Tour of Sacred Spaces: Seminaries, Monasteries, and Writer’s Offices, oh my!

I took my annual “pilgrimage” to Atlanta this past week and spent time contemplating sacred spaces. Although the first stop on my tour led to my old seminary whereby I attended a preaching conference, my time began at an interfaith prayer labyrinth we commissioned several years ago.

I remember the commissioning like it was just last week: the CBF Baptist-Muslim task force and the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University partnered in building and dedicating the garden. I read a prayer of dedication that day.

When I arrived on Mercer’s campus this past week, I walked the labyrinth and sat on one of the benches for 30 minutes. That was 30 minutes . . . without reaching for my phone. Without getting bored. Without becoming restless or distracted. Thirty minutes of just sitting, contemplating the importance of this place–a center of a labyrinth, which required me to walk in and from among the margins to the center, which takes about 10 minutes.

I mean, you can easily walk through the labyrinth, bypassing the zig-zagging stone “walls”, which means walking about 14 feet from the border to the center in about 30 seconds, but that would be cheating.

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But a pilgrim walks in prayer and contemplation, which includes 4 circuits towards the center, away from the center, around, and back again.

My walk burdened me with the importance of pilgrimage and sacred spaces: We come to the center to really come home to God. This, my seminary, and this place–Atlanta–is my home of homes, I’m convinced. After all, I got two post-grad degrees here, raised my children here, pastored my first church here, and made life-long friends.

But I can’t stay at the center. No one can. Its only half the pilgrimage, and God sends us out into the world.

I come to Atlanta twice a year for this reason: There’s always a preaching conference, a day pilgrimage to a monastery in Conyers, and time with our good friends. Then I go back to ministry, family, and my beloved church in Florida. It is a circuit following the Holy Spirit to the interior places of my life, in-and-out, and back beyond the border to the exterior places where I do business, where I am learning to transition my children to adulthood so they can leave home and go into the world on their own.

It is ironic, by the way, that this year’s preaching conference welcomed theologian Miroslav Volf who lectured on home and the significance of God making God’s home among God’s people.

God builds homes and welcomes us; we come home and then are tasked with welcoming others; and then we go forth and build other homes in order to welcome the world.

I decided to do a few videos on the pilgrimage this time around, which you can find here. Entering and exiting these two locations– the seminar and the monastery (and out again) –have become as natural and invigorating as breathing, like a breath of fresh air, or coming up for air.

But now my week is coming to a close, and I am ready to dive deep into the world for another season of ministry to which God calls, from deep to deep, so I can show others how to be pilgrims too.

Where have the Charismatics Gone?

charismaBy Joe LaGuardia

In the spirit of Paula Cole, I’ve been asking, “Where have all the charismatics gone?”  Its been some twenty years since I found myself at a revival service, praying over a friend who had been “slain in the spirit.”

These days, I’m not so sure I have any close ties in that religious world where speaking in tongues, shouting, healings, and exhilarating praise was ubiquitous.

For those who are not up on their charismatic (or, sometimes called, “Renewal Movement”) parlance, being “slain in the spirit” is a physical act of surrendering to God–literally, falling on the ground–in a state of worship.  Like other manifestations of the spirit, it is an outward reaction to an emotional response.  Its something for which Pentecostals are known.

Unbeknownst to many of my friends, my home church in South Florida is a charismatic congregation.  We praised God with abandon, made for a multicultural community that valued “prophecy” and tongues, and danced in the aisles.

I was more subdued–always was a quiet guy (“Sorry, Mr. President, I don’t dance.”)–but I knew of the methods and means of revival, well-versed in the gifts of the Spirit as outlined in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, and attended my share of retreats.

Charles Finney: A Face only a Mother can Love...

Charles Finney: A Face only a Mother can Love…

I even read several works by Charles Finney for the fun of it.

That was a long time ago.  I can only guess how the charismatic movement is fairing these days.  The only evidence of its presence that I have seen in Georgia of late has been in  the prosperity gospel movement and in some megachurches.

Some denominations, like the Four-Square church and Vineyard Churches, are still carrying on the work of revival and renewal–but they are few and far between.

Furthermore, many charismatic leaders, aspiring to find a sustainable relationship with the academy, became scholars and seminary professors.  Whether it evolved into the megachurch or the ivory tower, this kind of organization is often a spirit-stifling institutionalization that makes the gifts of the Spirit mere products to consume rather than experiences to cherish.

Also, the charismatic movement has not been without controversy and its critics. Pastor David Yonggi Cho of one of the largest charismatic churches in the world, South Korea’s Yoida Full Gospel Church, was sentenced last year for embezzling millions of dollars.

In Southern Baptist life, all things charismatic  is approached with contempt.   At one time, missionaries were not allowed to speak in tongues or “private prayer languages.”  Only recently did the Convention reverse the policy in light of a broadening constituency that struggles to balance diversity and dogma.

In 2013, author and pastor John MacArthur led a “Strange Fire” conference in which he openly attacked  Pentecostals and Catholics, calling the charismatic movement heretical and misleading.

Aside from these issues, churches in the charismatic tradition are actually the fastest growing churches in the world.  To answer my own question, the movement has not diminished, but has been outsourced.

In the global South, Pentecostalism is growing at an exponential rate, claiming the allegiance of over 25% of Christians worldwide.  I may not know any charismatics these days, but its influence across denominational and theological spectrums is undeniable.

Why have I been out of charismatic circles for so long?  Well, just as the charismatic movement has evolved, I have evolved too.

This is not to discredit my charismatic upbringing; quite the opposite: I am grateful for it because I am able to traverse Baptist life as an ordained minister with an intuitive eye on where the Spirit might be leading Christ’s Church.

For the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a break-off denomination from the more conservative Southern Baptist Convention (and the network I call home), this charismatic leaning may possibly afford a greater inclusive spirit to diversity, globalization, and pluralism that now defines many churches and neighborhoods.

I am not the only one with a charismatic background in the CBF, and my upbringing has benefited Trinity in continuing a strong foundation for missions, worship, and ministry that fits the eclectic and often-times multicultural milieu in which many churches now find themselves.

Although we have given up much ground to the prosperity gospel movement or an institutionalized consumerist Christian subculture, we who still cherish the Renewal Movement are better for it.

6 Bedtime routines for Christians

bedtime-prayerA recent Yahoo News article highlights the bedtime routines of influential leaders.  From President Obama’s late-night security briefings to Stephen King’s obsessive habit of turning the pillows a certain way, it seems that everyone “in the know” has a routine that nurtures success.

What about Christians?  We are called to be disciplined, so what routines help us prepare for God’s new day ahead?  Here are a few recommendations.

1. Prayer.  Although many people pray at the end of the day because they forget to pray during the day, prayer is still a worthy endeavor in thanking God for the blessings along the way.

The solitude and quiet of bedtime prayers also gives the Holy Spirit room to work, and it is not uncommon for a rush of insights to come when we’ve finally given our brain permission to rest.

When you get a barrage of insights, write them down in a notepad, lest you forget.   Then, once recorded, turn them over to the Lord.

2. An Examin.  Prayer alone can be quite helpful, but one of our spiritual ancestors, St. Ignatius of Loyola, turned bedtime prayer into a practice similar to that of day-dreaming.  This practice, called the Examin, has a five-fold process that many Christians, Jesuits especially, still practice today.

First, when one goes to God in prayer, there is a time of gratitude.  Next, the person imagines standing before God and asks the Spirit to speak into his or her heart.

Third, as the imagery unfolds, insights are revealed.  Fourth, there is a recollection of the day’s deeds and confession.  Last, there is a short prayer of intercession.

The emphasis of an Examin actually rests on confession for the day’s events.  There is a proactive, spiritual cleansing that sets the heart right with God and lets the new day come with a clean slate.

3. Journaling.  Useful in recording the day’s events, journaling is simply another way of praying to and worshiping God.

We write, and the physical movements of our hand and pen inspire us to sacrifice our daily living unto the glory of God.

4.  The physical act of getting ready for next day.  Successful people have shown great discipline in this task.  Sometimes, it includes drawing up a “to-do” list, as well as prioritizing time management for the next day’s schedule.

It can also help us put God back in the center of our lives by remembering what we’ve neglected or overlooked, and need to focus on.

Sometimes I do this while ironing a shirt I will wear the next day.  Another person I know does this while removing her make-up for the day.  The physical actions accompany a spiritual commitment to get a fresh start with God and with others.

5.  Letter writing.  There is something precious about receiving a hand-written letter in the mail.  Letters communicate a level of care and concern that exceeds most things we have in our life today.

Letters keep us in touch with family, long-lost friends, and acquaintances.  It re-connects us to the outside world, re-orients our minds to the needs of others, and re-imagines our lives as interdependent in God’s larger community.  It is cathartic to write, and it is cathartic for the recipient to read.

6.  Spiritual Reading.   One of Bill Gates’ routines is to read at least an hour before bed.  Presidents Obama and Theodore Roosevelt are infamous for reading hundreds of pages into the night.

Spiritual reading is invaluable for Christians who need the slower, methodical rhythm that such encouragement offers.  It is, as all of the routines imply, another way to worship and honor God with our time.

As you go about your day, remember that routines are the life-blood of the human soul.  They help us align ourselves to God’s Spirit and put into practice those things that matter most in our life.