Thinking Out Loud

June 23, 2016

The Labyrinth

LabyrinthOne of the Anglican churches in the town where I live has a labyrinth in the field behind the building. I remember the first time I saw it, probably well over a decade ago, and thinking it a rather odd sight for a Christian place of worship. Wikipedia (linked above) offers this origin:

In Greek mythology, the labyrinth (Greek: λαβύρινθος labyrinthos) was an elaborate structure designed and built by the legendary artificer Daedalus for King Minos of Crete at Knossos. Its function was to hold the Minotaur eventually killed by the hero Theseus. Daedalus had so cunningly made the Labyrinth that he could barely escape it after he built it.

Later on the article states

Prehistoric labyrinths are believed to have served as traps for malevolent spirits or as defined paths for ritual dances. In medieval times, the labyrinth symbolized a hard path to God with a clearly defined center (God) and one entrance (birth). In their cross-cultural study of signs and symbols, Patterns that Connect, Carl Schuster and Edmund Carpenter present various forms of the labyrinth and suggest various possible meanings, including not only a sacred path to the home of a sacred ancestor, but also, perhaps, a representation of the ancestor him/herself: “…many [New World] Indians who make the labyrinth regard it as a sacred symbol, a beneficial ancestor, a deity. In this they may be preserving its original meaning: the ultimate ancestor, here evoked by two continuous lines joining its twelve primary joints.”

Almost as a postscript, the article ends with a section headed “Christian use”

Labyrinths have on various occasions been used in Christian tradition as a part of worship. The earliest known example is from a fourth-century pavement at the Basilica of St Reparatus, at Orleansville, Algeria, with the words “Sancta Eclesia” at the center, though it is unclear how it might have been used in worship.

In medieval times, labyrinths began to appear on church walls and floors around 1000 C.E.. The most famous medieval labyrinth, with great influence on later practice, was created in Chartres Cathedral.  The purpose of the labyrinths is not clear, though there are surviving descriptions of French clerics performing a ritual Easter dance along the path on Easter Sunday.  Some books (guidebooks in particular) suggest that mazes on cathedral floors originated in the medieval period as alternatives to pilgrimage to the Holy Land…

I’m sure my Baptist friends, if I had some, would be more strongly shocked and possibly even repulsed at the idea of such a very non-Biblical thing being part of the structure of the church. Nowhere do the scriptures suggest the construction or use of such. It’s very foreign to our experience…

300px-Labyrinth_at_Chartres_CathedralIn the bookstore where I work a couple of days a week there are two aisles at the front, three in the middle and one at the back. Occasionally, when there are no customers (which is an increasingly common problem) I will pick up a book, kick off my shoes, and start walking up and down the aisles forming a somewhat random pattern of circles. I’m able to read and walk at the same time without serious injury; although this practice of pounding bare feet on a thin carpet supported by a concrete floor may have led to my current symptoms of plantar fasciitis. For some reason, I find I make great progress reading this way, not unlike the times as a teen I would play improvisations on the piano while studying the geography or chemistry textbook for an exam. Either the rhythm of this type of activity, or the built-in distraction helps me focus.

I wonder if there’s any real difference between what I do at the store and the Anglicans who walk the labyrinth?

We can be so quick to criticize; so hasty in our judgment that we don’t realize we are often doing the same things only differently; or with different terminology. I could just as easily pace the floor and meditate on a passage of scripture or even pray (keeping my eyes open of course so I don’t crash into a display of coffee mugs.)

I’m sure the focus of the labyrinth at an Anglican or Episcopalian church is prayer and meditation. Those are good things, right?

Still…this is clearly an extra-Biblical practice. I also wonder if the more things we add on to the elements of church life, instead of creating forms and devices that aid people in spiritual disciplines, we simply have layered on another disciplines, and thereby robbed people of the more basic approach to prayer and meditation. (Heck, my imaginary Baptist friends really don’t like that last word, either.)

The other challenge is the possibility that a few people make some of these practices which lie on the fringes of the Christian life more central than they need to be. It can be for some an obsession, or a ritual which obscures more important things we ought to be doing.

I’m quite sure there are Evangelical equivalents.


Top image: St. John the Evangelist Church in South Lancaster, Ontario. I tried to find one for the church where I live, but this one is similar.

Bottom image: Wikipedia

Advertisements

November 17, 2015

Going Deeper

A couple of short items today originally from Christianity 201, never before published here.


Promise Box Theology

I’ve decided on some benchmarks that I think moving into deeper Christian living should contain:

  • getting away from prayer lists and focusing in on intensive prayer for God to something specific for an individual in a unique situation;
  • getting away from “promise box theology” and reading entire chapters or even 3-4 chapters at a time;
  • getting away from devotionals that begin with quick stories, and instead considering a topic or an idea and thinking about how that would play out in the life story of someone you know;
  • being consciously aware of ways for improvement in terms of manifesting the fruit of the Spirit;
  • being aware of things that are sin even though you didn’t consider them sin a few months earlier;
  • becoming genuinely excited about evangelism both in terms of personal involvement and hearing stories where “it’s working;”
  • finding yourself more deeply part of the picture as you read a New Testament narrative;
  • understanding your own brokenness and the brokenness of others, and how it draws us closer to God;
  • increasingly becoming an agent of grace and being drawn to others who are
  • feeling more and more “at home” with both personal Bible study and spending time in God’s house.

I’ve left many other possibilities out, I’m sure. Feel free to add to this list in the comments.


Before You Pray “Our Father…”

My wife adapted this from something one of our team members sent for a worship set we did in 2012.

If my religion and my life have no room for others and their joys and needs,

…I cannot pray “Our”

If I do not live as a child, beloved and learning,

…I cannot pray “Father”

If all my interests and pursuits are earthly things

…I cannot pray “Who art in Heaven”

If I — called to be holy as he is — am not holy

…I cannot pray “Hallowed be thy name”

If he is not King in my own life,

…I cannot pray “Thy Kingdom come”

If I will not listen for and obey his voice on Earth

…I cannot pray “On Earth as it is in Heaven”

If I will not make an honest effort, or if I ignore the immediate needs of others

…I cannot pray “Give us this day our daily bread”

If I choose to remain in a situation where I am likely to be tempted

…I cannot pray “Lead us not into temptation”

If I am not prepared to fight the spiritual fight with faith and truth and love

…I cannot pray “Deliver us from evil”

If I insist on my own rights and my own way

…I cannot pray “Thine is the Kingdom”

If I live according to what my neighbors and friends may say or do

…I cannot pray “Thine is the Power”

If I’m controlled by anxiety about every day’s problems and promises

…I cannot pray “Forever”

If I cannot honestly say ‘Cost what it may, this is my prayer’

…I cannot pray “Amen”

July 30, 2015

Time With God

Are people spending time with God each day, or taking a devotional shortcut?

A fair percentage of evangelicals would, if asked, respond positively to the statement, “I spend time daily doing devotions and/or reading my Bible.” This is certainly commendable, though if this was a survey question, I wonder if they would qualify how much time constitutes time. I also wonder to what extent the early church would recognize our modern practice of devotions.

Our Daily Bread - Radio Bible ClassIn North America, we’re blessed to have a number of free daily devotional booklets available to us. Our Daily Bread and Upper Room are two of the best known, but some Christian denominations print their own. Most of these follow a very similar format.

In the UK there is Every Day With Jesus, pioneered by the late Selwyn Hughes. On the surface its pages look exactly alike to Our Daily Bread, but you’re actually studying a single theme, continuously for 60 days. (No forgetting what this morning’s devo was all about.) Readers there pay to get these things (along with its successor, Lucas on Life by Jeff Lucas) and that no doubt affects their commitment to using them faithfully. (I have at least ten years’ worth of EDWJ in a box under the bed!)

When I started this blog’s sister, Christianity 201, the idea was that by “digging a little deeper” we could produce something that went beyond the “theme verse, three paragraphs with cute story, and a prayer” type of format. I found in my early days of blogging that I was getting caught up in all kinds of issue-related, topical-interest material, but it all lacked enduring substance. I could have simply ran a daily C201 post here at Thinking Out Loud — which would have greatly increased blog stats — but decided to launch C201 under its own banner. (Some people here have never seen C201, and some readers there have never clicked over to Thinking Out Loud.)

About a month ago at C201, I repented of the “no illustrations” snobbery and admitted that my apparent sober-mindedness probably had its roots in pride more than anything. Didn’t Jesus leverage the power of a good story?

Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. Matthew 13:34 NLT

Still, I think that some people simply do the absolute minimum. Booklets like Our Daily Bread are a great way to start the day, or to end it; but if you’ve been on this journey for any length of time, there’s got to be something more. In North America, Australasia and Western Europe, we’re blessed with study guides, commentaries, Bible reference materials, and more Christian living books than any of us could read in a lifetime; not to mention the great host of Christian podcasts and church sermon media online.

You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food.  Hebrews 5:12 NLT

The little booklets that are available are great. They’ve been a major influence in the lives of so many, and continue to be even today.  However, some people — including people reading this — really need to start digging a little deeper.


Normally I don’t draw attention to the subject tags that appear underneath the title of each article, but as I tagged this one, I was reminded of all the things this touches on.

  • Christian maturity,
  • the deeper Christian life,
  • spiritual disciplines,
  • spiritual formation

November 7, 2012

Wednesday Link List


It’s Wednesday again. Did they settle that election thing last night?

Pastor Gene Appel stands in the brand new auditorium at Eastside Christian Church in Anaheim, California; which opened this weekend. (See item 5 above).

May 22, 2012

Discipleship Is Not Mentoring

In a world with a glut of business and leadership books available, we hear a lot about mentoring. And in a spiritual environment where some fear the pejoration of the term “Christian,” at the same as others are uncomfortable with the proponents of “spiritual formation,” we hear a lot about discipleship. And if you’re involved in men’s ministry, you hear a whole lot about both, actually.

England’s Andrew Dowsett says the two terms are not coterminous. I had to look it up, too. But the rest of this is really clear, and it’s a clarification that’s badly needed if we are to understand our role in discipling others.  If you prefer, here is the direct link to his blog, for the legion of non-clickers among you, it’s also reprinted below.

At the end is a link to a post where he continues to develop discipleship, but since this would involve “borrowing” both text and several graphics, you’ll have to click through for that one, and click through to the full blog in order to locate a second part to that one.  (Andrew has done a fair bit of thinking on this, so if discipleship is something you feel especially called to, read all three parts.)

The other day a younger friend asked me a really good question: what is the difference between discipleship and mentoring?  In fact, this is a great question, and one that arises from my insistence that discipleship is not primarily about the Christian’s personal and largely unmediated relationship with Jesus but about interpersonal human relationships, the participation in the missio dei (God’s mission) Jesus has delegated to us.  If my understanding of discipleship is that it is relational and directive and handed on, is what I mean by ‘discipleship’ mentoring?  An older acquaintance who asked me my views on discipleship recently thought so.

There is certainly a degree of overlap, but in my view discipleship and mentoring are not coterminous.  While I am aware that there is a (growing) range of nuance to how the term ‘mentoring’ is applied, my understanding of mentoring is that it is vocational and that, while the mentor may certainly address character issues and facilitate networking, the relationship is primarily concerned with passing on specific skills to their protégée.

Another related-but-different field is that of life-coaching, which, unlike mentoring, is not vocational.  The aim of the life-coach is to help someone identify changes they want to see in their life and to put in place changes towards that life.  They are more concerned with values than particular skills: with helping their client to align their actions more closely to their ‘ideal world’ lifestyle.  Life-coaches tend not to be directive: the impetus for change comes from the person who has engaged them; they act as a sounding-board to help that person articulate what they seek.  As such, life-coaches – in contrast to mentors – do not necessarily model something they have learnt and are now handing on.

Discipleship is concerned with becoming Christ-like (“imitate me as I imitate Christ”) in every part of life.  It is concerned with vocation – that is, our kingdom roles – as inextricably linked to personhood – that is, our covenant relationships.  Therefore, discipleship involves a distinctively Jesus-centred form of life-coaching and mentoring, while adapting and exceeding both.

Discipleship as mentoring (as when a Christian businessperson mentors younger businesspeople in engaging in business according to kingdom values) puts one person between me and the place I want to go to – a person who will help me take that step.  It may relate to a specific job or employment, or unfamiliar location; or more generally to the unchanging, developing vocation that is expressed through a series of jobs and in a series of locations.  While discipleship must always take into account both Christ-like competence and Christ-like character, here competence takes the ‘leading beat.’

Discipleship as life-coaching puts one person between me and the person of Jesus – someone who will bring me to Jesus, just as I am called to bring others to Jesus.  While discipleship must always take into account both Christ-like character and Christ-like competence, here character takes the ‘leading beat.’ It may be significantly removed from mentoring – a key observation for church leaders in inherited traditions: we are not primarily called to raise up the next generation of clergy or licensed lay ministers, but to create a culture of discipleship by making disciples – regardless of their vocation – who make disciples.

Both are counter-cultural to the extreme individualism of our age.  Both are necessary, as the life of discipleship is a shared life of being called to come to the person of Jesus and be sent ahead of him into every place.

I shall develop these ideas in my next post, The Field Of Discipleship

~Andrew Dowsett

Want more?  Another consideration of this is found at the blog of Dr. Alex Tang; clicking the image will take you to the article.

January 18, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Lloyd the Llink Llist Llama

In case you missed it, there was an epic link list here on Saturday, too.  Well, we thought it was epic. Or mega. Or just plain large.  And if you’re reading this on the actual Wednesday, between 00:00 and 23:99 EST, you’re reading it in an internet world without Wikipedia.

January 27, 2011

The Burdens We Carry

Yesterday in the link list, I noted a sermon preached by Ron Edmondson at Grace Community Church in Kenwood and Rossview (Clarksville), Tennessee.  In it, he asked his congregation to complete an index card indicating the particular “weights” and burdens they were carrying. Though the cards were anonymous, they collected over 1,000 of them and compiled them statistically showing the areas in which people are struggling.

Here are the results:

I would have guessed that health concerns was high on the list, but presumably included in the section of general anxieties (the green section at 20%) and combined with doubt, which I would think is a whole different matter altogether, this area of concern did not rate #1.

The third largest area, dealing with disappointments from the past, is something I’m dealing with right now. I think a lot of people fall into this category. The sale they didn’t make. The girl that turned down the date. The offer on the house that didn’t go through. I wrote about this a year ago in a review of a Steve Arterburn book I called Regrets, I Have a Few.

But the number one area, as you can see clearly in the pink section, has to do with four areas that I’ll list in bullet points so that together, we can read them slowly and consider each one:

  • Jealousy
  • Pride
  • Grudges
  • Anger

Let’s re-list those differently

  • Wishing we had the possessions or status that others have
  • Consumed with the image others have of us
  • Wanting to ‘play God’ and thereby ‘level the playing field’ of perceived inequities
  • Thinking that individual inequities mean that God is unfair, and boiling over with resentment toward Him and/or others

If the stats at Ron’s church are right, this will strike a response with many people reading this, as will other areas included in the chart. God wants to bring healing change into our lives to deal with these issues. In the sermon attached to the link with the graphic — if you have problems switch over to his church site and simply listen to the audio — he tells stories of people whose life journey has involved intense pain. It can be so hard to move on. It can be so difficult not to “be defined by” the circumstances of personal life history.

While Ron’s focus is on the burdens we carry, I think it’s fair to also mention that we need to be sensitive to the needs of others around us who are carrying their burdens.

Ron asks his congregation these questions:

  • What do you need to leave behind?
  • What changes do you need to make in your life in order to live fully for Christ?
  • What failures do you need to forget.
  • What disciplines do you need to take on?
  • Whom do you need to forgive?
  • What grudge do you need to release?
  • What burden do you need to give back to God?
  • Do you need to trust God more?
  • Do you need to serve others more?

Ron concludes, “One of the roadblocks to your future may be the past that you refuse to let go of.”

To listen to the entire sermon as a podcast, click here and select 1/2/2011


January 1, 2011

A New Kind of Devotional Resource

Sales of devotional books — what some in mainline Protestant churches refer to as meditation books — tend to spike with the coming of a new year.   This fall, Zondervan released a resource authored by Shane Claiborne with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (author of God’s Economy), Enuma Okoro (The Reluctant Pilgrim), and a large supporting cast (including more substantial borrowings from Phyllis Tickle and Andy Raine) that introduces liturgical prayer to a largely Evangelical audience unfamiliar with prayer books or liturgy itself.   Believing this book to have been somewhat lost in the shuffle of fall book releases, I am taking the time to highlight it as we begin 2011.

Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals has the look and feel of a hymnbook.  (Outside the U.S., a paperback edition is also available.)   The authors’ intention is that it be used as a ‘common’ resource, i.e. in a group setting.   So the readings — not unlike the responsive readings in the back of hymnbooks, if you remember hymnbooks — have a designation for the leader to speak certain lines and the rest of the assembly to respond with other lines.

In point of fact, I think that the majority of copies sold will end up being used devotionally, hence the setup I used to introduce the book.  However, my initial premise — people beginning new spiritual disciplines in January — doesn’t fully apply here, as the book’s daily morning readings begin with December and cycle through to the end November.   A seven-day cycle of evening readings is also included.

It isn’t possible to fully review a devotional book without personally engaging it, and it is equally difficult to try to review a prayer book or hymn book.   Of the book’s 590 pages, I mostly immersed myself in the dozen or so pages that make up the introduction, probably the most contemporary primer on classical liturgy available to the next generation.   It briefly explains the origins of liturgies in monastic life, and introduces the idea of the church calendar; with an emphasis on how these routines and dates stand in contrast to the emphases of contemporary society.

The book’s intended audience is not limited to those for whom Common Prayer would represent a first-time purchase of such a resource.  “We wanted it to work for folks who have never seen a circus and those who have seen hundreds of them.”

For today, January 1st, the reading begins with a brief paragraph about the role of the Quakers during the U.S. slave trade;  some invocational lines; a suggested song, “This Little Light of Mine;” six verses from Psalm 7, taken from the Book of Common Prayer (as are all the Psalm readings); eight verses each from Genesis 12 and John 16, taken from the TNIV (as are all other readings); a quotation from one of the Quaker founders; a place to pray for others and repeat The Lord’s Prayer; a personal prayer for help in answering God’s call on our life; and a collective sentence of benediction.

Though not fully written out, you can also read today’s outline at commonprayer.net

In addition to the basic 366 readings, there are also some extra ones for Holy Week.   There is also a selection of songs and special prayers at the end of the book.  Although there wasn’t one for the start of a new year, I felt this one, for “major life transition” was appropriate in anticipation of the changes the new year can bring:

Lord, help me now to unclutter my life, to organize myself in the direction of simplicity.   Lord teach me to listen to my heart; teach me to welcome change instead of fearing it.   Lord, I give you these stirrings inside me.  I give you my discontent.  I give you my restlessness.   I give you my doubt.   I give you my despair.   I give you all the longs I hold inside.  Help me to listen to those signs of change, of growth; help me to listen seriously and follow where they lead through the breathtaking empty space of an open door.

July 25, 2010

Checking The Vital Signs

Prayer is the source of the Christian life, a Christian’s lifeline.  Otherwise it’s like having a baby in our arms and dressing her up so cute — but she’s not breathing.  Never mind the frilly clothes, check the child’s vital signs.   It does no good to talk to someone in a comatose state.   That’s why the great emphasis on teaching in today’s churches is producing such limited results.   Teaching is good only where there’s life to be channeled.   If the listeners are in a spiritual coma, what we’re telling them may be fine and orthodox, but unfortunately spiritual life cannot be taught.

Jim Cymbala in Fresh Wind Fresh Fire (page 50); Zondervan, 1997

February 5, 2009

Gettin’ Through The Winter

Filed under: Christianity, Faith — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:05 pm

joyfultoon-winter

Mike Waters’ cartoons are archived at www.joyfultoons.com …It’s been awhile since this one was posted though; and I’m trusting that permission to use one in our newsletter extends to the blog.

Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.