This has been one of the most encouraging thoughts on youth ministry I have read recently. The idea that in ministry we sometimes just keep plugging away is an important one to be reminded about. I was recently talking with a number of staff people from my church and we were discussing how ministry is often tough. You often end up feeling like you aren’t really accomplishing much. Our encouragement came from Isaiah 49.4, knowing that even the servant/Deutero-Isaiah/whoever feels that he has labored in vain. Ironically, God’s response appears to be to give a larger mission to the servant. Be that as it may, it’s encouraging to know that people who have ministered to others throughout history have also struggled with the seemingly impossible task before them.
As I’ve been thinking about worship, liturgy and youth ministry (see here and here) I’ve also been reflecting on my own practice of prayer. As I’ve mentioned before, this summer I decided to seriously expand the practice of prayer in my own life. As we were talking with students about Christian practices it just seemed right that I ought to continue to develop those practices in my own life.
I had experimented with fixed-hour prayer in the past. I’d primarily used Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours, though I’ve also used the morning and evening prayer rites from the BCP. At the beginning of the summer I added compline to my normal prayer routine, and by midsummer I decided to expand to morning and evening prayer. As I was looking for a simple, helpful, manageable prayer book I stumbled upon Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Enuma Okoro.
As it turns out, Common Prayer is pretty much all the things I was looking for in a prayer book. I’ve found many of the side-bars personally challenge, which is nice, but the primary reason I find the book so helpful is that it sets out to be a simple prayer book that can be used either individually or corporately. I’ve been using Common Prayer for several weeks as my primary prayer book. To be honest, at times I find it challenging to force myself to take a chunk of time and pray. It’s one of the reasons I’ve found fixed-hour prayer a helpful practice. As I’ve recited the prayers in this book there has not been a time when I haven’t come away refreshed–lest I give the wrong impression, this is entirely a work of the Holy Spirit, not Shane or the other authors, nevertheless that means this book is doing what it’s supposed to: helping me connect with God and then getting out of the way.
Common Prayer is split into several sections. The first is a lengthy introduction to the book, liturgy and the practice of fixed-hour prayer. The introduction is well written and helpful to those who have never attempted the practice of fixed-hour prayer before as well as those who have found it to be an important part of their spiritual lives. Next is a section of seven evening prayers, one for each night of the week. That means that each Sunday one recites the same prayer, each Monday the same prayer, etc. I find this immensely helpful since it establishes a weekly rhythm in my prayer life. Next is a section of morning prayers, one for each day of the year with a small section devoted specifically to Holy Week (which will fall on various calendar weeks). Following this there is a single Noon time prayer, to be said each day. I’ve personally found noon prayers to be the most difficult of the commonly practiced hours to establish in my own life, but I haven’t given up hope. The book concludes with a brief selection of prayers for various occasions and a songbook.
If you have never tried developing a practice of fixed-hour prayer, I highly recommend Common Prayer as a place to start. If you are familiar with fixed-hour prayer and find the practice helpful, I highly recommend this book. I’ve actually begun using selections from the evening prayers during our Wednesday evening worship time with students. So far, they have been quite helpful.
We have had some friends from out of town visiting over the Labor Day weekend. Over this time I’ve been reminded of the Importance of table fellowship to relationships. There is nothing quite like gathering around a table with friends and sharing a meal together.
Mandy and I commonly have dinner together. We think it is an important habit to cultivate. But I have spent a truly impressive amount of time sitting at my kitchen table this weekend. I have talked and listened. As I’ve already said, there is simply nothing quite like eating a meal together and catching up on the latest news with good friends.
Recently I had a copy of True Story: A Christianity Worth Believing In by James Choung given to me. I have to be honest, I’m normally a bit skeptical of this kind of book. The gentleman who gave it to me, however, is someone I trust. Also, Shane Claiborne has a blurb on the back, so, ya know.
The majority of the book takes the form of a fictional story meant to illustrate the points that Choung deals with in more detail in the final quarter of the book. The story certainly isn’t going to win any awards in terms of plot, characterization, pacing or really anything else. It does serve well to illustrate the point that Choung is trying to make: that the most common ways of explaining the gospel often miss the biggest parts thereof.
My own faith journey has included the kind of painful questioning that the main characters in Choung’s story undertake. There were times when I found myself smiling at the characters or nodding my head, remembering a time in my own life when I’d felt like my entire metaphorical faith-house had just been utterly ripped apart. Many of the questions that he addresses in the book are questions I’ve struggled with and questions I hear others struggling with.
The most helpful aspect of the book may be a picture that is developed step by step throughout the book that Choung proposes as a new tool for explaining the Christian story. Rather than some chasm with a cross bridging it, we see a far more nuanced diagram that gives–in my opinion–a much fuller characterization of what Christianity is all about. At the least, True Story potentially adds to the discussion that needs to happen regarding the question: what is the gospel? I, like some of the characters in the book, am simply tired of hearing about how it’s all about where I go when I die.
One small critique–why does it seem that pastoral minded Christians are incapable of having a nuanced understanding of Hebrew or Greek? Every time a character mentioned a Hebrew or Greek word, I cringed. In variably it was just silly or ridiculous. Case-in-point, the Hebrew word for voice and thunder are the same, therefore when God speaks, it’s loud. What? The same word for voice gets applied to David, Moses, etc, etc. Do they have voices like thunder as well? Does every biblical character have a loud, rumbling voice? Of course not. The Church would be served better if more individuals spent time learning Hebrew and Greek, and learning them well.
So, I’ve updated the About Me section, for those of you who are just dying to read a boring wall of text about yours truly. I’m not promising that this means regular updates. But, I’m on vacation and there is something cathartic about looking back over the past several years and trying to distill who you are as an individual into a few paragraphs.
It has been two years since I blogged here, and nearly a year since I blogged over at The Floppy Hat.
A great deal has happened since then. I now hold an MA in Biblical Languages and an MA in Old Testament, having graduated from Gordon-Conwell in May 2010. I am currently the Director of Youth Ministries at Gaithersburg Presbyterian Church in Gaithersburg, MD. Certainly an odd assignment for a twenty-something with two Masters degrees in biblical studies. Mandy and I are also expecting our first child in November.
It has been a busy two years. I tentatively expect that blogging here at Random Bloggings is going to pick back up in the coming months. I feel a bit like I have things to say, and a blog feels like the most readily available place to say them. Look for more information in the coming weeks.
Normally I don’t post about politics on even this, my personal blog. However, after seeing some of the reactions from my conservative acquaintances and friends over the past 9-10 hours, I’m simply appalled. To those of you who disagree with me, I still wanna be friends ( :-) ). This is a chance for me to vent some frustration, so take it all in stride.
Barack Obama is the President-Elect of the United States of America. He has a job I would never want. Many Christians are up in arms over his election. “How could America do this?” or “See! Americans just want money, they don’t care about killing babies!” or any other number of things. So, first a disclaimer, then my thoughts. I voted for Barack Obama in this election. Not because I agree with every policy he has ever laid down, but because I agreed with more of what he said than I agreed with John Mccain’s view (the situation would have been completely reversed had Ron Paul won the Republican primaries).
1. Christians, who claim to read and believe the Bible is the Word of God, ought to remember that A) God decides who the “kings” are and B) Our citizenship isn’t here anyway. Nothing that John Mccain would have done, and nothing that Barack Obama will do will prevent us from carrying out the Jesus Creed–Love God, and Love Others (including Barack Obama and those who voted for him–and, conversely, John McCain and those who voted for him).
2. For those calling for God’s mercy–I agree, sorta. I hope he has mercy for all the truly horrible things America has done throughout the years as Bush has been in office, or Clinton before him, or any American President. Or that he has mercy on us for being greedy. Or that he has mercy on America for the far more gut-wrenching issue of our inaction regarding Darfur.
3. Ultimately, I understand that there is a lot of frustration and disappointment out there among John McCain supporters. That is fair and expected. However, Christians shouldn’t be making John Mccain vs. Barack Obama into an issue of morals, of us (the “true” Christians) vs. them (those evil pagans or liberal Christians).
At the end of the day, one guy won. It doesn’t make America better or worse, it makes it much the same as it always was. It doesn’t mean Christians need to point fingers with the rest of America. What we need to do is move through out disappointment (or excitement, as the case may be) and get on with loving God, loving others and doing our best to serve him.