When We Fast

I got sick a week or so ago, and it was awesome.  The reason is that when I get sick, I don’t go to work, don’t do errands, and I don’t do chores – I rest and recover.  My method of recovery when sick often justifies hours of catching up on TV shows, or enjoying my XBOX – guilt free.  I mean, what else can I do when my choices are sit on the couch or lay in the bed…lest I infect everyone around me and wear my body down further?

This particular round of sick had me bingeing on a certain crime drama TV show that was taught, tense, and filled with great cliffhangers every step of the way.  The kind of stuff I can’t look away from.  And, it all served its purpose – I didn’t have to focus on my sore throat, my rising and lowering temperature, and the loss of hearing that comes from my body’s production of mucus that seems trapped between my ears.  I was able to distract myself from those pesky symptoms.  As long as the TV was on, everything else was off.

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Second Consideration: Quality Gifts

As my friend Laura and I walked around HomeGoods this weekend, we became keenly aware that this holiday season does a funny thing to people.  There is emotion and money poured into gift-giving, but for the good of what?  It was fascinating listening to conversations of another trying to justify (and accomplishing it) the need for two giant coffee carafes, one for her daughter and the other for her child granddaughter because one likes coffee and the other hot chocolate.  So now they can have 12 cups of it?

It just seems ironic  - this need we have to fill a void.  However, I love giving gifts, and let's be honest, receiving them too.  My husband recently surprised me with a last minute trip to San Diego and I was delighted and extremely grateful.

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First Consideration: Consider the Darkness

During this advent season, I will be writing about 12 considerations to ponder this Christmas.  Here is the first one, stay tuned for more to come. 

 The holiday season literally and voraciously swept in to Southern California this past week. It was announced with gale force, hurricane-esq winds up to 80 mph on Wednesday night in the valley where we live.

As we heard part of our deck lattice crack and fly off piece by piece, we watched flashes of green every five seconds light up our bedroom as we wondered if there was a wizarding war erupting or realistically if anyone in Monrovia would have power by the morning.

Turns out these transformers exploding took our power and over a quarter of a million others' lights as well. I had wanted to start this series on the first, but in classic recovering perfectionist style, with no power or internet the last couple days, I was forced to reconsider my plan in the in-between.

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So . . . You're Spiritual but not Religious?

So you’ve got problems with Church—the one with the capital C?

You grew up sitting in various pews, but after getting a dose of higher education, you’re not really into anything that smacks of organized religion. After studying the Crusades, learning what jihad really means, and reading ten bloggers rant about the Pope’s pedophile cover-up, you figure that all of these manmade institutions aren’t credible. The Church—any church—is just a nasty, manmade construct designed to give uneducated, needy people some scaffolding.

On the other hand, you also think that God probably exists, and Jesus and the Buddha and Mother Teresa were onto something good. You don’t want to adopt the atheist’s combative edge or the agnostic’s arrogant philosophizing, so you snuggle down into the cozy netherworld of Spiritual Living. It’s a one-size-fits-all accommodating worldview fed by books like Eat, Pray, Love and The Secret. Spiritual Living lets you pray for wisdom or wear cool T-shirts or even go to silent retreats where you can stare at the ocean for a long time. It’s tapas-style dining where you order tasty little samples of  religion’s best ideas—without the prix fixe risk. Come to think of it, if you don’t trust the chef to choose for you, it might be better to pick a different restaurant altogether.

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Relationships, theology, and suffering play important roles in spiritual growth

This is the fifth and final reflection in this blog series on the spirituality of students at Christian colleges. We asked students across the United States to rate how various aspects of the school environment and programs impacted their spiritual development, ranging from very negative to very positive.

The top three growth facilitators were peer relationships, working through suffering, and Bible/theology classes. This, and numerous findings from both studies, highlight the centrality of relationships and a biblical worldview for spiritual development. This suggests that we need to communicate a theological framework for growing through relationships, and for the role of suffering in spiritual growth.  In addition, we need to develop a relational environment that will help students process their suffering in a growth-producing way.    

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Students tend to fit one of five Christian spirituality types

Every student has unique needs. There is no “one size fits all” spiritual growth plan. While colleges and universities can't tailor spiritual growth programs for every individual, they can start to identify groups of students with different needs. The Spiritual Transformation Inventory (STI) and the national data from this project help us move in this direction.

 We found five different types or groups in terms of their pattern of scores on the 22 scales. This suggests that we need to identify these groups so that we can tailor spiritual formation plans to their needs.

·     Type 1 (21.4 percent of the sample) is secure and engaged; in other words, quite spiritually mature for this stage. This group was highly secure in their sense of connection to God and highly spiritually engaged in practices and community. We need to further strengthen these mature students and encourage them toward leadership.

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Shadow of Myself: A Confession

I forgot something the last couple of months and for that I must apologize.  You made me remember.  I have forgotten myself.

Last week when I pieced together the pictures of our homestead, I was struck by the surge of energy I had in working on it as well as the almost 200 visits (and counting) to that entry in particular.

I’ve been in a season of emergence. A season where new dreams and desires are materializing while also colliding with other’s expectations and voices.  In this process, I lost my voice.

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Seniors Report Lower Spiritual Vitality than Freshman

This is the second reflection in this blog series on the spirituality of students at Christian colleges.  When we look at how students’ spirituality changes over time, many of the indicators of spiritual development went down over time, but some went up. For example, scores trended worse on the frequency of spiritual disciplines, the centrality of faith and an anxious connection to God, but better on an overall sense of spiritual well-being. On national data collected at one point in time, we found that seniors scored lower than freshmen on 19 of the 22 measures. 

How do we make sense of this? When we look at this in the context of brain development and “emerging adulthood,” I think this is probably a normal developmental trajectory. The brain goes through a massive reorganization between the ages of 12 and 18, and this continues into the early 20s. Parallel to these brain changes, students’ identity, sense of self, and worldview all go through an extensive reorganization during this period as well. With all this brain and identity reorganization, it makes sense that this is a time of spiritual instability.

Spiritual Profiling Part 1

These days we talk a lot about "pluralism"--indicating the variety of religious and moral beliefs in our culture--as if that's a new concept. In fact, the world in the first century, when Jesus walked the earth, was far more religiously pluralistic than most of us imagine. He met, ate alongside, and conversed with secular leaders, detached believers, traditional power players, and many others. From every perspective, Jesus' world looked a lot like our world.

In Spiritual Profiling, a fascinating new book by Tom Hovestol, these two worlds come together in a dynamic way. ConversantLife.com is excited to feature Tom and his book, which shows how Jesus would have interacted with people today--both religious and secular. Through extensive research into the practices and mindsets of people living at the time of Jesus, Tom uncovered eight distinct groups and gave each one a "spiritual profile."

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Spirituality at a Crossroads: The Spiritual Lives of Students at Christian Colleges

This is an introduction to a six-part blog series based on an article I wrote for the Biola Magazine (Fall, 2010) summarizing five years of research on the spirituality of students at Christian colleges.  In each of the next five blogs I will consider and expand on one of five reflections synthesized from the data.  In this blog, I provide a brief overview of the research projects and the theoretical model driving my research program on spiritual transformation.

One of the most important goals of Christian colleges and universities is to help students grow spiritually and develop their character. Likewise, one of the biggest challenges Christian universities (like Biola where I teach) face is evaluating how we are doing in this area. In fact, secular accrediting agencies have begun asking such schools for evidence that they are assessing and improving student spiritual development, since it is a core part of our mission.

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