launching today: Everyday Spiritual Practices with Keith Anderson

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It doesn’t have to be complicated: simply taking time each morning and evening to connect with God, to reflect on one’s day, to offer thanks and prayer, are everyday spiritual practices that help us recenter, andersonrefocus, and become more aware of the presence of God in our lives. Such seemingly mundane activities as washing dishes or changing a diaper can be performed with presence and intention, and can also draw us closer to God. Everyday spiritual practices bring peace, contentment, and a sense of gratitude. It’s that simple.

In our latest course, Everyday Spiritual Practices, Lutheran pastor Keith Anderson reminds us of the myriad ways we can incorporate small practices into our daily lives in order to bring us closer to Emmanuel, the God that is–always–with us. This is a wonderful course, one that will appeal to anyone seeking a deeper sense of peace and trust. It’s also great for your small group — whether busy parents, empty-nesters, women’s or men’s groups, or youth. Keith can offer wisdom about the how’s and why’s of spiritual practices, and how they can fit into — and enrich — anyone’s life, at any stage of life, every day. Click here for more information or to register.

The Reverend Keith Anderson is a pastor at Upper Dublin Lutheran Church near Philadelphia, author of The Digital Cathedral: Networked Ministry in a Wireless World (Morehouse, 2015), and co-author with Elizabeth Drescher of Click2Save: The Digital Ministry Bible (Morehouse 2012). Keith is co-editor with Elizabeth Drescher of The Narthex, an online magazine about the changing contours of American Christianity and serves on the editorial committee for Odyssey Network’s ON Scripture lectionary commentary series. An expert on digital ministry and sought after speaker and writer, his work on religion, new media, and popular culture has  appeared on The Huffington PostReligion Dispatches, Day 1, and The New Media Project.

Latest course: animate: Practices 1 with Brian McLaren and Sara Miles

Another fabulous course from Augsburg Fortress and Sparkhouse’s animate series launches animatetoday, called animate: Practices 1. We’re proud to partner with Augsburg Fortress in presenting some of the animate series as ChurchNext courses. The  series is unique in that it not only tackles some of the big questions of our faith, like “Is God real?” and “Is there such a thing as too much Bible?” but it does so not in order to teach a certain lesson or to impart fixed wisdom, but to challenge assumptions, spark conversation and dialogue, and encourage wrestling with the deep questions of our souls.

In this course, Practices 1, Brian McLaren explores the idea of prayer, admitting that he used to think of prayer as something onerous, a duty he was bound to perform and to perform “correctly” — and yet he has come to see the Lord’s Prayer as something simple, something active, something that reanimates our faith and our ability to live faithfully in this broken world. He breaks it down into four “moves” that can help us re-see the prayer given to us by Jesus himself.

Sara Miles tackles the idea of food and eating, noting that it’s (literally) a weighty topic in our society: poor people must think constantly about their next meal, and those with plenty find themselves also obsessed with food — how “pure” it is, whether it can save or kill, where it came from, who’s eating it. Sara challenges us to rethink our relationship with food, doing so with Jesus’ messy, unorthodox, and life-giving lens on the gift and blessing of sharing a meal. After all, she says, the Lord’s supper is for everyone, cannot be bought, and is never eaten alone.

We’re excited to share these talks with you and pray that they may help reanimate your faith and spark conversation in your small groups. Click here for more information or to register.

Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian. A former college English teacher and pastor, he is an ecumenical global networker among innovative Christian leaders.

Sara Miles is the founder and director of The Food Pantry , and serves as Director of Ministry at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. Her books include Jesus Freak: Feeding Healing Raising the Dead and Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion. She speaks, preaches and leads workshops around the country, and her writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker, and on National Public Radio.

Launching today: Three Prayers You’ll Want to Pray with George Donigian

Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.
Soren Kierkegaard

Today we launch a wonderful new course on prayer, Three Prayers You’ll Want to Pray, by Methodist pastor and author George Donigian. In this course, which offers highlights from George’s new book by the same name, we learn more about three prayers from three very

donigiandifferent sources: the full Serenity Prayer (the shorter version of which is familiar from 12-step programs), the Prayer of Dag Hammarksjold, and the Lord’s Prayer, taught to us by Jesus himself.

You’ll find George’s reasons for highlighting these three prayers interesting, and we think you’ll also find that incorporating them — for those same reasons — into your daily prayer life can enrich and deepen your relationship with God. This course is also available in For Groups format, and would make a wonderful devotion and discussion course for small groups.

For more on the course or to register, click here. To learn more about George’s book, click here. And check out George’s blog here.

Prayers You’ll Want to Pray

This Sunday, we’ll be launching Three Prayers You’ll Want to Pray with George Donigian, a delightful and helpful course based on George’s latest book of the same name. In the course and in the book, George speaks about The Lord’s Prayer, the Serenity Prayer, and the Prayer of Dag Hammarskjold, offering them as wonderful examples of challenging, faith-enriching conversation with God. George is a United Methodist pastor in Greenville, South Carolina. His writing builds upon his Armenian heritage, his literary and theological and musical interests and influences, and his perspective on culture and faith.

dagOn his blog, George explains why he wrote the book:

“When I worked in book publishing, one day I found myself considering the different experiences of worship I had during travels. For ten years I spent at least one week a month away from home. No matter where or what kind of worship—whether in South Africa or the US or Germany or Armenia, in interdenominational gatherings or whatever church I visited—we prayed the Lord’s Prayer. It seemed to me that we overlook the Lord’s Prayer as a prayer for unity. It is a prayer common to all Christians and it was given by Jesus in response to a request from his disciples to teach them to pray. So I started reflecting more on that idea and the book grew from that musing.

“My editor describes the book for 20-40-year-olds. I certainly tried to address questions I hear from adults in this age group, especially those in my family. And that’s why I also write a little about my background and experiences. For example, four teenagers attacked me one morning while I was preparing to go running and I got beaten badly. I write about this in the Diplomat’s Prayer. How do you express gratitude or pray, ‘For all that has been—Thanks!’ after that kind of situation? Suddenly a prayer that seems easy becomes a challenge.

“… I’ve heard from 80-year-olds who thanked me for saying what they’d felt intuitively, but had not found in other books. And I’ve heard from those who go across the spectrum of adulthood who have found the book offers them a new sense of the rhythm of daily prayer.”

One of the “three prayers you’ll want to pray” is The Serenity Prayer, familiar to most from 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous. George quotes the full version of the prayer and explains why:

“The full version grounds us in the present, reminding us to take life in the same way that Jesus approached life—one day at a time—and without projecting problems into the future or the past. When you read the full version, it’s easy to understand the importance of the prayer to various 12-Step groups.

“But you know the importance of Reinhold Niebuhr, who gave us the Serenity Prayer. Niebuhr taught at seminary when he wrote the prayer, but he began as a pastor in urban ministry. Detroit was a boom town when he was there. I see a number of parallels between Niebuhr’s time and our own and write about that, and these parallels connect all of us more closely with the Serenity Prayer. One of Niebuhr’s other books—based on journals kept during those years in Detroit—is titled Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic. Delightful title and it gives some insight into the character of Niebuhr. And he learned to take it one day at a time.”

We’re excited to offer this sneak peek at George’s book, which is full of wisdom and inspiration for enriching your daily prayer life. Click here to read more from George.

The Earth Is Charged with the Grandeur of God*

gardening

This week we launched our latest course, Spirituality and Gardening, with Christine Sine. In recent years, there’s been a resurgence of interest in “getting back to the earth,” in literally returning to our roots, in conservation and organic gardening, in growing our own food. This, of course, isn’t really a new thing, merely a revival of interest in an age-old awareness of our spiritual connection to God’s creation.

Celtic Christianity has long been known for its teachings on this subject. As John Philip Newell writes, “What is it we have forgotten about ourselves and one another? In the Celtic tradition, the Garden of Eden is not a place in space and time from which we are separated. It is the deepest dimension of our being from which we live in a type of exile. It is our place of origin or genesis in God. Eden is home, but we live far removed from it. And yet in the Genesis account, the Garden is not destroyed. Rather Adam and Eve become fugitives from the place of their deepest identity. It is a picture of humanity living in exile.”

Our souls are only too aware of this sense of exile, of loss — even when we pretend not to know it. The periodic resurgence of a need to return to the earth, to reconnect with the natural world, reminds us of this. Indeed, since the Industrial Revolution, the West has seen periods of renewed interest in the natural world, and a sense that it is only within God’s creation can we find rest and wholeness.

We commend Christine Sine’s course, Spirituality and Gardening, to you. We believe it will bring fresh insight and wisdom on spirituality, on connecting with Creation, on your relationship with God.

Does your parish have an organization or group dedicated to gardening or the natural world? This would be a wonderful discussion or retreat starter for you. (As would Becca Stevens’, of Thistle Farms, course, A Simple Path to a Deeper Spiritual Life.)

We would love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments or on Facebook. May the glory of Creation remind you of the glory of your own soul.

* from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem,”God’s Grandeur

All Things Bright and Beautiful

The purple-headed mountain,
The river running by,
The sunset, and the morning,
That brightens up the sky;

The cold wind in the winter,
The pleasant summer sun,
The ripe fruits in the garden,
He made them every one.

The tall trees in the greenwood,
The meadows where we play,
The rushes by the water,
We gather every day;–

He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell,
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well.  

~Cecil Francis Alexander

We are excited to launch, just in time for Spring, Christine Sine’s wonderful course, Spirituality and Gardening. Christine is a teacher, retreat leader, and author, an expert in the intersection of spirituality and gardening.sine

With the explosion of interest in gardening and “getting back to the earth” that has occurred in the last decade, we see clearly our eternal and recurring need to connect with our origins in and from the dust of the earth. Christine walks us through the theology of gardens and tending growing things; of God as the ultimate gardener; the use of garden imagery in the Bible and what it can teach us; and the ways we as living things need nurturing, pruning, and watering. Whether you consider yourself a Green Thumb or not, this course has much wisdom to offer about our souls and their need for God’s Creation (and re-creation).

This course would make a wonderful small group offering as well, especially if you have a gardening or outdoor club! Click here for this course in For Groups format.

Among her many gifts and callings, Christine Sine is an author, teacher, spiritual retreat leader. You can learn more about her here.

ChurchNext For Groups

This week, we’re excited to roll out nine more courses in our For Groups format:

Finding God in Divorce with Carolyne Callhands
Being Single, Staying Faithful with Beth Knobbe
How to Live a Spirit-Filled Life with Alberto Cutie
Grieving Well with Andrew Gerns
Developing Christian Patience with Jeff Bullock
Introduction to Advent with Tim Schenck
Introduction to Epiphany with Sharon Pearson
Introduction to Lent with Maggi Dawn
Who Is Jesus? with Jason Fout
Jesus at 12 with Chris Stepien

Many of these are particularly suited for small group use: Grieving Well, with Andrew Gerns, is an ideal course around which to gather a small group of folks who have lost a loved one. Many parishes have support or ministry groups for widows or widowers, or parents who have lost children. Taking this course together, as part of a healthy journey through the grieving process, can offer dedicated, safe space and time to wrestle with questions, share wisdom, and offer the mutually-beneficial gift of holy presence with one another.

Beth Knobbe’s thoughtful and joyful approach to the single life, Being Single, Staying Faithful, is another course well-suited to small group gatherings. Those who live alone, from the very young to the very old, can benefit from sharing time together; the course offers a lot of wisdom simply on becoming comfortable being alone — wisdom that even those in relationships can use. Beth’s lectures help explore what it means to be alone without being lonely, and how aloneness can be a very special time in one’s life, even a special call from God.

Finding God in Divorce, with Carolyne Call, is another wonderful resource for a group of folks navigating a challenging time, one with which the themes of the above two courses also dovetail: Divorce is a time of grief, a time of (re)learning how to be alone; it’s also a time many people find a great need for the support of not only those who’ve “been there” but also those in their faith communities. Finding God in Divorce helps find the gifts and the redemption in what might feel like a very dark and discouraging time.

We at ChurchNext are glad to be able to offer resources like these for creating intimate, life-giving, and Spirit-filled communities, and we hope that these latest For Groups courses help you minister even more intentionally to particular groups within your congregation.

Hail Thee, Festival Day

1456726_855222091216516_4378694426733185725_nWhat a blessing it has been to join with the Rev. Becca Stevens of Thistle Farms as we cultivate deeper spiritual paths. Thank you to Becca, the folks at Thistle Farms, and sponsors Church Publishing, Forward Movement, Trinity Wall Street, and the Episcopal Church for allowing us to offer The Big Class free for two weeks to over 850 people worldwide. What richness of thought and wisdom came from the discussions in this course.

A Simple Path to a Deeper Spiritual Life is now available to congregations to add to your ChurchNext online course offerings. Perhaps you could take the course during the great 50 days of Easter as a way to celebrate the glorious Good News of this season!

Be sure to watch for Becca’s latest book, Letters from the Farm: A Simple Path for a Deeper Spiritual Life, which becomes available in June. We wish you all great joy in this Eastertide.

Wisdom from You

Have a farmer’s theology- there’s always

The Big Class with Becca Stevens is over 700 people strong, and the Holy Spirit is clearly at work. Here is what some of you had to say in the discussion forums. We are so glad that this course continues through April 5 — join this life-giving study.

On having a farmer’s theology:

“I like the analogy of a farmer’s theology. I had never thought of spirituality in that context before, but it makes perfect sense. Just like many other biblical precepts can be seen in things in the secular world also. If you leave the garden, animals, or our spiritual life un-tended, they become emaciated or wilted, and eventually wither away to nothingness. I can see the times in my life where I neglected the daily weed and water, and then I wonder why I feel so far from God, like the Spirit is not within me. I order to abide in Him, I need the daily discipline of prayer, study and quiet time in the presence of my Lord. Thank you, Becca, for giving me a visual that I can identify with.” ~Michael A.

“Water and weed is a practical, clear way of walking out our obedience and being a living sacrifice. As an adoptive mom of many kids, I can easily get uninspired by the mundane or the repeated setbacks in their lives. This concise phrase gives me a tangible reminder of daily service. Not to mention if we follow the metaphor, then the farmer does not see fruit for a long time. He hopes. He works. He nurtures, but he’s operating in faith. In hope.” ~Suzanne M.

On the power of just “showing up”:

“Like walking a labyrinth — sometimes it seems you’re getting nowhere … or going in the opposite direction of where you wanted to go … but just keep putting one foot in front of the other and eventually you’ll get where you’re supposed to be.” ~Judy S.

“As an artist, I can’t always rely on inspiration. Sometimes I just have to start creating. That is true for other things, from cleaning house to going to work. Sometimes inspiration comes. Sometimes it doesn’t. But there is always satisfaction in showing up.” ~Amy Jo G.

“Early in my faith walk, I reached a point where I thought that I was not being fed spiritually in a particular church. A dear sweet saint and pastor took the time to help me understand that we cannot just soak up the good things of being a Christian, but that there are expectations that go with being a Christian. He gently let me know that when I started feeling like I wasn’t being fed spiritually, perhaps I should roll up my sleeves and go to work after consulting the Lord for what it was that He would have me do. Miraculously, spirituality took an exponential leap for me. It was in serving that I received. I reflect back on this lesson that happened over 40 years ago, and it still serves me well to this day. ” ~Michael A.

On “considering the thistle”:

“To me the ‘thistle’ is the thing I turn from or  push aside cause it may be too hard to face at the moment.  I am ever pressing forward to see through the ‘hard’ thistle and to find the peace, beauty, love or learning lesson it has to show me.  I have learned to love not change the ‘thistle’….. what a profound feeling to just love, without the anxiety to try to change!” ~Phyllis S.

On a single act (or “light”) that can change everything:

“I often need the light, and sometimes reflect the light.  Learning to accept light from others really helps us learn to accept God’s unconditional love for us.. In reflecting the light of Christ, through whatever means we have been given allows us a glimpse into what he wants to be to us.” ~Ken M.

The Big Class is now live!

A Simple Path to a Deeper Spiritual Life with Becca Stevens

free worldwide from today through Easter Sunday

Join us for a wonderfully inspiring and thought-provoking course on deepening our spiritual lives. Becca newbeccaStevens shares insight and wisdom from her years of ministry and service as an Episcopal priest and as founder of Thistle Farms, the social enterprise for women who have survived lives of prostitution, trafficking, addiction and life on the streets.  Because, as Becca shares, a deeper spirituality comes from the daily practice of loving and serving the world.

The Big Class also offers a sneak peek at Becca’s new book, Letters from the Farm, which releases in June. Take this course at your own pace with people from around the world over the next couple of weeks. We pray that it spurs you to reflection, conversation, and action as you deepen your own spiritual journey. Click here for more information or to get started.

Thank you to our sponsors, Church Publishing, Forward Movement, the Episcopal Church, and Trinity Wall Street.