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Summer of Prayer#2

So so far the prayer has not really materialized. I read Richard Foster’s Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. I didn’t much like it. Well there are parts I want to come back to, and I feel guilty criticizing a book on prayer by someone who has far-and-away-better-prayer-life than me, but it really didn’t resonate with me. Here is why:

It is divided into three sections which (upward, inward, outward) and Foster relates each section to one of the Trinity. Each section has seven type of prayers which help you achieve one of these dimensions of prayer. It is encyclopedic, and I honestly think I will look back on particular chapters and try the different prayer methods, or suggest particular ways of praying to others I mentor. But despite its usefulness, I found Foster’s whole project wrongheaded. I am not sure if what I need is a taxonomy of prayer, as helpful as it is.

I acknowledge that some of my aversion may come from my own experience in regard to prayer. Once upon a time I was at a Charismatic church because I sensed that God wanted me to be open to the Holy Spirit. That church was a great practitioner of healing prayer and taught about it a great deal. I learned some of that there, and was generally open minded. However, one of the pastor’s would always suggest that if one ‘type of prayer’ didn’t work, simply try another type of prayer. He would say that each type of prayer ‘are tools in our tool box.’ At first, I ate up what he was saying because God was obviously doing something through the prayers of the people there, but something about the toolbox comment made me bristle. Finally I figured out what it was.

Treating each type of prayer as a different tool in your prayer tool box, suggested that if you just prayed the right way, God was obligated to answer you the way you wanted him to. Now, nobody said this, and they would nuance this by saying that sometimes God doesn’t heal, or answer our prayers. But the use of the tools in the toolbox image was technological and it promoted a sort of formulaic idea of prayer. I found it difficult to jump from the idea of prayer as a tool to prayer as a conversation or communion with God.

Now I know this is a lot of baggage to dump on Foster. But I remain skeptical of lists of ways to pray, in order to achieve this or that objective. I understand that some understanding of the multiple dynamics of true prayer means that you end up talking about it in different ways, but I struggle with this approach.

Summer of Prayer #1

I am a Regent student. I am highly intelligent. I am three-fourths of a way through my M. Div. I am talented. I have a good singing voice. I am personable and have good people skills. I am a good leader. I am a damn hot preacher (humility demands that I speak the truth here). But one major thing I lack. I am not a good pray-er.

Every one of the great leaders in Church history, the movers and the shakers, those that really made things happen, we’re pray-ers. I also pray, but I pray paltry prayers. I don’t prayer, except as either as a last resort or because I want to make sure I did all that I am supposed to do (i.e. I pray about worship when I lead, I pray through sermon preparation, when those I love are hurting and I don’t know what to do, when people ask me too, etc.). What I am not, is a habitual pray-er.

I lost my rule of prayer when I was doing urban ministry. Every morning, I and those with whom I lived with in community, would gather together and pray for the day. Often this involved reading a Psalm, because the Psalms show us how to pray (thank you Bonhoeffer). But we got burned out. It is hard to pray and intercede for people when you don’t see God’s hand outstretched to heal. We prayed for our neighbors, the abused, the addicted, those relegated to a sub-par-existence by virtue of their socio-economic status and neighborhood. We struggled to be faithful but lost our hope and expectancy. My prayer life suffered.

Since being at Regent for three years, there have been some recoveries. I have recaptured and grew into a sense of wonder when I think about the Triune God and about the Incarnation. I can worship and have hope. I have thought through Biblical difficulties and have reflected on theology and ministry. I have been healed in the process. But I have not fully recovered my prayer life.

This summer I have decided to read through all the books on prayer on my shelf. I know reading of prayer is not the same as praying. But my hope is to recover my praxis and theology of prayer. I want to be a minister of the Gospel who lives his life in relationship with the triune God of whom I preach. I want to be a person of pray-er. I want to be one who intercedes and prevails. I want to a fire with spiritual power, and not just work out my calling on my own power.

I know that there is something a little bit, super hero-ish about my wanting to succeed and conquer the realm of prayer. Yeah, I know there is an immaturity in that that does not exhibit itself in the lives of those who are real pray-ers. Oh well. Certainly, they must have also had the hunger I do, even if they could describe things more altruistically. I really believe as I press into prayer, God will straighten me out, humble me and save me from myself.

I have read one of the books on prayer this weekend. It was Kenneth Leech’s True Prayer. It was probably too advanced of a book on which to begin. The strength of the book was the way it utilized the framework of the Lord’s Prayer to explore the multiple dimensions of the Spiritual life and the life of prayer. There are things I want to come back to here. Leech is a spiritual director and a master of grounding his theology of prayer in the Christian tradition. There was a lot of deep things I want to press into. It probably was wrongheaded to read a book like this so quickly, but I now have the lay of the land, and I will traverse this terrain again. Leech was good about showing both how to practice prayer and what practices nurture the life of prayer.

Several other books which I will read, also follow the outline of the Lord’s prayer. I think I will enjoy reflecting on how the prayer Jesus taught us, forms us into the faith.

Meeting Marcus Borg Again For the First Time.

I’m finally reading a book by Marcus Borg (Meeting Jesus Again For the First Time). Being somewhat theologically conservative I never bothered before and so my knowledge of Borg was based upon the way people like N.T. Wright and Luke Timothy Johnson deal with what Borg writes. Now I have read him for myself and have actually quite enjoyed it.

Just because I enjoyed Borg doesn’t mean I am going to join the collective. There is a great deal that he says that I would object to (i.e. a strong distinction between the pre-Easter and post-Easter Jesus, his critical view of scripture, his relativizing of christological and Trinitarian formulas, etc.). But I have tried to read generously and I see some worthwhile insights. Here are some things that get me thinking:

1. The importance of compassion in the ministry of Jesus
2. Jesus critique of the purity system which developed in First Century Judaism.
3. The inclusiveness of Jesus ministry
4. The alternative vision of Jesus and its critique and reversal of conventional wisdom.
5. His exploration of other Christological images in the New Testament (especially Sophia of God and logos of God ).

Unfortunately the good is mixed with the bad in Borg and he takes things in directions I wouldn’t. But there is much that is challenging and even worshipful in this volume.

Reading the Bible with the Damned

I am in Burlington at Tierra Nueva. I took this class this semester to be reconnected with ministry to people at the margins. Maybe not exactly reconnect, as it is a class and not actual relationship. Still Bob Ekblad has people hanging around and it has been good for my soul.

Regent has been a great place to reflect and think theologically about some of my experience. But there is a disconnect. I feel it acutely. This past week RCSA sponsored a forum on whether or not the Academy should be involved in the life of the poor.  It is great that the discussion was being had, but the fact that it was had in the manner it was, was evidence that the poor are not with us. Infact, they were referred to only as “the poor.”I learned that this language distances me. I now speak of George, Linda, Trinity, T.. I name names. I see faces. But not lately.

For me hanging out in Burlington reminds me that my education is on to something. I want what Regent has to offer, but I do not want it at the expense of ordinary readers.

A new start

So I haven’t been to this blog in a while. I intend to blog. I used to blog. I liked it. People read my blog and posted about how insightful and clever I was. I no longer have the energy to try to be either but I think that blogging was a great way for me to be self reflective. Right now no one knows my blog, so I can play with it a bit. Maybe I’ll be insightful and clever, but right now I probably will just be real and real random. I don’t think I have much to say people will want to read right now. I am sort of just writing whatever.

Anyway. I am quitting my grocery store job in like 3 weeks and we will be moving on campus. I am excited about the change in our lives this will be. We will get to participate in the regent community more as I won’t have the same kind of job next year.

This RCSA VP thing is kind of cool too. Will see how things go.