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Monday, September 30, 2013

Finding Our Way Again: the Return of the Ancient Practices

Finding Our Way Again by Brian Mclaren is the book I browsed last week for consideration  as a Beloved Community Group read. The first chapter, "Searching for an Everyday Sacredness" had me saying "yes, yes, yes!" He recounts interviewing Dr. Peter Senge and having him share his belief that people are gravitating towards Buddhism because it presents itself as a way of life, whereas Christianity presents itself as a system of belief. Dr. Senge says that people need a way of life. I crave a way of life. Spirituality. A spiritual way of life. Each chapter in this book ends with "spiritual exercises," a list of questions to help readers reflect on and/or apply the material read in the preceding chapter. Of the chapters I've read, I'd put some of the printed questions on the floor in the group setting and leave others for people to ponder in their own time.

The book is divided into 3 parts: way, practices, and ancient. I tried to read a chapter from each in my review/scan. In "Practicing the Way of Jesus," he touches on what so many of those to which I flock understand. Literally, it is written, "whenever I hear the name Jesus, I cringe." Like the "I hate church" billboard, it's a statement that makes me want to read more.
The divide between the different "branches" of Christians is interesting. I'm not talking denominations. I can kick it with Episcopals, Methodists, & Disciples alike. It's those darn conservative, Bible thumping, "I've got all the answers" variety that leave the taste of vomit in my mouth. And mine in theirs, to be fair.

A line from the book that I like: "I am convinced that Jesus didn't come to start a new religion; he came to proclaim a new kingdom." Kingdom. Lifestyle. Not this malarkey of my side, your side, my way, your way, my people, your people. The Kingdom. One Love. A new kingdom. Not the way of old, convenience, tradition, & just because. Maybe I should start telling people I'm down with the new kingdom instead of telling them I'm a Christian; I wonder what kind of crazy they'd think I am. lol.
Under practices, I opted to read the chapter on contemplative practices. Some that appealed to me are:
  • Spiritual Reading & Study (long been hard for me to practice with regularity but oh how I believe in it & its importance)
  • Practicing God's Presence: Learning to be aware of God as constant companion, staying in constant contact with God, living with one's spiritual windows and doors open to God (I call this a good day)                          
  • Contemplative Prayer: Practicing a kind of prayer that culminates in silent attentiveness to God, a prayer that is about listening and receiving rather than speaking & expressing (admittely, I don't usually want to hear what God is ready to say.)
  • Holy Days & Seasons: Observing special days and seasons that interupt the normalcy and regularity of daily life with intensity. These special days or seasons stimulate the remembering of special events or meanings and provide members of a faith community with a special encouragement to engage in specified practices. 
  • Meditation & Memorization: Holding a truth in the mind through nonanxious concentration so that it can be savored and rooted deeply and accessible to memory in the stress and struggle of daily life
The final chapter I read was also profoundly meaningful for me. "Katharsis (Via Purgativa)"  Pride (a preoccupation with oneself and one's power), Lust (pleasure in general, as well as sexual pleasure), & Greed (money & possessions) obstruct light from entering the soul. I started thinking about how much of my life can fall under pride, lust, or greed-- buying a house, finding "that" relationship, building sufficient savings, being successful, et cetera. Not "bad" stuff but prideful, lustful, greedy stuff. When you strip away things of pride, lust, and greed what's left? Seeking and squinting, I saw things that were beautiful. Relationship (non-sexual, obviously, like family), spirituality. It's amazing how beautiful life and the world is when you strip it away of pride, greed, and lust, as in trying to be bigger, "better," faster, more. Clarity. God. Goddess. Peace.

The glimmers of light, joy, & peace I got when skimming the book are the reasons I will present it as a possibility when the time comes. The notable drawback was obvious in chapter 1 when the author references writing like 3 other books to actually talk about the ancient practices. At that point, I was afraid he wasn't actually going to talk about the practices in the sense of "how to". It is true he doesn't go in depth but I got glimmers of more life and that's a start. Namaste & Blessed be.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

book selection/review

This morning, I used amazon to read excerpts from Becoming a Thinking Christian.... by John B. Cobb Jr. Seems to be a very discussion rich book but lacks purpose beyond getting one to think about his or her own beliefs. Reviewing it with "Beloved Community" (name not final) in mind, I feel that I could just generate a list of topics and say "tell me your thoughts" and be about as effective. I suspect a great benefit in this book is that most people do not sit around and discuss those topics. It can spearhead a conversation and has historical tid bits to help explain how we got to where we are with various thoughts on a given subject. But no, this is not a book that I will suggest at any upcoming book selection discussion. Also, it did help me realize how long it may take this group to get through any one book. I can imagine quite a lengthy conversation from any one chapter I read in Cobb's book. No way to get through 3 chapters in one sitting. The process will emerge.

At home, I scanned a couple of books on hand:
1. Secrets to Exceptional Living by Joyce Meyer-- I read this book during my high school or undergraduate days. I enjoyed it. Stills seems to be something worth reading. Nurturing the fruits of the spirit is good, Christian or not.
2. Knowing God Intimately: Being as Close to Him as You Want to Be by Joyce Meyer  Never read this but willing to. I tend to like J Meyer; it's one of my biases
3. The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Final Days in Jerusalem by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan: I'd love to read and discuss this book in the spring-- Easter season. Not recommending it for a winter book. In part, my interest is the author Marcus Borg. In part, the person that originally gave and recommended the book. 
4. The Bible Jesus Read by Philip Yancey-- not a book I will recommend using in its entirety. Each chapter focuses on a given chapter of the Bible. It could be of use if we ever choose to read one of the book reviewed. 

Next, I think I'll check to see which books my local library owns. Having these books in hand may be easier for thorough search and review. Sometimes, I think God lets me view/hear things online that I shouldn't have access to. This morning, I was amazed by how much of Cobb's books I could read on amazon. It asked me to consider buying the book but never ended how many pages I could review. Blessed be.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Beloved Community

Beloved Community of Faith seeks to be a diverse, spiritual community composed of people of various races, genders, sexual orientations, educational levels, financial statuses, and physical abilities. We seek to grow together through spiritually enriching activities such as book readings, Bible studies, devotionals, conversations about social and economic justice, examining how everyday choices are a reflection of our faith decisions, and through service opportunities. Beloved Community of Faith is a group of loving individuals that welcomes everyone to show up where they are, recognizing that the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39).

Beloved Community of Faith questions, "where does faith intersect with real life responsibility?" Conversation pieces may question:
To what extent, as a person of faith, am I responsible for "giving back to my community"?
Does faith imply that we are to be politically active or politically absent?
To Spotify or not? Purchase or pirate? Download or go to the store?
Do I have a responsibility to buy or drink fair trade coffee?
Am I responsible for taking care of the environment?
Should my faith influence where I shop or what products I buy?
What does God really ask of me & when is enough finally enough?!

Some changes have occurred to the above statement over the past week but have since been discarded apparently... and then reimplemented. For example, differing educational levels-- it occurs to me that one must have a certain level of intelligence to appropriately interact with this group. But, intelligence does not equal educational level; the stmt stays. I thought about the financial status coming across as weird but eh, why not. And it's true. Plus, the statement of diversity comes out fairly weak if it just says we want ppl of various races, genders, & sexual orientations. I did eliminate a statement I felt focused on the individual more than the group since the rest of the statements were about the group's identity.

My resolve hasn't really weakened since my original post but there are glimmers of fear. Shaking up the status quo is never well-received. I do believe my Memphis predominately black open & affirming faith group stopped meeting due to fear... but I don't know that active threats were made. We have Phoenix Christian Church in Wildersville--it's an actual church whereas this is not. And there's a good chance that no one will come. But there's that inkling. I think it is why I did not work on this group's development over the weekend and the reason I am hesitating even tonight.

I keep forgetting to call places to inquire about meeting space. Also, I am incredibly busy and a bit behind at work. But breaks are needed, business can be done. We'll see about tomorrow.