How to reconnect and move the
message and the experience
back into the community.
The Rocky Mountain American Baptist
A Newsletter of the American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains
A multi-perspective look at re-engagement during Covid-19 'life'
Note: In January, the ABCRM staff decided to dedicate this winter edition to the theme of "re-engagement." At the time, the COVID-19 virus had yet to dominate the headlines, and obviously, had not yet turned into such a devastating pandemic with global consequences. However, the idea of "re-engagement" is perhaps even more appropriate after the mandated shutdowns and restrictions on church attendance throughout the past nine months. We invite you to take some time and to review the insightful articles and resources as we continue to support and to encourage each other as Christians. Amen.
About this Winter Edition
Re-Engagement: Life After Disruptions
2020 will be one of those years that, for those of us who endured it, will share with future generations. We'll give a 'telling nod' and that 'far-away look' as we retell our stories. I imagine we will share it in the same way some of my elders talked about the ’58 flood or The Great War or some other major event that happened prior to my birth.
-- Steve Van O
These major events create disruption in our lives, and are a challenge both as we engage the disruption and also as we rebuild in its aftermath.
Of course, with 2020, it hasn’t just been one event - although in the midst of all the other disruptions there is the “pandemic” still lurking in the background.
And despite all that we have experienced, there are some who still talk about “when things return to normal” without acknowledging that whatever we come to view as normal in the future isn’t going to look like what we experienced just a year ago. It will be more like airline travel prior to 9/11 and then after 9/11 … there may be a new “normal” but it won’t look anything like before. Pre-9/11 you could go and meet your friend at the gate as they departed the plane … go eat at nice restaurant in the terminal … go and just watch planes take off and land. Now … well you know the drill … only ticketed passengers are allowed inside the terminal (unless you go through hoops to accompany a minor). Go to a restaurant that lies beyond security??? No way! And if you just want to watch planes take off and land, you'd better be prepared for a visit from airport security.
Still, despite the fact that “normal” will be redefined in unknown ways, the testimony of history is that the turmoil we are experiencing now eventually will abate, and we will need to re-engage life following this disruption. And when we do re-engage, we have a choice in how we do this: we can either re-engage allowing the circumstances to dictate how our lives will be defined, or we can do it thoughtfully, intentionally and with purpose, and thereby define the future “normal” as something better, healthier and happier than the old “normal."
Given the nature of what we are currently experiencing, we hope this edition of our online newsletter will help you to re-engage in the midst of ongoing social distancing and Covid precautions as our numbers once again rise at a disturbing rate.
We trust that you will find these articles helpful and thought provoking. We pray that these resources will help you to prayerfully think about what you want your church, your life and your relationships to be following this pandemic, and then, that you will begin to take the steps necessary to re-engage not haphazardly, but intentionally and successfully.
Steve Van O
ABCRM Executive Minister
Re-engaging with Christ ...
Since I was 12 years old, I have considered myself to be a runner, but my training as a runner, while generally consistent, has been full of disruptions for a variety of reasons: injuries, travel, jobs, relationships, etc.
So, one of the disciplines that I had to develop as a runner was learning to re-engage my training after one of these “breaks” or “disruptions." Indeed, learning to view these breaks as a normal occurrence and not as a failure helped me to re-engage more quickly and to re-focus my training to accomplish a new goal … to run a marathon … to re-gain some endurance … to re-build speed … or to find running as a relaxing and reflective time. Running was helpful to me throughout the various stages of my life because of these disruptions.
So, too, has been my spiritual walk. I have been engaged in that even longer than I have been running, but like with running, I have experienced “seasons” in which God seemed closer to me or in which my zeal and faith waned. There were disruptions due to various events in my life, both external and internal, and in the re-engagement following these disruptions I found great opportunities for growth.
Scripture teaches us that “disruption” in our spiritual walk is a normal thing. One of the most famous disruptions is Peter’s denial of Christ the night that Jesus was betrayed. And while that one was short-lived and Peter quickly re-engaged – others are longer. Moses spent years in the wilderness before re-engaging with the God of Abraham, and the people of Israel found a disruption of 70 years when the Babylonians took them into exile. But perhaps nothing is more famous than the disruption depicted in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). In this parable, I find some clues for how we can better “re-engage” Christ following the disruptions that hinder our relationship with Christ.
Acknowledge That We Are Disconnected:
We all know that the first step in repairing a broken relationship is the acknowledgement that it is broken … this is true of our relationship with Christ as well. In the parable, you will recall that the son, after squandering his inheritance, and being abandoned by his “friends,” had to resort to hiring himself out to a local citizen to feed the pigs. Still, he remained so hungry, both in his stomach and in his soul, that he longed to eat the food that he was feeding the pigs. Then, he came to his senses.
He recognized what he had turned his back on, that his father’s servants were well-treated and had food to spare. He decided to return to his father and to ask to be received not as a son, but as a servant … that he had been the one who had caused the break in their relationship.
I was once asked by a wise friend when I was feeling a bit blue and distant from God, “Who moved?” I didn’t really like that question, but the answer was clear … I was the one who had moved away from God.
The apostle James reminds us to “draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8). Even if we recognize that the disruption in our relationship with God is due simply to apathy or weariness, God is not the one who has moved. And so, we must take the first step back toward God and, as in the parable, the Father will come running with open arms to receive us back.
But how do we prevent a recurrence of this separation?
Mark Our Commitment To Re-engagement:
Okay, I’m going to stray a bit from the parable here, the prodigal didn’t actually build a memorial or create some sort of sign to mark his commitment to a renewed relationship with his father. My guess is the smell of pigsty and the embarrassment of how far he had fallen was enough of a marker. But in many other cases, different tokens … symbols … markers were used to “solemnize” the change or commitment that was being made. For example, names were changed (Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, Simon to Peter and Saul to Paul), adornments were worn on one’s clothing, memorials were built in specific places or renamed to memorialize events and perhaps the ultimate was that the males were circumcised as a mark of the new commitment they were making to the God of Israel.
All of these are physical reminders of relational, life-style commitments that were being made between humanity and God. They provide visible reminders and encouragements.
Many people who desire to re-engage in an even deeper walk with Christ after disruption in their lives also mark their commitment with some sort of symbol. Some choose to wear a cross or to carry one in their pocket (think AA Chips for example), to display a piece of artwork or to wear their hair or some accoutrement in a certain way to commemorate their renewed commitment. And still others have chosen to have a specific tattoo to fulfill this purpose.
What someone chooses to do as a mark of his or her renewed commitment to Christ is probably less important than that they take seriously the need to re-engage and to find some way to keep their commitment fresh before them on a daily basis. We need a reminder (as powerful as eating the slop meant for pigs) to remind us that we don’t want to go back to where we are returning from in our broken relationship with Christ.
Explore the Opportunity to Engage in a New Way:
Back to the text … When the prodigal decided he would re-engage with his father, he recognized that he would need to do this in a new way – that he could not come back pretending that the relationship hadn’t changed, but that he would have to be willing to accept a new role - one of a servant rather than a son. While it was ultimately the father’s unrelenting love that restored the son to his former position, it was the willingness to accept a new position that started the prodigal on the road back to his home.
As we seek to restore our relationship with Christ, to come closer to Him than we are currently, it is probable that we will need to try something a little different than what we have done in the past. After all, what we did in the past is what has gotten us to where we are.
Now, don’t misunderstand me, ultimately our relationship with God comes from spending time with God in prayer, in Bible study and in reflection. But sometimes, we need to try something different in order to allow the Spirit to speak to us. By trying something different, I’m not necessarily saying something new; I guess I’m really talking about trying something … ancient. You see, God has been teaching us ways for us to draw close to Him (sic) in order that He (sic) might draw close to us for centuries. While you may have tried any number of the disciplines of our faith, I seriously doubt you have exhausted all of them. And often trying another discipline will render new insights into Christ, our Creator and the work of the Spirit.
So, what are some of these disciplines. Well, there is (of course) group Bible study with which you are probably most familiar, but there are several others. Some of these include:
Observing the “Daily Offices” of the church which guide you through specific prayers and scriptures throughout the day. You can find an online resource for this at: https://www.dailyoffice2019.com/church_year/2019-2020/
Spiritual Journaling – a process that will enable you to go deep into your soul through responses to guided questions and your own reflections. This does not require a huge investment, simply a notebook and a pen or a pencil, and some time. One website that offers some beginning questions is: https://deepspirituality.net/what-to-write-in-a-spiritual-journal-that-will-help-you-grow/
Working with a Spiritual Director – Many people have found working with a Spiritual Director to be particularly meaningful. While many connotate this with the Catholic Church, the reality is that it is a discipline that transcends the various tribes. Several of our pastors have been trained in Spiritual Direction and there are other qualified directors readily available. Here is a good article on the benefits of Spiritual Direction: https://stjosephowatonna.org/why-you-need-a-spiritual-director
Know That You Will Be Received with Open Arms:
Finally, when you venture into take steps to re-engage your faith, be encouraged by the promise that God will receive you and magnify your efforts. The first step brings you not one, but two … three … four … five or more because of God’s great love for you.
Steve Van O