Friday, October 10, 2008



It's am amazing little device. Low tech in many ways, it still manages to connect with an invisible force much larger than itself, and as it consistently orients itself to it in the same way, becomes a very reliable way to determine how to place the map so we can see where we are and the direction we should go. While it is true that we have more sophisticated devices for navigating today that use satellites to help us find our global positions, should those, or our batteries, ever fail, we would still have compasses that would continue to faithfully point in the right direction. Yet, too often we can travel significant distances, sometimes at impressive speeds, before we realize that it has been awhile since we consulted our compass and checked our trajectories. I recently spent a couple of days at a retreat with a small community of other pastors who are committed to taking time on a regular basis to do just this -- to pause long enough to consult our compasses and notice the extent to which we have been following or have strayed from the path we have set out on. One of the things this time provided for me was an opportunity to reflect on the thoughts of a man who was and (even though he passed away a few years ago now) still is an influential force in my life. Here are a few excerpts from what I read, first penned in 1999, but which have since been reprinted by his children in a book that honors his legacy:
I'm very concerned about [our souls] . . . we seem to to be caught in the spell of a media-driven, techno-event culture that's dazzling the life out of us. We have a spectacular array of seminars, products, conventions, rallies, crusades, and programs that draw large crowds and make lots of noise -- and we wait expectantly for the next spectacular array of events . . . sadly . . .[opting] for more instead of deep. . .

We spend our time talking about how to relate to our new computer systems instead of talking about our relationships with Jesus. The modern . . . pastor operates like a CEO instead of a spiritual director, mentor, or fellow struggler. Numbers, activities, and programs dominate our agendas, and we soon discover that in today's institutional church, mission statements, strategies and results matter most. Efficiency and control rule. . .

Today's . . . culture is consumed with doing rather than being. So many of us know what it means to believe in Jesus -- but we don't know what it means to be with Jesus. We know how to talk about Jesus -- but we don't know how to listen to Jesus talk to us. . . [Mike Yaconelli, Getting Fired For The Glory of God (Zondervan, 2008), 19-21] .
While I was grateful that the ministry setting in which I work is not, at least for the most part, like the typical one described above, I was also aware that I was far from immune from the dynamics that still too easily find places and ways to sink down roots and draw me off course. As I was thinking about this, I picked up a second book, this one written by his son, Mark, and read this:

We minister among young people who are trained to no longer see the presence of God in the world. We minister among budding consumers, people who have been told, "You are your appetites.". . . We minister among kids whose worth is based on what Marcus Borg calls the three "As" of Western culture: Appearance, achievement, and affluence. [quoted from Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity (Harper San Francisco, 2003), 116] We minister among families and communities desperate for spiritual grounding. . . people today are in desperate need of . . . a way to stay in touch with the source of all life and energy . . . and the basic expression of our life in God is found in what the early monastics referred to as "holy leisure."

Holy leisure is not the idleness and laziness toward which Western society is so disdainful; nor is it the sort of grasping escapism promoted by the tourism industry. . . it is a receptivity and gratefulness to the mystery and wonder of being alive in the world. . . a spiritual attitude that seeks to behold the mystery of God's life and creation beneath the activities and roles we perform. It is an embodied trust in God. It is this holy leisure that we see in Jesus as he sleeps amid a stormy sea, teaches among resentful and antagonistic authorities, allows a repentant woman to wash his feet, or spends the night in solitude . . .

. . . Downtime is the holy leisure necessary to place ourselves at God's disposal. By downtime, I do not mean those moments when we escape, check out, or disengage from life. This kind of escape only increases our alienation and restlessness. I'm referring to a sort of inscape -- a sinking down into the mysterious reality of life, a releasing of the unnecessary drivenness and amusements that cover up reality. [Mark Yaconelli, Downtime: Helping Teenagers Pray (Zondervan, 2008), 19-25].
The time away provided an opportunity to take out the compass, notice where the needle was pointing, and orient my map so that it was once again the right way around, making it possible to distinguish a little more clearly between the trail I was looking for and the various rabbit trails that branched off in so many directions. One of the things I take away from these two days is a greater awareness of my need to not get so wrapped up in the journey that I neglect to provide for frequent and regular moments to consult the compass, check my bearing once again before I move on, and enjoy the view.

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