Being Present and Closing the Distance

I read a great article yesterday in TIME by Joel Stein about the Millennial generation. I’ve done some study about generational cohorts and I find all of this stuff very interesting.

However, I also find the ongoing micro-cohorting to be somewhat distressing. The more strictly we define generational cohorts (Builders, Silent Generation, Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, etc.) the more we separate from one another. We already find it natural to separate through technology (isn’t it amazing how someone appearing as a text on your phone is of greater interest than the person sitting across the table from you?), and generational separations increase the distance.

Of course, I shouldn’t talk. I’m a Baby Boomer, and it was my generation that celebrated the “Generation Gap,” claiming that we couldn’t relate to anyone older than us. Nevertheless, the separations continue and the distances increase.

Churches have suffered because of this separation, and not because they are victims of such cultural movement; it’s because they have organized around it. Many churches (particularly Evangelical Protestant churches) separate everyone by age and generation as soon as they walk in the door. It is not uncommon for young people, once they graduate from high school and are no longer able to be in the youth group, to walk away from church because they see no place for them there. No place in what we call The Body of Christ, where diversity is assumed. Wow.

I remember reading in Margaret Wheatley’s book, Leadership and the New Science, that organizational leadership of the future will be about finding new ways to be together. That will be challenging in a world that is struggling to figure out what it really means to be anywhere with anyone, now that space and time have lost their power over us.

I had a long and happy conversation with my mother yesterday (yes, over the telephone, which is unhindered by the distance of miles between us), and I found myself thinking about how the days race past us and we don’t remember much about where we’ve been or what we’ve done. Over time, what will we all remember? Will it be the zillions of text messages we’ve sent and received? Will it be the last minute meet-ups that caused us to leave someone after a few minutes of conversation in order to see if something better is going on elsewhere?

Or will we remember extended conversations with people we love, watching them face-to-face, recalling their laughter, their words, their ideas, hopes and dreams, and how we also found space to share ourselves in those encounters? It’s true that we can do some of that via the Internet (I confess that I love Google Hangout), but I wonder if our memories are imprinted on our brains as effectively when we limit our encounters with others to only certain senses. When proximity, touch, and even smell are eliminated, does our capacity to remember diminish? I don’t know. But maybe.

I think I’ll invite some folks over for dinner at my house. We’ll cook up some good food, share some wine, and talk and laugh late into the evening. Maybe we won’t even look at our phones, because nothing better will be going on except what is happening in those moments in time, when we are present to one another, allowing the experience to be burned into our mental circuitry. Perhaps one day in the future we will call that memory up and cherish it.

It is interesting to me that the Eucharist is always shared in person. We stand or kneel with others, we take bread and wine, and in that experiential moment, Jesus says,

“Remember me.”

Mike McNichols

Season of Easter Readings: Sunday, June 1

Reading:  1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11 and John  17:1-11

Reflection Questions:

  1. As you read Peter’s exhortations about trials in life, take a moment to consider your own circumstantial situations and anxieties.  What about them most challenges or discourages you? Do the trials seem beyond your capacity to bear? What if anything are you most acutely aware of as you experience these trials (sense of being stuck or defeated, lack of physical stamina, feelings of abandonment, need for clarity or wisdom,  a sense of being trapped, woundedness or hurt, etc.)?
  2. Take a few moments to talk to God about your trials, troubles, cares and anxieties.  Honestly expose your deepest fears, frustrations, or any discouragement you are presently experiencing in your circumstances. Ask for the Holy Spirit’s specific help today as you identify your internal and external struggles.  Do the very thing Peter instructs: In humility, cast your anxiety and cares upon God because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7).
  3. Peter, writing to exiled believers who were experiencing varied persecutions and injustices, exhorted: rejoice when tried (1 Peter 4:13)! When circumstantial trials occur, we often experience narrowing perspectives on life and about God, especially if the trials seem unjust or are injurious in some way to ourselves, our families and friends, or our ideals of “the good life”. As you sit in God’s presence, what, if anything, might you rejoice in today?
  4. Sit with Jesus and his disciples as he prays during his darkest hours of trial (John 17:1-11). What do you hear from the content of his prayer about what matters most to him in his final hours on earth? Is there anything from his prayer that brings you comfort today?  Is there anything he says that you desire to experience more deeply in your life? Talk to God about these things.
  5. Peter reminds us that there is an adversarial spiritual realm that we are to resist, standing firm in our faith (1 Peter 5:8). He mentioned that we are not the only ones suffering in this life; but that we are connected to a global community who suffer for Christ’s sake. Conclude your meditation by praying for audacious faith to stand firm, to resist the devil. Pray also for others: for our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who are suffering in various ways.

Be Still | Ps.46:10

Last weeks blog entry, Spiritual Formation and Extroverts by Mike McNichols, got me thinking.

Mike wrote:

“One thing that I’ve noticed is that much of what is being practiced (solitude, silence, Scripture meditation, journaling, prayer practices, etc.)—all good things, mind you—seem to be best suited for people who are introverts.”

Alright, I’m an introvert – so why am I having issues with these spiritual formation practices? Aren’t I suppose to revel in the silence and solitude?

In my case, it’s not so much about introvert or extrovert.  For me, it’s more about production. I have a need for immediate feedback and/or results.  I need to feel that what I am doing is having an affect. I don’t do well with idle time. Getting from point A to point B in the quickest, most efficient manner, brings about great satisfaction. I really don’t have the time – in my mind – to sit quietly and wait for the Lord to speak.

How then, have I attempted to resolve this dilemma?

First, I reminded myself of Pastor Todd’s words of encouragement – that spiritual formation is a process.  Then, I find a comfortable place to sit . . .  quietly . . . for 5 minutes.  I try not to think about anything, instead, I try to listen. The most difficult part of this, for me, is tuning out the world.  Even in the most quiet place there is some sound that competes for my attention. Over time I notice that the duration of times spent in quiet increase naturally. Now it’s no longer a chore but a welcomed time.  If I attempted 30 minutes right from the start I would have been frustrated or preoccupied with work, chores or even the birds chirping outside my window.

Whether introvert or extravert, challenge yourself to take small steps in your disciplines, I think you will find that these tiny morsels will increase your hunger.

One final thought that helps me.  Most of us will remember Ps. 46:10 as:

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

Now read it in The Message:

Step out of the traffic! Take a long,
    loving look at me, your High God,
    above politics, above everything.

Step out of life’s traffic, out of those things that cause noise whether to your ears, mind or soul – and then look at God, i.e. LISTEN.

What little steps can you make to challenge yourself in order to be with God (hear from God, stop and experience the peace of God, pray to God, etc)?

– Joe Randeen

Season of Easter Readings: Sunday, May 25

Reading:  1 Peter 3:13-22 and John 14:5-21

Reflection Questions:

In Peter’s letter we are invited to take a look at our conscience. He advised in the face of conflict and accusation a clear conscience is the best way to experience God’s peace and security.

Jesus gives us a Helper,  Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth (John 14:15-17). Take a moment to welcome the Holy Spirit into your reflections, asking him to examine your heart to see if there is anything that needs your attention or confession. You might want to use the prayer below to begin:

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts,
and see if there is any hurtful (or grievous) way in me,
and lead me in the eternal way.
Psalm 139:23-24

  1. Attentively wait in silence as you pray. What, if anything, comes up? Is there something to confess? Take moments to confess fears, wrong choices, insecurities, anxieties, sin issues or attitudes, ingratitude. Is there anything comforting, assuring, loving you are experiencing as you pray? Do you have a sense of a clear conscience in these moments? Give thanks.
  2. As you continue to reflect on Peter’s words from 1 Peter 3:13-22, what invitations, instructions, commands or assurances do you hear? How might you respond to these things? How might you see your own daily conflicts and challenges in the light of Peter’s exhortation? Take a moment to talk to God about these things.
  3. Jesus assures us that we will not be left without comfort, security, or a sense of true belonging where we might experience safety. Sit with Jesus. Listen to him speak to your heart and your concerns through the words of John 14:15-21. What do you receive from him? What feels difficult to receive from him? Tell him the things on your heart and mind.