What is a Prayer School? – Guest Blogger, Ryan Braught

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We drove on to the church campus which was surrounded by fields and fields of corn. A seemingly strange place for a megachurch. We entered the building, and since we were early, we found our way to the Bookstore/Coffeehouse called Solomon’s Porch. As we waited, we talked about what brought us to this place, our struggles, our questions, and our fears about what we were there for. And would it be just another workshop notebook thrown onto the pile of other workshop notebooks on my bookshelf or in my filing cabinet? When it was close to time for the workshop to start, we walked down the hall and were transported from the evangelical megachurch in the cornfield in the midwest, to what resembled a Catholic chapel in either a monastery or in a cathedral. And all we did was open a set of ornate wooden doors into what is called The Upper Room. We were instantly awash in the glow of candles, the sound of Chant music playing, and the beautiful art of the Stations of the Cross hanging on the walls.

Image result for brian zahnd prayer schoolWe took our seat waiting for the beginning of the workshop. I knew that I was in the right place, when the speaker, Brian Zahnd, said he had been praying this prayer liturgy for 10 years, but he had been a pastor for 30. You see we were in St. Joseph, Missouri at Word of Life Church for Brian’s Prayer School. We were there to learn how to pray, after being in ministry for 20 years, 8 of those years serving in a church plant that my wife and I founded.

You see, honestly, I have never felt very spiritual. I have never been really good at praying, being still and being quiet. I would hear other Pastors talk about waking up at 5 AM and praying for 3-4 hours and I thought I could never do that. Prayer for me “often becomes a giant cesspool of guilt.” I’ve often been told to pray, but not been given the resources to pray well. And that is why I was at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, MO that July weekend with my wife.

I knew that I needed help in learning how to pray, and in growing my prayer life. I knew that I need a resource to help me pray well. I knew that if I were to last another 20 years in ministry, especially in church planting, that I would need to learn how to develop a rhythm of prayer. I needed, what Brian, called a trellis, a liturgy to guide my prayer life. To get my prayer life off the ground, like the roses that grow up trellises. And so that I could be properly formed in the ways and life of Jesus. And being at Prayer School has given me a liturgy of prayer that I am seeking to follow each and every morning.

This prayer liturgy is like walking a labyrinth. The first half of the liturgy moves us into the presence of Christ culminating in the center with a time of contemplation or in other terms, sitting with Jesus. As you “walk” (pray) toward the center of the prayer liturgy your walking companions have been walking with Jesus for a very long time. You walk with the Psalms. You journey with the Jesus Prayer. You walk with the Lord’s Prayer. You pray through the gospels. You pray prayers of confession. You recite the Apostles Creed. And you also spend time praying for your family and other prayer requests that you want to bring and leave at the feet of Jesus.

The second half of the prayer liturgy moves us out in the world, helping us have proper position in the world because we have sat with and at the feet of Jesus. When we have been sitting with and at the feet of Jesus, spending time walking with him and having other walking companions, our prayers change, we change, and then we want to go out and be change agents in the world. As we “walk” out the prayer liturgy into our world, our prayers begin to shape us into the kind of people Jesus wants us to be in his world. Our outward journey from the center includes walking through the beatitudes, praying prayers of peace, and praying the Prayer of Saint Francis. We also walk with the Prayer of the Week from the Book of Common Prayer. Finally, as we round the corner of this prayer liturgy and begin to see the light of the world around us, we pray a prayer of mercy, a confession of mystery, and finish with the Jesus Prayer.

Image result for brian zahnd prayer schoolWith that, we walk out of the Prayer Liturgy and into the world that Jesus loves.
We have spent time in the presence of Jesus. And we have gained new eyes to see
the world the way that he does. Our prayers have changed. We have changed. If you, like me, don’t feel very spiritual. If you, like me, have trouble getting your prayer life off the ground. If you are looking for a way to connect honestly, authentically, and transparently with God. If you are looking for a way to be formed in the ways and life of Jesus. Then I would highly recommend checking out Prayer School with Brian Zahnd. Visit www.wolc.com to find out when they will be offering Prayer School. But if you can’t get to St. Joseph’s, MO, like my wife and I, then at least pick up his book Water to Wine in which he spells out this prayer liturgy. And I trust that when you begin using the prayer liturgy each and every morning your prayer life will get off the ground just like roses clinging to a trellis in a garden. And you will find yourself being formed in the ways and life of Jesus.

Image may contain: 1 personRyan Braught is the Pastor/Church Planter of Veritas. Along with his wife, Kim, and kids, Kaiden and Trinity, he founded Veritas in 2009. Ryan has a BS in Telecommunications from Kutztown University and a Master of Arts in Religion from Evangelical Theological Seminary. Besides his work with Veritas, Ryan loves to read, listen to music, snowboard, and spend time with his family.

Image Credits: Word of Life Church and Eventbrite

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On Hospitality: Banquet of the Absurd (Luke 14:12-24) Pt. II – Guest Blogger, Scot Miller

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This blog post is the second in a two-part series adapted from a piece originally published on Scot’s personal blog (link below). For part one, visit http://www.brethrenlifeandthought.org/2017/04/21/on-hospitality-banquet-of-the-absurd-luke-1412-24-pt-i-guest-blogger-scot-miller/. What follows is a continuation of Scot’s story about serving the water distribution effort last year in Flint, Michigan.

Over the next few weeks, we distributed water, fed children of all ages, homeless persons, and drug addicts, treated a heroin overdose, and began delivering food to folks who were marginalized to the point of being afraid of coming to the church (some distribution points were asking for photo identification). I was able to do outreach and wellness checks to families who made their only income illegally, thus preventing them from seeking some services for fear of opening excuses for home visits from authorities. We served refugees and immigrants who did not know English, and could not get help, or were scared to seek it out. The Church of the Brethren building on Stocker Avenue was a church, and it was contributing to its neighbor’s lives in many ways. The building was truly a place of welcoming and affirmation of all folks from any and every background. We were the church. We were practicing radical hospitality.

We continued to talk about the Bible and what the stories of the Bible meant to us. We also talked regularly about how the church might be relevant in the lives of our neighbors. I also believe we wanted the church to be more relevant to us spiritually. Sometimes, our church experiences left us longing. Sometimes, we felt spiritually malnourished. Mary Lorah-Hammond and Jennifer Betts had been dreaming of doing dinner church, and they also knew that the water crisis brought new nutrition needs to the forefront of everyone’s mind. It was decided that we extend our hospitality to folks at the farm market and our Facebook friends, activist, and professionals who were serving the city to share dinners on Tuesday nights. Flyers were made and distributed, invitations were extended, and preparations were made for a messianic banquet we called “Feeding of the Flintstones.”

Parker4

And nobody came.

But we had been reading the text.

The text had answers.

While Mary and Jennifer cooked, I went outside and walked around the neighborhood, inviting every individual or family I came across to come to the church on Stocker Avenue and share a meal. I believe we had 12 that first evening, certainly a number appropriate to our shared narrative. This continued every Tuesday night. Some folks followed up on the invite. More often than not, all of our guests came as the result of someone going out into the neighborhood who embodied the text of Luke 14, which invites all and sundry to experience fellowship without regard to status or ability to contribute to the “potluck” that is a staple of Midwestern hospitality for “those who belong.”

One warm evening, my son Micah and I left Mary and Jennifer to cooking and walked around the west side neighborhood looking for folks to invite for meal sharing. As we walked down Arlene Avenue, I noticed two women in a van parked on the corner of Mann Avenue. I approached the van to invite them to dinner and saw they were both crying. I asked if I could help, and they indicated to Micah and me that one of the women’s family had just moved into an abandoned house, and they had lost their food benefits card, had no cash, nothing to eat, and no electricity. I told them to bring everyone to the church for a meal.

That Tuesday evening, we had more than 20 folks eating with us, eight of them belonging to the woman sitting in the car. As everyone was enjoying food and conversation, Mary and Jennifer were talking with the women; I tried to reach out to the father of the group. He was less than interested in communicating and seemed to feel patronized by me as I served him bread and soup. He was not enjoying my presence, or anyone else’s.

As Now Ministries worked to get the whole family set up for food delivery the next day, it was evident they needed some things that night. I asked the father if he would like to go with me to Kroger to pick some things up, and I could foot the bill. Reluctantly, he made the decision to go. As we drove by ourselves to the grocery store, he began to open up just a bit. When he found out that we shared some experiences of city living, we were able to begin a conversation that, within 15 minutes, turned into a warm experience of friendship.

The fact of our hospitality was the result of reading the text and then trusting that our living out the stories would lend credibility to our actions. In fact, we acted in faith, and our faith was vindicated. But the vindication is by no means represented in a growth of church membership, or big publicity regarding our worship services, or even in miracle funding for more outreach. For the text states that it is of no use to provide hospitality to those who somehow repay you or invite you in return, but rather we are to invite and serve the poor.  We will be vindicated for our faithfulness at the Judgment, but salvation comes immediately to those in need. They are liberated from the bondage of facing the crisis in isolation. Everyone knows that sin is evident, but the opportunity to respond in new ways with new outcomes is what the church is to reveal to those in need. The apocalypse is the unveiling of how the church responds to sin that has not been properly identified as sin. If the economics of food are unjust, the church calls this sin and offers an alternative.

In fact, we are sharing or extending the blessings of faith in a manner that makes the kingdom of God a credible alternative to systematic corporate sin for those most in need of God’s grace and mercy. It is our voluntary sacrifice of privilege and our sharing of resources that makes our claims of the Kingdom of God credible. We embody faith at our expense, and not for reward. This is faithfulness. This is apocalyptic witness. This is the eschatological “end-times” that marks not the end of the world, but more importantly, the end of an age that witnesses the collusion of the so-called Church and State to promote wealth and power rather than the victory of the Lamb over the devil, sin, and death.

An apocalyptic unveiling is not God’s new response to sin, but the church’s identifying and uncovering the fact of corporate sin which has been sold to Christians as conservative religion. Civic Christendom is far from conservative. Rather, it is liberal democracy costumed as Christianity in order to the hide selfishness, racism, and exclusivity that has victimized those who need the church the most. The church has not only colluded with the State, but indeed has colluded with the Accuser. We accuse those left behind as being responsible for the products of our own economic, racial, and militant sin. This heresy is a Satanic reversal of the Gospel call to love one another as ourselves.

The folks of Flint have been left behind, but they have not been left behind to suffer through some apocalyptic Armageddon. They have simply been left behind as “the least of these.” Flint and other places like it have been left behind by Christians who keep promising that heaven awaits them, preaching that if the victims of sin don’t clean their act up, God will leave them behind just as the economy, the judiciary, and education has left them behind.

Indeed, if these so-called spiritual warriors read Revelation more closely, they might see passed the plank in their eyes to see that Christ judges them. The biggest sin of Christendom is the Laodicean error – the error that Jesus would not overlook.

Revelation 3:15-20 (HCSB)

15 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, ‘I’m rich; I have become wealthy and need nothing,’ and you don’t know that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked, 18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire so that you may be rich, white clothes so that you may be dressed and your shameful nakedness not be exposed, and ointment to spread on your eyes so that you may see.19 As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be committed and repent. 20 Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and have dinner with him, and he with Me.

10271482_694810043912301_8536081974303114262_nScot Miller, of Hastings, Michigan (by way of Flint and Detroit), is a passionate and tireless worker for justice – passions that led him to seek degrees in social work. Having been a member the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) for 15 years, he now serve as Pastor of Education and Outreach for Common Spirit Church of the Brethren in Grand Rapids. Scot spent most of 2016 ministering in Flint, Michigan, as a responder to the water crisis there. He served under the auspices of Common Spirit at First Church of the Brethren in Flint, in the neighborhood of his birth. He served as an adjunct professor of social work at Kuyper College for four years, and more recently served as an adjunct professor at the Earlham School of Religion during the 2017 January intensives. He is particularly drawn to Anabaptist theology as well as apocalyptic expressions of early Quakerism. You can read more of Scot’s work at http://www.gospeloftheabsurd.net/.

Image Credit: 2×2 Vital Church

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On Hospitality: Banquet of the Absurd (Luke 14:12-24) Pt. I – Guest Blogger, Scot Miller

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If the end-time fallacies of Tim LaHaye have any interpretive value, I propose a compare and contrast exercise with the city of Flint, Michigan. Flint is home to a people that have been “Left Behind.” While LaHaye’s apocalyptic lack of theological imagination is little more than a lie, the opportunity for the church to recognize our error and reorganize into a truly apocalyptic assembly is fully represented in the reality of living in Flint. The Body of Christ has been lost in the violent maladaptive literary world of dragons and super-whores for far too long, failing to recognize our obligation to embody the gospel in a manner that reveals something far more important than the end of the world; that being the rebirth and a restoration of God’s creation to wholeness.

Flint is the place where the sins of unjust economics, whiteness, and electoral politics have come home to roost. In the midst of a water crisis that has had a catastrophic effect on residents of the city and resulted in corporate trauma, the failure of the church is as evident as the failure of the water system. The residents of Flint were left behind to suffer the consequences of state-sponsored sin, when their water was poisoned, and and when this poisoning was denied by authorities. The people of Flint were left behind to suffer the consequences of institutionalized racism. They were left behind by a changing economy that no one prepared them for nor explained to them, despite promising them new jobs and new prosperity every election cycle. The people of Flint were left behind by the very people who promote Heaven as a reward for worldly suffering while reaping the benefits of wealth accumulated in the midst of such suffering. Flint is far more indicative of the end-times than LaHaye fans want to admit – it marks the end of the church as a relevant institution as we know it in the here and now.

I felt a call to return to Flint, the hometown my parents were forced to leave behind when the recession of the late ‘70’s drove us to Detroit so they could find work. When I heard about the water crisis and thought of the biblical call to deny privilege and serve the least of these, I turned a deteriorating job experience into an opportunity for ministry. I made a decision to go to Flint three days a week and contribute resources to the water crisis response. I was welcomed by First Church of the Brethren in Flint to work with their congregation and the African-American congregation they shared the building with, NOW Ministries.

13466190_1124814794245155_6074803376173933832_n
B.B and Scot taking a brief reprieve while serving in Flint.

Working with First CoB and Now Ministries, we went from distributing three pallets of bottled water a day to 18 pallets of water a day, three days a week. We also found the resources to provide fresh food to our neighbors, diapers and hygiene products, and provide neighbors with up-to-date information about the water crisis. Along with the work that was being done at the church, we shared with one another our understandings of God and the Bible and talked about what it is that we must do to reflect the love of Christ to our neighbors.

Importantly, the number of folks volunteering allowed for the church to keep its doors open almost every day of the week. As such, the building on Stocker Avenue became much more than a place to pick up water. It became a central location for adults and children alike to experience community. The building’s social significance became evident one night when my 70-year-old water distribution partner B.B. and I were struck with a dilemma. We were the only two folks (left behind) at the church one afternoon, waiting for hours for a water delivery that never came. The state was not sending enough truck drivers to help with water distribution, and deliveries were being held up because the food bank drivers were pressed into double duty. They delivered loads of food to locations around the east side of the state, and then came back to Flint to deliver pallets of water. We received our delivery at 5 pm.

Importantly, the number of folks volunteering allowed for the church to keep its doors open almost every day of the week. As such, the building on Stocker Avenue became much more than a place to pick up water. It became a central location for adults and children alike to experience community. The building’s social significance became evident one night when my 70-year-old water distribution partner B.B. and I were struck with a dilemma. We were the only two folks (left behind) at the church one afternoon, waiting for hours for a water delivery that never came. The state was not sending enough truck drivers to help with water distribution, and deliveries were being held up because the food bank drivers were pressed into double duty. They delivered loads of food to locations around the east side of the state, and then came back to Flint to deliver pallets of water. We received our delivery at 5 pm.Cars were lined up for water, and B.B. and I were having great difficulty keeping up.We were two men over the age of 50, we were wearing down, and our instructions at that time were to not leave water outside. The line of cars grew deeper, and we were exhausting ourselves. As the sun was setting, our neighbors were not unaware of what was happening. First, one teen came over to the church to volunteer help. Then a second. A third came with his sister, who set up a candy and Kool-Aid stand, using bottled water to make the drinks with sugar from her house. It was this evening that we recognized we were making an impact on our block. We had folks from the block, ages eight to nearly 80, distributing water and having fun. Together, we had a purpose.

Cars were lined up for water, and B.B. and I were having great difficulty keeping up.We were two men over the age of 50, we were wearing down, and our instructions at that time were to not leave water outside. The line of cars grew deeper, and we were exhausting ourselves. As the sun was setting, our neighbors were not unaware of what was happening. First, one teen came over to the church to volunteer help. Then a second. A third came with his sister, who set up a candy and Kool-Aid stand, using bottled water to make the drinks with sugar from her house. It was this evening that we recognized we were making an impact on our block. We had folks from the block, ages eight to nearly 80, distributing water and having fun. Together, we had a purpose.

This blog post is part one of a two-part series adapted from a piece originally published on Scot’s personal blog (link below). 

10271482_694810043912301_8536081974303114262_nScot Miller, of Hastings, Michigan (by way of Flint and Detroit), is a passionate and tireless worker for justice – passions that led him to seek degrees in social work. Having been a member the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) for 15 years, he now serve as Pastor of Education and Outreach for Common Spirit Church of the Brethren in Grand Rapids. Scot spent most of 2016 ministering in Flint, Michigan, as a responder to the water crisis there. He served under the auspices of Common Spirit at First Church of the Brethren in Flint, in the neighborhood of his birth. He served as an adjunct professor of social work at Kuyper College for four years, and more recently served as an adjunct professor at the Earlham School of Religion during the 2017 January intensives. He is particularly drawn to Anabaptist theology as well as apocalyptic expressions of early Quakerism. You can read more of Scot’s work at http://www.gospeloftheabsurd.net/.

Photo Credits: Scot Miller

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Discerning the Mind of Christ: Neither Progressive Nor Conservative

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At a not so recent Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren I was sure the delegates had made the wrong decision. And I made as much clear in the last days through several meetings a small action during the closing worship. To be honest, I was a bit proud in taking a stand. I knew what we should have done, and I believed we had gone the wrong way. 

In the months after that conference my pride waned a bit. I had to submit my annual paperwork for my license to the ministry and I began thinking about what it meant to disagree with a position of the wider church. 

Over a decade later, I found myself writing these words in the middle of our polity regarding congregational ethics. “The prayerful conclusion not to support a denominational position or program should be a matter of anguish, not competitiveness or superiority.”

Unfortunately, I often experience disagreements within the church as a matter of competition for power and an assertion of superiority. And often the lines are drawn between what some might call progressive and conservative cultures.

But I have this weird notion that when the church gathers to ask questions about the faithful response to our times, the wisdom of the whole church informs our approach. So when I disagree with what the wider communion has said, my first task is not so much to chastise but to ask myself what I am missing. What part of Christian discipleship have I overlooked in my prideful positioning? 

In the years since that conference I have found myself wondering a lot more. I wonder, when I enter a community of progressives, what part of the gospel they are lifting to my attention. And the same is true when I am with conservatives. In this posture towards others, I find myself assuming above all else that the people I am with are sisters and brothers seeking to follow Jesus above all else. Sometimes that assumption is harder to maintain, but I find myself listening differently when I remind myself of our shared commitment to Jesus.

So, then, what I have learned from our conservative and progressive communities?

From progressives I am often reminded that love and grace are the root of the Good News. In order to witness to the wider world, I must act from a posture of grace.

From conservatives I am reminded that grace is the catalyst for transformation. As I have heard said in many places, we are welcomed into the community with the understanding that we will be changed by the Gospel of love and grace. Come as you are are and leave as you never were.

Progressives have taught me that the church witnesses to the ways of God in the world, and we are to act in ways that build up the Kingdom of God in the here and now.

Conservatives have reminded me that this building of the Kingdom of God is not my own doing but something God is doing in and around me. 

Progressives have taught me the world is a fallen place, where war and systems of oppression diminish the Image of God in everyone.

Conservatives have taught me that systems do not change on their own, and that as Christians we are to work on our own inner heart as much as we work for justice in the world. In other words, righteousness and justice are two sides of the same coin, and often the most prophetic thing to do is to tend to our own holiness.

Progressives have often reminded me that there are many roads to faithfulness. Each of us seeks after God in our own ways, and just because one’s path is not my own does not mean that they are wrong and I am right. 

Conservatives have taught me that truth is real and not relative. While we may all be on different paths there is still a need to discern if we are indeed heading in the same direction.

Progressives have taught me to value the experiences of others. In listening to the testimony of others I learn to see more fully the ways God is at work around and in us.

Conservatives have reminded me that deception is a real part of our fallen nature, and that in listening to others I must also test the spirit in which a testimony is given. Part of that testing includes speaking from my own vantage point, articulating truth biblically as well as experientially. 

Though the Brethren are not a creedal form of Christianity, I think the greatest reminder of balance has come through the Nicene Creed. In the last section the words are both plain and convicting. “We believe… in one holy catholic and apostolic church…” It is that tension between being one and being holy that gets me every time. How is that we can be both one— work from a place of unity— while at the same time hold up the holiness explicit in following Jesus. We are inherently mixed in our holiness, or as the followers of Wesley remind us, we are growing in our holiness. Put another way, holiness makes clear there are boundaries that often make unity a difficult endeavor. In the practice of “seeking the mind of Christ” I think the Brethren have worked out a way to attend to both boundaries and unity, one-ness and holiness. I am just not convinced that our current models of doing so have actually produced the fruit we seek. 

We have simply become too proud of our positions and too often confuse discernment with coercion. We assume that our processes are about setting one another straight, and that one must win the argument in order for truth to be proclaimed. 

Since that conference long ago I have come back to the words of Thomas Merton. Just because I think I am following the will of God does not actually mean that I am doing so. But I believe that the desire to please God does in fact please God, and I pray that I (we) have that desire in all that I (we) do.

I need my brothers and sisters to help me see when I am following Jesus and when I have strayed. And when I disagree with my community of faith, my first task is not to chastise others and set the record straight but is to ask if I am working from my desire to please God or if I simply desire to be right. More often than not, I am afraid I want to be right.

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