Ben Grace

Enneagram prayer practices

Sunday marked the end of our Enneagram series during Lent.  To close out this journey we thought it would be great to dive into the prayer practices that disrupt our habits & lead us back to health.  We wanted Sunday to reflect the idea that our friend Aaron Niequist articulates that church should be "more of a spiritual gymnasium than classroom".  We wanted to practice praying together rather than just hearing about it.

That being said these were not our ideas.  We've been borrowing heavily from Christopher L. Heuertz's book "The Sacred Enneagram" during this series & his ideas were central to our practices on Sunday morning.

We decided to walk through 3 practices that were related to each of the intelligence centers.  See the chart below for specifics of each type.

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The first practice we dived into was chosen primarily for the Thinking/Head center, 5-7s.  This practice originates with Julia Cameron, author of "The Artist's Way" & as one author writes they're designed to "unlock a lot of the chains of my mind and open up the dam so that creativity can flow".

You can read more about the how to do them here but it's not that hard.  Just write, dust out the cobwebs & settle your mind for the day.

Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing,
done first thing in the morning. *There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages*–
they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about
anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes
only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and
synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put
three pages of anything on the page...and then do three more pages tomorrow.

The second practice was chosen primarily for the Instinctive/Body center, 8-1s.  We introduced this very simple practice of a prayer labyrinth back in 2016.  You can read about it & download the labyrinth here.

Walking a labyrinth with your feet or your finger, as you can do here, is meant to be a meditative practice to draw you into the mystery of God, to a place beyond words, images or other mental content.

Our third & final practice was for the Feeling/Heart center 2-4s & was facilitated by community member Theresa Elwell.  You'll have to listen back to the service to fully experience what she walked us through but here's an excerpt from the practice she led us through the week before to get a taste:

First, just drop into your breathing… noticing your inhale and your exhale….

Now bring your awareness to your heart area, noticing any feeling or sensations there…

I invite you to allow these words into your heart….
gently and quietly reciting them to yourself if that’s comfortable for you.

I am imperfect, and I am worthy of Love. 

I am flawed, and I am worthy of Grace.

I love and accept myself just as I am. 

Breathe into the Divine Spirit that lives within you. 
Breathe into this energy.
Breathe into this power.
… and give thanks.

When faced with the next challenge or struggle, we can practice
pausing, 
breathing,
coming back to our centers, 
back to our hearts,
and remember that we are loved. 

Amen.

Here's the full service for you to experience or relive these practices:

For Everyone Born

So I promised if we got to 75% of our $250k goal (you can still give here!) that I'd share a new song and I thought this was the most appropriate song that I could share.  It's a song that helps me to articulate our new vision.  It's a song that challenges me to keep creating space at the table for others.  It's a song that's not too complex and  sounds like a bunch of working class Irish drinking after a long day at work.  It's a song that is aspirational.  It's a song that I hope lingers on our lips and lives in our hands and feet.

If you want to read more about the story behind the song you can head over to my blog.  Lyrics are below.

Lyrics by Shirley Erena Murray:

For everyone born, a place at the table,
For everyone born, clean water and bread,
A shelter, a space, a safe place for growing,
For everyone born, a star overhead

For woman and man, a place at the table,
Revising the roles, deciding the share,
With wisdom and grace, dividing the power,
For woman and man, a system that’s fair,

CHORUS
and God will delight when we are creators
of justice and joy, (justice and joy)
yes, God will delight when we are creators
of justice and joy, compassion and peace

For young and for old, a place at the table,
a voice to be heard, a part in the song,
the hands of a child in hands that are wrinkled,
for young and for old, the right to belong,

For just and unjust, a place at the table,
abuser, abused, with need to forgive,
in anger, in hurt, a mindset of mercy,
for just and unjust, a new way to live,

For everyone born, a place at the table,
to live without fear, and simply to be,
to work, to speak out, to witness and worship,
for everyone born, the right to be free

I didn’t include this verse on the demo because I was alerted to it later via a post on the Liturgy Fellowship FB group:

For gay and for straight, a place at the table,
a covenant shared, a welcoming space,
a rainbow of race and gender and colour,
for gay and for straight, the chalice of grace

May we be people who continually create space at the table for others

Why I #LoveForefront: My 10am Diversity Alarm (Part Four)

For over three years now an alarm has gone off on my phone at 10am that simply says: Diversity.  Forefront's founding pastor, Brian Moll, had challenged our staff to pray about one thing for a few months and really lean into a particular thing that inspired/bothered us.  As I remember it a few days earlier I had been in a meeting with leadership resident Jordan Rice who is now the founding pastor of Renaissance Church in Harlem.  He shared that the thing that most burned on his heart for the church and that most defined how he wanted to do ministry came from the lips of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. who once said:

"It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o'clock on Sunday morning."

This totally rocked my world.  I was heartbroken by this statement and struggled to sleep.  I had no idea what to do about it so I just started reaching out to friends who I knew were passionate about seeing a better world, a kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.  Tanya Riches told me about Nikki Lerner and next thing I knew I was jumping into a hire car for a whirlwind 32 hour visit to Columbia MD to attend the Multicultural Worship Leaders Network conference at Bridgeway Community Church.

For the last few years our church, Forefront Brooklyn, has stumbled its way through this journey of becoming diverse.  I'm so grateful for my worship team who have wrestled with me about the tension of being authentic, put up with my hair brained ideas and instincts, learned to sing a phrases in other languages, and allowed themselves to be stretched by a vast array of musical genres.  I love that we're a church where people turn up on a Sunday morning not knowing what to expect in worship, that we're prepared to be met by a surprising God, that we expect that we won't be comfortable 100 percent of the time, that we're ok with giving up our own preferences in order that other people might have room at the table.

I'm not sure where I picked up this idea but I believe that leadership is about delegating authority not just tasks.  I'm proud of the leaders that I have in my team and the unique style and talents that they bring to the table.  I love that I get to collaborate with, and learn from, each and every one of them.  Because of their commitment to the vision Forefront has for diversity we're able to see the true colors in our community and we're able to worship in a variety of different ways week in and week out.  These leaders blow me away:

Jubi Williams, a first generation Indian immigrant, who loves to rework old hymns and classical Evangelical standards.  Jubi mostly leads an all women worship band and has been known to tear up during rehearsals because she's so overwhelmed by what God has done in her life.

David Portalatin, aka David J from BK, a Brooklyn born and raised Puerto Rican who writes like Bob Dylan and sings like Bruce Springsteen.  David came to us from another NYC church and was burnt out on the idea of worship trying to fit into a one size fits all approach.  He's also an amazing songwriter and part of the Songwriting Guild.

Angela Lockett-Colas, an African American gospel singer who leads a choir out at a Baptist church in Crown Heights monthly.  Angela's huge heart for worship and for the gospel helps to stretch us and often has us crossing aisles to embrace each other during worship.

Lindsey Luff Fulgenzi, a Memphis native who grew up in a large Southern church and who wants to sing more than top 20 CCLI songs, songs with substance and story, songs with sighing and suffering, songs that matter.  Lindsey is a powerhouse country singer songwriter and one of the original members of the Songwriting Guild.

Leslie Hill, a newcomer to our church having found us round the time of our FCQ series 2015.  While he is a formidable talent he is also one of the warmest people I know and never shy to give a brand new person a huge welcoming hug.  Leslie is a trained opera singer and sings hymns like an angel.

Amy Leon, born and raised in Harlem, is a force of nature, a poet, a spoken word artist, an activist who isn't frightened to talk about her mixed racial identity and to speak about how Black Lives Matter.  Will never forget the Sunday she first led in Brooklyn after the Ferguson decision.  We learned to lament that day.

Katherine Knipp Willis, an acting teacher and Lucid Body instructor who has helped our extroverted church become more centered, quiet and conscious of the earth that we inhabit.  Katie serves on the prayer team and collaborated on one of the most unique services we've ever done: Silence Sunday.

Stef Fontela, a Filipino San Francisco native who's been around from day one and was the first person we baptised.  She loves to cover pop songs that bring a twist to the topics we're covering in the sermon and brings her RnB sensibility to worship.  When she's not leading she's usually in the front row taking copious notes.

 

And there's so many other names and stories of team members who have helped build an amazing, welcoming, diverse environment at FFBK.

One of the most important things that I've realized over the last few years as my alarm persistently calls me to be mindful of the diversity of God's world is that every person is created in the image and likeness of God.  Whether I like it or not, and whether you like it or not, God loves each and every one in their own unique, diverse, colorful, fantastic way.

We believe and practice that and it is why I #LoveForefront

Would love to hear your story of why you love Forefront.  Share on social media and use #LoveForefront to be a part of this conversation.

If you want to hear some of the amazing sounds these leaders help create then our Soundcloud is below:


Stations of the Cross

In 2016 we'd like you to invite you into a rhythm of praying and meditating through the Stations of the Cross.  We have set these up in our offices and you can visit at any time during office hours.  The office will also be open before and during our three "Scatter" events on Monday, Wednesday and Friday should you wish to participate in an intimate communal worship experience.

You can walk through the Stations of the Cross resource over here.

We're grateful to Creighton Universities for the guide through the Stations and St Richard's of Chicester for David O'Connel's amazing art that walks us through this imaginative exercise.


How to Really Listen

How do you actually listen?  Are you the type of person who is busy waiting for a pause to get out what you think or connect it to your own life or experience?  Are you a generous listener  A question asker?  Why do you ask questions?  Is it to gain empathy or get the gory details?

Listening is hard.

We're walking through Job right now as a church & yesterday Jen spoke on how Job's three friends failed to sit with him in silence & solidarity.  So here's a few stories & thoughts that might be a practical help on learning the art of listening.

A few months ago I was in Pittsburgh Airport after a conference.  A large group of attendees ended up there at the same time and so we did lunch together but as it dispersed I ended up talking to this one guy I had only just met in the last hour of the conference.  I can't recall how we got onto the conversation but he shared with me that a few months ago he had been at a personal & professional crossroads and a friend of his had set up a "clearness committee" to help him & his wife make a decision on how to move forward.

This ancient Quaker practice of the "clearness committee" can "help you to learn the value of asking open, honest questions, to experience how everyone has an inner teacher, and to see what happens when we commit to the ideas of no fixing, advising, saving or correcting one another."

You can probably already see what this has to do with Job & why I was so taken with it.

Fast forward almost a year & once again at a Jesuit retreat center I found myself face to face with a shorter version that seemed related to this practice that I found super helpful.  I'd like to outline it here for use in your small group or friendship circle with the caveat that done well it is a positive experience for everyone involved but done poorly, it can cause hurt and even harm.

  1. Get into a group of 3 people and pray out loud invoking the Spirit for help, calm, honesty & empathy to flow in & around this practice.
  2. Decide the order in which people will speak
  3. Spend a minute in complete silence, be aware of your breath, be present, settle yourself down to listen deeply
  4. The first person speaks uninterrupted for 10 minutes.  No one is allowed to respond verbally or interact besides maintaining eye contact.  If the person runs out of things to say in the 10 minutes leave the rest of the time for silence but that whole time is theirs to say exactly what is on their heart and mind.
  5. Once the 10 minutes are up fall into silence again for a whole minute.  Pray silently for the person's story and for all they've said.  Pray for questions to arise in you that will help the other person to feel clarity.
  6. After the minute of silence there are 3 minutes in which the other two people can speak & ask questions of the first speaker.  No judgement statements are allowed, only affirming ones eg "I heard how much you love your children & how concerned you are for them".  Likewise the questions should be open & honest.  See point 5 here on this blog for great examples of this type of questioning.  Remember this feedback is to provide clarity to the speaker not fulfill your desire for details, curiosity or gossip.
  7. Once the 3 minutes are up you fall again into silence & then the process moves on to the second speaker.
  8. At the end of the exercise pray out loud again thanking God for the gift of silence, clarity, of empathetic listening.
  9. One really big thing to note is that this has to be a completely safe space.  You are not permitted to talk about anything that was said in this circle of trust again unless the speaker engages with you about that & seeks further communication.  Even in this circumstance please be conscious of the rules of open & honest questions.

For me this experience was so liberating because I felt like I didn't have to be the bearer of someone else's burdens.  In the silences in between I felt the presence of God comforting, guiding, convicting & I knew that it was not my job to judge.  I also was amazed at how long 10 minutes felt & wondered if I'd ever given other people so much open space to talk.  Just sitting silently & listening knowing that I couldn't respond very quickly released me from the burden to get involved, to interject myself or my own experience.

I want to sign off from this quote from this website all about the clearness committee which I highly recommend you digging into:

Many of us face a dilemma when trying to deal with a personal problem, question, or decision. On the one hand, we know that the issue is ours alone to resolve and that we have the inner resources to resolve it, but access to our own resources is often blocked by layers of inner “stuff”—confusion, habitual thinking, fear, despair. On the other hand, we know that friends might help us uncover our inner resources and find our way, but by exposing our problem to others, we run the risk of being invaded and overwhelmed by their assumptions, judgments, and advice—a common and alienating experience. As a result, we often privatize these vital questions in our lives: at the very moment when we need all the help we can get, we find ourselves cut off from both our inner resources and the support of a community.

 


LENT PRAYER LABYRINTH

This prayer labyrinth marks the 46 days of Lent, 40 week days of fasting & 6 Sundays of feasting, beginning at Ash Wednesday and ending on Holy Saturday.

Download it here & print it your personal use.

Use this resource in your meditation time.  Fill, color or sketch in the circle for the day & then slowly trace your finger from today's circle in & around the prayer labyrinth to the center through the empty circles.

In the liturgical planner "Sacred Ordinary Days" Jenn Giles Kemper writes:

For some, the circuitous path represents our life-long journey towards Christ-likeness and for others it is a way of entering into a pilgrimage of imagination without going on a long trip.  Using a labyrinth helps me approach God with humility, curiosity, wonder, and undistracted presence.
Walking a labyrinth with your feet or your finger, as you can do here, is meant to be a meditative practice to draw you into the mystery of God, to a place beyond words, images or other mental content.  Apophatic prayers such as these are about resting in and being present to God, paradoxically, through the absence of what we normally consider to be prayer.  Using a labyrinth is one of many methods of entering into apophatic prayer.  Surely we recognize that while God is unknowable, we cannot fully grasp all that God is.  Experiencing grief and even joy can give us glimpses into parts of God and ourselves that lie beyond what our senses and faculties can comprehend,  How comforting, then to know that those places, too, are doors that open to realms of God we cannot discover, otherwise.
Given how foreign the apophatic approach to prayer still is to me, I find walking labyrinths helpful, because it gives my "outside" self - my physical body - something to do.  This employment allows my "inside" self - my heart, mind, and spirit - to simply be present without having a responsibility in the moment.  While labyrinths look like mazes, the path is singular and without deception.  They do not require decision-making or problem solving.  Once you enter, you simply continue moving forward ... each step draws you inward to the center.

We hope this practice allows you some emptiness and slowness in this season of Lent.

Use this in conjunction with other resources such as "Seeking God's Face" or "unhurryUp!"


THINGS THAT ARE SHAPING US: PART SEVEN

PLAY / WRITE / RECORD / REPEAT

 In January 2015 I got a tattoo on my left forearm that was to be my mantra for the year.  A friend of a friend offered me this piece of advice that as musicians & creatives (& probably as humans) we tend to overthink things & that maybe we need to keep it really simple:

 PLAY / WRITE / RECORD / REPEAT

PLAY / WRITE / RECORD / REPEAT

Below is a chart of how setting this mantra impacted January 2015 & all the ways I set out to achieve one of these four goals every day of the month:

COUNTIN'

To keep me accountable to my goals I started to do a lot more "countin".  Strategy is in my top 5 strengths according to Strengths Finder 2.0 and so in 2015 I got a lot more focused about setting goals, making plans, tracking progress and then celebrating successes by sharing them with people. 

 My 2015 stats as an infographic

My 2015 stats as an infographic

I shared this infographic on my new website celebrating milestones of 2015 & I also wrote a song called Countin' just for kicks.


GUILD vs ISLAND

In the very start of Genesis God says that "it is not good for man to be alone" & I believe that art, like life, is better when you create it in community.  I could not have achieved a single thing without the amazing people & artists around me in guilds & I highly recommend you get involved in one ASAP if you're searching for honest, vulnerable, & momentum building community.  Lance shares some amazing thoughts on the lie of the lone wolf artist and guilds on his blog.  Here's a few things the Songwriting Guild achieved together this year:

 Lindsey Luff's debut EP funding a successful Kickstarter campaign

Lindsey Luff's debut EP funding a successful Kickstarter campaign

 David J from BK's debut EP

David J from BK's debut EP

 Guild Collective event that united all Guilds under one roof to tell a story about #process

Guild Collective event that united all Guilds under one roof to tell a story about #process

SEASONS

I've written so much about the liturgical calendar on our blog before.  If you don't already know I have a worship project called "The Calendar Years" and I'm always looking for ways to make the seasons of the calendar meaningful & practical in my life.  I've just started using a liturgical day planner which I backed on Kickstarter called "Sacred ordinary days" and they've also launched a podcast.  If you've never heard anything about liturgy or the calendar then the podcast is a great introduction & they're full of great ideas on how to bring the seasons into your home with practices, rhythms & even decorations.

RANDOM STUFF

Here's a few other things that I loved this year:

 Listen to it on Audible.  Nadia is salty, honest & brutal.  I cried through most of this book

Listen to it on Audible.  Nadia is salty, honest & brutal.  I cried through most of this book

 Ryan Phipps' fault.  But really this is the best TV show of all time and contains all you need to know about leadership

Ryan Phipps' fault.  But really this is the best TV show of all time and contains all you need to know about leadership

 This podcast has profoundly impacted my life in 2015.  Stan's message on "Sin" has me reading the Bible through a new lens

This podcast has profoundly impacted my life in 2015.  Stan's message on "Sin" has me reading the Bible through a new lens

And of course there's the music:

Lastly I feel 2015 really taught me just how beautiful & brutal life was as it flowed in, out & around all of us. So many reasons to celebrate from marriages and births but yet so many times when all we could do was mourn as we buried people and said goodbye.

The question which Gungor put to music this year is the words of the poet Mary Oliver and haunts me as I stare into 2016:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  

Missing the Target

I've been thinking a lot about gender over the last few years.

I'm a 35 year old white male and I am realizing I know nothing about it aside from what I was taught in high school biology & what I've "caught" about gender growing up in society.

One news story caught my eye this week. To be more accurate one response to a news story caught my eye.

Grant Castleberry, the executive director of the Council for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood (CBMW), wrote a post called “Missing the Target: Some Brief Thoughts on Target’s Cultural Capitulation.” In his words:

Over the weekend, Target became the next corporate power, after Amazon, to rid themselves of all gender designations and labels for children’s toys and bedding.

Many of the assertions in this article bother me but none greater than this:

The Bible teaches that men are wired by God to protect and to pursue, so it is not surprising that they naturally like toys that by-and-large involve fighting, building, and racing. Women, on the other hand, are wired by God to nurture and to be pursued, so it is also not surprising that they largely enjoy playing with American Girl Dolls, Barbies, and Disney princess dresses.

Does that bother you?  If so, why?

I could write a lot of words about the binaries, dualistic thinking & stereotypes that I see in this article but I want to focus on this idea of MALE = PURSUER and FEMALE = PURSUED

I believe that the Bible has a lot to say about this but I don't feel that I'm reaching the same conclusion as Grant.

My good friend Tanya Riches posted up a powerful sermon last week on Bathsheba and points out that the "story of Bathsheba is a story of control and domination."

In this story David is no doubt cast in the role of pursuer and Bathsheba as the one pursued but is the Scripture trying to paint a picture of God's ultimate desire for how human relationships should operate?  Is the Scripture trying to condone what happens to Bathsheba?  Hear Tanya's words on this:

It is a story of willful disobedience to God, silenced voices, and gender power imbalances. It is a story of violence. And in this, it relates to our context today. Control, domination and violence are well known to many Australians. 1 in three Australian women (and many men also) have experienced violence from the hands of their loved ones. Two women are killed each week in our nation – and a woman is hospitalized every three hours. The Luke Batty foundation states that 95% of reported incidents are committed by men – against women, children and other vulnerable people. [MY NOTE: At the bottom of this post I've included a link to domestic violence statistics in the US] But here, Bathsheba’s story is not the stereotypical one of poverty, alcohol and screaming, but of riches, celebrity, power and deeply calculated violence – far more insidious. She is summoned by the King, and, and she is kidnapped from her life as she has known it.

The David & Bathsheba story is not an isolated story in the Bible but probably the most famous.  Sadly David's firstborn son Amnon continues this story of gender power imbalances by deceiving and then raping his sister Tamar.  And Amnon's story, like his father David's, ends in bloodshed & violence.

As a staff we recently read "Disarming Scripture" by Derek Flood.  Many times Derek asserts that as people of faith we cannot ignore or dismiss the violence found in our sacred text but rather faithfully question what voice we are hearing it from.  As Tanya points out in her conclusion:

There is no doubt that God intends to call David to account on behalf of his misuse of the powerless, the vulnerable, the marginalized. He hears the voices David has silenced. And so, Bathsheba’s story is an encouragement to oppressed and oppressor alike that there is indeed an end to this cycle of violence.

I believe that clinging onto an idea of MALE = PURSUER and FEMALE = PURSUED continues to misrepresent Scripture and drives home an idea that sends, in Tanya's words, "a clear message of who was the lead actor in this story – and who was simply a side character, left to revolve around the anger and desires of the other."

In light of the story of Bathsheba is it possible that we could see what Target is doing as a step forward into a world where males are not taught that violence and domination is their birthright and females are encouraged to be equal in their right to control their own bodies?

I'm hoping that as we go through FCQ you'll be encouraged to challenge some of your assumptions about how you see yourself and your identity in Christ and that together we shape a holy imagination that brings about a restored vision of what it means for us to be a church that is "one in Christ".

Further reading:

"Pink & Blue" - The Liturgists.  Amazing piece on God & gender roles

30 Shocking Domestic Violence Statistics That Remind Us It's An Epidemic - Huff Post

When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink? - Article Jen found on Smithsonian Mag

Hear Forefront Brooklyn community member Hannah Johnston retell the story of Esther & talk a little about how Esther's world is eerily similar to today when it comes down to women controlling their own bodies:

God our Mother

Yesterday at Forefront Brooklyn we explored a few ideas in worship round the idea of "God as Mother".  I've been thinking about this for over a decade and I'm grateful to "The Liturgists" for putting words and music to this last year on Mother's Day.

I just published a post on our Brooklyn worship blog about the music from yesterday and you can even hear live versions of the songs we sang there and here.

I'm reposting below the meditation below written by Rachel Held Evans and you can hear the entire "God our Mother" piece here and read the lyrics and guided prayer here.

 

PINK AND BLUE

Yesterday we went for a walk in the forest preserve, and two deer stood in the clearing. One grazed and wandered, took no notice of us. And the other stared at us, completely still, tensed and ready at every moment.  The young deer was careless, wandering, unworried. Because the one who watched us was her mother. 

The young deer was safe, because she was with her mother. And this mother deer did what mothers do: she protected, watched over, looked out for, stayed on guard over. She was looking across the field, eyes scanning back and forth, ready to protect her young at any moment.

We live in a world that draws a deep distinction between fathers and mothers—there are things that fathers do and things that mothers do, and in our world they’re not the same at all. It starts before we become parents, actually.  We do this with all men and women, and before that, boys and girls.

A sonogram, black and white and gray swirls. It looks like old footage of a moon landing more than anything. But in that moment, gender is spoken, or maybe a few months later in a hospital room, and then you tumble into a world of pink, pink, pink, or blue, blue, blue–forever.

That’s how people are. We split people into pink and flowers and babies and high heels. Or blue and bravado and machines and muscles. 

But God isn’t pink or blue. God doesn’t fit into our Game of Life pegs, tiny woman or tiny man, riding around the board in a tiny sedan.

God nurtures and protects and feeds his children, just like that mother deer in the clearing, with ferocity and power, ready to do anything for the children he loves. God listens and draws near. God holds and heals. 

God our Mother. 
God our Mother.

We know all about God our Father, and the beautiful images that go along with that idea: the strong, faithful, unshakeable love of a father. But to only know God the Father would be like only knowing daytime but never night—to see the sunrise, but never the gentle, haunting rise of a harvest moon, low in the sky, blood red and beautiful. To know only the Father God would be like seeing the bright, dazzling sun, but never the stars spreading across the sky like so much fairy dust.

God our Mother, reaching out to us with those hands—mother hands, strong and coursing with love, binding up wounds and soothing scrapes, holding us together, holding us safe.

God our Mother, feeding us, nourishing us, giving us what we need to grow and thrive, taking care of us in big and small ways, seeing us, knitting us back together with love and grace when we’ve been broken.

God our Mother, believing in us. That’s what a mother does: she looks into your eyes and she says, I believe in you. I know you. I know you were made for great things. A mother says, you’re not too small or too scared. You’re not too frail or too flawed. You’re mine. And that’s all you need to know.

God our Mother whispers to each one of us You’re mine. And that’s all you need to know.

Thursday of Holy Week (Response)

Response

Having spent time remembering, it seems natural to want to respond in some way. Take time to journal or pray, expressing your thoughts on the actions, attitudes, feelings, and interactions you’ve remembered as a part of this exercise. You might need to seek forgiveness, ask for direction, share a concern, express gratitude, or resolve to make changes and move forward. Allow your observations to guide your responses.

Beginning today, how do you want to live your life differently?

What patterns do you want to keep living tomorrow?

“Ever-present Father, help me to meet you in the Scriptures I read and the prayers I say;
in the bread I break and the meals I share; in my investments at work and my enjoyments at play;
and in the neighbors and family I welcome, love, and serve, for your sake
and that your love and peace may reign now and forever. Amen.”

“May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
[Hebrews 13v20-21]

God’s peace be yours.

 

Would love to hear if you've used the Examen throughout Holy Week and how you've found it.  
Please comment below.

Wednesday of Holy Week (Review)

Review

The function of prayer is not to influence God,
but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.

―Søren Kierkegaard

Over-packed lives can rob us of the opportunity to learn from the past, to see how yesterday might inform today. “Where did the time go?!” we ask ourselves, often struggling to remember what we did just a week ago. Here we can benefit again from taking time to look back over the past 24 hours. By intentionally reviewing our interactions, responses, feelings and intentions, we can avoid letting days speed by. We can pause to learn more about ourselves and about God’s activity in our lives.

Try to look back objectively as you review. Rather than interpreting, justifying, or rationalizing, the intent is to observe and remember. Allow your mind to wander the situations you’ve been in and to notice details. The questions in this exercise should help you bring specific experiences to mind.

When or where in the past 24 hours were you cooperating most fully with God’s action in your life?
When were you resisting?

What habits and life patterns do you notice from the past day?

“Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul … Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.”

[Psalm 143v8b,10]

Tuesday of Holy Week (Gratitude)

PORTION 2: Gratitude

“If the only prayer you say in your entire life is ‘Thank You,’:
wrote Meister Eckhart, “that would suffice.”

As you think about the past 24 hours, what causes you to be thankful? Look back over the past day, the big and small aspects of life, and recognize what reasons you have to be grateful. Focus on these experiences and encounters, helping your mind and spirit center on the goodness and generosity of God.

If you’re using a journal, consider capturing your thanks in writing, expressing words of gratitude and giving testimony to God’s generosity and faithfulness. Find encouragement and reminders of God’s goodness, and be thankful.

Looking back over the past 24 hours, for what are you most grateful?
What makes you feel thankful?

Using simple words, express your gratitude to God.

“Praise be to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens.”

[Ephesians 1v3]

Monday of Holy Week (Intro to the Examen)

We're inviting you into prayer with us throughout Holy Week as we step through the events of Jesus' betrayal, crucifixion and resurrection.  At the beginning of Lent Jonathan highlighted a resource which we've been using as a staff and so we thought we'd take our time to walk through this particular prayer practice as a community.

We stumbled across this resource via Aaron Niequist who leads a community called "The Practice" which is part of Willow Creek church in Chicago.  I would recommend buying this & having it on your smart phone to listen to on your commute or in your prayer time each day.  I've put the full liturgy at the bottom of this page as well even though we'll be walking through the Examen on our blog one portion a day.

About the Prayer of Examen

The Prayer of Examen is a daily spiritual exercise typically credited to St. Ignatius of Loyola [1491 - 1556], who encouraged fellow followers to engage in the practice for developing a deeper level of spiritual sensitivity and for recognizing and receiving the assistance of the Holy Spirit. At the heart of the practice is increasingly becoming aware of God’s presence and the Holy Spirit’s movement throughout your day.

Practicing the Prayer of Examen

This Prayer of Examen is primarily an exercise in remembering. One is invited, through four portions [presence, gratitude, review, and response], to concentrate on experiences and encounters from the past 24 hours. The beauty of the practice is its simplicity; it is more a guide than a prescription. If some portion feels especially important on a given day, feel the freedom to spend all or most of your time in that portion. The purpose is to increase awareness and sensitivity, not to finish or accomplish a task.

For this practice

  • A comfortable and relatively quiet location is likely most conducive for reflecting
  • The experience doesn’t need to be a certain length—as little as ten minutes could be sufficient, and you could spend more time on certain portions compared to others
  • It might be helpful to journal your thoughts and recollections or to write out what you notice during your times of prayer
  • Consider sharing your experiences: allow encouragement and insight from others to influence you and cheer you on, and when appropriate give the same, together striving to be an ever-faithful “community of solitudes”*

PORTION 1: Presence

Begin this practice by recognizing the presence of God. Remind yourself of God’s presence with you and His desire to be with you. Consider praying for the Holy Spirit to help you be attentive to God’s presence. To become more focused, it might be helpful to repeat a simple phrase during this time, like “Be still and know that I am God” [Psalm 46v10]. It’s important to begin this practice in a calm and centered state. There may be days when you’ll need the entire time to remember and focus on the nearness of God. Don’t rush past this portion. Take the necessary time to wait and find comfort in God’s presence.

“Gracious God, in these moments please remind me of your presence and generosity, and give me the wisdom and courage to live gracefully with myself, others, and the world you have wonderfully made. For the sake of Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. Amen.”

Take some time and focus on the nearness of God. Open yourself to His presence.

“The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.”
[Psalm 145v18]

“The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.
All you have made will praise you, O Lord; your saints will extol you.”

[Psalm 145v9-10]

Nikki Lerner: One of the Most Productive People I Know

I first met Nikki a little under a year and a half ago.

It was at a Multicultural Worship Leaders conference hosted at her church.  She presented, hosted, interviewed and sang.  

She did it all.

And with a smile on her face.

In the middle of the conference a box arrived for her and it was CDs of her first record "Longings" which she had successfully funded on Kickstarter.  I was excited to be one of the first to grab a CD even though I had just met her.  Here's the title track off that record:

Since I met Nikki I've been dazzled by her drive and talent and heart.  As I was thinking about how I wanted to tell her story to you guys in order to get you excited about her visiting us I realized that she inspires me by her productivity.  Here's a quick list of just the things I know:

2009 - Debut EP
2010 - Bridgeway Live record 
2013 - Successful Kickstarter campaign results in her first record "Longings"
2014 - Contributed a song to the CD Multicultural Worship Collective #1
2015 (Feb) - Bridgeway worship project "Abba Father" 
2015 (Mar) - Running a Kickstarter for her second full length record "The Things We Never Say"
2015 (Apr) - Releasing a book on Multicultural Worship with Josh Davis. She texted me this last night!

So for those of you playing along at home thats 6 records & a book in the last 7 years.  No mean feat!  Which is one of my favourite expressions and I just googled the meaning and here it is:

A laudable triumph of great difficulty.

What is her secret?

I don't know but I'm gonna ask her this weekend and maybe we'll even record a podcast about it.  Lancelot just gave me "The War of Art" and its already pushing my buttons so I'll be blogging about process and resistance over here.

 

Please check out Nikki's music
and her Kickstarter
and get excited about hosting her
at Forefront Brooklyn on Sunday!

Why follow the Christian calendar?

So if you've been around for the last few months you've probably heard talk about seasons of Advent and Epiphany and explanations for practices that we're pursuing privately as inidividuals and collectively as a church.

You've also seen icons on the screen or on our weekly emails that look like this:

Epiphany.png

If you didn't grow up in a liturgical tradition (like me) you probably have no idea what these symbols represent or why they're even important.

At Forefront we have chosen to follow the Christian calendar as a rhythm that binds us to the life and story of Jesus.  Glenn Packiam gives us an insight into why we would do this as people of faith:

Rhythms anchor us and center us. A rhythm may move slowly at points, and more frenetically at others, but the cadence gives order to it. Breathing is a rhythm. Life happens in rhythm.
But whose rhythms are we living in step with?
Sacred rhythms keep us in line with the Spirit’s work. They provide us with the space to listen, to look, to learn. The Church Calendar is a rhythm shaped by Christ’s birth, His revealing, His suffering, His death, His resurrection, and His gift of the Spirit.
The Church, of course, is not the first to recognize the value of sacred rhythms. They were following in the footsteps (rhythms!) of their Jewish forefathers, who had feast days and festivals and fasts that were given to them by God while they were still in the wilderness. Think of it: a wandering people with no home yet, no real routines or sense of place…and God gave them a rhythm to live in, a rhythm that would help them worship, and repent, and remember. The early Christians understood how these Jewish feasts were fulfilled in Jesus and so they re-shaped them to mark time around the life of Christ.
But a rhythm doesn’t just help us pay attention to God, it also reminds us that we are not alone. When we participate in a celebration of Christmas or Easter or in the humbling repentance of Lent, we are joining with all who have gone before us. We are walking a well-worn path. We are discarding the arrogance of independence, the pride of “doing it my way”, and humbly joining a chorus of saints.

Glenn says more about the rhythms of worship & specifically Lent, the season we step into this week, on his blog

So here's a little information on each of the icons and seasons of the calendar:

ADVENT

'Advent' means 'arrival' or 'coming' and for a 4 week period leading up to Christmas we prepare our hearts and minds for the birth of Christ.

We've celebrated this season in Brooklyn by lighting candles to slowly mark time and to focus our preparation each week on the themes of 'hope', 'peace', 'joy', and 'love'.  We also released an Advent EP in 2014!

EPIPHANY

'Epiphany' means 'manifestation' or 'striking appearance' and celebrates the light of the world shining in and the darkness not having the last say.  We begin the season with the Magi worshiping the baby Jesus as King of the world, continue with the baptism of Jesus revealing the Son of God and close out Epiphany with the Transfiguration where Jesus shines in glory as he speaks with Moses and Elijah in front of his disciples.

LENT

'Lent' is a period of 40 days leading up to Easter Sunday.  The traditional purpose of Lent is the solemn preparation of the believer through prayer, repentance of sins and self-denial.  Moses, Elijah and Jesus all spent 40 days in the wilderness as a time of trial and preparation.

Last year I wrote a blog specifically about Lent, fasting and feasting. 

EASTERTIDE

'Easter' is not simply a one day event.  After a long period of preparation we spend the next 50 days celebrating Jesus conquering the grave by singing "Hallelujahs" continually and proclaiming as a church "Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!"

We're invited as people of faith to practice resurrection, to bring new life, to live hopefully and joyously in this season of the church calendar. 

To the right is an image of how these seasons roughly work within the calendar year.

I hope this gives you some insight into why we worship using the christian calendar at Forefront. I'd be happy to talk to you more about it if you want to email me or ask any questions.  I've blogged about this over the last few years and you can follow the 'liturgy' or 'Ben Grace' tags through our blog for more information

This is my prayer as we learn these rhythms of the calendar:

Reshape us, good Lord,
until in generosity,
in faith,
and in expectation
that the best is yet to come,
we are truly Christlike.
Make us passionate followers of Jesus rather than passive supporters. Amen.

THINGS THAT ARE SHAPING US, PART 6

PART 6

by Ben Grace

 

Slow Starts

I've never been a morning person & when Brian Moll preached about using the morning to be more productive I wanted to punch him.  Especially because a lot of my work & interests take place at night, rehearsals, shows, meeting up with people after they're done with work.  So this year I've been trying to reclaim some of my mornings as mini Sabbaths.  

Sometimes it looks like waking up a little earlier & taking my time to get out of bed.  

Sometimes its walking with my wife Sara Ann & puppy Gigi to get coffee & Dough donuts.  

Occasionally I've used this slowing down to reclaim my love for sketching.  

If you're excited about trying, or even letting me know about a slower morning rhythm that you already have, I'd love you to join in with the #slowstarts hashtag on Instagram

 

 

Diversity

For almost two years my alarm has gone off at 10am to remind me to pray & think about diversity.  This constant pursuit has led me to some amazing people that I follow regularly in my attempt to understand & have dialogue with people who are not like me.

Multicultural Worship Leaders Network (MWLN) - http://multiculturalworship.org 
I blogged about this a little bit here already but this network has been an extraordinary blessing  to me.  Obviously most of you in our church are not worship leaders but if you feel compelled to support their mission in any way please email to receive their newsletters & stay in touch with how you can support these wonderful people.

Nikki Lerner - http://www.nikkilerner.com
One of the founders of the MWLN & a phenomenal singer/songwriter/worship leader based in Columbia MD.  She came up to NY earlier in the year & led us in an incredible weekend of music, worship & even took time out on the Sunday afternoon after leading 2 services in Brooklyn to discuss diversity with my worship leaders.  This woman's voice & heart are HUGE.

Paul Neeley - http://globalworship.tumblr.com
Paul curates one of the wildest & most eclectic worship blogs I've ever seen.  For instance he recently shared a Korean jazz pianist playing an English hymn that was originally a 15th century French burial chant.  Oh, its that tune you know "O Come O Come Emmanuel" ;p 

Christina Cleveland - http://www.christenacleveland.com
Jonathan already blogged about her here

 

 

Liturgy: Seasons & Rhythms

I've blogged before about how the seasons of the church calendar (Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Eastertide) have really helped to shape & grow my creativity.  This boundless source of energy & creativity led me to collaborate & curate a bunch of worship resources under "The Calendar Years" and we released an Advent EP for free a few weeks back.  

Here's a few people who have inspired me along the way: 

The Liturgists - http://www.theliturgists.com

The Brilliance - http://www.thebrilliancemusic.com 

A New Liturgy - http://www.anewliturgy.com

Cardiphonia - http://cardiphonia.org

Let #Ferguson Prepare Us For Advent

A little over a year ago I drove to Baltimore MD & back in less than 30 hours to be a part of the MULTICULTURAL WORSHIP LEADERS NETWORK conference at Bridgeway Community Church.  I went with curiousity and a desire to network and learn.  I did not expect to find a united, friendly and inclusive group of people who not only warmly welcomed me in but continue to encourage, inspire and challenge me to be part of building a better church.

This week one of the leaders of the network, David Bailey, posted an article that immediately spoke to me.  As we step into the season of Advent tomorrow I'd encourage you to read the whole thing; here is an excerpt:

How Do We Prepare For Advent This Year In Light Of Ferguson?

Step 1: Repent

Racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic segregation is so normative in the majority of our Christian communities that our hearts have become hard and numb to God’s passionate desire for diversity in the Body of Christ. We have to repent of our sins of division in order to make room for the Lord to come in our divided churches and divided Ferguson.

Can we pause and pray, “God, please forgive us, we repent! Come, Lord, Come.”

Step 2: Put Love Into Action

Love expressed in Christian community is the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus gave us the commandment to love one another, and Paul gave us the instructions on how to put our love into action in Romans 12:9-16

Step 3: Mourn And Lament Together As A Community

As we enter into our country’s commercialized season of Christmas, it will be easy for the Body of Christ to be caught up in celebration when we need to learn a dimension of intimate love that only comes through mourning and lamenting together.

Mourning and lamenting together as a Christ-centered community builds a solidarity and longing for a unique coming of Christ and His Kingdom that only comes for those that mourn. In our Christian culture of endless celebration, we rarely take the time to mourn and lament, and therefore we are missing dimensions of the Kingdom of God that would equip us for times like we are facing today.

Come, Lord, Come!

Read David’s entire article, which ends with an “urban doxology” song he recently produced, at
http://www.missioalliance.org/let-ferguson-prepare-us-for-this-season-of-advent/

A MORE CREATIVE CHURCH

Creativity

can be so difficult to chart and track. If you are a creative, you know exactly what I mean. Inspiration comes in the form of raw, open ideas, and the creative person is tasked with packaging it in various mediums so that it might enter the material world.

We see this in architecture and photography. We hear it in songs. We read it in literature. 

Creativity comes from God, and the creative person often feels a "blissful-burden" to foster and package these ideas in a way that is true their leanings as an artist.

There's been a lot of "packaging" happening at Forefront this year. We are blessed to have some of the greatest artists in NYC resident in our community. How did we get so lucky? I really don't know.

Below is a list of some creative projects that have reached fruition this year. If you click on the album image, you'll be linked out to other environments where you can listen for free and/or download if you wish.

There's no agenda to this post other than that you enjoy and are moved to "do life" in a more thoughtful, more inspired way.

Enjoy!


     Click image to listen on Noisetrade

 

Click image to listen on Noisetrade

"Advent" 

by The Calendar Years, November 2014

A project by Forefront Brooklyn's very own Ben Grace collaborating with other Brooklyn artists like Lindsey Luff, Jeremiah Creiglow, Michael Coia, Robbie Kleinberg, Lancelot Schaubert, and others. If you like bands like The Liturgists, Gungor, and The Brilliance, you will love it.

 


     Click image to listen on Spotify

 

Click image to listen on Spotify

"A Lonely Tree"

by Michael James Taylor, August 2014

A project by Forefront Manhattan's very own Michael Taylor. If you like bands like Radiohead, Beck, and Bon Iver, you will love this album.


    Click image to listen on Spotify   Click here for iTunes    Click here for Google Play

 

Click image to listen on Spotify

Click here for iTunes

Click here for Google Play

"Pixel"

by Ryan Phipps, March 2014

This is an album I've been working on for a long time that I finally finished this year. It's filled with tracks suitable for walking the city and commuting. My favorite track is a song titled, "Elly" that I wrote for my (at the time) new daughter who just arrived into the world. If you like bands like DJ Shadow, The Album Leaf, or Tycho, you will love this album.


Liturgy of Community

So here is the last liturgy in our September series praying through our values.  A fitting prayer for a Sunday where our community celebrated 2 years (Brooklyn campus) & 9 years (Manhattan campus).

This is an original piece by Lancelot Schaubert, a writer & blogger who moved from Joplin to be a part of our Brooklyn community recently.  You can follow his work here.

The Liturgy of Community

Holy Father, Loving Son, Ever-present and Joyful Spirit

You, God, live in eternal community.
You, Father, send
You, Son, send 
You, Spirit, draw all men to
You, Father of Heavenly Lights, quiver over the waters at creation through
You, Spirit, miraculously conceived in Mary 
You, Son, can do nothing without
You, Father God.

But we confess we live unlike you.

You made us in your image, male and female, to live in eternal community.
You made us to love.
You made us to submit to one another.
You made us to prostrate ourselves in service to one another.
You made us to defer to the other like you.

But we defer to our selves.

Spirit, lead us spouses towards community by helping us to love the one on the other side of this, your bedroom. 
Father, lead us family members to love the ones on the other side of this, your table.
Son, lead us neighbors to love the ones on the other side of this, your hall.
on the other side of this, your street.
on the other side of this, your neighborhood.
on the other side of these, your train tracks.
on the other side of this, your city.
on the other side of this, your river.
on the other side of this, your county.
on the other side of this, your forest.
on the other side of this, your state.
on the other side of this, your country.
on the other side of these borders.
on the other side of this, your continent
on the other side of this, your sea
on the other side of this, your world
and one day, on the other side of this, your galaxy.

We confess that we destroy community through our ideals of community.
Help us to love one another like you. We know the moment that we love because you first loved us, we create our common union.

Thank you, Father, for loving us enough to send your Son.
Thank you, Son, for loving us enough to send your Spirit.
Thank you, Spirit, for loving us enough to send the Son in Mary.
Thank you, Son, for loving us enough to bring us into the Father's presence.
Thank you, Spirit, for teaching us about the Father of Lights and giving us the fruits of his virtue.
Thank you, Father, for sustaining all things by your Holy Spirit of Life for we know that if you removed the loving attention of your spirit from any given thing, it would cease to be.

Help us to become that attentive not to self, but to the other as we follow you – the Holy One, the most Other of all who dwells in unapproachable light on the other side of this, your cosmos.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Amen

 

* Photo credit: Shawn Willis

Liturgy of Diversity

A slightly shorter prayer this week to pray about our value of diversity

We come from many backgrounds
We come from many generations
We come from many spiritual walks
We come from many ethnicities
We come from many experiences

Let us
Celebrate our unity in Christ

Let us
Celebrate our diversity in Christ.

As Christ welcomed all who came to him,
Regardless of social status, wealth, family,
Ethnicity, race, gender,
Holiness, righteousness, purity,
Illness, disabilities, limitations,
Intelligence, mental health, abilities,
Religion, faith, or commitment,
So do we welcome all who come, all who are sent, all who join us. 
For God has called us all to be one family in Christ. Amen.

For an extended prayer time here's a prayer we prayed last year on our first anniversary as a church in Brooklyn:

Give thanks to God, all the earth; praise God’s holy name.
Let us give thanks to God for ballot boxes, newspaper editorials, and open borders,
for all the freedoms we enjoy.

Let us give thanks to God for diplomats, treaties, and compromise,
for peace in a world of war.

Let us give thanks to God
for police officers, streetlights, and concerned neighbors, for safety from fear and harm.

Give thanks to God, all the earth; praise God’s holy name.

Let us give thanks to God for St. Paul and St. Priscilla, St. Francis and St. Claire,
Martin Luther, Martin Luther King, and Mother Teresa,
for all Christians who ran the race before us.

Let us give thanks to God for the Scriptures, for creeds and confessions,
for the songs and hymns of God’s people,
for all good things in our heritage of faith.

Let us give thanks to God for a good creation,
a redeeming Son, and a transforming Spirit,
for all the benefits of our salvation.

Give thanks to God, all the earth; praise God’s holy name.

Let us give thanks to God for purple and orange sunsets,
bright red flowers, great gray elephants, and the vast blackness of space,
for all the wonders, God, of your creative mind.
Let us give thanks to God for Mozart, Michelangelo, and Milton,
for pianos, paintbrushes, and pencils,
for all the wonders of our creative minds, made in your image, O Lord.

Give thanks to God, all the earth; praise God’s holy name.

Let us give thanks to God for Thanksgiving turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie, for the abundance of food that sustains our bodies.
Let us give thanks to God for soft beds, warm fires, familiar chairs, and open windows,
for the abundant comfort of our homes.

Let us give thanks to God for cars that run,
brand-new sneakers, and long, hot showers,
for God’s goodness that flows above and beyond our needs.

Give thanks to God, all the earth; praise God’s holy name.

Let us give thanks to God for aggressive immune systems,
for running cross-country, and for sound sleep,
for the strength and health of our bodies.
Let us give thanks to God for crossword puzzles,
learning foreign languages, and plane geometry,
for healthy, strong minds.

Give thanks to God, all the earth; praise God’s holy name.

Let us give thanks to God for pesky little brothers,
wise grandmothers, favorite uncles, and loving parents,
for the families that shaped our lives.
Let us give thanks to God for surprise phone calls,
funny birthday gifts, and long talks late at night,
for friends who stick with us as the years go by.

Let us give thanks to God for men and women
with dark skin and light skin, freckles and curls,
pug noses and beards, graceful limbs and ample laps,
for all the beautiful diversity of people, all over the world,
who make up one family of God, bound together in Christ.

Give thanks to God, all the earth; praise God’s holy name.
Give thanks to God, all the earth; praise God’s holy name. Amen.