This week I signed a publishing agreement with InterVarsity Press to write my first book. The current working title is The Unlikely Contemplative. This title says a lot about both me and the concept of the book.
I became a Christian in the Mojave Desert while serving in the Marine Corps. My conversion was dramatic and I quickly answered a call to vocational ministry. Years later, after planting a church and pastoring it for some time, I was burned out in ministry–fried, spent, done. I didn’t know where to turn for answers since I assumed I already knew all the answers as a young, restless, and Reformed pastor.
God gave me a gift, though, by allowing me to cross paths with a spiritual director named Alan Fadling. Alan taught me how to embrace Jesus in ways that were ancient in the church, and yet new in my life. I spent two years in a wonderful community learning experience called The Journey, a program of The Leadership Institute of which Alan is now the Executive Director. It was during those two years that I really began to experience contemplative practices that led to a whole new way of living and thinking.
Embracing a contemplative life, and contemplative practices, was not easy for me and it remains challenging. I am an extrovert and a very driven Type A personality. It is easy for people like me to assume that the contemplative life is for introverts, monks, and nuns. But praying, meditating on Scripture, solitude, and sabbath are things that must be practiced by all Christians. They are part of an overall “balanced Christian diet.” Contemplative practices must become part of your daily “eating habits.” They are like eating vegetables; you don’t simply eat broccoli one time and say, “Well, I did that,” but rather you must continue to do it over and over again. For me, practicing spiritual disciplines is not something that I do in spite of my personality, but something I must do because of my personality. As an extrovert I must always be aware of the connection between my outer life and my inner life. My outer life must come from the overflow of an inner life that has been cultivated through intentionally abiding in Christ.
My journey towards a more contemplative life created significant tension for me. I once had everything sorted into organized theological categories and I had an answer for everything. As I began to experience God in more contemplative ways I quickly discovered that my categories no longer seemed to work. God was beyond my categories and I was beginning to experience him in ways that would no longer allow me to shove him back into the small box I once kept him in. This was not easy. Far from it! It meant conceding that I was wrong about some things and that my dogmatism was the fruit a youthful arrogance.
I’m by no means saying that everything I once believed was suddenly up for grabs, but I am saying that the further I read back into the history of the church the more I discovered that my way of seeing things was very limited in scope. The ancient church became a place of refuge for me in both its practices and its theology. The more immersed I became in the great tradition of Christianity the more I discovered.
I discovered that Catholic is not a bad word and that I have much to learn from Catholics from the past and the present.
I discovered that the Orthodox church is not a group of strange bearded people in Russia and that my theology was deficient apart from their contribution.
I also discovered that most monks are not as “monkish” as I thought they were. They are a lot like me and therefore have a lot to teach me.
I’m on a journey on which I suspect that I will never arrive. When I first set out on this path I felt like there were people who could help me, but few that I could relate to. I didn’t meet many Five Point Calvinist academic type people in the Ignatian retreat centers that I was frequenting. Being intellectually inclined, I read a lot of books during this time. They were mostly helpful, but I kept looking for a particular book that I couldn’t find.
As a theologically oriented person I wanted a book that would help me handle the emotions of theological change.
As a visionary pastor I wanted a book that would help me understand how to pastor while undergoing profound shifts in my own life.
As a driven leader I wanted a book that would teach me a new way of leading that was more dependent upon waiting on God than driving ahead with my own plans.
I needed a book written for someone who was an unlikely contemplative.
This is the book I am now writing. It’s a book for me. It’s a book for you.