This week’s Lenten Practice: Holy Attention

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Emily & Andrew’s Peace Corps Adventures: Every Nica Cloud has a Silver Lining

Doña Nubia, Daniel, myself, and Maria Los Angeles

by Andrew Nilsen
Re-blogged from: May We Suggest

I’ve been fortunate in my life to have opportunities to travel to many countries. Invariably I hear, and even find myself participating in, some form of this conversation:

Local: “How do you like our country?”

Tourist: “I love it! The people are so nice!”

The tourist in this instance is almost always alluding to how much nicer the people are in X country than they are in their home country. I’ve always been a bit skeptical of these conversations because not only have I heard this from U.S. citizens traveling in other countries, but also from tourists visiting the States. Is it true that people are just magically nicer in every country but our own? Or is there something in traveling that pushes us out of our cocoon of familiarity and into interaction with strangers that makes us realize that, on the whole, humans are a whole lot better than we give them credit for?

That being said, the people here in Nicaragua are super nice. So much so that I’ve developed a new favorite hobby: getting caught out in rainstorms.

Although I’m sure it wasn’t a factor in choosing which part of the year to hold training, the rainy season in Nicaragua has been great for cultural integration. I have found the barriers to interaction between strangers to be so much thinner here than in the United States. A drizzle is excuse enough to be invited into a house, or huddle together under the awning of a business, and in the shared experience of escaping from the rain conversation blossoms. This was how I came to experience the most beautiful moment of my service yet: becoming friends with Doña Nubia and her family.

Back on September 11th two of my fellow trainees (Conor & Daniel) and I were on our way to the soccer field in town to use sports as a means to integrate into the community. When we reached the field the locals were disbanding due to the ominous clouds forming in the sky that we happened to overlook on our walk over. With the rainy season in full swing, we knew that we’d better not mess around and find some cover quickly. Although the coffee shop/cyber café was only a few blocks away, the clouds moved faster. Before we knew it we were caught in the middle of a torrential downpour. We found some trees to stand under, but they weren’t doing us much good. I looked up at the nearest house to see a little grandmother waving us into her house from her patio. Daniel, Conor, and I looked at each other for a second, wondering what to do, before we climbed up the steps to the patio, not exactly sure what we were getting ourselves into.

Forty-five minutes later we had become friends with Doña Nubia, her daughter Maria Los Angeles, and her niece Johana. We shared about where we were from, why we were in Nicaragua, and of all the delicious Nica foods we had tried already. In turn they told us of other national dishes that we must still try, taught us that the best vigoron and chicharones in the country come from the markets and bus stops of Grenada, invited us to come back to chat and drink coffee whenever we wanted, and exchanged phone numbers so they could invite us over and cook us delicious Nicaraguan food! I was deeply touched by this priceless display of Nicaragua hospitality and warmth, and felt such gratitude for the opportunity to be working for an organization where this kind of genuine human connection is what we are actively encouraged cultivate.

Over the seven weeks in my training town I returned several times to Doña Nubia’s house to delight in conversation. Through chats with her and her family I learned about the history of their family, the history of Nicaragua, their view on the current political landscape (specifically regarding the Grand Canal project), and the struggles and hopes they have for their country. I introduced them to Emily, and they showered her with compliments and asked her to tell them the truth about what kind of a guy I am. They called us a “beautiful, incredible couple”, and assured us that we would have gorgeous babies. They admonished me to continue learning about the Nica culture, but that I’d better not become machista, because if I stopped treating Emily with respect they’d come after me! I learned to time my visits for when Johana & Maria Los Angeles returned from their pastry baking class, and therefore became their most enthusiastic taste-tester and supporter. Although our busy training schedules didn’t end up allowing for us to share a meal with them, when Daniel and I said goodbye to the family on Thursday evening they made us promise that we’d visit when we returned to our training town, and assured that we had a place to stay at their house if we ever visited overnight.

The month of November marks the official end of the rainy season here in Nicaragua. I may not have the excuse of a thunderstorm to push me into conversation with potential friends, but from my experiences in my training town I’ve learned that they excuses may not even be necessary in Nicaragua. The people here are just that nice 🙂

Mission is … Disruptive

disruptive

Reblogged from: Missional Conversations

Philip was walking down the road (Acts 8: 26 – 39). David was tending sheep (1 Samuel 16: 5 – 13). Mary, a young teenager, was minding her own business (Luke 1: 26 – 36). Peter and Andrew were fishing (Matthew 4: 18 – 22). In the midst of our lives, we are confronted with the call and invitation of the Holy Spirit. It intrudes upon our routines. It throws off our norms and unsettles our logic. Through the witness of scripture and the ongoing story of the church, we find one example after another, story after story, lives and backgrounds and skills as different as we can imagine, being disrupted by the missio Dei, the mission of God. Engaging in Christ’s mission means opening ourselves up to the probability of change, both within us, and on our plans and actions.

The other day I had raced home to gather some things, grab a bite to eat, and pause for a moment between meetings. As I pulled into the parking lot at my apartment complex, I noticed a guy anxiously looking under the open hood of his car. Since he was on the phone, I justified to myself that he had plenty of help available. I quickly grabbed my things and headed quickly inside. After all, I had important things to do. As the minutes passed, I couldn’t get the words of the Mission Prayer out of my head, the words I had offered to God that morning: “God, where will your Spirit lead today? Help me be fully awake and ready to respond.” Was I willing to respond? Was I willing to let God disrupt my life and agenda?

We often get caught up in worthy things. It is too easy for me to become consumed in my To-Do list and to convince myself that my list matter most. But as I read about Mary, as I immerse myself in the story of Andrew and Peter, as I walk the road with Philip, I find God calling me to leave behind my places of comfort and familiarity. I was allowing an adventure with Christ to disrupt me. We don’t plan for mission: we plan to be open to what God is already doing so we might change direction. The expectation of missional ministry is to discern every day, “God, where will your Spirit lead?” I am asked to let God stir up my life so something new can bubble up. The words of Isaiah have God say, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43: 19)

Did God want to do a new thing in my life, and perhaps I didn’t perceive it? The Spirit quickened me. I left my air conditioned apartment. I went down the stairs and into the 90-degree heat and asked if he needed help. Neither Jordan nor I knew much about cars and how to fix them. For 20 minutes, we tossed out some options, read through his manual and shared about his grandmother and our mutual love for working out and how he really didn’t mind the heat because the sun was out, happily assisting his efforts to tan. For 20 minutes, God was doing a new thing. Christ’s mission was disrupting our lives and we were being blessed by the stirring.

I saw Jordan the next morning, back out at his car which we hadn’t been able to fix. But this time, it was him, my neighbor on the second floor, who waved and asked how I was doing. “Help me be fully awake and ready to respond.”

May God disrupt your best-laid plans. May God stir the pot in your congregation to let something new bubble up. May God call you anew from your hillside and road and nets to nudge your heart into the holy adventure of mission. May we stop simply minding our own business to follow Christ out of the comfortable air-conditioning of our buildings to the “Jordans” of the world. May we be confident that in the midst of God’s disruption lies a deep and profound invitation to transformational mission. The eunuch was baptized. The Israelites got a new king. A Son was born. Seekers found One worth following. A neighbor was met. Mission was lived as lives were disrupted. And we have been forever changed.

Holy Attention

By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin, Spiritual Formation Ministries
Re-blogged from: Connect. Engage. Inspire

I was tired before we even knocked on the door or sat down to dinner. I felt myself pulling inward, wanting to be a casual observer or sprawled on my couch at home. It felt difficult to gather the energy to be attentive in relationship.

As we sat around the table, pouring iced tea into paper cups, I knew I needed to be more present. I gathered strength of heart to seek the holy here. Adjusting perspective in the same surroundings can make all the difference. I looked deeply at my companions around the table and realized how profound it was to feel ordinary in the home of people I had met just over a year ago.

We shared naturally about the details of our lives that we had discovered from many previous conversations. I reflected on the moment I first met Charlie on the street and saw in him the Living Christ. The question is this: Do I still see the Living Christ as the normalcy of human relationship has permeated what we know of each other?

My life has been transformed countless times through the practice of holy attention. All spiritual practices can cultivate within us a new way of seeing the world drenched in Spirit. We can practice holy attention in solitude or amid everyday activity. There is no formula. It is simply pausing and choosing to see God in the midst of what is, wherever and whenever.

My testimonies of God’s Spirit have almost all begun with noticing God in the details, seemingly insignificant encounters throughout the day that change everything about how I understand what it means to be a disciple.
Holy attention is often, if not always, local and specific. It is about the right-here-right-now details of life. This understanding of God’s pervasive presence, which can capture us in any moment we choose to awaken to its reality, continually disrupts my life and prompts my response.

spiritualAttention to the Spirit can alter our view. A Disciple’s Generous Response during worship takes new meaning when a recently homeless man dumps all his quarters in the “change for change” bucket. Overhearing a conversation between two congregants about an injustice in our community and how we can respond causes me to pause in the rush of Sunday-morning preparations.

It is in the details of relationship, the details of daily life, the details of the natural world that we are able to encounter God’s presence in abundance. Simone Weil put it this way, “Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer.” I have found myself longing to share this experience. I have found myself wanting to say, “Just look—really look—and you won’t be able to glance anywhere without seeing the Living Christ.” Holy attention is where mission begins.

As I sat at the dinner table with Charlie, this question shifted my paradigm in just seconds: Do I still see in him the Living Christ as the normalcy of human relationship has permeated what we know of each other?

Yes!

This, too, is God’s movement among us: our growing comfort in relationship and the extraordinary fact that this whole thing now feels so ordinary. Total strangers turned into friends.

At the table, I notice others who I know only from following God’s promptings in my heart to be here, vulnerable to relationship. Suddenly pizza and paper plates are nothing less than sacrament. I see everything from a changed perspective and give thanks for the ways we come together through this constant and abundant Spirit of God.

Article Reflection: Asking Supportive Questions

good intentions

More than a handful of times, I’ve had this conversation:

“Are you married?”

I respond, “No, I’m not.”

They respond, “Oh, don’t worry. You will be.”

And I’m left standing there, awkward and somewhat speechless.
All of a sudden feeling insecure about my life choices.

The backhanded compliment.

How do I respond to that? … Thanks?

 

Sometimes, I think, people ask questions with good intentions. But sometimes I wish they would think through their “intentions” a bit more to how they make the other person feel.

Maybe they didn’t intend to patronize my life choices, but I can’t deny, it’s how it made me feel.

This article, by Amanda Bast, was shared with me by a friend. I think many of you can likely relate to her thoughts.

And, it’s not just about our relationship status.

Recently, a good friend of mine wrote a letter to some of her church leaders, expressing similar sentiments but on an entirely different topic.

She wrote about how their young adult group had been facing a great deal of conflict and resistance to their efforts to engage in the church community. Not because their efforts were bad or seen as negative. But they were new and different. And didn’t fit into the current structure or ways of doing things.

They would try new models and programs, new ways of being communities of joy, hope, love and peace. They met weekly to discuss how to best address conflicts in their community, how to approach situations to compassionately help people deal with change in the church and get on board with a vision they felt passionate about. They would raise issues and identify inconsistencies that the structure of a worldwide church organization sometimes presents, asking for dialogue, and the opportunity to work together to create more inclusive communities that reflected the values of their members.

Their efforts were often met with more challenges and questioning. Policies and procedures that were meant to be enforced – but really didn’t represent the needs of the current population.

She wrote:

Following these experiences was our natural assumption that we were being targeted and disempowered, intentionally. What deepened these emotions was our sense of confusion. Why are we being met with such negativity, such dishonourment? Why are we being told what we can’t do instead of being asked, “how can we help or how can we facilitate”? We were nervous to make any decisions, to ignite any creativity-a gift that is at the core of who we are. Even as I write these words I am extremely nervous and hesitant to share.

The good intentions of some felt like backhanded compliments to the others. It left this group of passionate young adults feeling emotionally drained, unmotivated, and unsupported by their church community.

Maybe that wasn’t how it was intended, but I don’t think any of them would deny, it’s how it made them feel.

There are times that dealing with the structure of organizations, even a church, can be challenging. Both sides of the table having good intentions. Both sides wanting to do what is right. What is best.

Many of us (even, all of us) are on different paths. We each have different way of doing things. Neither necessarily wrong. Just different ways of seeing the world based on our past and our individual life experiences. Different ideas of what “should” happen. It’s just who we are and where we are.

So in reflection on these issues:
How can we ALL better encourage and support others (young adults or not), rather than patronizing or demeaning the passions, choices or situations of others? How can we address faulty systems stemming from structures put in place in different times?

Addressing differences of opinions, approaches, and perspectives in a loving and respectful manner is vital to our ability to survive as a community and to truly exemplify unity in our diversity.

We find ourselves at a challenging crossroads. An intersection of tradition and innovation. Old and new paths. But all within the blessings and confines of community.

How can we best uphold and support those who believe in, and find truth in, new ideas and visions? New ways of being and living? Even when they don’t fit into the current structure or social expectations we have created for ourselves?

How can we best uphold and support those that believe in, and find truth in, the current structure and social expectations we have created for ourselves?

We’re all hurting. We’re all trying to figure this out. We’ve all experienced those painful, prodding questions. We’re all looking for someone to validate what we’re experiencing. If these past few days have taught me anything, it is this:

I am not alone, and neither are you.
Amanda Bast

 Photo from: mentoringleaders.com

Setting an Example for Your Elders

[Note: I want to preface this post by saying that this is merely a perspective on an issue related to the field of Young Adult Ministry. It is part of my role, and one of the purposes of the YA Ministries blog, to raise issues (even controversial ones) that young adults in Community of Christ deal with. I believe these are issues that Community of Christ, but also many different kinds of communities, deal with. It is in no way meant to represent the views of the Community of Christ church or be offensive to any person.
These are just issues and concerns based on some of my knowledge and experiences. 🙂 – Rachelle]

Millennials-7-16

In my role as the Young Adult Ministries Specialist for the Community of Christ, you can imagine that I hear about and think about young adults, particularly in the population of our church, a lot! Right now, most people who are considered “young adults” fall into what is defined as the “millennial” generation – people born generally in the 80s. 90s and early 2000s. Community of Christ classifies young adults as those aged 18-35.  “Young adulthood” is actually more a stage of life than an age range. According to Erik Erikson’s psychosocial stages, it is a transitional stage of human development between adolescence and adulthood. (Hence, the term can sometimes be offensive to individuals that the church defines as being “young adult” (between the ages of 18 to 35) who have actually progressed out of this stage of human development into full adulthood.)

If you treat adults like children, you get childish adults. If you treat people with suspicion, you will encourage devious behavior.
Fiona Smith

The millenial generation, in my opinion, receives a lot of flack. So often this generation is perceived by others as: selfish, spoiled, too technology-dependent, incapable, lazy, entitled, etc. (See this article written to comfort people about the possibility of having to work with [gasp] millenials. Or this cynical/satirical “training video” on how to work with this “challenging” generation.)

Did you also know that this same generation is also defined as having the most economic hardship, but still called “the most diverse and optimistic generation of any currently alive in the United States?” (“Reaching the Millennial Generation“, Lee, 2014)

It can be frustrating to listen to and continually read about older generations putting down or patronizing the younger (particularly when it’s your job to advocate for and support them). Sometimes it seems older generations want for millenials what suits them or appeals to their generation. They want millenials to grow up to be just like them.

An orange can’t expect orange juice to come from an apple.

I find this can, at times, be true in the church as well.

I sometimes hear millenials (in the church, termed “young adults”) being talked about as if they are some alien science experiment the world is trying to figure out how to deal with. That obviously doesn’t apply to everyone, and I admit is a bit sarcastic, but that is often a feeling I get both coming from within the church but also from outside our faith community. Sometimes, some members of older generations seem to have certain expectations and hopes for our young adults, but don’t seem to express much initiative in trying to understand or connect with the ones they say they want to engage. There have been times that I have been approached because there is a feeling by some that young adults aren’t living up to those expectations and hopes. They aren’t falling into the mold that was set for them (or has been set for years before them). I hear people talking about how they want the young people to step up and really expect “more” from them. But really, “more” comes across as “my way and my ideas.” I hear congregations talking about how they want to be intergenerational and inclusive but not really listening to what the people they are trying to include are experiencing or needing. I hear tired, experienced leaders talking about needing new leaders and wanting young adults to take on responsibility; but not really teaching them how to be successful, reaching out to offer support along the way, or listening to their ideas.

So, really … can you blame them?

Achieving our vision is a two way street.

“Treat people as if they were what they ought to be
[not what you want them to be]
and they will become what they are capable of being.”
– Goethe

What if, instead of identifying the shortcomings of an entire generation and speaking out about how they don’t attend our traditional congregation gatherings like we want them to, don’t give like we want them to, and don’t do a hundred other things like we want them to – we followed the platinum rule and treated them like they want to be treated?

What if we removed all our assumptions and expectations?

What if we try to get to know them and speak out about all the things they ARE doing – supporting and loving them. We talk about and connect with the three young people that DO attend our congregation, instead of the twenty that don’t. Instead of thinking about what we want them to do and be, we asked them what they want to do and who they want to be.

What if instead of waiting and expecting them to come to our church – we go to theirs! We are present at their camps, retreats, extra-curricular activities, or any community gatherings! Instead of talking about them and deciding for them, we include them in the conversation and help them achieve their visions and goals! We do for them what we would like in return.

We know that people (of any age) are more likely to be excited and engaged in something they are passionate about. Something that has meaning to them. Something they dream about! But do we even know what their passions are? Are we really listening to their thoughts and ideas? What they are actually saying? Or are we too quick to disassociate with what we don’t understand? Or to impose our own expectations, dreams, and years of wisdom?

Maybe the dreams of different generations aren’t as different as you might think. We just go about it differently.

I read a lot of blogs. Everyone out there seems to have some advice or lessons learned on every topic imaginable: 31 ways to do this. 75 reasons not to do that. How [insert anything] are you? Blogging makes the everyman an expert. So, that said, here’s another one of those indicating the author’s advice on what millenials “should” start doing. Among a list of ten points you would expect to find in any motivational “how-to” regarding gratitude, relationships, and passion; I found one I didn’t:

Set an Example to the Older Generation. Paul advised Timothy not to allow people to look down on him because of his age, which means that was probably happening. However, he didn’t tell him to push back and tell them to “stop judging him…” Rather, he told him to set the example. Are the “old” people looking down on you? Good. That means their eyes are on you. Now give them a good reason to keep looking at you. Serve well. Work hard. Be polite. Make eye-contact. Shake hands firmly. Smile.

– Taylor Murray from “10 Things 20Somethings Should Start Doing” on the blog taylormurray

Sometimes it’s important to be reminded that just as much as millenials can learn from older generations, they can teach older generations. So here’s my three-point challenge to the millenials (but really, I think it can be applicable to all generations in relationship to one another):

Be the example.

Don’t fight back with frustration or anger about stereotypes or expectations given by other generations. Let them be who they are. Listen to what they are really saying: their dreams. Their passions. Their heart. (Even older people have dreams 😉 ) Treat them with the compassion and respect they deserve as people. Like Dr. Phil says in his Life Law #8: “We teach people how to treat us.”

Respond. Be Open.

Offer help. Step up. Take the initiative. Remember that you have experiences and knowledge the other doesn’t. You have as much to offer and as much to receive in return. Be humble and open to learning.

Don’t live up to other’s expectations. Exceed them.

If other people’s ideas and expectations are being placed on you – do better. Exceed them. Break the mold in a positive way. Prove their judgments wrong. I think we often need to be reminded that we are all individuals and that stereotypes are often gross over-generalizations. The negative stereotypes of your generation do not have to apply to you.

We cannot achieve anything, or move forward, if we continue to assume we know what is best for other people and that we understand the desires of their hearts.

“Serve well. Work hard. Be polite. Make eye-contact. Shake hands firmly. Smile.” – Taylor Murray

Hardwood Heroes

hardwoodheroes

For the past three or four years I have been asked to play in a charity basketball game called Hardwood Heroes. The game pins some well known people in this community, the “celebrity” team, against the athletes of the Scioto County Special Olympics. The goal of the game for the celebrity team is not to win, but to have a good time and make sure the athletes get to show off their ability to family, friends and those in attendance. The event also serves as one of the biggest fundraisers for the Special Olympics team as they travel throughout the year.

Every year I play, I progressively get worse with my own basketball ability … or lack thereof. The first year I played I scored 12 points and this year I did not score at all. At one point in the game, in an effort to show off my ability, while both teams were at the other end of the court playing, I grabbed a ball and started shooting on the open end of the court. After a few failed attempts one of the athletes came up to me and said that was not allowed and proceeded to fire me from the game. It was all I could do to keep from laughing because she fired me with such seriousness and determination. At that point I proceeded off the court and to the bench.

In the end the final score was 102 to 61, but that did not matter to those in attendance. What mattered were the Special Olympics athletes were able to show off their ability against the celebrity team to their friends and loved ones. Occasionally, throughout year I will bump into one of the athletes and they will brag on how bad they beat us and say how much they are looking forward to the next year’s game.

Despite my inability to be effective in a game of basketball, I too am looking forward next year’s game, because for a short time we are all hardwood heroes.