Here and Now: The Pace of Grace

Having laid our foundation for here-and-now living in Scripture and tradition, the rest of this series will be more topical in nature.  And I can think of no better segway than to look at the pace of grace. Living in the present moment is one aspect of living in grace.  

The world has a pace.  We call it busy-ness, activism, freneticism.  And at the extreme we name it “hurry sickness.”  We are all familiar with this, for we live in a world geared for it. And we know firsthand the debilitating effects of running faster and trying harder in the world’s feverish round of unceasing activities.  

I went for years as a Christian without ever thinking that grace has a pace.  No one ever taught me to think differently, and my extroverted personality made the speed at which I lived appear normal, even “spiritual.”  I had a Bible verse for it, “growing weary in welldoing” (Galatians 6:9), and my misunderstanding of it enabled me to justify “exceeding the speed limit” in too many aspects of my life. [1]  

It took an encounter with a book by my friend. Susan Muto, to challenge me to change. [2]. It has taken ongoing commitment and effort to actually change, with a lot of reversions into “hurry sickness” along the way.  But having seen another way to live, through the book, the pace of grace has become both a life to experience and a call to reclaim when I fall back into the world’s pace.

Let me inject one important note here, for without it we can become cynical about the pace of grace and maybe give up on it for the most part. The point is simply this: it is easier at some stages of life to live the pace of grace than it is at other times.  It is far easier to live the pace of grace in retirement than when the responsibilities of life (legitimate ones, I might add) seemed to turn me every which way but loose.  God knows this about us, and in such times, the pace of grace may be more of a vision to keep than an actual practice to achieve.  That’s why it is a pace of GRACE.

But even “in the whirlwind,” we do not have to become victims of the soul-draining pace of the world.  We can live in the pace of grace through the practice of the spiritual disciplines–means of grace that give our lives pattern and rhythm. The disciplines of abstinence (e.g. solitude, silence, sabbath) are especially helpful.

The disciplines are not only a collection of formative activities, they are also means to help us establish the spirit of the Christian life: engagement and abstinence. [3]  The pace of grace is the combination of doing and being, working and resting.  If we fall prey to a performance-oriented view of life (e.g. “I am what I do”), it will be difficult to see the pace of grace which essentially says, “I do what I am,” and puts the core of life in our personhood, not our productivity.

The pace of grace comes alive in us as we practice disciplines of abstinence as much as we practice disciplines of engagement. [4]  And even when we cannot fully live into this pattern and rhythm, we keep the reality and experience of it alive in little acts of everyday living that grow us in both our character and our conduct, lest in our freneticism we forget who we are.

[1]  My misinterpretation was largely because I did not take to heart the fact that the verse begins, “let us not…”. In other words, I did not realize (or refused to see) that the weariness was not a proof of my spirituality, but actually a sign of its absence.

[2] Susan Muto, ‘Meditation in Motion’ (Image Books, 1986), especially Chapter 2.  

[3] Dallas Willard, ‘The Spirit of the Disciplines’ (HarperSanFrancisco, 1988). This is the book that transformed my understanding of the disciplines as a collection of good spiritual practices to viewing them as gifts from God that establish and maintain the pattern and rhythm of the spiritual life.

[4] There are numerous and varied spiritual disciplines–many more means of grace than can be put on any list.  But here are some examples of disciplines of engagement and abstinence.  Engagement: worship, prayer, study, service, celebration, confession, submission, guidance, and fellowship.  Abstinence: solitude, fasting, simplicity, meditation, chastity, silence, and confidentiality.  Dallas Willard’s book above looks at these, as does Richard Foster’s book, ‘Celebration of Discipline,’ 40th Anniversary edition (HarperOne, 2018).

Posted in Here and Now

Holy Love: Fresh Wind Blowing #2

​As far as I know, no one who reads my posts is a monk.  And I am guessing those who do would not hesitate to say, I am not a monk.”  But the fact is, surprising as it is, we are all monks.  We are all monastic, and the new pentecost God is effecting today calls us to recognize and respond to this call.

The word ‘monk’ does not mean a person who lives a cloistered life, but one who lives a singular life.  Monk means “monos”—singular.  It means devotion to God alone and the offering of ourselves to God as living sacrifices. The fresh wind of the Spirit is creating a new monasticism. [1]  But what does that mean, particularly for those of us who will never live in monasteries, convents, or other cloistered communities but rather as disciples of Jesus in the world?

We begin our response to that question by turning to Jesus and his call of the twelve apostles (Mark 3:13-19).  The first thing we see is that they shared a common twofold calling: to be with Jesus and to be sent out in his name.  Our singularity is first found in commonality—in community.  The earliest monks found this out when their attempts to be isolated hermits gave way to their need to be in fellowship with other monks.  Cenobitic monasticism (life together), not hermetical monasticism (life apart) became the model.  Similarly, we share a common vocation, no matter where we live or what we do: to be with Jesus and to go into the world in his name.

In Christian history this is the singular Rule of Life for every disciple: worship (oratio) and work (labora). [2]  We live this out through spiritual practices called works of piety and works of mercy.  In the Wesleyan tradition we call these the instituted and prudential means of grace. [3] They form us inwardly and outwardly in our singular devotion to Christ.  This life together is genuinely monastic—singular in intent and expression, the common way we fulfill the two great love commandments and manifest the fruit of the Spirit.

From this foundational unity, God moves us into necessary diversity.  We see it in three ways in Scripture.  First, tradition teaches that each of the twelve apostles eventually fanned out into different parts of the world, either on a part-time or full-time basis.  For example, Thomas went to India and likely died there. [4]  Others of the twelve are said to have gone to Rome, Ephesus, Greece, Asia Minor, Russia, the Ukraine, Armenia, Persia, Macedonua, Syria, Parthia, Media, and Ethiopia.  Their common commissioning sent them into a variety of places.

The second evidence of diversity comes through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, given differently to different people, expressed through a variety of ministries, and with a multitude of outcomes (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).  No one has all the gifts.  But each of us has one or more spiritual gifts—some are abiding and some are temporary.  All are given to glorify God.

The third sign of diversity comes through the list of ministries: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (Ephesians 4:11).  The word ‘some’ is added to each of the four ministries as a way of indicating a sacred allotment of these ministries to certain people.  Through discernment we locate ourselves in a particular ministry area and find it to be a means to serve Christ in the world. [5]

The point here is that we devote singular (monastic) and concentrated (focused) attention in a diversity of locations, differing giftedness, and specific ministries.  The essential oneness is not broken by this diversity, but rather expressed through it.  The New Monasticism is reviving this vision, and God is using it to simultaneously bond us together in Christian unity and send us out for a singular devotion to many specific things.

Applying this personally enables me to recognize that I am one with everyone in a common humanity and one with all Christians in a common faith, while at the same time being called to a current prophetic ministry that particularly emphasizes being an ally with LGBTQ+ people. It explains how ‘Holy Love’ came to be a book, and how these posts expand on it.

The same unity/diversity singularity is given to you as a means of strengthening your bond of love with everyone and revealing the particular ways God is calling you to love.  And it is precisely here that we see and celebrate the fact that we are indeed, monks—privileged to live in a time when God’s fresh wind is blowing!


So…..

     (1) How did this post help you understand yourself as monk?

    (2) Does any characteristic of the monastic (singular) life invite you into a deeper discipleship?


[1]  This is the focus of chapter two of my book, ‘ Fresh Wind Blowing.’  For more, see Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, ‘The New Monasticism’ (Brazos Press, 2008) and John Michael Talbot, ‘The Universal Monk: The Way of the New Monastics’ (Liturgical Press, 2011).

[2] The Rule of St. Benedict is the best-known expression of the worship/work life together.  The Rule is easily accessible in traditional and ebook formats, as well as online.  I have written an extended series of meditations on the Rule here at Oboedire.  Go to the righthand sidebar of the home page and click the “Benedict’s Rule” category to see it.

[3] Elaine Heath has written an excellent book on the Wesleyan instituted means of grace (works of piety), ‘ The Means of Grace’ (Abingdon Press, 2017).  I also have a book about the instituted means, ‘ Devotional Life in the Wesleyan Tradition: A Workbook (Upper Room Books,1995).  I also have a chapter, “Works of Piety as Spiritual Formation” in Paul Chilcote’s book, ‘The Wesleyan Tradition: A Paradigm for Renewal (Abingdon Press, 2002).  Rebekah Miles has a chapter in the same book, exploring the Wesleyan prudential means of grace, “Works of Mercy as Spiritual Formation.”

[4] I had the opportunity to visit St. Thomas’ tomb in Hyderabad, India in 1973.  It was a moving and memorable experience.

[5] Daryl and Andrew Smith have written a book to assist people in finding and expressing their ministry focus, ‘Discovering Your Missional Potential’ (100 Movements, 2019).

Posted in Holy Love

Here and Now: William Barber, II and Liz Theoharis

I choose to end our look at tradition (e.g. people and movements) with William Barber II and Liz Theoharis, the two co-leaders of the renewed Poor People’s Campaign.  They represent a growing grassroots movement for reform that is rooted in a commitment to here-and-now living.

Of particular note is the fact that the Campaign has become reactivated as a result of what is called the “Auditing America Report.”  Rather than move on the basis of generic ideas, the Campaign has taken a long, broad look at the nation today and concluded there are five current realities which must be challenged and overcome: systemic racism, poverty & inequality, ecological devastation, war economy & militarism, and a distorted national narrative.  Woven into these five themes are numerous sub themes (e.g. LGBTQ+ discrimination) which add to the urgency and focus of the movement.

Every concern is rooted in present-moment reality, and the Campaign’s ensuing words and actions are in the spirit of Charles Wesley’s hymn phrase, “To serve the present age, my calling to fulfill. O, may it all my powers engage, to do my Master’s will.” [1]

The witness of the Campaign to here-and-now living is laudable, but there is also something very practical here as well.  What might congregations find if they established a “ministry zone” (e.g. three-mile radius of their church) and did an audit to determine the top-five needs nearest to them?

There are approximately 500,000 congregations in the USA.  Think of the territory that would be covered if each one defined and ministered to their respective “coverage area.”  Through such an effort, we would experience what it means to live in the present moment where God has placed us.

[1] Hymn, ‘A Charge to Keep.’ by Charles Wesley

Posted in Here and Now

In-Sight: The Third Temptation

I do not usually post something on both Fscebook and Oboedire.  This is an exception.

_______________________________

“The Third Temptation”

I cut my teeth as a new Christian on Evangelicalism.  I developed my faith within Evangelicalism.  I lived into my sixties ministering in various ways as an Evangelical.  Today, I have abandoned the word.  I have left the camp.  Some in that camp have interpreted my leaving it with leaving the faith because to them, Evangelicalism and Christianity are virtually synonymous.  But that has never been true, and it is not true in my case either. [1] 


But they are correct in one facet of their observation:  I am no longer an Evangelical as it has come to be identified (hijacked) by Christian fundamentalists today. [2]  The Evangelicalism that I moved with for so long has radically changed, contorting it into a shape that in key respects looks very little like Jesus.  Evangelicalism today, at least as it is represented by its main leaders in North America, has become Christian populism.  That is what I have left behind.


I was reminded of this recently when a friend told me about a new book written by Ben Howe, entitled ‘The Immoral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power Over Christian Values.’  It is a penetrating and provocative book, written by one who still identifies himself as conservative, but now believes that American Christian conservativism is too often working at cross purposes with the Gospel, and doing so in unChristlike ways.  


Howe is by no means the only person to feel this way.  He is just one of the latest Christians to have the courage to say that Christian populism is an emperor who has no clothes on.  Nearly ten years ago in the same month (March 2019) two distinguished scholars (George Marsden and Mark Noll) published detailed, scholarly accounts showing how evangelicalism was being coopted by fundamentalism. [3]  


Marsden clearly showed that the two things were distinct movements in American church history, but that fundamentalism was blending them into one.  Noll chronicled the same thing, going on to say that evangelicalism’s takeover by fundamentalists resulted in a loss of looking at the world in a Christian way, but rather in ways that combined political and theological thinking into a calculated obscurantism that ended up making the Moral Majority movement quite immoral. [4]


I read Marsden and Noll in 2010, with an eye-opening effect.  So, it is no surprise that Howe’s book has reopened thoughts and feelings that have been swirling in me for more than a decade. From a deep place in me, that is simultaneously painful  and liberating, I ask myself, “What happened?  How did Evangelicalism become what it is today?”


For me, the answer is seen through the lens of one word: power.  Evangelicals “got the power” in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and the wheels on the Evangelical/Fundamentalist combo bus began to turn, going round-and-round on a journey with increasing speed that brings it to where it is today.


And as I think about this yet again, a memory comes into the picture.  I was befriended and guided by Ed Robb, Jr. in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Ed called himself (as others did then) a “neo-Evangelical” because he did not want the revived Evangelicalism to be equated with fundamentalism.  On one occasion, I was in a group with Ed, when someone asked him, “What is your greatest concern about the new Evangelicals?”  He replied, “What will happen to us when we have the power.” [5]


So….there it is, no matter who says it, or when.  Power.  Evangelicals have yielded to the third temptation: “I will give you the kingdoms of the world and their glory, if you bow down and worship me” (Matthew 4:8-9).  It can happen to anyone, and over the centuries it has happened to all sorts and stripes of Christians.  We happen to be living in a time when it is happening in the evangelical/fundamentalist combo of Christian populism.


Walter Brueggemann further awakened me to this several years ago as he exposed the evils of imperialism. And along with others (e.g. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, William Barber II, Wilda Gaffney, Christena Cleveland, Joan Chittister, Elaine Heath, John Dear, Mirabai Starr, Cheryl Anderson, and Richard Rohr) I have come to see the unholy mixture of religion and politics that doles out power and privilege to any who go along with it.  Christian populism is a major benefactor. [6]


When religious leaders put power as the ultimate value, anything can happen after that.  Once religious leaders equate “the kingdoms of this world” with the Kingdom of God, no one is safe except those who hunker down in the civic/ecclesial fortresses, ascribing near-messianic status to designated people in the state and the church.  Once power takes over, “the cause” becomes everything, and winning over the identified “others” is the goal—a victory justified as a sign of righteous indignation, with resisters and critics consigned to lesser levels of alleged unrighteousness.


There are many casualties.  Much damage is done inside the Church.  But  even more is done outside it, as ordinary folks walk out of the Church or walk on without ever going inside–able in either case to tell the differences between it and Christ.


We are always  harmed by people who yield to the third temptation.  Power.   Thankfully, Jesus resisted it, and he calls us to resist it too.



[1] I use the word “ camp” intentionally, because in the history of Christianity, the Evangelical tradition has been the Word-centered stream in the larger Christian river, a good stream unlike what the word ‘Evangelical’ has come to stand for today.  Richard Foster has written well about the good Evangelical stream in Christian history, along with five others that he calls the six great traditions of the Christian faith: the contemplative tradition, the holiness tradition, the charismatic tradition, the social justice tradition, and the incarnational tradition.  His book is entitled, ‘Streams of Living Water’ (HarperOne, 1998).


[2] Truth be told, I am less taken with any labels, for there is no single adjective put before the word ‘Christian’ that fully describes my faith.  Eugene Peterson and I visited about this years ago.  He shared his sense that adjectival descriptors of Christianity weaken it.  He said he had come to the place of simply saying, “I am a Christian” and letting it go at that.  I feel the same today.


[3] George Marsden, ‘Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism’ (Eerdmans, 2010) and Mark Noll, ‘The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Eerdmans, 2010).


[4] My awakening to what was happening to Evangelicalism (with a lot still to be unearthed in ciming years), came at roughly the same time Phylis Tickle, Brian McLaren, and others (quickly labeled by the fundamentalists as having lost their faith, in ways I later came to be labeled) were declaring that a “great emergence” (also called by other names) was growing on the earth—that God was doing a new thing.  Marsden and Knoll opened my eyes.  Tickle and McLaren showed me what to look at.  But I stayed in the camp for four more years.


[5] I have wondered a thousand times where Ed would locate himself today in the swirling mess we find ourselves in, and I offer no predictions.  But of this much I am sure: Ed would see clearly how Evangelicalism has “drunk the Kool-Aid” in its rise to power in North America. He saw the peril of power long before many did, and in ways some still refuse to see.


[6] To these newer people, I add longer-standing influences like Sts. Francis and Clare, Catherine of Sienna,  John Wesley, Harriet Tubman, E. Stanley Jones, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., Oscar Romero, and John Lewis—to name a few.




Posted in Uncategorized

Holy Love: Fresh Wind Blowing #1

​In order to embrace the significance of LGBTQ+ inclusion, we must understand that it is part of something larger that God is bringing to pass on the earth today—a new pentecost.  A fresh wind of the Spirit is blowing, and we are called to raise our sails and become part of the movement.  I have previously written about this in my book, ‘Fresh Wind Blowing,’ and to explore the larger context of what God is doing on the earth today, you may want to have this book and read it prior to ‘Holy Love.’ [1]

I join a large number of people who, for the past twenty years or so, have become convinced that we are living in a pivotal moment in history, a new axial age, what some are calling a “great emergence.”  We did not choose to be alive today, but as followers of Christ, we are responsible for living in alignment with the new things God is doing.  The movement is global and pervasive of all aspects of life.  [2]

As with similar previous times in history, the invitation to be co-creators with God comes in a whirlwind of complexity, complete with challenges by status-quo imperialists for whom change is always threatening. [3]. If you had asked Martin Luther, “How’s it going?” upon seeing him leaving the Diet of Worms, he would not have said, “Great, it’s the beginning of the Reformation!” He would more likely have said, “Not so good.  They just excommunicated me, and some intend me more harm.” [4]

Living in a new pentecost is risky because our involvement occurs before we know how others (including longstanding friends and colleagues) will react.  Living in a new pentecost means radically seeking to live for “God alone” and being willing to leave (or to be expelled from) groups from whom much of our former identity and affirmation came.  Living in a new pentecost is in keeping with Jesus’ call to put our hands to the plow and not look back (Luke 9:62).  Living in a new pentecost is a leaving/cleaving experience inspired by a vision of a greater good and enacted by a deliberate practice of the better.

Living in a new pentecost is not a compulsion, it is an invitation.  As it has always been, it is a choice that God lays out before us (e.g. Deuteronomy 27-30), culminating in the necessary call to “Be strong! Be fearless! Don’t be afraid and don’t be scared by your enemies because the Lord your God marches with you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).  Living in a new pentecost means deciding that your soul belongs to God, and not to anyone or anything else.

So…..

     (1) Have you sensed a “fresh wind blowing”? If so, how?  If not, how did this post awaken you to it?

     (2)How can you raise your sails so that the Spirit can fill them and make you part of the new thing God is doing today?


[1] Steve Harper, ‘Fresh Wind Blowing: Living in God’s New Pentecost’ (Cascade Books, 2013).  It is available in paperback and ebook formats.  The book is part of The New Monastic Library series, books devoted to taking ancient principles and practices and applying them to contemporary renewal in the society and church.

[2] There are many ways to see the pervasive nature of the new pentecost.  I call your attention to five illustrations of it: (1) The Wild Goose Festival, (2) The New Poor People’s Campaign, (3) The Center for Action and Contemplation, (4) Pace ë Bene, and (5) the New Monasticism. You can google each one to learn more.  Even more significant are the local, state, and national organizations (civic and religious) daily working in sync with the new pentecost.

[3] My understanding of the inevitability of challenges to change has been greatly shaped by the writing (and some videos) by Dr. Walter Brueggemann.  I note his classic book, ‘The Prophetic Imagination’ and his more-recent one, ‘Tenacious Solidarity.’

[4] I write more about this in ‘Fresh Wind Blowing,’ 2-4.

Posted in Holy Love

A Reminder

Once or twice a year, I post a reminder that Oboedire grows almost entirely by word of mouth.  I do not advertise it.

Whether you have been part of the Oboedire fellowship for a long time, or only a short while, if you find it helpful please tell others about it.

The 2019 theme series, “Here and Now” continues each Wednesday.

 “In Sight” returns with a monthly (first Saturday) writing that looks at the spiritual life from a variety of vantage points.

And, most recently, the new series ‘Holy Love’ posts each Monday as a companion piece for my latest book of the same name.

If you know people who would find these things to be formative in their spiritual journey, I hope you will introduce them to Oboedire.  Thanks!

Posted in Site Updates

Here and Now: Henri Nouwen

I cannot write about here-and-now living without mentioning Henri Nouwen.  Although he did not introduce me to the idea, he has added significant content and perspective to it.

Nearly all his books speak about living in the present moment.  But he wrote one book devoted entirely to the theme, ‘Here and Now.’ [1]  He called this kind of life “living in the Spirit,” and he wrote about it in a full orbed way.  With customary honesty, Nouwen included experiences of sorrow and suffering among the formative aspects of the spiritual life.  And one of the things I appreciate most about his view is the way he makes simplicity the usual means for living well in the present moment

Through his letters, we can see Nouwen’s commitment to here-and-now living going back much earlier than this book.  In 1978 he wrote to a former student and his wife, who were trying to discern whether or not to move away from one form of ministry and go into another one.  While encouraging them to remain open to a new call from God, Henri offered these words of counsel.

“My first response to your letter is that right now [God] calls you to be just where you are.” [2]  He went on to say that he believed the best way to hear a new call from God was by being faithful to the current call.  For Nouwen, the present moment is the good soil into which new seeds can be sown, in turn germinating and producing a fresh harvest that nourishes us in the future.

Nouwen has enabled me to realize that the best way to be receptive to the future is to be attentive in the present.  Spiritual seeing and hearing is cultivated here-and-now.  If we can see and hear what’s in front of us, we envision and discern what’s ahead of us.

[1] Henri J.M. Nouwen, ‘Here and Now’ (Crossroad, 1994).

[2] Henri J.M. Nouwen, ‘Love, Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life’ (Convergent, 2016), 28.

Posted in Here and Now