if you are a true contemplative, the practices are about helping you in the upward journey where we descend into our deepest soul and then from there rise upward toward God, and if the missional practices is about the outward journey where we express our inner transformation in the outward world, then the way of community is expressed in the opening line above, it is about the journey into we, not the journey into me.
The chapter continues and defines the word liturgy as a thoughtfully designed, time-tested set and order of communal spiritual practices that must be adapted and updated as needed for the times and communities in which it is employed. In a time when everyone has a different opinion about “going to church” in a way he describes through a lens of spiritual practices and then gives a few examples of how to reframe a community gathering:
Inconvenience– Showing up is inherently inconvenient. It means going to a place I didn’t choose at a time I didn’t choose for a purpose I do choose. The commitment to the purpose — learning and living a way of life–motivates me to show up. In this way, going to church when you don’t feel like it becomes the most important kind of going to church there is.
Our daily self preparation typically involves, showering, brushing our teeth, getting dressed. Preparation for the gathering of the faith community would have practices such as prayer, study, or even discussion in the car about why joining and showing up in a faith community is important.
As one arrives at a gathering–in the parking lot, on the sidewalk–others are arriving too, and how one treats them is, at is turns out, a highly significant communal practice. If one habitually treats them as strangers–say, as one might treat strangers in the aisle in a grocery store, then one is a way of practicing a way of treating people that may or may not be in line with the way of this community. This was of a great concern to the first apostles look up the way we are to greet one another as we gather.
As you enter whatever space you gather in one can practice stillness, quieting your internal chatter so that you can listen, letting the dust of hurry and worry settle so that you can simply be present and awake.
Invocation I love this being from the Vineyard — many of our invocations ask ridiculous things, they ask God to be present as if God wasn’t present already. Beneath this clumsy kind of expression there is an important reality: we are often oblivious to God’s presence, asleep at the wheel. The invocation is a way for us as a community to say that we are together seeking to wake up intentionally to the reality that has always been true: that God is with us and we are with God, living and moving and having our being in God.
Singing Brian states that singing is so familiar in our churches that he is afraid we are missing the miracle that it is. I could not agree more. Honestly, I love singing at our gathering, I love music and the way it moves my soul and I love singing with a group of a hundred or so people. I have a totally different experience in a large group than in a smaller group of 15 or 20 people. Not that there is anything wrong with singing in a small group, I just like the experience of a large group of voices singing–my imagination takes me right into a place where I imagine Jesus sitting on the throne and your only response is to bow your heart and worship him. Brian of course has much to say about this but I will leave it here for now.
Attentiveness This is brilliant – in an age where the sermon is under nuclear attack (and for some good reason-however I am not of the persuasion we throw the baby out with the bath water) Brian sees the preparing and listening to a sermon as a communal practice of attentiveness, where the speaker, preacher, or whomever begins by simultaneously attending to the Scriptures, the faith community, his or her own soul, and the larger world in which they are all situated, listening for resonances that indicate the places where God may be speaking. The people similarly come, attending to resonances between the text, the sermon, and their own lives, seeking in that resonance to integrate sacred theology and personal biography and shared history. The whole process–preparation, delivery, reception, memory–is a shared spiritual practice by which the whole congregation (again this seems like a miracle we all take for granted) engages in a shared practice of listening to God.
Brian goes on to say that when he is sermonizing on this topic he will often ask people what question would come to mind if God sent them the following message: I will give you a message of great importance sometime during a sermon in the next three years. They always reply with this question: “Which Sunday?” After all they don’t want to miss the big week. What if the only way you’ll be prepared to hear that message when it comes is by practicing and attentiveness for the next 155 Sundays?
The last practices I don’t have time to go into as I am on my way to our Worship Gathering are:
Interpretation and Discernment – so important
Confession and Assurance of Pardon – we don’t do enough of this in our faith community
Response practices, reentry practices, announcements as a spiritual practice — we got this one..for us it is a time to have fun together and laugh, to remind ourselves we don’t have to take ourselves so seriously – our “announcer guy, Jeff” sometimes is so irreverent with the announcements overly religious people don’t come back.
This is just one section of a book I think is an important book for any faith community no matter what size, shape, or form. I think this is one of his best books since “‘Finding Faith” that has practical wisdom and tracks that people can see a “way” of living to follow Jesus.