Tuesday, March 07, 2006

spiritual formation interview

Len Hjalmarson
Len (www.nextreformation.com) honored me by sending me an email interview re: spiritual formation. Here's my stab:

LEN: what is spiritual formation to you?

DAVE: I might craft a working definition of spiritual formation as :

A Spiritaneous, yet intentional, detoxing and deconstructing of the ways I have been falsely formed....through sin, deceit (I have a tremendous capacity for self-deception), ethnocentrism, culture and (perhaps the most insidious culprit) church culture.....................and a rebuilding and remixing of my inner being through deep and often corporate listening to God through prayer, Scripture, community, and quite often through what are usually anathematized as "secular" sources, all towards the end that life of Jesus and the fruit of the Spirit is imparted to me so my gifts can flow as God intended; enabling me to simultaneously live within the community of the Trinity (see Volf on "Trinitarian church") and the "real world" streets of my city. My sense is that spiritual formation that doesn't lead me to to act like Jesus and go places Jesus would go, is just smoke and mirrors. I am probably sinning by not going to bars more often; by not meeting, let alone learning from prostitutes, outcasts and (gasp!) maybe even Pharisees. That mix is a key crucible for my formation."

The Scriptures that keynote this all too often quixotic quest are those that focus on the kenosis and self-emptying of Jesus; and are often used to suggest "Jesus did nothing on earth as God (though he was and is God)." Whether or not I buy a full-blown "Spirit Christology" or not, these Scriptures form, reform, chill, kill me:

-John 5: 19, 30: Jesus does/says nothing except what he sees/hears.

-Phil 2:5-11: Jesus complelely emptied himself of the rights of Godhood.
Did he volunatrily choose to not access the rights of his divinity and power?

-Acts 10:38: "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and
power, and he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of
the devil, because God was with him. "

If Jesus did nothing out of his (albeit) divine identity and nature, how much more do I need to radically, prayerfully and carefully ensure that I am not living and (God forbid) ministering out of myself...

..even when I think "myself" is okay!

Watchman Nee's opening line in "The Release of the Spirit" is a line which needs to form me more: "We don't go far in the Christian life before we realize the biggest hindrance is not the world, the devil, but ourselves."

Yikes! Maybe I haven't yet "gone very far in the Christian life"!

And I need to be far enough along to be in the bars more consistently. Maybe the last five words of my seminary professor Robert Mulholland's conscise summary definition is "Being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others" are all I need to underline.

Assuming I am walking out of the first seven words.

Hope they are not my "seven last words."

Father, forgive me. I know not what I do.

LEN:how have your views evolved in the last ten years or so?

DAVE:Wow.. I love Bono's line, speaking to Christian journalists after preaching at the prayer breakfast: "If me 10 years ago had heard me saying this, I wouldn't have believed it." Ten years has changed everything and nothing at the same time. Maybe it's just the borders..or my vision that has expanded.

Maybe it's me needing to hear and heed the frightening and freeing words of Eugene Peterson:

It is common among people like us to look for ways to free ourselves from the
humdrum, escape as often as possible into ecstasy, devise ways to live separated
from the clamor of traffic and family, associate as far as possible only with
people of like mind, and engage in disciplines and ways of dress and speech that
set us apart from 'the others.'
           Scripture says:
Forget it."

I love and long for the "ecstatic experience"..and have had them...but am guessing those experiences in my next ten years will be few and far between unless I find them in the unexpected places...among "traffic and family,"..and especially among those whose "ways of dress" are not my own.

I think I have always been aware that God loves to embedded himself in culture..in sources we unfortunately desacralize (and limit liminality) by coining "secular." But in the last ten years, the Lord would seem to be upping the ante and stacking the deck..in a way that's not just about the "Passion" movie, and definitely not about the "Left Behind" phenomenon...maybe Len Sweet has not overspoken: "It could be for the first time in history, God is more active in the world than the church."

So in a way penultimate to the obvious (Scripture, prayer, community), I am formed and informed by such "secular" sources as the band Sigur Ros, philosophers like Derrida, magazines like WIRED. And the "purity" of the source is still a relevant question in some regards here, but not always. Bono says, "God is interested in truth, and only in truth. And that's why God is more interested in Rock & Roll music than Gospel... Many gospel musicians can't write about what's going on in their life, beacuse it's not allowed ..If you can't write about what's really going on in the world and your life, because it's all happy-clappy... Is God interested in that? I mean, 'Please, don't patronize Me! I want to go the Nine Inch Nails gig, they're talking the truth!"

LEN:what do you personally practice to be formed.. personally .. communally?



My response to the "personal" component wants to be "My personal spiritual formation life sucks." Partly because it's partly true; and I'm guessing partly because I have been hoodwinked by (and not yet fully de-programmed from) the evangelical pressure to "have a quiet time" and "do my devotions" in a culturally-prescribed way. Again, Robert Mulholland was helpful in confirming that my personality/temperment, since it's the way God wired me, is the best place to start in formation..I am basically an INFP, so I need renewal time in the cave. Silent two day retreats, time alone on the beach or even driving, even if..maybe especially if.. I am not technically "praying". These are deeply formational times.

I love listening prayer...either as

>>a)a long period being literally still. I have no way to explain the paradoxical mystery of "knowing" that I have heard from God, but not knowing what it is. For Graham Cooke, a teacher noted for the prophetic, to say; (partly ins response to those too quick to claim they have heard..and speak for God) "God is always still and rarely speaks"...!! (That's not a kosher thing for a charismatic to say!..but ironically the quote itself may be an example of God actually speaking)

>>b)what David Hansen calls "Long wandering prayer": the more mobile, Spiritaneous long walk or drive (I love driving from Fresno to Los Angeles, on the way to speak at
a retreat...through the prayer, music to soundtrack the prayer...God refreshes me.

Hansen helpfully appropriates Tolkien's maxim,"Not all who wander (wonder) are lost."

When I wander and wonder in the wilderness (literally and constructively), I realize I have made an idolatry of planning, at the expense of praying, preparing and pruning (Then I wind up steering cats and driving sheep). Ironically, when I do get "the plan", it only emerges through "aimless" wandering and "wasting time for Christ's sake." Go figure.

I definitely need to detox..literally and spiritually...at regular inytervals. So I attempt to build in seasons of fasting. I find the unplugging from the matrix of fast food nation is revelatory enough the first few days; and as I move beyond the entry level days, I find each time (just as Richard Foster promises) the course of my life is significantly altered...whether it's new insight, freedom from a habit, direction, whatever.

I am thankful fo seminary professors who were not afraid of lectio divina, as it sounded "too Cathlolic." . I do practice, imperfectly and an eclectic hybrid with Celtic-Anabaptrist influence, lectio..

I want to "take my prayer closet with me, " though. One of the value statements of our congregation is "Being Engaged to Jesus, and Engaging Culture" I am fascinated by Matthew Fox's phrase "extroverted monasticism." I want a kind of a Brother Lawrence gift to be eternally present with God, but I want it to show up a the mall or St. Arbuck's...and not (just?)
in the monastery kitchen as I am washing dishes.

I guess I prefer washing feet to washing dishes.

As he washed my feet, my professor spoke/prophesied: "God has given you great compassion. Let it grow."

I have not always done that. But the professor who believed in me (Bob Lyon at Asbury Seminary) was washing not just my feel, but the feel of all in the "Loyal Oppostion Society" at the seminary: a group devoted to a Weslyan-Anabaptist pursuit of abandoning worldly power and methods. We were introduced to the writings of Brugegman, Ellul, Nouwen and others who affored windows into the self-emptied life that was not just empty of self but poured out for others. My spiritual formation is now only catching up to this call. I must become sensitive to says in which empire and power have seduced and co-opted my call to manifest compassion and wash feet.

All that to say, every time I hav recently washed someone's feet (or conscience or clothes), I have found myself being spirituall formed.

Without trying.

Without being engaged is some "obvious" spiritual formation discipline.

Or was I?

Also...The good and bad news: I love reading. Very often this is how God reaches and teaches me. More often than I care to admit it can be idolatry, escape, transfer to a "safe" addiction...or a way of keeping my life/faith intellectualized, compartmentalized, and in the ivory tower (thus not in the streets).

I remember you posting once something about this "too many books" dilemma.

People say I am a speed-reader. I don't know; I just know I do what I do. I can read whole books in the car, can, or waiting room.

But it is hard to imagine living without the insights of Eugene Peterson and others ( etc. etc. ...well, many of the books that you have noted in your blog)...and many others (see my eclectic list on MySpace here ).
As you might expect, I draw heavily from the masters and mystics (early church fathers/mothers, desert saints, classic commentators) as well as...uh, string theory.

Okay, I have already dealt with much of the "communal" answer under the "personal" heading. That in itself is a hugely tellling lesson in spiritual formation!
Butr here are three more tidily-outlined answers.
The first begins with a story I must tell. My favorite part is the first line.

I am the only white guy in the group. I love it..and need it. A group of local pastors: a Mexican-American, an African-American, a Guatemalan...and this gringo..were accepted by a Boston University School of Theology program for a spiritual formation/community transformation project. The Serendipity is that the main course has been our "get acquainted" meetings..
meetings where we didn't get any "goals"accomplished, and didn't even leave the brother's house we were meeting at (Of course, just visiting the other's "side of the tracks" is big enough!). We are learning to se ourselves, God, and culture from another person's point of view and culture. That's spiritual formation at it's core. The communal imago dei has
emerged befor our eyes and outed our worst ethnocentrisms and exceeeded our wildest expctations. Here's more on this holy experiment.

In the early days of my pastoral ministry, we had support groups for us younger pastors. They were good and God used them. One potential downfall was the focus on a Promise- Keepersmodel of what Dallas Willard has called the gospel of "sin management." If the only reason we were "not sinning" was knowing we would face the brothers at the meeting; that worked. But it was a bit gnostic of a starting point.

I find my growing edge for communal spiritual growth these days this intentionally cross-denominational, trans-generational and cross-racial group.

And, to my surprise, also:
The church I pastor.
That ain't supposed to happen.

In this new...whatever one calls it..emerging, new wineskin, yada yad...kind of "church" we are doing in Fresno, I find it is ironic and wonderful that some of the most profound and confounding times of spiritual formation for me are when I let go of the "pastor" role...and attend a cell group not as the leader, or even as "the pastor" (whatver that means) of most of the folk there. But as an equal..or even lesser...member of the group, subitting to what God has to say through others.

Granted, we still must watch the roles and expectations deconstruct and disappear before our eyes.
 But it works.

I'll simply point to this post to elaborate a bit on what this may look like, and to this to note that it sometimes looks like a collage!

Thirdly: talking to kids!.

I love "interviewing" and honoring kids. Really listening. And believing.

I have been astounded at the response to one of my favorite questions: "Did Jesus make the stars?" One kid felt called to fine-tune my theology: "Well, it wsa kind of Jesus. But it was really God." But the question has a follow-up; "How did he do it?"
More than a few times...without the children overhearing or even knowing each other, they have anwered) matter-of factly (as in "Didn't you know?"): "He just snapped his fingers!"

We have also invited children to fully participate in worship gatherings, even lead in the time where desigated people will be up front to pray for people.

LEN:what further practices attract you, might you eventually add?

DAVE:I need more imagination here.

Maybe collaborative models. My wife, for example participates in a conference call prayer meeting which, far transcends the prayer chain/gossip chain. Several women are simply on the line at the same time from various homes throughout the city.
Also, I need to seek out more liturgical aids to spiritual formation. I am sure with my mainline background and having witnessed liturgy done poorly and lifelessly, I have thrown a few babies out with liturgy waters.
I am moved by John Doberstein's The Minister's Prayer Book, and need to break down and read C.S. Lewis's article on "formal worship."

I need to sneak down the street into mass more often.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!