Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Silence. Solitude. Stillness.

Sometimes when your journey takes you to a crossroad, and a decision is required, the natural inclination is to seek the counsel of others. While that is good and advisable, it seems that the Lord will also put us through a space and time of  silence, solitude and stillness.  It can be a time of deep loneliness and darkness (“cloud of unknowing”), where it seems no one really understands all your underlying fears, uncertainties and doubts.

And so I wait for a word from the Lord, for the light to shine through the clouds, for the path to unfold.

Discernment requires much patience, something I am not known for!


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Let’s Get Radical

Radical. Epic. Revolutionary. Transformative. Impactful. Life-Changing. Ultimate. Extreme. Awesome. Emergent. Alternative. Innovative.

On The Edge. The Next Big Thing. Explosive Breakthrough.

You can probably add to the list of modifiers that have become, ironically, part of the ordinary conversations in society and in today’s church. …

We’ve become accustomed to looking around restlessly for something new, the latest and greatest, that idea or product or person or experience that will solve our problems, give us some purpose, and change the world.

—Michael Horton, Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Zondervan; 2014; Kindle Edition; p. 11)

In my recent soul searching journey, I have to guard against a certain kind of restlessness that can subtly creep in unawares. I have to remind myself that our significance, security, and satisfaction is ultimately bound up with our identity in Christ. It’s who we are, not what we do; and yet, in church circles, it is easy to get caught up in the cycle of “virtue signalling”.

The daily, ordinary grind of life, of faithfully following Jesus in whatever He has called us to somehow doesn’t seem enough. Horton asserts that “‘Ordinary’ has to be one of the loneliest words in our vocabulary today.” In our social media saturated world, the desire to appear anything but ordinary is only amplified.  Horton goes on:

Our life has to count! We have to leave our mark, have a legacy, and make a difference. And all of this should be something that can be managed, measured, and maintained. We have to live up to our Facebook profile. It’s one of the newer versions of salvation by works. (p. 12)

And yet. And yet, when I stop and think about it, it is often in the small, quotidian details of life where God in fact, does His extraordinary work in and through us. As the song goes, “Even in the quietest moments / I wish I knew what I had to do”, and it is only as we journey through each day with intention that we will recognize the opportunities before us.  Indeed, modern life in the Internet age conspires to make it difficult for “forming genuine, long-term, and meaningful commitments that actually contribute to the lives of others” (p. 13, 14), as our attention skips from one post, tweet, email, text to the next.

This attitude has infected the church: “We want big results — sooner rather than later. And we’ve forgotten that God showers his extraordinary gifts through ordinary means of grace …” (p. 14).


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The Road Ahead of Me

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

—Thomas Merton, Dialogues with Silence

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Parker Palmer gives a wonderful illustration that resonates with my own “journey toward an Undivided Life”:

Palmer describes how as we grow out of childhood, the wholeness of our lives gets divided into onstage and backstage lives. In our outer (onstage) life we are concerned with things like influence, image, and impact, while our inner (backstage) life is characterized by intuition, instinct and insight. Over time as we become more concerned with “surviving and succeeding in the external world we slowly lose touch with our souls and disappear into our roles”.

We discover that it is not safe to reveal too much of who we are and so we end up building a wall of separation. The result is disconnect and causes us pain and yearning. It is only when our outer and inner lives are seamlessly one, that we experience life that is flourishing and genuine.

I would also add that when we realize our identity in Christ, then we have the courage to connect our lives with other believers who share that same identity. Sadly, many Christians still have their walls up, which is why authentic Christ-centered community is so elusive.

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JR Woodward and Dan White, Jr., The Church as Movement: Starting and Sustaining Missional-Incarnational Communities (IVP; 2016)

During lunch a few days ago, one of my Christian colleagues shared his frustration in trying to find a suitable church home for him and his family. He was looking for a community of believers who were serious about discipleship and the pursuit of godly living. As he further shared his burden with us, I (half) jokingly said to him that it looks like he’d have to go and plant a church from scratch. At this point, when it became apparent that this might indeed be a path he may have to take by the grace of God, I suggested that he read some of the missional literature; in particular, I mentioned two books that I had read / am reading.

Earlier, I had posted a brief blurb on Michael Frost’s book, and in this post I will give an overview of The Church as Movement, which I just finished reading yesterday.


This theologically-grounded but practical book is divided into four sections (themes), each with two chapters, thus giving rise to 8 missional competencies:

  • Part 1: Distributing
    1. Movement Intelligence
    2. Polycentric Leadership
  • Part 2: Discipling
    1. Being Disciples
    2. Making Disciples
  • Part 3: Designing
    1. Missional Theology
    2. Ecclesial Architecture
  • Part 4: Doing
    1. Community Formation
    2. Incarnational Practices

These four sections are bookended by an Introduction and an Epilogue, and at 240 pages, this book is not a long-winded treatise, but in keeping with its subject matter, the pace is brisk without feeling rushed.

The Foreword by Alan Hirsch begins with an epigraph by business guru Peter Drucker: “People in any organization are always attached to the obsolete— the things that should have worked but did not, the things that once were productive and no longer are.” It is sad that some things are so sacrosanct that even when they become a hindrance to the advancement of the gospel or church life, Christians refuse to let go of them. As Hirsch notes, “most churches operate out of a largely obsolete understanding of the church that was developed in a completely different age and for a completely different set of cultural and social conditions— largely that of European Christendom.” Hirsch and others have proposed an alternative model of church for the new millennium, and Woodward and White have done a church a huge service in presenting this new paradigm in a fresh and appealing manner in their book. Both write as practitioners who have been through the ups and downs of planting missional-incarnational communities, so this is not a case of hopping on the missional bandwagon and spouting off theories: no, what they write is borne from the fires of failure and boots on the ground experiences. It would be apt to let the authors introduce the rationale for yet another “missional” book:

This book is an attempt to help people plant the kind of churches that reflect the viral movement of the early New Testament, fuelled by the values of tight-knit community, life-forming discipleship, locally rooted presence and boundary-crossing mission. This is “church as movement.”

At the heart of the book is a concern to return to the centrality of discipleship within a communal context. Indeed, I sighed with frustration and sadness when they write in the Introduction: “This book is best used with a group of four to twelve people. … It is important to work through this material with others, since it was designed for a group rather than to be digested alone.” Well, heck, I don’t have even three other people I know who could be part of what they call a “discipleship core”. So sad! It means that my learning from the book will be shortchanged and I will not fully benefit from the formational learning aspects (meta-learning, reflective learning, and experiential learning) that require communal participation. Sigh …

The first theme is “Distributing” which I take to be a shift from a hierarchical and centralized focus to pluriform gifts and polycentric leadership — i.e., a distributed and relational approach.  They begin by describing the Church as the “Christian-industrial complex”, at least those churches that are held up as models of success:

In our American imagination success means growing bigger, collecting more resources, consolidating power, creating strong hierarchical structures and growing rapidly.

American church leaders’ imaginations and metrics for success are increasingly shaped by the things they can count. But, as Albert Einstein said, “That which counts is often the most difficult to count.”

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What is human movement in the absence of the body? —Paul Kaiser

For the past few months, I’ve had the privilege to be invited to monthly salon meetings. Tonight, we had an interesting presentation by two dancers, one of whom is disabled. They belong to a dance company that create “opportunities for every body to discover dance and for artists with and without disabilities to access inclusive dance training. In their unique approach to art making, differences are regarded as creative strengths and different ways of moving and perceiving are celebrated for their choreographic possibilities.”

Naomi shared how they seek to draw out the unique movements of each person (each body) and then weave them together to create a beautiful mixed ability dance choreography. All can dance; all can participate. Bodies of all shapes, sizes and abilities moving together in harmony.

the disabled body changes the process of representation … Different bodies require and create new modes of representation. … Disabilities exposes with great force the constraints imposed on bodies by social codes and norms.

Tobin Siebers, Disability Theory

Inevitably, I could not help but think of how in our church gatherings, differences are often not celebrated in practice. Specifically, performances are by professionals and the rest are confined to passive spectatorship for the most part. Our communal gatherings do not reflect the perichoretic dance of the Trinity, and the participatory nature of the gathered body has largely been lost (1 Cor. 12; 14).

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I recently put another birthday behind me. Shortly after that, my wife and I shared a quiet and reflective anniversary dinner. So much has changed since those first magical moments when love captured our hearts.

It’s also been just over a year since my wife convinced me that we needed to make a commitment and join the church we had been attending. With some effort, I have managed to have some interaction with almost everyone, and have even forged somewhat meaningful relationships with a few people. But as for deep, close connections, that reality has not yet been realized—though I hope that one or two of these may ripen and bear the fruit of authentic Christian love.

In the meantime:

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor
Hiding in my room
Safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me
I am a rock
I am an island

And a rock feels no pain
And an island never cries

— Simon and Garfunkel, “I Am a Rock”

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