Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: spirituality

Book Review: The Lost Art of Good Conversation

The Lost Art of Good Conversation: A Mindful Way to Connect with Others and Enrich Everyday Life, Sakyong Mipham, Penguin Random House, 2017.

Have you noticed in this highly politicized time that it’s hard to have a good conversation? Among family members, in the workplace, and in churches, having a good conversation has become challenging. When you consider the conversations that the United Methodist Church is (and has been) having, particularity about human sexuality, it becomes even more challenging to have a good conversation.

Sakyong Mipham, head of the worldwide Shambhala community, uses his book to remind readers that in this hyper-connected time in which we live, we do not always communicate well. It is easier to make our point and refuse to hear another’s on Facebook and Twitter than it is sitting at a table, face-to-face.

By doing so, we no longer rejoice with those who rejoice or cry with those who cry. We lose any intimacy that a conversation would normally have. As Mipham writes, “We are at a dangerous crossroads because when we lose feeling, our exchanges with others lose value.” (11)

“It is a warrior practice of kindness using words.” -Sakyong Mipham (16)

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God Has a Purpose For You

purpose_10509cThis week I’ve stumbled upon some well written blogs by young people pondering faith in their life. Some are searching for purpose in the midst of it all. Others are ready to give up and turn away from this God figure and this thing called faith. One is bravely stepping out onto the bridge of doubt, asking questions about what he believes and why. Another honestly shares about her eating disorder and how Sundays are the hardest days of the week.

It is hard, at times, to acknowledge that God has a purpose for you. Buried deep inside each of us, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians, is a treasure. This treasure was placed in us by God. What I hear in the blog posts I found this week are voices trying hard to find the treasure within. They are rejecting conformity, which is what the Bible says to do (see Romans 12:2). Yet, they too often do not find or feel support of that from their communities of faith. Which saddens me deeply, for these communities are not fulfilling their purpose of discipleship.

I’m not going to sit here and be one of those Christian guys who tells you that life is going to be perfect if we just accept that God has a purpose for us. Yes, God has a purpose for you. But what is it? What isn’t the right question to ask. I think the better question is, “How do we know what it is?” Discerning, or figuring out, what God’s purpose for us is is not easy. It’s hard! It’s challenging! And sometimes, it’s not fun. In the midst of all of the promises Jesus made, there is one he did not make. He never promised that this thing called being a disciple – being a Jesus follower – would be easy.

So, how do we discern what God’s purpose for us is? In a word: prayer. As we spend time with God through spiritual disciplines or practices like daily devotions, journaling, mediation, and prayer, we begin to discern God’s purpose for us.

When I was a teenager it pissed me off when adults would say that we were the church of the future, like it was some attraction at Walt Disney World. It bugs me still when adults say that about teenagers and young people. You are not the church of the future, you are the church of right now. And I believe strongly that not only does God have a purpose for you, but God has a purpose for you in a community of faith. Partipicate in worship leadership. Lead a service project. Serve on a committee. The church needs you. I’ve been to a lot of church meetings, believe me when I say it, the church needs you.

As teenagers and young people, you have a voice that the Church needs to hear. You have a voice and insight that will make the church stronger and more faithful. To those young bloggers I’ve read this week, God has a purpose for you and it easily may be what you are doing now. So I thank you for your voices. Thank you for being brave enough to share where you are and how the church is or is not apart of that. We need to to hear it. We need to have our eyes opened to the world around us. We need you.

Mary Had a Baby Boy

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

My cousin is in the hospital awaiting the arrival of her first baby. As I’ve been talking with her and praying for her, I’ve also been thinking about what it must have been like that first Christmas. And the more I think about it, I think about how incredible the incarnation is. God became a human being.

God became a baby.

God became just like us. And in that moment, God was poor and helpless. The God of Creation became a crying baby boy. And the prophet Isaiah calls this baby, “Mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6). Before anything else, Jesus was Mighty.

Before changing water into wine. Before teaching the masses. Before walking on water. Before raising Lazarus. Before the Cross. Before it all, the baby was Mighty. This baby is the Mighty One who saves. This baby is the Mighty One who will change the world.

The German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in a sermon preached to a church in Havana, Cuba, said, “But now it is true that in three days, Christmas will come once again. The great transformation will once again happen. God would have it so. Out of the waiting, hoping, longing world, a world will come in which the promise is given. All crying will be stilled. No tears shall flow. No lonely sorrow shall afflict us anymore, or threaten.”

Finding Balance

Someone on Facebook this past week posted this verse as her status:

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. – Luke 5:16

I began pondering on that verse and immediately began thinking about how overwhelming life must have gotten for Jesus.  With all the teaching and the healing and the walking.  And not to mention the teaching and the healing and the walking.  Jesus needed some time to go off by himself, be still and quiet and just pray.

I know for myself my life can get filled pretty quickly with what Stephen Rossetti refers to as external and internal noises.   External noises are things like the television, the radio, the iPod, the Facebook, etc.  Internal noises (which sometimes are louder than the external) are things like worrying about your work, or your family, or your friends; it’s relationships with others.  “Our senses,” Rossetti says, “are bombarded with sounds that deafen the heart and the mind.”

It gets too loud!  We can turn off the radio or the television, but our internal noises don’t turn off so easily.

Rossetti tells of how monks of the fourth and fifth centuries would keep rocks in their mouths “for three years” to “learn to be silent.”  This idea may seem radical (or just plain crazy) but it says something about self-discipline.  It takes, I have found for myself at least, a great deal of self-discipline to maintain an even balance between silence and noise.  I find, for example, that when I turn off the radio/iPod while driving, those interior noises are given some much needed God-attention.  I become more open to listen to God and those interior noises are soon calmed.

So, when you get overwhelmed by life’s exterior and  interior noises, find your balance – your quiet center – and let God hit the off switch.

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