It costs so much to be a full human being that there are very few who have the enlightenment, or the courage, to pay the price…. One has to abandon altogether the search for security, and reach out to the risk of living with both arms. One has to embrace the world like a lover, and yet demand no easy return of love. One has to accept pain as a condition of existence. One has to court doubt and darkness as the cost of knowing. One needs a will stubborn in conflict, but apt always to the total acceptance of every consequence of living and dying.
To say that God loves is to say that God submits himself to human initiatives. For example, when Jesus Christ is revealed to us in the New Testament as the witness of God’s love and the incarnation of that love, it is because he submitted totally to whatever humanity wanted to do with him. In the Sermon on the Mount also, love implies this kind of acceptance of the superiority of others over yourself. I believe these are the two primary elements of a relationship of love in the Bible.
If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, Or being hated, don’t give way to hating, And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master; If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same; If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings And never breathe a word about your loss; If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch, If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, If all men count with you, but none too much; If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Spirituality is always in danger of self-absorption, of becoming so intrigued with matters of soul that God is treated as a mere accessory to my experience. This requires much vigilance. Spiritual theology is, among other things, the exercise of this vigilance. Spiritual theology is the discipline and art of training us into a full and mature participation in Jesus’ story while at the same time preventing us from taking over the story
“But theological work does not merely begin with prayer and is not merely accompanied by it; in its totality it is peculiar and characteristic of theology that it can be performed only in the act of prayer. In view of the danger to which theology is exposed and to the hope that is enclosed within its work, it is natural that without prayer there can be no theological work. We should keep in mind the fact that prayer, as such, is work; in fact, very hard work, although in its execution the hands are most fittingly not moved but folded.”
On October 14, I set aside 24 hours for silence, solitude and prayer. The quotes are from Henri Nouwen’s “The Way of the Heart.” Here is my reflection.
The excitement of anticipating a day of solitude eventually ebbed away as I confronted its discomforting reality. Initially, I looked forward to the silence and the disconnection from technology which would simplify the task of seeking God and finding rest. I confined myself to an unfamiliar space, limiting my diet to simple foods such as bread, soup, water, and coffee. Being out of reach of technology made me realize that it had become a part of me, like a limb that needed tending. I realized that phones and computers, if not carefully monitored, can swiftly morph from being allies to making us their slaves. Nouwen describes solitude as the place to encounter our false sense of self. The “compulsive” behavior that characterizes my own false identity was manifested in my reflexive compulsion to check my phone: to be on top of things, to have control, to see if anyone needed me. A certain restlessness was felt because I knew that I was unreachable; I wondered if I should have let more people know where I was and what I was doing. Accordingly, one of the “demons” that I met in the “desert” of solitude was my apparent need to be needed. Solitude placed this need in clear view, convincing me that I am no exception to the luring modern system of “domination and manipulation” which ultimately translates into anger and greed (11). Acknowledging this ailment brought about a posture of confession and dependence on God.
I also recognized that my eagerness for a spiritual retreat was fueled more by the novel nature of the assignment, rather than my pursuit of God. I looked forward to brewing fresh coffee, preparing simple snacks, reading and journaling, and being alone. I soon discovered that silence, scripture reading, and prayer are disciplines that require hard work. Boredom struck sooner than I had anticipated, and maintaining focus on these disciplines became more difficult as time went on. Nevertheless, the progressively lull mood was eventually interrupted. I noticed a difference in my temperament as I became calmer in many respects, no longer planning ahead the tasks for the day or week but allowing silence to reorient me. Prayers became slower and more carefully invoked.
This spiritual retreat created a space for me to be made me more sensitive to the work of the Spirit. I was engaged in the present, no longer anxiously preoccupied with the future. I went from not knowing what to pray for, to praying fervent words of confession, desperation and faith. I committed myself to reading the Gospel of John and the words of Scripture attuned my posture, birthing and reawakening dormant spiritual yearnings. Conclusively, through this retreat the Spirit made me confront the reality of the cross and resurrection: my sin came to light, bringing conviction and the hard work of repentance, which then turned to a taste of the resurrection life through a renewed hope and a reoriented perspective.
The faith passes, so to speak, through a distiller and becomes ideology. And ideology does not beckon [people]. In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements… The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances of [sic] the Church of the people. But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians.
- Pope Francis
I’ve been thinking of this for many months now. Oh how we’ve gravely missed the mark, idolizing ideologies and neglecting Jesus altogether.
“In some parts of contemporary Christianity, the Psalms are no longer used in daily and weekly worship. This is so especially at points where there has been remarkable growth in numbers and energy, not least through the charismatic movements in various denominations. The enormously popular “worship songs,” some of which use phrases from the Psalms here and there but most of which do not, have largely displaced, for thousands of regular and enthusiastic worshipers, the steady rhythm and deep soul-searching of the Psalms themselves. This, I believe, is a great impoverishment.”
A shortened version of this reflection was published on Christcitychurch.ca. This one is the longer, non-edited version.
The Gospel is much greater, mysterious, and inviting reality than we normally conceive it to be. The world we live in simply doesn’t view it as such. For most people in the world, God, Jesus, and the Bible do not matter for everyday living. As Christians, we must therefore live in a way that is counter cultural. Instead of looking to the world, we believe that we must look to Jesus to see what it means to be truly human. The Gospel is good news about God’s plan to save his creation through Jesus, and by it, we make sense of life, discerning the all-important question of what really matters.
Though not an exhaustive list, here are some of the foundational truths that matter to us at Christ City Youth:
“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1:26)
The Scripture goes on to tell us that Jesus is the centre of all that God is doing in the world and the Church. Jesus matters, and because he matters, we seek to know and follow him. Until we’re looking intently to Jesus, we haven’t yet understood who God is, what his mission entails, and what his plan for salvation looks like. The more we get to know Jesus, the more we recognize that none of his steps were aimless, but intentionally taken to bring God’s plan of salvation to the world, the plan to make all wrongs right.
Culture matters because relationships do. As humans, we do not only relate to God, but to other humans. Living counterculturally doesn’t mean we hate, reject or escape human culture, since that is where human relationships take place. Rather, as we look to Jesus we recognize that his story is a true story which actually happened within human history; it is about a Creator God and his dealings with his creation and the human beings within it. In order to make sense of our participation with God’s mission, we seek awareness of the cultural structures that inform our thinking about God, the world, and ourselves.
The dominant mood in our culture is characterized by confusion about what it means to be human and what it means to be “normal.” As a result, many waste their life with things that don’t matter very much. The recurring temptation is exposed early on in Scripture: it is the deceptive promise that we can be like God, and therefore have no need for him (Gen. 3:5). Scripture matters because it gives us a lens by which we view the world, ourselves, and God. Consequently, the Scripture empowers us through the Spirit to become more like God; it breaks down our notions of our selves as independent beings, and draws us in to the mystery and mission of God.
The Church community is the place where we get all of this integrated and practiced on an intergenerational level. What this means is that “youth ministry” does not run parallel to the rest of the church, but it is integrated within it. The Church gathers together to worship as “living sacrifices,” becoming sensitive to God and letting him do with us what he will.
With that said, Christ City Youth will be fun, not because it will revolve around entertaining games but around the life that comes from Christ. It will function like every other community group, gathering together on a weekly basis to talk, pray, learn, and play. We’ll have fun and we’ll think hard, seeking to allow the Gospel to shape the everyday stuff of our lives together.
The relationship between memory and need is common; whether we are conscious of it or not, memorable experiences are often those consisting of situations where needs are being met; physical, emotional, spiritual, and so on. Most of us can remember the conversations we’ve had in life that have had great impact on us. We value the memories of deep connectivity because our very basic need as humans is connectivity. One of the ingredients required to achieve connectivity is active listening, an aspect of communication that has been seemingly lost in our day.
Listening requires great skill, and like every skill, it requires considerable practice. Its role, not only for the pastor, but for all human relationships, carries substantial weight with regards to effective communication. Before discussing what listening is, we must acknowledge what listening is not.
The key to being able to listen well is to be aware of communication roadblocks. “Roadblocks” are examples of what listening is not; they are responses from the listener that become obstacles impeding the listener’s ability to listen effectively. They are normally employed with good intent, but instead have the effect of interrupting what the speaker wants to say. The roadblocks come in the following forms:
1.Ordering, directing, or commanding. I.e. ‘don’t say that!’
2.Warning or threatening. I.e. “You’d better start treating him better or you’ll lose him..”
3.Giving advice, making suggestions, providing solutions. I.e. “Have you tried…?”
4.Persuading with logic, arguing, lecturing. I.e. “the facts are that…”
5.Moralizing, preaching, telling them their duty. I.e. “Your duty as a …”
6.Judging, criticizing, disagreeing, blaming. I.e. “You’re wrong”
7.Agreeing, approving, praising. I.e. “I think you’re right…”
8.Shaming, ridiculing, name-calling. I.e. “That’s really stupid”
9.Interpreting, analyzing. I.e. “Do you know what your real problem is…?”
10.Reassuring, sympathizing, consoling. I.e. “It’s going to work out alright”
11.Questiong, probing. I.e. “what makes you feel that way?”
12.Withdrawing, distracting, humoring, changing the subject. I.e. “look on the bright side…”
So, what is listening?
To listen is to actively seek to grasp the facts and the feelings of the speaker. The listener’s endeavour is to help the speaker gain a clearer understanding of his or her own situation. Active listening requires responses that make it clear that the listener appreciates both the meaning and the feeling behind what the speaker is saying.
Before providing an interpretation of what is being heard, or offering any of the other “roadblocks” listed above, the listener should employ what one author calls, “reflective listening” (Miller). “Active” or “reflective” listening involves mirroring/reflecting the speaker’s internal processes – thoughts, feelings, insights, and conflicts. A silent response, therefore, may be considered ‘listening’ (and is sometimes the appropriate response), but it does not constitute active listening.
The attitude underlying reflective listening is one that gives the implicit message that the client is accepted; to “accept is to give all your attention and energy to the process of understanding what the person means and to reflect that meaning back to the person accurately.” The first step to this process requires the acknowledgment that what is being said can easily be misinterpreted.
In fact, one author claims that “one potential pitfall in paraphrasing [ie reflective listening] is to leap too far” which in turn can become a roadblock through an interpretation, and thus the speaker can feel analyzed and lose his/her direction. Based on the feedback of the speaker, you will know if you ‘reflected’ well.
Now you know how to listen actively, but as mentioned, this is a skill that requires practice, and practice requires patience. Give it a try.