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Focus on Resources: Sabbath Space

blur-1846131_1280-featuredWe don’t often think about space when we think of Sabbath. We think about it figuratively, as in making space in our lives for Sabbath. And this makes sense because we tend to think of our time as a commodity – to slice it up into pieces, and parcel it out to work, family, chores, play, spirituality, sleep. We think of it as a physical thing that we can get a hold of and manage.

Perhaps this is because time is not manageable. It is abstract. It ebbs and flows, moves quickly like a rushing river, then slows down like molasses on a cold day. We want to control it, but it seems to control us. We neglect some of the things we can control, or at least touch and grasp in reality. Like the physical space and objects around us.

We may not have the ideal space. We may dream of a bigger house, or an office with a door that closes. We may want to live in a forest, but are surrounded by streets. We may share our space with more people than is comfortable. Or be uncomfortably lonely.

Sometimes we fill our space with endless trinkets and toys, or clear all the clutter away in a fit of KonMari cleaning, hoping to find meaning in the things, or in the lack of them. We dress up our space or dress it down. But what if for Sabbath we simply gave ourselves a break?

A Sabbath idea of space might be to look around at a less than ideal space and find the good things about it. Or, in a place that is perfectly comfortable and familiar, to take some time to remember all the reasons we love being there.

In Judaism some families choose to follow stricter guidelines, making sure to finish preparing their Sabbath meals before sunset on Fridays, not using electricity throughout the Sabbath, walking instead of driving (these are just a small sampling of possible practices), while others incorporate more modern interpretations of Sabbath into their practice. The point is not be oppressive, but to give rest to even the objects that do work in our lives – in the past this might mean your donkey, today it could mean your car.

Changing how we use the physical things around us changes how we see them. If we decide not to drive, we can only go places we can walk to, and we will see things as we walk that we do not see when we drive, or we will see them at different angles, for different amounts of time.

Regardless of whether or not a Jewish family chooses to use electricity over the Sabbath, the lighting of the candles before the Sabbath evening meal is a common ritual among practicing Jews. Eating by candlelight changes the appearance of the room, the food and the faces around the table. It feels intimate and warm even in cavernous or crowded spaces. We cannot always change where we are – we do not always have the means to move or travel – but we can change how we use or see where we are.

During Advent and Christmas, Christians spend a lot of time transforming our spaces. We put up decorations, bake Christmas goodies, hang greens in churches and homes, and move furniture around to accommodate guests and gifts. We light candles for Advent and Christmas Eve, put Christmas lights on trees and houses and throughout the streets, build fires in fireplaces and yards – light in the darkness that reminds us of the hope of Christ.

For many people Advent is the Sabbath of the year. It can be busy – preparing for Christmas, celebrating Christmas, recovering from the preparation and celebration – but it is also a time set apart when we also change around our physical spaces and engage our senses in new ways, all to prepare our hearts to be changed. Again. The gift of this faith is the chance to do it all again – Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Ordinary Time in between the festivals, and through it all, Sabbath. A chance to change how we see the world every week.

So, turn off the lights, light a candle, and look around.

Focus on Leadership: Peacemaking

dove-183267_640The way of peace is not an easy one. As the Confession of 1967 lays out, “Wise and virtuous [people] through the ages have sought the highest good in devotion to freedom, justice, peace, truth, and beauty. Yet all human virtue, when seen in the light of God’s love in Jesus Christ, is found to be infected by self-interest and hostility. All [people], good and bad alike, are in the wrong before God and helpless without…forgiveness.”

As the Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Romans, “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” So often when we attempt to do good, we cannot do it. The problems are too big, or we get afraid, or our ego gets in the way. As leaders, how can we lead others in the ways of peace, if we ourselves cannot accomplish peace?

Fortunately, it is not up to us alone. Our faith reminds us that while even humans trying to do good will stray from the path, we were not created to do this by ourselves. We have a Savior and Encourager in God, who can guide us when we mess up. We are reminded that taking on big problems requires many small steps, that we are not alone when we are afraid, and that it’s not about our ego, our reputation, our goals, but rather we follow that goals of Jesus Christ, we live into the reputation of Christ.

Another entry in our Book of Confessions, A Brief Statement of Faith, states this so well: “In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing, to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.”

We are also reminded that not only is God with us, as our Creator, as the One who guides and saves us, as Encourager, but we have a whole team of peacemakers – others who believe as we do, that we are called to reach out and seek reconciliation with our neighbors and enemies. That the ways of peace mean that we have to face comments, insults, perhaps injury or death from those who profit from strife and warfare, those who thrive on chaos, those who think peace is a myth. But we face them together.

Just one person sharing acts of peace can encourage and embolden others to join them. Justin Normand, of Irving, TX, found this out last weekend when he decided to spend some time near a local mosque with a sign of peace and friendship for his Muslim neighbors. A picture of him with his sign was shared across social media as a sign of light in a discouraging time when so many acts of hate happening. This week Mr. Normand shared how his faith, as a Presbyterian, compelled him to do something, anything he could to show his neighbors they were loved.

This was a powerful witness kicked off by just one person. And how many spirits were lifted through his actions? How many others will join him in sharing love for their neighbors because of his simple act? And he learned to do it through the teachings of our faith. In churches just like ours.

We cannot do this without the work of the Holy Spirit, or without the saving grace of Christ, but our words and actions matter. We can do this work of peace, with God’s help, one step at a time.


Some resources to share with your congregations to talk about and live out peace and peacemaking can be found on the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s page and also on the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship’s website.

Focus on Resources: Sabbath Time

sun-122982_640-featuredWe are continuing with our Sabbath theme for Thursdays, which will go through Advent, as life gets busier, and time to breathe gets shorter. Last week, we linked to this article on Facebook, and this week we wanted to share a bit about how to get into (or back into) the practice of Sabbath rest.

MaryAnn McKibben Dana, a Presbyterian pastor, wrote Sabbath in the Suburbs as she and her husband realized that though she herself was a pastor, though they were committed Christians and church members, they were neglecting this commandment of God to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, which was causing their family to feel and actually be less rested, overwhelmed and disconnected from each other. It turns out that even pastors have a tough time with this commandment.

It can be difficult to imagine how we could possibly set aside a whole day for Sabbath rest, which is where Rev. McKibben Dana’s book can be instructive. She talks about what Sabbath looks like for her family, as well as how they changed their thinking and practice in order to create a space in their schedule for Sabbath. She names the difficulty of wrapping your head around carving a whole day out of a busy schedule, and some ways you can create space for a Sabbath that you will actually be able to maintain, and perhaps increase to a full day as you begin to experience it.

Taking this time for Sabbath means that our thinking needs to change, that we will have to give up some things – Sabbath is time away from striving, to accomplish work or chores, for recognition, for purpose. We may have to let go of the fact that we didn’t get everything done when we wanted to get it done, which may compel us to change how we get things done, or help us to let go of the need to get things done. And to practice Sabbath has meaning and purpose in itself, it does not need to strive for further meaning.

Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t currently devote a whole day to Sabbath, that defeats the center of Sabbath rest. Do think about how you can make some space in your schedule, on a regular day and time, to simply enjoy God and enjoy your people and life. Take some time to step back and appreciate what we have, and set aside anxieties about your present and your future. This may seem like the ultimate privilege or luxury you can’t afford, but remember that God gave this commandment to the Hebrew people who were wandering around a desert, uncertain and afraid about what was ahead, not completely sure why they had left Egypt, and completely unaccustomed to having time to just spend in rest and enjoyment of life. God commanded the people to do this right when they least knew how or if they could do it, and right when they needed it the most.

You can see a bit of how Rev. McKibben Dana and her family approach their Sabbath day in this short interview on PBS.

Focus on Leadership: Doing a New Thing

new-thing-sqIn a couple of weeks, Advent will begin. Here in the United States, the season of Advent follows closely on the heels of our celebrations of Thanksgiving, which seems quite appropriate. The national celebration of Thanksgiving is not without controversy. The stories we tell about the origins of the celebration tend to center a mythical peaceful shared meal, and flatten out the real stories of the interactions, personalities, ideals and ideas of those involved, whether European settlers or indigenous occupants of the land being settled. Likewise, the stories we tell during Advent can flatten out the realities of a difficult story, as we remember the joys and the angels, and forget that that joy was a surprising gift in the face of a difficult new reality.

Advent is about the preparation it takes to do something radically new. The preparation of individual hearts, a family, a community and a world. And even with God’s own messengers delivering the message, “Do not fear,” it did not mean that Mary and Joseph and Jesus were going to have an easy life. Before the birth of Jesus, they have to confront their own feelings of inadequacy, confusion and worry over reputation. After the birth of Jesus, they have to undertake a harrowing road trip to a faraway land, not certain when or if they would be able to ever see their families again. All of this for two young people who had likely never gone further than Jerusalem.

Beginning something new tends to come with more questions than answers. We have never done it before, so it can be difficult to know if we doing it the right way. If there is a right way. The church in the United States is on the edge of something new. That, we know. What it will look like, what we will look like, afterward, is something we are not sure of yet. It is tempting to tell easy stories – to reach into the past to find comfortable models of doing church that worked then, or to assume that all people who follow Christ will be able to find a common way of working together simply because we have the same ultimate goal.

The reality is that none of this is easy. Our Advent scriptures do not let us off the hook, either. But, they give us an excellent guide on how to deal with uncertainty and fear of the unknown. They tell us to prepare ourselves because we cannot know how we will react when we meet strangers who do things differently, who may not like the same foods or speak a different language. We are told first not to fear. We are told to prepare our hearts – not to harden them, but to leave them open, soft. We are told that we will take the familiar ways of life, and turn them on their head. We have to be ready for how we think the world works to be overturned. And we have to be ready to meet the fears, anxieties and differing expectations of what that means or looks like.

These are the things that do not change, however: our God loves us no matter what, and calls us to join in loving all creation and created beings in the same way; part of that love is looking out for your neighbor – if we are not making sure your neighbors are safe, have food, aren’t lonely or sick, we aren’t doing it right; change is coming – will we continue to extend our love, or will we try to hoard what we have and hide? Be prepared – be awake, look for God, love others. It is both the oldest command, and part of bringing in the new thing God is creating in our midst. We are going to find ourselves doing many new things, doing old things in new ways, and becoming new people. How will we respond?

The Morning After…

Whether you are blue or red, whether you are a Democrat or Republican, whether you were with her or with him, whether you support the popular vote or the electoral vote, this is a morning that calls us all to stop and pause. Some rejoice, others lament. Some hearts are heavy, others are jubilant. Some see nothing but blue skies ahead and others feel as gloomy as this morning’s skies. My friends, it is apparent that we are a deeply divided nation. We can vow to find ways to stay divided, or we can work for the peace of the city where we are planted.

As I reflect on this “morning after,” I can’t help but believe that all of the anti-racist, anti-white supremacy conversations in which I have been involved at both DisGrace in early October, and Fall Polity just last week, is timely not only for our country, but for the Presbytery of Newark. I can’t help but believe that the Spirit was moving when the VAB included a new Presbytery goal for 2017 – Actively engage the racial divide in our society as it relates to Newark Presbytery and its community.”

Friends, my call to us this day is to focus on the one thing that unites us rather than the many that things which divide us. One of my favorite passages of Scripture has always been Jeremiah 29:11, where Jeremiah assures the people that God does indeed have a plan for them – a plan not for harm but to give the people a future with hope.

As this day begins, as we look ahead as a people of God in a divided nation, I pray that we can find assurance and hope in the realization that someone greater than any of us rules our hearts and minds.

Rev. Dr. Barbara A. Smith
Transitional Director of Presbytery Ministries

Focus on Leadership: Non-Anxious Presence

unhappy-389944_640-smIn an election season riddled with anxiety (so much so that there is a podcast about it from WNYC), and in a rapidly-changing Christian denomination headed toward an unknown future, it can be difficult to remain calm and collected as a leader in the PC(USA).

Even if we are not ourselves anxious, anxiety seems almost like a free-floating contagion these days. It’s not that we do not trust in the stable democracy of the United States, but we seem to be having a hard time helping others see that. Likewise, in our churches it can be hard to help people see the good in change that only seems negative – declining membership, closing churches, communities completely changing.

It can be easy to get frustrated, to want to have easy answers to questions that will require a lot of difficult and long conversations. And yet, this is our call. This is why we are here – to proclaim hope in the face of an unknown future. To proclaim hope even if that future is the end of the PC(USA) itself. In fact, our own Book of Order talks about this in the very first sections – F for Foundations of Presbyterian Polity. From F-1.0301: “The Church is to be a community of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its life.”

Actually, in these anxious times, re-reading this first section of the PC(USA) Book of Order is a balm for the raw emotions all around us. It isn’t long – only about 13 short pages – and it reminds us what we are about, where the Church belongs in the world, and where Christ belongs in the Church. We are reminded that our triune God has this thing in hand – whether world events or where we are headed as a church, denomination or the whole enchilada – the entire Body of Christ.

We are also reminded that Jesus Christ as the head of the Church does not mean that we are free of responsibility. We are called to work, called to speak hope, called to love neighbors – whether friend or enemy – no matter what the outcome. Because even when things seem bleak, even when the risks are great, the world needs what we have to offer and we are not alone.

It is easy to lose our way, to forget who and whose we are. We need to get in the practice of reminding ourselves – reading Holy Scripture, reading the Book of Order and the Book of Confessions, reading other books and articles that enlighten and enliven us, asking and discussing questions raised – by ourselves and together with other leaders. We need to share the gifts we see in each other and in our communities, within and surrounding our ministries.

Anxiety thrives on the vacuum created when we forget our foundation and our call, when unanswered questions become a worry instead of an adventure. And we are founded and called by Jesus Christ, whose love knows no bounds. The way we are in the world – our posture, our attitude, our reactions to problems, small and large – changes when we remember we are surrounded by that love, always.

Think about something that is making you anxious, or something that is making everyone around you anxious, which then makes you anxious as well. Put it aside for a bit and take some time to read your Bible, read through section F of the Book of Order, have coffee or a meal with the least anxious person you know, pray – then go back to what was making you anxious. How do you feel about it? You will likely find that you are breathing easier, and that you can see and offer a new perspective. You can be a non-anxious presence in an anxious world. Which is exactly what our world needs right now.

Focus on Leadership: Reflections from the DisGrace Conference

Disgrace

Reflections from DisGrace
Rev. Dr. Barbara A. Smith
Transitional Director of Presbytery Ministries
Newark Presbytery

As I was struggling on where to begin to talk about the DisGrace conference I was privileged to attend last week at Montreat Conference Center, the following article appeared in the Presbyterian News Service feed. So while I won’t repeat what Strange and Brekke have reported, I will admit that I came home from Montreat a different person. I went to Montreat eager to learn. I came home from Montreat eager to do – something, anything – to work toward equality and respect for all of God’s people.

Newark Presbytery is in a unique position to be confrontational. The tightness of our twenty-three-square-mile geography places us – instead of too close for comfort – too close to not be uncomfortable!  As children of God created in God’s image, we have the undeniable responsibility to squarely confront fear, to live in lament, and disrupt our comfort.

Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, Associate Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, in his Tuesday morning lecture, lifted up Jeremiah 29. In considering that text, he reminded us that the Israelites exiled in Babylon were to seek the welfare of the city where they found themselves. They were to seek peace in the city where they didn’t choose to be. Running away was not an option.

Running away wasn’t an option for the Israelites then, and it is not an option for us today. We can no longer turn a blind eye to the racial divide that our brothers and sisters of color face day in and day out. At least I can’t. Who wants to join me?

 


 

DisGrace conference challenges PC(USA) to confront privilege, injustice
by Gail Strange and Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian News Service 

LOUISVILLE – More than 400 individuals from throughout the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) gathered for the DisGrace conference at the Montreat Conference Center in North Carolina to address the issues of embedded and structural racism in the church and culture with the hopes of moving from disgrace toward solidarity.

The diverse group of conference attendees included PC(USA) Co-Moderator the Rev. Denise Anderson, former Moderators Heath Rada and the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, executive presbyters, pastors, national church staff and church members. Attendees took a deep dive into conversations to examine the causes of divisions between people and communities, unaddressed discomforts and hidden histories of racism.

The keynote speaker for the event was Melissa Harris-Perry, the newly named editor-at-large for ELLE.com and the Maya Angelou Chair at Wake Forest University. Harris is the executive director of the Pro Humanitate Institute and founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center on gender, race, and politics in the South.

To begin the difficult conversation of race and racism, the conference opened with two sessions, one for whites and one for people of color. A session titled “White Fragility” was led by J. C. Austin, vice president for Christian leadership formation at Auburn Theological Seminary, addressed church leaders’ and congregations’ struggle of how to engage the systemic issues of racial injustice and the strong resistance of many whites to the notion that they are the benefactors of and participants in racially unjust social systems. He asserted this resistance has become so prevalent across this country that it has acquired the name white fragility.

The second session, “Not my People: Exploring the ways internalized racism makes solidarity difficult,” was led by Jessica Vazquez Torres, an anti-racism, anti-oppression and cultural competency workshop leader. This session, exclusively for people of color, not only offered individuals the opportunity to explore the unique and distinctive ways of internalizing racism, “but also the ways in which overcoming our collective internalization can help us build solidarity across people of color groups; a solidarity that is restorative for people of color and challenges white supremacy.”

“I was impressed with all of the speakers as well as the panelists,” said Vince Patton, Manager of Diversity and Reconciliation for the Presbyterian Mission Agency. “After hearing Melissa Harris Perry’s presentation and Bruce Reyes-Chow, Jessica Vazquez Torres and Denise Anderson in a panel discussion, it occurred to me how radically different we may need to be church.”

Patton continued, saying, “After Melissa Harris Perry’s presentation, Richard DuBose asked her how the PC(USA) should attempt to try to become more racial ethnically diverse given the fact that the PC(USA) was 91 percent white. She turned and asked, ‘Where do you [the PC(USA)] want to go?’ DuBose said, ‘Presbyterians are quiet and white.’ After a couple of minutes, she replied, ‘The whole denomination can join a collective effort that could attract people of color. The PC(USA) could be about more than just the PC(USA). The church can join other spaces.’ She implored us to do more by ultimately asking, ‘What do you stand for?’”  Patton led a workshop titled “Living Out the Belhar Confession and Becoming a Fully Inclusive Church” as a part of the conference.

When asked about the ways white privilege was addressed at the conference, Chip Hardwick, Director of Theology, Worship and Formation, for the PMA said, “White privilege was a central theme throughout the conference. One particularly powerful moment came when Dr. Althea Butler said that she was weary of having to explain to white people why our actions often hurt people of color. Not only does society give lots of advantages to white people that people of color do not receive, we whites often then expect people of color to relive the pain the lack of advantages cause them by explaining to us where we have gone wrong. While my colleagues at the PMA have explained this to me before, it hit me over the head like a lightning bolt this time around.”

Hardwick said a challenge posed by Butler was asking white attendees why they would continue to attend a church that hasn’t mentioned the Black Lives Matters movement over the past two years. The importance of addressing structural racism, she said, lies with whites choosing to engage the movement rather than ignore it because they feel it doesn’t affect them.

“The call of the Gospel, however, is to open our eyes to the destructive power of structural racism and to work against it,” Hardwick said. “I spoke with one white man of retirement age who had never thought this through before attending the conference; he spent most of our conversation processing what he could do to make progress against this type of racism, where everyone is nice and is a good person, and yet the structures of society devalue people of color.”

What will it take for the church to change this trend? Hardwick believes it rests in a majority of the church addressing the disgrace of racism to hear how it can be more inclusive and learn new ways of being.

“The call to action that is important to me is for me to do the hard work of understanding white privilege better, and then using the opportunities I have to help explain the advantages we receive, simply from being white, that other people of color do not receive,” he said. “Rather than expecting people of color to carry this freight for me, and thereby burdening them again, I want to learn how to be the best ally I can be.”

Focus on Leadership: Compassion

rock-friends-smIf your church follows the Revised Common Lectionary for your Sunday worship Scriptures, you may be reading from and hearing sermons about texts from 2 Timothy, where the apostle Paul speaks about his suffering. We know from his letters that Paul suffered both from being imprisoned several times and from physical ailments, the two not always unconnected. But when Paul speaks of his suffering, it is not simply an update on his current state of mind or health, but to make a larger point. He does not diminish his own suffering, but he recognizes that his work, and the work of all faithful Christians, will lead to some sort of suffering.

Often it is because of the relationships we seek and build as Christians that will cause us suffering. Paul knows his friends who have heard of his imprisonments and physical pain will also be in pain, especially if they are far away and cannot lend assistance, because of their mutual love. When people we love are hurting, we hurt, too. And as our love increases, reaching more and more people as we are called to do, our opportunities to suffer alongside them will increase, as well.

Paul doesn’t lead us down an easy path, saying our faith will make everything better, or that we will be able to fix what is causing the hurt through faith. Instead, he points out that as Christ suffered with us, for us, those who follow Jesus will also suffer. Together. Compassion, which is from Latin roots, meaning to suffer or bear with. The same Latin root that gives us ‘passion’ also gives us the word, ‘patient.’ Patience, suffering – you will recognize these as major themes throughout Paul’s work. And it is always work we do together.

We tend to think of passion as joyful, as energy around something we care for deeply. If you think about it, this is not so wrong. Passion is not always joyful – pursuing a passion can be very difficult at times. But when we love together, suffer together, the key is that we do it together. There can be joy at the end of a difficult journey, or right in the middle of the slog, if we are with people we love.

Many of us live in neighborhoods and in towns that are suffering from economic uncertainty. Some of us live in places where violence is too familiar. And as we begin to learn of the devastation that Hurricane Matthew is wreaking upon Haiti, the Bahamas, and possibly our own coasts, we remember how we and our neighbors even closer to the coast were affected by Hurricane Sandy, and we pray. We hope to know how we might be a comfort – in thought, word and deed.

Compassion is not easy. Loving others never is. But we are called to it again and again. As we look around us, as we see suffering in the world, we pray that we will not turn away. We pray that we will know how to follow faithfully. We pray that our love will continue to be overflowing.

Focus on Leadership: Discipleship

runners-635906_640Discipleship sounds so…tedious. When we think of discipleship, we often think of discipline – either as punishment, or as a rigid set of conduct or rules.

Discipleship does require practice – just as we might associate discipline with the military, discipleship in following Christ is not an ends in itself, but a means to make us prepared for situations that will test us. Rather than facing a fight on the battlefield in a war, however, our tests come every day, and often in the places we least expect. The tests of our faith are often pop quizzes, and like any pop quiz, it pays to be prepared.

Reading, listening to, interpreting, absorbing, even memorizing Scripture is one of the first things we think of when we think of practices of discipleship. This is not simply so we can answer obscure questions, but so that we are immersed in the story of our faith.

The generations of people in Jesus’ lineage or in the books of Chronicles or Kings are not simply part of a long list of funky names, but real people who lived in history, were called by God to follow, and answered that call with varying success. People who faced real challenges that we still face – friends and family who do not live up to their promises, choices about how to use one’s wealth, what and who to stand up for and what and who to stand up against.

We bolster our intellectual knowledge of the story by seeing how we face these similar challenges, and through prayer and community. We are called into a Body of Christ, in which we are only one member, because we cannot do it alone. And we are called into relationship with our Creator, our adoptive Parent, our Friend, our Inspiration, because even with others, we humans cannot do it on our own.

We build these relationships through thoughtful listening, thoughtful questions, thoughtful conversations, and then following through with our actions – both with the other members of the Body and with God. Call it prayer, call it discernment, call it mindfulness, call it all three, practice makes us better at relationships.

Giving of our resources – sharing our money, our material goods, our time – on a regular basis helps us see where they fit into the overall picture. They are necessary, but also can become so much more meaningful when shared with others. If we keep them to ourselves we might not see the many ways our resources are gifts to us beyond keeping us fed and clothed.

Serving others changes our positions and attitudes toward one another. We spend so much of our time trying to “get ahead” to be “successful,” that we can think we are not very valuable if we do not succeed in the ways measured by salary, rewards, raises and promotions, and think ourselves more valuable than others if we do gain prestige, wealth and awards. Choosing a real practice of service can bring us closer to people we may not encounter in our everyday lives. We build relationships with those serving alongside us, and with those being served. We tell stories, we hear stories, we care about what happens next for the people around us because your stories become integrated during that time. And giving of oneself where one does not have to be “in charge” (though you might be called to do so even in the role of a servant), or an “expert” (though you may use or gain valuable skills), or “the most successful,” but simply to be faithful, is very different than the success we seek elsewhere.

women-697928_640Discipleship changes how we engage with the world. Discipleship prepares us to meet people where they are and to see where we are. Discipleship allows us to find God in places we were not expecting, even in the most trying of times. Discipleship shapes us and changes the shape of our hearts, thoughts and actions.

When we think of discipleship, let’s think of Jesus’ disciples – called, unprepared, from where they were, stumbling, making mistakes, but continuing to follow and learn. It was not just trials and tests, but they also developed deep friendships – with Jesus and with each other. They ate together, laughed together, cried together, wrestled with next steps together. And they shared what they learned. They were able to face difficult tests, even death, and yet were “successful.” We know that because we know their stories. We know The Story.

How is discipleship changing the shape of your heart? How can we invite others into a discipleship that is rich and meaningful, not tedious, even when challenging? How do we expand the characters this grand Story we share?

Focus on Resources: Spirituality

Desperately Seeking Spirituality: A Field Guide to Practice

By Meredith Gould

DSSMeredith Gould, the author of church communications books The Social Media Gospel and The Word Made Fresh, has come out with a new, more personal reflection on the practice of spirituality. Desperately Seeking Spirituality is a fresh and funny take on spiritual renewal. Whether you are hoping to add practices to enrich your spiritual life, or are feeling stuck in your current practices, Gould offers practical, warm and helpful guidance to explore and be renewed. You can purchase it in hard copy, or an e-book for Kindle.
As Fall begins, routines are shifted back from Summer rhythms, and the weather gets a little cooler, many of us will refocus on the rhythms of our spirituality as well. This book is a great resource for individuals and churches to take a new look at spiritual practices, whether new at them, or an old hand.