18 March 2005

Model for evangelism?

I'd like to propose that it's possible to have a shared model of evangelism no matter what your opinion on the question of Christian exclusivism. I think maybe the key is pointed to by St. Francis' oft-quoted quip: "Preach the Gospel without ceasing; when necessary, use words."

To "conservatives", this might be a reminder that no matter how pressing the evangelism imperative seems, no matter how firmly I'm convinced that anyone I don't personally reach for Christ is in grave eternal danger, the most effective evangelism is most likely the "gentle", action-oriented evangelism exemplified by Mother Theresa. Especially in this post-Christendom age, folks are much more likely to be reached by seeing the Kingdom of God in our as-Christlike-as-possible servanthood than by folks handing out tracts and quoting Bible verses that have no cultural resonance any more.

"Progressives", on the other hand, tend to love this quote, but sometimes might miss the fact that it states that sometimes it is necessary to use words! It's OK to tell the Good News, if folks seem interested. I think it's a *wonderful* thing if, through being served by Christians, Hindus become better Hindus and Muslims become better Muslims, etc. But here's a news flash: a large majority in Europe, a probable majority in North America, and a significant minority in other parts of the world aren't practicing Hindus, Muslims, Christians, etc. A lot of folks either haven't made a heart commitment to respond to God's invitation to a life of faith, compassion, and service, or have made that commitment but don't have the foggiest idea how to live out that life in their cultural context. A lot of people are really struggling and, dare I say it, "lost".

I think the church can offer a lot to a great many folks in this position. In fact, I think we're onto something really, really good here, this Jesus thing, this Kingdom of God whoozawhatsit. :-) I don't think it really matters whether we believe folks are going to hell if they don't hear about Jesus; why wouldn't we share what we've got? Heck, I'm always trying to sell folks on the wonders of my Treo smartphone and the joy of renting videos from Netflix, and as cool as those things are, Jesus is way cooler. :-) Of course, being obnoxious doesn't do anyone any good, but that doesn't mean that it's never necessary to use words.

I'm sure there are folks on both ends of the spectrum who couldn't live within a common model of evangelism. No doubt there are exclusivists who are so concerned about folks' eternal destiny that if they stopped short of "in your face" evangelism they wouldn't be able to live with themselves. It's important for those who disagree with this position to realize that it is compassion that motivates folks who feel this way. No doubt there are progressives who are so totally turned off by the way evangelism is normally done in our culture that they will never, ever speak about their faith or be otherwise overt about it in a non-church setting, and wouldn't be comfortable serving with folks who are open about their faith. That's OK.

But I think it would be interesting to keep this conversation going (as it is on my church's mission and evangelism e-mail group) and keep it as inclusive as possible, and maybe if there are folks who feel either of those ways, they can contribute to the evolving consensus anyway in hope that we end up with something they can sign on to. And in all likelihood it's silly to talk about "one" model of evangelism--what's the matter with having several? But a friend of mine proposed trying to come up with something of a "mission statement for mission and evangelism at Holy Comforter", and I think this is fun and interesting. :-)

12 March 2005

An intercessory prayer

To finish up (for now) the prayer series, here's an intercessory prayer I composed as part of an exercise during my EFM class:

God is Love.
The world is broken.
We ask for wholeness
On behalf of all Your creatures
So that we may serve you and each other together in love.
In the name of God the Creator,
God in Christ,
and God the Spirit within creation.

8 types of prayer for beginning and ending the day

Here's another in the series on prayer. This is a prayer I've evolved that I try to begin and end every day with. It's based on the types of prayer outlined in the catechism on pages 856 and 857 of the US Book of Common Prayer.

The catechism lists seven principle types of prayer:

Adoration, or the lifting up of the heart and mind to God, asking nothing but to enjoy God's presence.
Oblation, or offering one's self to God.
Intercession, or asking something on someone else's behalf.
Petition, or asking something on one's own behalf.

In thinking about Adoration, which is silent and nonconceptual, just enjoying the presence of God, it occurs to me that there are at least two other types of silent, nonconceptual prayer that I'm aware of:

Contemplation, or silently, nonconceptually inviting the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Via Negativa meditation, or what Buddhists call meditation on Emptiness--meditation on the limited, inaccurate nature of any concepts we humans might hold about God (or, for that matter, the universe).

So I believe I know at least nine different types of prayer (which should perhaps be distinguished from modes of prayer, such as said, sung, journalling, etc.) I've evolved a "just after waking up and just before going to sleep" prayer which includes eight of the nine. (Contemplation requires time commitment, no two ways about it, so it's not part of this relatively quick opening-and-closing-my-eyes routine.)

So: I start with Via Negativa or Emptiness meditation. If I'm burdened by any heavy concepts about God or the world around me (concepts left over from the day, the previous day, or from dreams), I just silently let them fall away until there's nothing left but the pure, beyond-concepts presence of God.

This usually brings a slight smile to my lips, and naturally leads into Adoration. I just spend a few seconds enjoying God's presence.

Adoration leads naturally to Praise. "God, you are my Everything," is how I usually verbalize it.

Praise leads to Oblation. "And I am Yours completely." As You are utterly All to me, I am utterly Yours.

Oblation leads to Thanksgiving. "Thank You, Mother (or Father)". I usually only verbalize those words, but I mentally recall and raise up to God the things I'm particularly thankful for.

Thanksgiving leads to Penitence. "I'm sorry, Father (or Mother)". As with Thanksgiving, I verbalize only those words but mentally recall and repent of my recent sins.

Penitence leads to Petition, as it always does in our liturgies. "May I serve You in newness of life." Having confessed my sins and been forgiven, please strengthen me to serve you as best I can instead of dwelling on them.

Petition leads to Intercession. "May all beings be happy." As above, I verbalize briefly, but mentally lift up to God the intercessions currently on my heart. This is also a token for the full prayer of the Four Immeasurables (see two or three posts ago).

So that's my little beginning-and-ending prayer. All in all, it only takes a few minutes. It's certainly arguable that it's an excellent example of my anal retentive nature: I want to make sure I cover all the bases. :-) But it works for me.

Sunday worship prayer

Well, at my usual tortoise pace, I seem to be doing a short blog series on prayers composed or altered by me. So here's another one. I usually pray something close to the following prayer when I arrive in the pew before Sunday morning worship:

God, thank you for bringing me to Your house
With Your people,
On Your day.
Please use this opportunity to shape me,
Mold me,
Form me,
Teach me,
Help be to become more fully
What I need to become
To better serve both you and my fellow creatures.
I ask in Jesus' name, Amen.

Then, upon returning to my pew after communion, I generally pray the same prayer, but with the "I's" changed to "we's" and with an additional thanksgiving, "And for feeding us with spiritual food."