Although it was nine years ago, that Sunday morning is still vividly etched in my memory. A few years earlier my heart had been captivated by the life-giving understanding that God’s intention was that the lives of Jesus’ followers were to be deeply transformed into the likeness of Jesus himself. Since I had been a Christian for decades and seminary trained as well, you might wonder why it took so long for me to come to this realization. But that’s a story for another time. Having discovered the Father’s intention of transformation, I had given myself over to that process with great intentionality. I read books on the topic of spiritual formation and listened to gifted teachers whose lives evidenced that deep transformation was indeed possible. I began practicing a variety of spiritual disciplines, some familiar and some new, all with the desire to see the hidden recesses of my life touched and transformed by the love and character of Christ. After the process was under way in my own life, my Sunday sermons began to focus on topics related to spiritual formation. What could be more inviting than these amazing realities? People’s hearts were stirred, hope was ignited, everything was moving along nicely—until that one Sunday morning.
The d-word in “spiritual disciplines” makes it sound like spiritual formation is for those who like a well-ordered routine. The message seems to be: If you want to become Christlike, if you want your life to flourish, then you need to do these things regularly, consistently, and without fail. And certain (structured) ways are more preferred than others.
I type these words with a mixture of sadness and joy. This Front Page contribution for Issue 12.2 will end my formal editorial involvement with Conversations, and I will join my friends David G. Benner and Larry Crabb in “retirement” to the masthead as a founding editor of this publication.
I love the design phase of new start-up projects much more than the administrative grind that follows. For me, the cycle for actually working with an idea, once it has been hatched, has typically been about three to five years. But engagement with Conversations has been so much fun over the years that I broke that mold. I wanted to stay involved—long after my attention had been diverted to other new ideas. But now that I’ve passed two perfectly good biblical numbers as possible stepping-away points, I need to call it quits with Issue 12—or else I’d have to wait for Issue 40 to roll around. It seems appropriate on many levels that this issue is built around the theme flourishing . It is a term that comes to us from the relatively new fi eld of positive psychology and implies living in an optimal range of human functioning that includes goodness, happiness, love, creativity, and growth. A flourishing plant is well rooted, vibrantly alive, growing, and fulfilling its life mission. It is the same with human beings.
I remember sitting around a table in a restaurant of a hotel in Atlanta, Georgia, just over fourteen years ago. Larry Crabb and David Benner were my tablemates, and we were lamenting that psychotherapy was much more focused on remediation than flourishing. Of course, we were not using that particular word at the time, as it was still years away from notoriety in the field.
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A journey into the second half of our own lives awaits us all. Not everybody goes there, even though all of us get older, and some of us get older than others. A “further journey” is a well-kept secret, for some reason. Many people do not even know there is one. There are too few who are aware of it, tell us about it, or know that it is different from the journey of the first half of life. So why should I try to light up the path a little? Why should I presume that I have anything to say here? And why should I write to people who are still on their first journey, and happily so? (more…)
Before I was given this gift of a leadership community of grace, my ministry had been more about gathering a crowd than about cultivating a community of the committed, following Jesus together with them. My style of ministry was hurried and frantic. My goal was to fill the calendar with more events and fill the seats with more people. I would never have said it that bluntly, but it would have been hard for an objective observer to come to a different conclusion. I felt satisfied and important when the number of college students coming to our meetings was growing. I felt frustrated and worthless when that number decreased or even stayed the same. In conversations among our church staff at the time, we would say, “We count people because people count.” I don’t think that kind of math made anyone but us feel important.
While on a long flight, I finished listening to my favorite pieces by John Coltrane then opened some music I had recently downloaded but not yet heard. It was a recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, played by Joshua Bell and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. The piece, intense and passionate, has been very important to me over the years. I hadn’t noticed that this recording included a short video excerpt of Bell and the orchestra during a recording session, playing an especially dramatic passage. When I opened the file, the video suddenly began to play.