Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Blog Tour for Contemplative Youth Ministry

Practicing the Presence of Jesus, Mark Yaconelli

oh to hold in my hand a book with the name yaconelli on the spine - it thrills my heart indeed! please everyone not associated with youth ministry - keep reading - this book is for ALL OF US! it's an incredible resource for all who long for the bridge to the contemplative life. it's heartfelt, honoring and a joy to read. mark has truly taken his time and this book has the taste of fine, aged wine. oh, and the forward by the high-priestess anne lamott is a wonderful surprise and insight into her church and their ministry to their youth (including her son).

first off I LOVE the book, it has been so validating to read as liam and i left a youth pastor position at a fairly large evangelical church within the past 12 months because of our deep desire to have a contemplative youth ministry and the church's desire for him to indoctrinate the youth colliding. i can't wait for him to have the opportunity to read it.

DISCLOSURE: this book was provided to me free of charge by zondervan as christian bookstores are few and far between on this edge of the ocean! i am not being paid or otherwise compensated for this review.

i had a wonderful opportunity to supply mark with questions - many others on the tour have taken the scholastic and vocational perspective on the book - my blog isn't really that kind of place, so my questions are a bit more personal:

First, let me say how much I appreciated the introductions to each chapter - the quotes - from such amazing contemplatives married with quotes from youth and youth workers - it was so honoring. Were these extraordinary people, mystics of some sort, or normal people who had spent time alone with God?
For seven years I worked with very average, normal, in some cases dying congregations, seeking to try and form them in contemplative awareness. The quotes in the book come from people from these churches. They are accountants, electrical linemen, receptionists, part-time and full time youth workers who innocently participated in my work and were introduced to contemplative prayer and practice. To be a mystic is to experience God. We are all mystics. These people were just given the time to notice it, to notice God, to notice the thin, frail, thread of eternity that runs through each and every moment.
My husband and I attempted to bring contemplative ministry to an evangelical church and found so much resistance. Your book was incredibly affirming for me to read because of this. Is there hope for helping that style of church to receive this type of ministry, or are they destined (doomed) to indoctrination only? We found the youth incredibly receptive, but the leadership of the church we were in was threatened and abrasive to our work. We made our great share of mistakes along the way, and I was wondering if you had any advice for youth workers who find themselves in our situation to navigate this in a better way than we did?
It's difficult to work in the church. There are so many egos and insecurities. So many ways that the church has absorbed the values and mores of the culture (sigh). I don't know what the specific "resistance" is that you experienced. Most churches are simply secular institutions with a religious veneer. There's a driveness to succeed, to produce results, to grow numbers, to be productive and efficient--just like any American profit-making institution. Unfortunately, this is all in contrast to the Spirit, message, and life of Jesus. Jesus, to be truthful, is unproductive (in the world's terms), inefficient and the "results" of his ministry are ambiguous (the disciples flee, misunderstand his identity and intentions, etc.).

"Success is not a name for God" Martin Buber once said, nor is it a name for Jesus. And yet most churches and pastors want to succeed. If not success, then what is it we're after? Faithfulness. Transparency to God. Obedience (which etymologically means "to listen"). Our job is to be faithful, Mother Teresa once said, not successful. We don't need churches speaking spiritual truth we need churches that know how to embody the spirit.

To embody the Spirit, we need to slow down. We need patience. We need to pray and wait and trust and listen and then respond. We need to stop running ahead of grace. How do you do this when you have a leadership "driven to succeed?" You speak the truth in love. You find others within the church who will slow down, pray and then move intentionally. Most of all you pray and listen for what God is really asking of you...and then you trust and respond.
As a follow up do you think you can pull a Stormie Omartian and follow up with "Contemplative Senior Pastoring" and "Contemplative Parenting"? You really could make a full career out of this one book title! On a more serious note - how do we get this book into the hands (and hearts) of those in church leadership?
Actually, I am thinking about writing a "contemplative parenting" book. Mostly based on my wife as the positive examples and my own parenting methods as the worst case scenarios. My wife is a natural contemplative...where as I struggle to be engaged and attentive. That's why contemplation is interesting to me...it's something I need. In terms of how to get it to the leadership...give them the book and ask them to read it. Or, for senior pastor types who might dis-regard it...give them Eugene Peterson's "The Contemplative Pastor" or Gerald May's "The Awakened Heart."
On page 74 you write "To stop and surrender is to repent" - it is a small thought that isn't fully developed, but it made me gasp when I read it - in our work-aholic, fast-paced world I can think of nothing that the church needs more than to repent of this kind of lifestyle - I loved the idea that taking time to be silent is a form of repentance - could you expand on that thought please?
More and more I'm convinced that the root of our brokenness, as North Americans, is our inability to be present to God and others. The reason we're unable to be present to others is because we're moving too fast, multi-tasking, moving from one activity to another without absorbing/feeling what we're doing. It's difficult to pay attention when there is great suffering and pain in the world. It's much easier to stay distracted and busy when slowing down often means feeling pain, or helplessness or acknowledging the ways in which we are hurting ourselves, our children or our world.

One month after the United States began the 2003 bombing and invasion of Iraq, a neighbor of mine began to post pictures of the civilian dead. She collected these images from European and Middle Eastern news services, then pinned them to the large sycamore tree that grew along the sidewalk in front of her house. Each photograph was covered by a white piece of paper. Above the images was a sign that read, If you are willing, look and see the suffering and death we're causing in Iraq. One day I took the time to look. The images were horrific. Most of them of mothers and fathers grieving over young children whose bodies had been torn apart from the bombing.

For the next two years my neighbor continued to post pictures on top of pictures until the sycamore became covered in sheets of white paper. I had many occasions over those two years to observe people walking along the busy sidewalk in front of my neighbor's house, not once did I see someone stop and look at these images. More frequently, what I observed was people turning their head to avoid the invitation to look and witness the pain and suffering.

The truth is that slowing down and being present to life is hard and painful. Who wants to slow down and notice a world that is increasingly becoming, what former President Jimmy Carter recently labeled a culture of death. Who wants to slow down and recognize the pain and violence that so many youth are forced to live with. Who wants to pray and become vulnerable to bleeding and brokenness within so many families? Who can really stand to look and see the devastation that is occurring in our natural world? Who wants to be aware of the ways in which our faith, our churches, our ministries seem so inadequate at inviting any real change or hope within people? It's difficult to be present. It's difficult to see and hear. It's also difficult to be vulnerable and aware. And yet, as Biblical scholar Walter Brueggeman reminds us, our central task in ministry is making people aware.

We trust the truth, we trust the stories of faith passed down from generation to generation and most of all we trust God. We trust God that our sins, our brokenness, our fears and mediocre attempts at loving are not the last word. We trust that God is on a mission of love and that love, like Jesus, always comes vulnerable, undefended in weakness and trust. Can we believe that our weakness and helplessness makes us more available to God's love and presence? How do we begin to repent? We slow down. We stop. We look. We listen. We feel.
Your father was/is one of my mentors, I know he would be/is so proud of you and your book. I had a parent, my mother, die early in her life and I wondered if it gives you comfort to know that your dad was able to experience the contemplative life before he died?
My spiritual life is deeply connected to my dad's. I kind of began where he was leaving off. He started reading Henri Nouwen in his mid forties, I read him in my early twenties. So much of my spiritual life was in dialogue with my dad. We were reading similar books and both of us felt excited that we were on to something new and life-giving.

I realized, a couple of years before he died, that much of my motivation in doing contemplative retreats was to provide a place and setting for my dad to experience the contemplative life. In many ways I got to go out and get the formation and training that my dad was looking for and I wanted to share it with him. My dad was a busy man. It was hard to get him to slow down...even harder to get him to do something for himself.

When I started leading Sabbath retreats (five day contemplative retreats for youth workers) I asked him to come and be the speaker....knowing that he would only come if there was work to do. Once he arrived I made him join a small group, see a spiritual director, do the prayer exercises, keep silence, and do everything else the participants were required to do. He did it and loved it and I think his best writing and speaking came out of these weeks of prayer and retreat. I cherish the times that he and I had together sharing our gifts side-by-side. It was nurturing to both of us.
While everyone else was jumping on the publishing bandwagon as soon as the 'ancient/future' scent entered the radar screen of the church I was always so amazed with your patience in writing this book. How did you maintain your time schedule and not bust out of it? Your book is so much better for it. Cut could you tell wanna-be writers like me what it was like for you along the patient process?
You're one of the few people to notice this. When I first started exploring the integration of Christian spirituality, spiritual direction, contemplative prayer and youth ministry I could tell immediately that the Christian marketing forces would want to exploit it (after all, I am the son of a publisher...). When I wrote an article on contemplative youth ministry in 1998 in the Christian Century I was contacted by six publishers and a big time publishing agent. Everyone wanted to do a book. Two different publishers offered me a book line and one publisher offered to hire ghost writers to write under my name.

My feeling, at the time, was that people needed to experience contemplative prayer...not read about it. So I refused to write anything. I then bullied and pleaded with my dad not to produce any books on the subject...he held out for three years. I also called friends at the upper room publishing and other publishing houses and asked them not to publish any books on the subject.

I wanted people to come to Sabbath and other contemplative retreats and experience it first. Of course this was unrealistic and soon books began to come out. Most of them are what I feared...they're written as journalistic books (sort of a tour of contemplative practices) or cut and paste together like any other educational curriculum. Contemplation is about the spirit and attitude or disposition by which we approach life. It's a certain awareness, openess, transparency.

People receive a book from the same place from which a person writes a book. If you have people writing about contemplative prayer...but not experiencing contemplative prayer then the book can be clever or informational...but never transformational. I wasn't ready to write a book from my heart eight years ago. It took ten years of struggling with prayer. Ten years of praying through doubt, grief, disillusionment, struggle, breakthroughs, etc....before I felt ready to write. I'm glad I waited....even though I often wanted to write much earlier.
And this was the question I always asked your dad - who are you reading? Who are the new contemplatives we need to know about?
I love Richard Rohr. He's a radical, Jesus-loving, truth telling itinerant Franciscan. I read all of his stuff.

Gerald May's "The Awakened Heart" is one of my touch stones.

I'm going through Elie Wiesel's works right now...trying to see how he brings together suffering and mysticism and Fredrick Buechner ("The Eyes of the Heart" and his collection of sermons).
And last, but not least - could I please have the recipe for the Famous Yaconelli Fried Spaghetti?
This is actually something I used to have for breakfast growing up and ate it almost every week in college. You chop up one onion a few cloves of garlic and fry it up with plenty of olive oil. Then you throw in spaghetti...already cooked and cooled in the refrigerator. You add lots of fresh black pepper and then top it with fresh Parmesan cheese (in college I used the canned stuff). Now days I also add broccoli or asparagus.
ah, the breakfast of champions! thank you mark! i so enjoyed reading your responses and look forward to what the future holds for you! you carry the yaconelli name so well!

here are the other previous & future stops on the grid-blog tour:

May 8 Jonny Baker
May 9 Gavin Richardson
May 10 Sarah Dylan Breuer she never posted a review
May 11 Jennifer Roach
May 12 Mark Oestreicher
May 15 Dixon Kinser
May 17 Jonathon Norman
May 19 Adam Cleaveland
May 22 Steve Case
May 24 Tim Van Meter
May 26 Lucas Land
May 29 Andy Jack
May 31 me
June 2 Darren Wright
June 5 Kester Brewin
June 7 Lilly Lewin
June 9 Mike King

all i know is that i am honored to be listed with such an amazing group of bloggers and have the opportunity to interact with mark as i blame he and his father for awakening my soul to the voice of god. you can read what i wrote about that here:

god i miss him

i remember

tears of joy

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