Monday, June 22

Spiritual Jazz

I'm attending a conference on spiritual formation this week. It is sponsored by Renovare', an organization founded by Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, and others to teach and provide resources to churches, ministries, and individuals regarding spiritual disciplines and spiritual formation. I've chosen to be here as a part of my sabbatical - finding ways to enhance my personal spiritual formation and my ability to lead others in their development.

The main sessions feature some of the best contemporary writers in the area of spiritual formation: Eugene Peterson, Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, John Ortberg, and others. Some are more dynamic speakers than others, but all have great content and the ability to help you think about issues from new perspectives.

Maybe my favorite session so far was a workshop called "Composing a Jazz-Shaped Faith." It was led by Robert Gelinas, a pastor from Denver who recently wrote a book called Finding the Groove. I've not read the book, but the content of the workshop really resonated with me for a couple of reasons.

The is that I'm a jazz fan. I love listening to Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Count Basie, WyntonMarsalis, and others. I love the improvisation of jazz, how jazz musicians can take a basic melody and make it their own while staying in the framework of the key and ensemble. I love the way members of a good jazz band respond to one another and take turns passing the lead from person to person. There is structure, there is freedom, there is community, and there is individuality within jazz.

The other reason I resonated with the workshop is that I feel those things are often missing in the pre-packaged, program-oriented life of the church. We are often more like a marching band - straight lines, matching uniforms, and whole sections playing the identical notes while marching to make prescribed formations. We try to fit everyone into that framework, specifying how a Christian looks, thinks, acts, etc. There is often no room for improvisation or individuality. No freedom to express ones own creativity or the unique strengths we bring to the table.

These ideas are going to be bouncing around in my brain for a while and you'll be reading more about them, I'm sure. But I like the image of spiritual jazz.

Sunday, June 21

An Athlete to Cheer For

One of the great things about being closely involved with track and field is not just the chance to get to know some outstanding athletes, but some incredible people. The sport is filled with men and women of great character. Unfortunately, most folks in the US - including sports fans - don't know much about our track and field athletes. They couldn't tell you who the stars are track and field (except for maybe an Olympic year) or who are the people of character (except for the occasional athlete caught using performance enhancing drugs). Though I could give you a whole list of great people worth your attention and applause, I want to highlight one for you. Bryan Clay.

You might recognize the name. After all, he won the Olympic gold medal last year in the decathlon. He has been on the Wheaties box. On Letterman and Leno and Oprah. Though I have officiated Bryan a few times, I don't know him well. But I do respect him. Not only as an athlete (and the decathlon is a great test of an athlete's strength, speed, and mental toughness), but also as a man of character and values. Here is a quote for a recent interview in the July addition of Track and Field News:

"I look at what I've accomplished and my goal always has been to create a platform to go out and relate the Kingdom of God.

I always tell people, 'I accomplished what I have on the track because I was a champion in life first.' It wasn't the other way around. I was able to do what I've done on the track because I took care of my responsibilities spiritually and also with my family. I give 100% to those areas. If I do that, it frees me - mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually - to give 100% to track and field.

I also believe you have to have balance. I always say my priorities are God first, family second and track third. That's my motto.

When I can put God first, it gives me the parameters, the focus, everything I need to make my family happy. Being the father and husband I need to be, making them happy, that allows me the freedom emotionally and physically to give 100% to the sport. If I have distractions in those other areas, then I can't give track 100%. So the priorities are very important and I really try to live my life by them."

So when you watch the US Championships this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (and you need to watch them), be sure and cheer for Bryan Clay. You can even follow him on Twitter: @bryanclay.

Thursday, June 4

Retreating in Indiana

I'm spending a few days this week in Indiana at our annual retreat for campus ministers. Since 1983, we have been meeting at the Canyon Inn in McCormick's Creek State Park. It's a beautiful park with lots of trees and trails.

But the best part each year is just being with a group of folks who share a common passion for God's Kingdom and reaching college students. We are here from Florida to Wisconsin to worship, encourage one another, and prepare for future ministry. This year's speaker is Al Hirsch, one of the leading author's on missional church strategy - basically approaching our community as a mission field and building our ministry in a way that communicates with those who don't know Christ as opposed to building a ministry and expecting those who aren't Christians to adapt to us. He's doing a great job of helping us to think in creative ways about our culture and our ministries.

But I do feel a little old. I'm one of about six here who have been doing campus ministry for 20 years or more. There are more than that here who weren't born when I started in campus ministry! But there is a lot of enthusiasm, passion, and potential. The future looks good.