Friday, January 27, 2012

Theology of Seeking (The Pope advocates for Twitter?)

Scripture: Psalm 95
Opposite of the theology of dwelling is the theology of seeking. The spirituality of seeking emphasizes God's immanence. No longer are there sharp boundaries between the sacred and the secular. Equality triumphs hierarchy. The Pope's recent comments on the use of Twitter illustrates the theology of seeking, "Ultimately, this constant flow of questions demonstrates the restlessness of human beings, ceaselessly searching for truths, of greater or lesser import, that can offer meaning and hope to their lives."
The spirituality of seeking is a Tabernacle religion. Tabernacle religion is characterized by words like journey and quest. It is more about the questions than the destination. God's presence is no longer as localized and in fact can be ubiquitous. As the Psalmist declared, "In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed. " Remember Jesus' adage in the Great Commission: "I am with you always" Matthew 28:20.
In a spirituality of seeking, no longer is there a clear top down order to confer authority and roles. Negatively this leaves individuals the burden to create their identities. In our age of consumerism we can refashion our identity based on whims and by simply changing clothes to fit a particular lifestyle. It is no wonder people say they're not sure who they are or that they must "find themselves." Additionally problematic is the focus on quests and questions. Can't quests end with devastating consequences? Can't we ask the wrong sorts of questions? Quests seek a destination and questions an answer that the spirituality of seeking can't always provide.
The positive and opportunity of the spirituality of seeking, however, is that it gives more responsibility and freedom to individuals in their spirituality. We have to work to understand what and why we believe. With such personal investment we can integrate better who's we are and what then we are to do, whether on twitter or in our workplace.
Which do you identify with more? Spirituality of dwelling or seeking?
What are the positives and negatives of each?
What is the destination of Christianity?
Where are your questions leading you?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Do you prefer Temple religion or Tabernacle religion?

Scripture: 1 Kings 8:1-27
Do you prefer Temple religion or Tabernacle religion? Asked differently, are you a dweller or seeker? (Perhaps Scrabble vs. Words with Friends doesn't quite fit.) Robert Wuthnow contrasts the theology of dwelling versus the theology of seeking in his book After Heaven. These can be helpful categories to think about in relation to our spirituality and about how spirituality has evolved over the last few generations.
The spirituality of dwelling emphasized God's transcendence and therefore a top down, ordered world. Social systems reflected this authoritarian worldview. Conformity was expected and status was conferred from those in positions of power.
We see this reflected in the way the Temple functioned in ancient Judaism. The Temple was not only a fixed structure and a symbol of strength and the backbone of the community, it was the place where heaven and earth came together. Temple religion, therefore, gave sharp boundaries along lines of geography and dress. Place was important and it was easy to identity those who were in and out. For Wuthnow the local church functioned similarly with regards to spirituality in the 1950’s.
The Spirituality of dwelling has the positives of knowing our place in light of God's ordered world, solace in security and rigid boundaries, and a systematic way of approaching life. 
The problem with the theology of dwelling is pointed to by King Solomon as he dedicated the Temple in Jerusalem. God can't be contained. Beyond King Solomon's advice, we know life is complex. Certain places can become idols. Our identities are no longer a given. Though we might prefer a theology of dwelling, is that a possibility in today's Postmodern culture? (Theology of seeking will be explained in the next blog post.)
In what ways do you identify with a theology of dwelling?
Where do you find a sacred space?
What problems do you see?
How does this play out in congregations?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Do you get much out of worship?

Scripture: Isaiah 6:1-3; Revelation 4
A new report seems to suggest that half of people who go to church aren't getting much out of it. A Huffington Post report notes that about 50% of churchgoers says going to church has no effect on them. The articles goes on to observe three fifths of responders to a recent survey got no new "religious insight from their last church visit." Yet the article reports two thirds of the respondents had felt a real connection with God while attending church.
This leaves me wondering what the article was trying to say and more importantly wondering how we measure whether going to church matters. I certainly wouldn't measure worship's worth in terms of gaining religious insight or knowledge. Though that can be a result and appears to be the goal of some churches, to me the aim of worship is greater than mere insight. The hope of worship is more than you will leave better equipped to be a better spouse or more wise financially or the like. While those are fine values, they are not the intent of worship. Successful worship can't be measured by new religious insight. How is it possible to measure being in the presence of God?  
Here's another way to put what I think of this article and what we get out of worship: It's not about you! Worship is about God. As you probably heard it said: God is the audience of our corporate worship. Worship is about being who we were created to be in the presence of God. Worship matters. Worship does affect us, but in ways often beyond our comprehension.
What do the Scriptures above teach us about worship?
How do you prioritize corporate worship?
What was your most memorable time in worship?

Friday, January 13, 2012

What is prayer really about?

Scripture: John 15:1-14
Does God answer the prayer petitions of football players hoping their kicker will win the game for them? If God doesn't care about that, how can we be sure God cares for our prayers? Perhaps this is just a faulty way of looking at prayer. Instead of looking at what prayer achieves, we should begin with what prayer is. How would you answer that question? I'd answer it by saying that prayer is a conversation between us and the God who loves us more than we can love ourselves. With that as a the starting place, shouldn't we pray about everything that's on our hearts. Does that mean we'll get what we hope for? Not necessarily, but that's not the point is it. The point is simply being in the presence of the God who loves us. What happens from there is in God's hands.
With that here is a summary of one more prayer App and three other devotions that can used to help deepen your prayer life and ultimately your relationship with God. 
PrayerProLite - Definitely for the OCD type of spirituality. Begin by picking a category of what you'd like prayer for, "Wisdom, Peace, Relationships, etc." and click "Let's Pray" and not only will there be a prayer, a short section called "God's Promise," and a Scripture verse, with one more click you can email that prayer from the interface. Under the "Requests" tab you can schedule prayers. If you'd like to pray for a person or particular topic for a period of time you can do so. You can move prayers to the "Not Answered" or "Answered" folder. I like I would find this as more guilty inducing  and makes prayer something you check off, but you might find it helpful.
The Upper Room Daily Devotional Guide (Online Edition). The Upper Room has been a favorite of United Methodist for over 75 years. This devotional begins with a Scripture reference. gives a "Thought for the Day" and short, often one sentence prayer followed by a "Prayer Focus." You can also submit your prayer request to their Upper Room Living Prayer Center or post a comment in blog format about the devotional. 
Under Upper Room you can link to Method-X ( This website is great for learning about various ways of praying. You can choose to learn about prayer methods (9 different ways), create your own Sacred Space, take a Spiritual Types Test, Learn about Saints, or share joys and request on a Prayer Wall . 
Common Prayer: For Ordinary Radicals. There is a book and website (they are coming out with a pocket version). Modeled on the Book of Common Prayer that has been in light of Neo-Monastic movement. This is much more user friendly than Book of Common Prayer. There is an unique morning prayers for each day, seven evening prayers for each day of the week, one midday prayer for everyday, and occasional prayers. One interesting feature is that it adds the expectation that this is to be done in community. There are short biographies of modern and ancient saints. A worthy tool for leading one into a habitual prayer life.
What kind of prayer works best for you?
When do you like to pray? Morning? Evening? Throughtout the day?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Prayer - There's an App for that?

Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Last week I was trying to find an Laundromat open near the campus where I am in school. The problem was that since most of the regular classes are not in session the closest Laundromats were closed. I asked permanent residence and even had a classmate making calls to help me find a reasonably priced Laundromat. Then came the voice of reason - ask your iPhone. Sure enough, I used my an iPhone app that found the nearest (and cheapest) Laudromat less than half a mile from my hotel. Score for the iPhone.
When it comes to prayer it is hard to say that there is truly an App for that. Nothing can replace the intimate encounter that occurs when we pray. Yet our technological work mitigates against slowing down to intentionally encounter the God who is not just there to met our every desire or answer our every immediately pressing issue. Francis Fenelon was quoted in class as observing, "Of all the duties enjoined by Christianity none is more essential and yet more neglected than prayer." My guess is this quote hits you similarly as it me. We know we need to pray more, we know prayer is important, but making intentional time and space for it seems to evade our grasps.
What our technological world does afford us is a variety of useful tools to help us pray. I'll be reviewing a few on the next couple of blogs.
The Daily Office from Mission St. Clare. This happens to be the App I use for my iPhone. This App is laid out well and is extensive. I really like that there is a morning prayer and evening prayer reading. There is lots of Scripture reading (as some have said, reading Scripture can be the hearing side of prayer). I like that there is a confessional in the beginning of each reading as well as the Apostle's Prayer, Lord's Prayer's Prayer, prayer for missions, etc. There is often a biography of a notable Christian among many other avenues to expand your prayer vocabulary. 
Confession App. This, as you might guess, is Catholic and as it notes is to be used "during the Sacrament of Penance with a Catholic Priest only and not a substitute for a valid confession." With that said, being a Protestant who believes we don't take enough time for confession, this can be a useful App. There is a place for Examination which comes from 10 Commandments. Then you move to Confession where you select which sins, broken commandments, you've committed. Then comes the Act of Contrition. There is a place to go direction to prayers to select from and this is App is password protected. Despite the obvious Catholic bent, I like the App.
UM App. While wanting to promote all things United Methodist, this isn't my favorite App. If you can spare only a minute in a day, then this would be for you. Each day has a very short devotion that comes from books by UM authors.  Usually there is a short Scripture reading and sometimes a short prayer. There are other aspects to this App about UM news that are helpful and it appears that it will be something they will be growing into. I hope so.
More to come soon...
What aspect of prayer do you struggle with the most?
Why do you think you don't pray enough?

Monday, January 9, 2012

I have a belly button so I guess I should have an opinion on Tim Tebow, right?

Genesis 1:26-27
I have a belly button so I guess I should have an opinion on Tim Tebow, right? Actually, I think the varying opinions of Tebow are revealing about how our culture views faith. Opinions on Tebow range from hypocrite to saint. (I wonder if "Tebowing" will get word of the year honors?) Some people obviously find Tebow's public display of religious faith on the football field and in interviews as offensive. While not new in America, it is revealing that our culture is fine with faith so long as it is practiced privately and has little to no bearing on the public sphere. This is why we struggle as a country with Ten Commandment displays, nativity scenes, and the whole war on Christmas.
Others of us, myself included may not find Tebow controversial because we don't see the problem of faith and the public sphere mixing. Personally, I believe who we are fundamentally (actually ontologically speaking if you need one of those big words) is derived from our religious faith. As a Christian, I believe who we are comes from the fact we are made in God's image. As a Christian, I believe who we are is shaped by the God who sent Jesus Christ who lived, ministered, and died (all very publically) and so seek to be a follower of His. We certainly could go one about our identity, but if it is religion that shapes who I am, I am that wherever I go and whatever I do. This is no mere private belief. Perhaps we could expand on this to note that if we keep all religious convictions private we won't have to be critical of our own, but we'll leave that for another blog.
So while our culture likes to make a false separation between public and private spheres added to the fact that we have a  tendency to be skeptical, people can confuse displaying authentic religious faith in public as either doing so for personal gain or somehow shoving religion down other's throats. To me, this Tebow phenomenon shows that people are uncomfortable with public displays of religious affection (PDRA). That's what I think makes Tebow "controversial." 
So this blog post actually isn't about Tim Tebow. It's about us. While we are not called to be offense or shove religion down anyone's throats, we cannot escape being a child of God wherever we go, even if that is on a football field.
What if Tebow happened to be a Muslim? How might that change the conversation? 
Are you comfortable displaying your faith publically? Why or why not?
How would you continue to expand on the idea of who we are because of what we believe?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Falcons coach a Life-long learner. Are you?

Scripture: Luke 14:25-35
It might be because I innately root for underdogs or more probably that I've lived most of my life around the city of Atlanta, but I am unabashedly an Atlanta Falcons fan. I've been through one Super Bowl appearance but more often than not too many embarrassing years to count. With that said, it is not simply the winning ways of their current coach Mike Smith that makes me a his fan. One of his repeated mantra's, and he repeated it again yesterday at his press conference for the upcoming playoff game, is that he is a "life long learner." Based on other comments it is evident he instills this approach in his players as well. More than simply a mantra, if you watch closely, you can see how the coach makes notes and his attitude and speech reveals he is always learning from past experiences, both good and bad. On a recent video from the Falcons' website you can see how detailed oriented he is with regard to his team.
This mantra of being a "life long learner" is a refrain I've heard in Christian Education circles. And that certainly makes sense when you look at the Greek term for "disciple" found in the New Testament. A disciple, biblically speaking, is more than an adherent to a cause. Rather discipleship, especially in the Scripture passage I've referenced, requires commitment and dedication. It calls us to examine our experiences, relationships, values and everything that constitutes who we are and makes them relative to following Jesus Christ. Discipleship is a life long process that we should continue to work on in every aspect of our lives. Just because we attended a short term class or took a religion class in college or even attend worship on weekly basis doesn't mean we can stop there. Life long learning, discipleship as Jesus calls His followers to, requires sacrifice and commitment few of the large crowd (v. 25) would be willing to take on until at least following His resurrection.
What values does this passage call into question for you?
What does Jesus mean in v. 23 by giving up all your possessions? Is this a literal call or even more demanding? What might that look like for you?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Scripture: Leviticus 11:44-45; Matthew 5:48; 1 Peter 1:16
"Who am I?" A question someone recently asked on her Facebook status. It is a common question in modern America and a particular interest of mine. How we define our identity is important not only to who we feel that we are but also helps give direction to our lives. So if you were asked who you were, how would you respond? If you're like most Americans you probably are unsure where to begin.
With that in mind here is some help. You can define your identity by looking at yourself across three levels or spheres: Cosmological, Metaphysical, Social.
Most people narrowly define their identities by focusing on the Social level: which is the network of our family relationships, career, and other relationships (wife, mother, daughter, home-maker, etc.). The Cosmological level is the level of truth (or God). The Metaphysical level is the level of values (those things you stand for) that are in derived from the Cosmological level. So begin with the Cosmological level (who God is) and work your way down (If God is holy and just, what might that mean about what you value, etc.). You will have a fairly well worked out identity.
Who are you?
What insights did this exercise give you?