It’s Monday February 23

“And every Christian should be able to identify, with conviction and satisfaction, the ways in which his or her work participates with God in his creativity and cultivation.” (Every Good Endeavor, Timothy Keller)

Keller points us to a lofty ideal for our life of work, whether in an office or in a home. My fear is that, for too many of us, it is just that, a lofty ideal in no way connected to what is real for us. We have created a gap between the experience of Sunday and the work of Monday, the sacred and the secular, the graceful work of God and the grinding work we do each day.

With that tension in mind, I pulled together a small group of people from our community, all connected to a Monday through Friday work life rhythm, and asked the question, “How can the church better support the lives you lead day to day?”

The conversation was rich and invigorating and hopeful. For those in the process of launching their career we uncovered questions like, “How do my values connect with the values of the company I work for?” “What criterion do I use to evaluate career moves?” “Where can I find someone who can mentor me in the process?” “Am I doing something meaningful for me and the world?”

For those in the middle of their careers, the questions shifted: “How do I balance my life at work and home?” “How do I function in a workplace environment that conflicts with my values as a follower of Jesus?” “How do I balance the needs of the company I work for and the needs of the people I work with?” “What do I do when I feel trapped in a position based on the economy, my chosen life-style, my family situation?”

Toward the end of the career, the questions shifted again, “How do I end well?” “What meaningful work can I prepare myself to do?” “How will I get a sense of my identity outside of work?” “Is there something I can give back to others at an earlier stage in the journey?”

Now, we are taking that small group conversation to a wider audience. We’d love for you to join us in the conversation. We are convinced that our work matters to the world and to God and that we can help one another bridge the gap between Sunday and Monday, God’s work and our work.

Our first gathering will be a one-time event from 7:00-8:30pm on Monday, March 2. The theme for the gathering is: It’s Monday—Your Work Matters. We will use that night to establish the baseline for our conversation both biblically and practically, and then open up the other issues we want to address in subsequent gatherings.

If you have not signed up, email so that we can have an approximate number. If you forget to send the email and want to come, come!

It’s Monday–Your work matters. Join our conversation. Look forward to seeing you March 2. Peace. Kai

It’s Monday February 9

As an add-on to the sermon this weekend, I offer a piece that I wrote for the Renovare’ Book Club in response to Nathan Foster’s book, The Making of an Ordinary Saint. Let this serve as food for thought as you enter this week and a piece of encouragement to sign up for the Making Ordinary Saints Conference with Nathan and Richard Foster. We are hosting it at Peace on March 13-14. Check out the link for more information and to register:

Let Life Be Your Teacher

By Kai Nilsen

“For some reason I was under the illusion that spiritual activities and lessons had to come from books and speakers and that there were special ways we practiced the disciplines, but they could not come from meeting a strange man riding his bike in rural Ohio, watching birds, and giving in to the wind.” (p. 29)

There are significant portions of the spiritual formation community that could be described as “bookies.” We love books. We devour books like “foodies” devour an original fare. We then go to conferences with people who wrote our favorite books in our attempt to consume more of the ancient wisdom being articulated for modern times.

Now, there is nothing wrong with that “bookie” passion. But Nathan’s narrative encourages us to open ourselves up to a more intimate source of knowledge and wisdom—Our Life!

Can you let your life be your teacher?

My guess is that many of us have learned to be distrusting of our lives and accumulated wisdom. That is why we so ravenously seek the guidance of others. Sometimes our religious training has taught us to be suspect of our inner wisdom. One particularly harmful religious narrative pounds home this thought, “Remember, we are sinners, nothing but pathetic worms. How can we be trusted to know, to articulate, to discern well the movements of the Holy One?”

For some of us, the ingrained messages of our youth remain a haunting, debilitating voice filling our minds with negativity, “You are unworthy or unacceptable or unlovable.” Emotionally and psychologically we learn to distrust our desires, our motivations, our inner compass.

Nathan’s narrative journey provides us with a wonderful and gracious counterpoint. Think about where he gleans so much of his guiding insight—riding a bike, conversations with friends, living with his wife and kids, the beauty and wonder of the natural world. What he begs us to realize is that life can be a teacher. Your life. Not someone else’s life. Your life can be your teacher.

Think about how Jesus often taught his followers. Consider the birds of the air. Do you see that fig tree? Let me tell you about mustard seeds. Have you ever had your family fall apart, one brother brashly leaving home while the other dutifully remains? Pay attention to these things, you may learn something. Your life can be your teacher.

Nathan also does a masterful job of reminding us that spiritual practices don’t need to be an “add on” to life. They can be a way of thinking differently about what we are already doing. Honestly, I used to think about spiritual practices as one more thing to add to my already crammed schedule. Thus, I had one more reason to avoid them. I’m just too busy. But, is it possible to re-think what you and I are already doing?

From Nathan’s chapter on meditation, “As I lay in bed quietly reflecting, it came as a bit of a shock to see that in commuting to work over the years, I had actually unintentionally been practicing meditation.” (p. 82)

I once heard author and speaker, Brian McLaren, refer to this as “Faithing our Practices.” In spiritual formation circles we talk a lot about practicing our faith. That little twist of a phrase, “faithing our practices,” invites us to examine what we are already doing and then ask how it could be done more intentionally, more thoughtfully as a way to experience the graciousness of God.

Do you walk your dog every day? Can you use that as your time to pray, to sing, to wonder in God’s creation? Do you commute to work? Instead of blaring mindless music can you mindfully pray for the day ahead; the interactions you will have, the needs of the people you will meet? Do you ever find yourself in the grocery store? Duh! Can you use that as an opportunity to pray not only for the workers behind the counter but all the hands of those who planted and harvested?

In other words, can you let your life—your present, ordinary, everyday life, be your teacher?

Nathan sums it up well, “I no longer see the disciplines as something unattainable, reserved for the super spiritual or stuffy monkish folks. Practicing the disciplines rather feels like a gentle and graceful attunement to seeking God in the everyday mess and simple things.” (p. 189)

It’s Monday: How will your life be your teacher today. Peace. Kai

It’s Monday February 2

Can you ever go back home?

Last week I traveled to the Twin Cities for the 25th anniversary of my graduation from Luther Seminary. Surprisingly, I was nervous. What would the place be like? How much had it changed? In what ways would it be the same?

What would the people be like? Would we pick up our conversations like old friends do, the time between our last meeting and the accumulated experiences we had simply being a pathway to a deeper relationship? Or would that same time and those different experiences be an invisible barrier, a reminder of the different pathways we have taken and the distance, both physical and relational, they have created between us?

As I turned the corner to Como Avenue in St. Paul and saw the seminary set on the hill I was bathed in nostalgia. My mind raced back to those years of our early married lives—no kids, no money, nothing but time to be with other young couples gathered around our hibachi grills, sipping cheap beer, and swimming in the big ideas we were learning in our seminary classes. (Ok, chances are pretty good we spent more time bemoaning the fact that the Vikings could never win the big one and/or dancing to Whitney Houston than we did discussing our systematic theology class.) Tears welled up in my eyes. How could it be 25 years? It felt like home.

But a strange thing happened when I entered the buildings. For all the ways the buildings had been upgraded, the experience was strangely the same—the same bell rang as we were called to each new session, the same displays of traditional worship garb ushered us into the space, the same stale conversations about “churchy” issues that at one time had filled my imagination now constricted my soul. Indeed, it had been 25 years. I recognized how much had changed within me in that time. I felt like a stranger in my own home.

So, there I was, longing for home and so glad I had been away, connected to the familiar but disconnected to the same, drawn to the memory of the past but grateful for my place in the present.

Can you ever go back home? I don’t know. But, I do know it was good to remember what was, especially as it shaped what is, and opened the way for what will be.

When my wife and daughter picked me up at the airport, my dog was awaiting me in the back seat of the van. When he saw me, even after just a few days, he whined with delight.

That’s when I figured it out. Maybe home is where your dog is.

It’s Monday. How can you be grateful for your present place in life today? Peace. Kai