Sunday, January 27, 2008

what is prayer?

We have discussion/practice times on Sunday nights; usually about different spiritual disciplines or practices. Sunday night we talked about prayer. I talked about how our Sunday discussions were usually pretty surface, with a lot of "church" talk, and not a lot of honest, deep conversation.

When it comes to prayer, we usually fall back on the definitions we learned as young Christians; and our practice of prayer often reflects that. It was obvious that most people had a pretty big gap between what they thought prayer should look like in their lives and the reality of it.

I said we were going to learn as beginners; not depend on the easy answers we've always clung to.

I challenged us to be more real and open; starting with our questions. I told everyone we would discuss questions tonight; not answers. That was hard for a lot of us, but really good.

I had people write their thoughts and questions anonymously rather than discuss. I was amazed at the results!

We started by writing out what we thought prayer was, how it works, and why we do it. We got very diverse answers; which told us that we are often on different pages when it comes to language. Even a seemingly obvious word like prayer means so many different things to different people!

Then we looked at Scriptures with the words "pray" or "prayer," to get a sense of how diversely the word is used there. Then we wrote our questions, doubts, confusions about prayer. Here are a few responses:
  • Why does God want us to pray? (Amazing how many people said this...I realized that a lot of us pray, and say it's important, but don't really know why)
  • Why is it OK to pray for revenge against enemies in the Old Testament yet we are told to pray for enemies in the New Testament?
  • Are formulaic prayers acceptable to God?
  • Does God change his mind when we pray?
  • Why does the OT contain so many answered "I want revenge" prayers? How do we reconcile this in light of "do unto others?"
  • "Ask and it shall be given to you" doesn't seem to be completely literal, because I've asked, but it hasn't always been given.
  • How long do we pray for the same thing?
This is just a sampling. I was glad that people were so honest; now the challenge is to begin digging into these questions. Several people said they were really excited about the conversation, and where it goes from here.

We spent some time praying; and I said that one of the ways we will learn more about prayer is by actually doing more, both individually and as a community. I felt like the evening was a big step in where we are headed!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

life and death

Been thinking a lot about death lately. The Sean Taylor murder a few months ago hit me hard. It's always shocking when a young person dies--we just happen to notice the celebrities--like Heath Ledger the other day. 

Yesterday I spent a little time with a gentleman who is dying of cancer--his doctors have told him he has a few weeks; maybe days. I have several friends and relatives of friends dealing with cancer...

There are times like this when I think about the fragility of life, the inevitability of death, the enormous, incomprehensible idea of eternity; and I feel pretty small.

As a pastor, I know people are looking to me with similar thoughts and struggles. And while I don't necessarily have answers, I realize how important it is to provide opportunities for people to talk and ask questions and just be together in the midst of all this.

At the same time, these thoughts cause me to turn to my children. I realize how precious each minute with them is. Tonight was boys night--my wife and daughter were out so I was home with the boys. I spent some time just holding them and loving on them. 

This Sunday we will talk about prayer at Convergence. I'm still putting my thoughts together; but I want to direct a conversation that is real and honest. I think we often try to explain prayer and how it works, and by doing so miss its power and beauty. But while the Bible says a lot about prayer, I don't think it makes it easy or maybe even possible to come up with a systematic answer of how and why to pray. 

It's late at night; and there is a lot more to it than this; but right now I'm thinking the bottom line is to simply spend time with God--apart from our requests, regardless of results or outcomes--prayer is simply listening to and spending time with God. For most of us, it always seems to turn to asking.

check out some great music

Please check out 7 Sopranos, led by Convergence's Cynthia Cole. They will be performing at Convergence on February 8 and 9-don't miss it!

I'm not an expert on jazz; but I know what I like. Christina Crerar has an amazing voice; and music that I love listening to! We're hoping that Christina will be singing at Convergence in the near future.

Monday, January 21, 2008

read this

OK, my partner Lisa just wrote a really beautiful piece about our jazz service. You have to read this. Now I am challenged to be as eloquent. Probably not going to happen today.

We are both going to try to blog about topics related to Convergence, arts, the Church, etc.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

random sunday thoughts

Another great weekend at Convergence. Saturday we had a meeting with different people and groups who use our facility. We expected about 8 people; over 20 showed up! We had great discussion and got to know some folks better.

Thank you so much to friends from Valley Drive Preschool, Songwriters Association of Washington, Arlington Artists Alliance, Northern VA Chinese Christian Church, 7 Sopranos, Nina Sichel, Club Tiger Productions,

We then had a work day--doing some cleaning and organizing. Most of the folks from the meeting stayed to help. I sensed a wonderful spirit of community among a diverse group of people. We are really seeing the original dream and vision lived out more and more.

Last night Jay Smith, Convergence musician of Middle Distance Runner fame, hosted a great concert with his Club Tiger Productions.

Tonight Never in Denver led us in a wonderful worship time at our monthly Jazz at the Vespers.

Great things are happening at Convergence!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

feedback is good

I'm emotionally and spiritually exhausted. It's been a busy year so far (I know, it's only been two weeks--but I feel like I've been running the whole time)...lot's of good stuff, but lots to do.

I had lunch with a good friend who is also a pastor, and he gave me some really good constructive criticism. Not fun to hear, but very helpful. I realize that I need to step up as a leader; do something we talk a lot about--take risks.

I also realize that we need help. I have tried to do too much on my own, and not asked others to help us enough. I want to work on that.

I need to get back to work. I feel like I have about 10 hours worth of work to do, and only about 2 more hours today. I'll start with some prayer.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

"dreaming of a church where..."

as a young church; we are constantly reading, listening, talking, exploring what other churches and leaders are doing to create the best community possible to love and minister to people. I'm currently reading Doug Pagitt's Church-Re-Imagined.

Doug is getting a lot of press these days; and is being branded a heretic by some. That's ridiculous. I've met Doug, had some great conversation with him, read and listened to a lot of his stuff. Bottom line for me--the man loves Jesus, loves people, and wants to help foster God's kingdom here and now. (I will not join the debate over Doug's theology--I tend to agree with a lot of what he says; but realize that those who don't aren't interested in conversation, just debate).

Anyway, in Church Re-Imagined, Doug starts off with a list of things that Solomon's Porch (Doug's church) desires to be..."We Dream of a Church Where..."

number one is "We listen to and are obedient to God"

I like it. One concern I have with a lot of evangelicals today is the idea that God is done speaking, and what needs to be communicated is their interpretation of what God said in the past. On that last point--we need to be very discerning and know there is often a difference between what God has said, and what people interpret God to have said.

I'll talk more about Scripture in the future, but for now let me say that it is obvious to me that the Bible is vibrant and alive and mysterious and scary and encouraging all at the same time. The more I know it, the more I realize I don't know it. I will spend the rest of my life wrestling with it and growing in it...But I do believe God has spoken through it in the past, does today, and will in the future--though not always in the ways we have learned or assumed.

I believe God is still speaking--through people, through His Spirit, through the events of our world, and through the Bible...While God himself may not change--our perceptions and understandings of Him do, as we grow and experience Him in different ways. We can't be obedient to God if we're not listening to Him in the now. I'm scared and excited that listening to God and being obedient to Him is an ongoing learning process; not something to be figured out and solved.

Monday, January 14, 2008

enjoying the journey

It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters, in the end.

Ursula Le Guin

Sometimes in "church work" we get so focused on the goals that we kind of gloss over what's going on right now. I have a lot of hopes and ideas of where Convergence will be in the future; but I really want to enjoy where we are now as well. We are building such a beautiful picture of community, of family--one I've never experienced in an institutional church.

I keep remembering a conversation last night, after a beautiful worship service, where about 5 of us were standing around talking and laughing. No one was trying to impress anyone else; we were talking honestly about life and death and family problems; but it was so cool to hear people sharing and listening and being able to laugh about life.

Now things aren't perfect--we desperately need to start raising more money--a lot of it...and I still drop balls and make mistakes and forget all kinds of stuff. And sometimes people do stuff that I just get.

But I love what I'm doing. I love the people that are giving and sacrificing because they see how important this thing called Convergence is. And I love the atmosphere when we gather--holy and down to earth, solemn and silly, truly authentic. I really believe God is doing something new and unique and really important. It's exciting and humbling to be a part of it!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

great weekend

it was a great weekend at Convergence. Friday we hosted the opening reception for an exhibit by the Arlington Artists Alliance; it was wonderful. I had a lot of great conversations with artists, art lovers, friends and neighbors. There is a lot of really beautiful work; I encourage you to come by and see the exhibit sometime!

On Saturday we hosted the monthly open-mic night of the local branch of SAW--the Songwriters Association of Washington. Another great night--lots of fantastic music.

Tonight our own Kathy Berlin shared her testimony in song--a creative telling of her story through beautiful music. (unfortunately I forgot my camera).

I'm exhausted--but it's a really good exhausted!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

new name

you may have noticed my blog has a new name (or not--not sure if anyone is still reading these days). not sure if I'll keep the name; I'm still thinking through it.

the idea is to connect my blogging to Convergence more...I'll still write about a variety of topics; but will try to write more about what's going on at Convergence, what I'm learning and doing and trying as a pastor, and encourage more conversation about God, spiritual formation, art...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

on writing

I love to write—well, sometimes I love to write. Sometimes I go into it kicking and screaming, but I feel like I am supposed to do it. Writing is one of those things that makes my life feel more complete—like praying, exercising, eating a little better and making sure I’m spending quality time with friends and family.

Something feels off or missing when I realize I haven’t written in a while. I believe I have potential as a writer. I think with more discipline and guidance I can write well, dig deeper, explore more, express myself more openly and honestly…There is so much inside me that I feel and think and wonder—I want to communicate that, interact with it, wrestle with it, --and writing is one way I can do that.

I have been participating in some writing workshops at Convergence, led by my friend Nina. I love the times when we gather to write and read and encourage each other. It makes me think that I really can do this; and helps me get the ball rolling…I really need to make writing a habit, something that I do regularly, often, with discipline…I spend a lot more time wanting to write than I do actually writing, and I’ve got to move past that.

At this stage in my life writing helps me see things more clearly. Life is really full right now—marriage, kids that seem to be multiplying, church, house, yard, cars, friends, basketball, traveling….my life feels like a box of toy balls that is constantly overflowing, there isn't room to contain it all, so every time I get hold of something and put it back in the box, something else falls out and I have to go chase it. Sometimes that’s fun, sometimes just exhausting.

Writing helps me put down the box for a little while…

Friday, January 04, 2008


no significant title, because I'm not sure what I'm writing about...I just know I need to write. Met with a spiritual director Thursday; really good conversation. I'm looking forward to growing this spiritual friendship; I think it will be really good for me.

I've been tired for the last couple weeks--boys are sick so no one is sleeping much...feeling overwhelmed with all that I need to do in the new year; most of all; I need to make more time to pray!

It's january 5 and I have kept my new year commitment so far--to spend 30 a day exercising. It got a lot easier when I cleaned off all the junk that had accumulated on top of the treadmill for months. It's nice to walk/run and watch football at the same time!

GMU won today; Redskins lost to Seattle; so I'm up and down.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

a new year

exciting--but very challenging so far. Had a great Christmas and new year; but both boys have been really sick. I've been completely exhausted for the last week; only sleeping in 2-3 hour stretches most of the time. We closed the office at church, so it's been nice to be at home, especially with everyone sick and tired.

I am excited about the new year. Great things happening at Convergence, and with family. My one new year commitment is to exercise 30 minutes every day. I ran on the treadmill today; felt great!

Back in the office tomorrow, a lot to do in next few days to catch up.

Sunday I spoke at FBC Herndon, talked about opportunities God gives for fresh starts and second chances, main example was the life of Peter. He gets a bad rap as the guy who denied Jesus; yet that was really the only negative we read about his life--in everything else he was an amazing man and disciple. I long to be that faithful.