Experimental Christianity #3 – Waste Management

This week, I’ve been thinking about my lack of compassion for the environment. I’m aware that I have essentially given up any hope of it not being a problem for future generations. While this is probably realistic, it doesn’t exactly help that future to get any better.

Here in the UK we throw away something like 30 million tonnes of waste each year, of which less than 20% is recycled. That means we’re generating something like 24 million tonnes of waste each year. While this goes down year on year, we’re still stuck in an endless cycle of waste production and management. 24 million tonnes of garbage makes for one “hell” of a garbage dump (theology in joke there for the observant among you).

So, this week’s experiment is a really, really simple one: if there’s an alternative with no packaging, buy it. If there’s an alternative with recycled packaging, buy it. If there isn’t an alternative, donate £1 to Greenpeace.

I’m expecting to find it especially tough around the area of food. I’ve always thought the amount of packaging that we provide with food is a bit crazy. Now I’m going to be forced to find ways to mitigate that.

Why am I doing this? There are 2 main reasons. Firstly, because I genuinely despair at the way in which we use the resources of the earth that we have the privilege of inhabiting. Secondly, because I want to see how it affects my choices. Will I decide to buy less? Will I buy from companies who produce goods in a more ethical fashion? Does that have any kind of impact on my faith? I’m looking forward to finding out.

I’m going to run this experiment for a couple of weeks and see how it goes. Yes, it will probably be quite difficult, or at least financially difficult – but that’s kind of the idea; to pay for the damage that my lifestyle does to the world. Hopefully, it’ll make me think about the impact I’m having.

 

Experimental Christianity – Failure 101

So my second experiment was to try and use technology a lot less. I’ve been failing miserably at it, for a few reasons. Firstly, I’ve done something to my shoulder and or back, which means I’ve been in relatively constant pain of sorts for most of the last two weeks. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I find that when I’m not well anything that isn’t absolutely ingrained as a habit doesn’t stick! So whilst I’ve managed to keep finding my ten minutes a day for quiet, I haven’t had much patience for Experiment #2. In addition to my health complaints, I’ve been too lazy to get new batteries for my alarm clock and so have “had” to use my phone instead.

Consequently, I’ve slept badly, worked late, and spent too long first thing in the morning reading far too much of the internet – and then being late for work.

This has taught me two things:

Lesson 1: Be more organised, and support yourself

It’s no good trying out these experiments if I’m setting myself up to fail. If I’m going to avoid technology, I need to make sure that I have the tools I need (like, my alarm) and that I create myself incentives to actually take part in the experiment. Weirdly, the thing that worked for me was buying a bunch of LUSH products that make me not want to rush out of bed to work and miss having a shower. Whatever works…

Lesson 2: Grace

Last night I watched an old Rob Bell DVD with a student group I’m involved in at church. The short version of it is this: God forgives you. Nothing you do is beyond redemption. It reminded me that It’s OK to fail. If you’re grumpy and your back is hurting and everything feels like a lot of effort, it’s OK to fall back on to your habits for a while. The important thing is to pick yourself back up when you can and carry on. In Rob’s words, “You don’t have to live like this“.

It’s all too easy to fall into legalism and to be disappointed when you don’t feel like you’ve tried very hard. But that’s precisely what grace is for. To remind us that it’s OK.

 

 

Experiment #2: Being Less Mobile

Something I’ve realised during my times of meditation is that my attention span is a lot shorter than it used to be. I’ll be sat enjoying the stillness, and my mind will divert to what might be the latest headline, or social media update. I wake up in the mornings and the first thing I think to do is text my girlfriend, check Facebook, check the Guardian, and then get on with my morning routine – which is more often than not disrupted by reading too many articles! And that’s all if I don’t get tempted to check my work email account.

I feel like information has become too easy to access, and it’s meant that I’m less good at living in the present, and much better at worrying, panicking, and generally feeling like I have to rush and cram too much in to my life. I often think that maybe the reason I don’t feel like I encounter God is because there’s too much other noise.

So for my second experiment, I’m going to try to seriously cut down on how I use my mobile phone and laptop. I’m going to try a few different angles out, some or all of which may be useful to you if you’re going to join in with me. I’ll go in to a bit more depth on them in future posts, but here’s a summary list:

  1. Banning mobiles, tablets and laptops from my bedroom entirely
  2. Choosing to put the phone in to “Aeroplane mode” when I’m having intentional conversation with somebody
  3. Uninstalling any apps that I do not need (Uber, for example, can stay – but Angry Birds can’t).
  4. Uninstalling social media apps from my phone
  5. Choosing to avoid my laptop and mobile phone during my lunch break at work
  6. Choosing to avoid my laptop outside of work hours altogether

Some of these are things that I already try to do from time to time, so whilst this is quite a big challenge I know that it helps me to feel more connected with reality rather than the internet. I hope you’ll be up for joining me – perhaps you can leave a comment about what you might try to do to cut down on how you consume information and technology?

 

Experimental Christianity – Experiment #1 Review

I’ve spent 10 minutes each day this week trying to be meditative. It hasn’t always been a ‘success’, but I have always enjoyed it – so maybe it has been a success! I haven’t necessarily “felt the presence of God” or “heard God’s voice” or anything like that, but then, that isn’t the idea – the idea is to be still, and to try to just “be”, and to some extent, I’ve done that. So, what have I learned?

Concentrating on nothing is hard! It has been really, really tricky to rid my mind of thoughts. I’m going to continue to include this as a part of my daily practise because I want to get better at it. Right now, I manage around a minute of nothing before I become distracted by something, and it usually takes me a while to even realise that. I feel like as the week has gone by, I’ve found it easier – so hopefully perseverance will prevail!

It’s OK to fail – Some days I’ve barely meditated, or I’ve been really distracted, or have hardly bothered to make the time. I think that’s OK because it reflects the true nature of life. It isn’t possible to totally stop every day and relax without a lot of lifestyle changes – at least not in the western world. What’s important is that I’ve discovered that I very much enjoy it and wish to continue.

It’s not a waste of time – In our busy culture, we can think stopping and being still is a “waste” of time when we could be ‘properly’ relaxing by watching TV, or worse still doing something because we’re being “unproductive”. Stopping and being has helped me to realise that this should be my default setting, not a rare exception.

Ten minutes isn’t enough, nor is a week – I am going to continue on with my experiment and sort of break one of my rules. I’m going to allow myself to introduce another challenge next week, while keeping this experiment going. I realise that it isn’t going to become habit in a week, and that I’d like to meditate for longer, and that will take time. So, whilst I feel ready for a fresh challenge, I hope to continue this one. I think in a way that every change in behaviour will take a significant amount of time to become habit. The important thing is to not feel overwhelmed by the volume of them.

 

For those of you who have joined in or tried out meditation, how have you found it?

Experimental Christianity – Lectio Divina

A quick update on the meditation: I’ve managed 3 days in a row and I’ve really enjoyed my 10 minute break from the hectic way of the world around me. It’s led me to think about that a lot, and I’ve had a few conversations with friends about ways in which we can try and reduce the rushed nature of life – which has led to some good ideas for future experiments.

Anyway, for those of you who are following these experiments but perhaps might be struggling to find a way to focus – you’re not alone. I find it really hard to simply “be” each day. So sometimes, I think it’s better to acknowledge that and still try to use the time well. One such way that you could do so is by practising something called Lectio Divina.

What is Lectio Divina?

“Lectio Divina” is latin for “Divine Reading”, and has its roots in Benedictine monastic practises, though it is now used by many people from all kinds of Christian background. The idea of Lectio Divina is not to treat reading the Bible as a “study” for the mind, but instead to treat it as “Living Word” – to view the passages you are reading as an emotive, real situation.

For example, instead of trying to understand why Jesus says something, in Lectio Divina, the idea is to try to imagine what it would be like. So when Jesus talks about loving ourselves, instead of trying to understand what that means, we try to simply do it.

The reason I’m writing about Lectio Divina is because that mirrors my aims – to enter into a practise, rather than to explain, analyse and understand.

How do I do it?

Lectio Divina can be done alone or in groups. There are five steps to Lectio Divina:

Prepare

As I’ve talked about in other posts, it’s important to prepare yourself for a time of quiet and contemplation. Try some deep breaths and upright posture. Invite God to be present in your experiences.

Read

Pick a passage of scripture, perhaps something from one of the four gospels. Slowly and carefully read the passage, perhaps several times. Pay attention to words or phrases that continue to jump out at you- but don’t think about them too much just yet.

Meditate

Meditating upon the passage involves seeking your inner response – that of the Holy Spirit – to the passage. If you feel a need to focus on a particular action or emotion – such as feeling peace – then do so.

Pray

Talk to God about what you’ve experienced, in whatever way feels right for you.

Contemplate

Contemplation is silent prayer with the intention of love for God. Use this time to share with God how you feel, not by telling, but by being present and experiencing – sort of similar to how you might smile at a loved one, or how as a child you might have been held in your Father or Mother’s arms.

 

 

That’s it! There’s some pretty vague and wooly language in there, but that’s kind of the idea – it’s about connecting with God via your inner self and not your analytical mind.

 

Experimental Christianity – 4 simple ideas to help you meditate

I’m really enjoying the space that meditative prayer is giving me – especially knowing my phone is off for the ten minutes I’m taking out of my day. It’s taught me that it’s worth pausing for breath in the busyness of life. I’d even go so far as to say that today I felt like I recognised the presence of God in my stillness.

That said, the main thing I’ve found so far in my daily meditation is that it’s really hard for me to concentrate for more than a few seconds at a time. I’m quite shocked at just how short a space of time it takes before my mind flits on to something new.

I’ve done some reading and researching, and I’ve found a few ways of making that a little easier.

1. Candles

Candles are great. For some of us, keeping our eyes closed for ten minutes can actually hinder our ability to concentrate rather than help it. I also find it makes me feel more like I’m connecting with the world around me. Having a candle gives a focus – there’s something wonderfully hypnotic about a small flame; especially in a darkened space.

2. Beads

I sometimes use rosary beads to help me to meditate and pray – not by reciting Hail Mary prayers, but simply having something that I can “click” through my hands bead by bead. There’s something in the metronomic act of doing so that helps me to focus my mind rather than feel the need to fidget.

3. Presence

One of the mistakes I’ve made this week is to try to dive straight in to my ten minutes. It’s often easier to start by recongising the physical feelings and surroundings being experienced, as well as emotional wellbeing. There’s nothing worse than trying to be quiet and still while you’re uncomfortable or unsettled.

4. Breathing

While the idea of many meditations – including Centering Prayer – is not to focus on your breathing, it’s helpful to quieten the mind and the body by taking up to a minute or so to breathe deliberately and slowly, focussing on breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. This will help to relax you and give you a minute to start well.

That’s my 4 ideas – have you got any other top tips? Leave them in the comment section below.

Experiment #1: Meditation

I said in my last post that I didn’t want to use “Read the Bible” as challenge #1 – but I am going to use the other, arguably more important (depending on who you ask) cornerstone of the Christian faith – prayer and meditation.

Prayer and meditation? I distinguish between the two because I think we have allowed prayer to become less ubiquitous than it is. Prayer has become the word we use when we converse with God (or, perhaps, at God). Meditation is the practising of being present, which I know is something I’ve become very bad at ever having the time, inclination, or ability to do.

 

Challenge #1: Pray for 5 minutes every day. Then meditate for 10.

Arguably this is two challenges: make 15 minutes spare in your morning or evening routine, and then use them. But let’s call it one challenge, since I’m sure any of us could manage to squeeze in an extra 15 minutes somewhere in the day if we had to.

First, pray. Talk to God.

Maybe God isn’t there, maybe God doesn’t listen, maybe God doesn’t care, maybe God doesn’t intervene. But maybe God does – so I’m going to try talking to God a bit more.

More importantly than that I am going to practise something called centering prayer. It’s one of a variety of meditative techniques which can be applied in a Christian worldview, and one that I have in the past found very helpful. Rather than trying to listen to God “speak” or to try and speak myself, meditating is about simply “being” with God.

I’ll explain a bit more about it below, and in the coming days I’ll outline some other techniques that I might try or that you might find more helpful.

Centering Prayer

The idea of Centering Prayer is to learn to quieten the noise within us, as well as to escape the noise around us. The way to practise it is as follows:

  1. Find a quiet space where you can relax
  2. Sit or lie comfortably but so that you won’t fall asleep when you relax
  3. Choose an “anchor word” (see below)
  4. Gently close your eyes
  5. Make a conscious choice to allow your hear to be open to God
  6. Whenever you become aware of a thought, no matter what of, let it go using your anchor word if necessary (see below)

Anchor Words

The idea behind the “anchor word” is not to have a mantra to repeat but to have a word that helps you to let go of your thoughts and remind you of what you are doing. Some might chose a word such as “God” or “Father”, others might prefer to think of a characteristic such as “Love”.

Letting Go

 

A helpful technique I was once taught is to imagine thoughts as passing over you in a stream that you lie at the bed of. One may come to you, but you can simply release it back out and let it flow away.

For more helpful information on centering prayer, check out this handy guide.

 

Experimental Christianity 101

It occurred to me last night having written up my first post that while I did lay down some ground rules, that it would be good to elaborate just a little bit on the nature and form of some of the experiments I’m considering. To recap on my ground rules. You’ll notice I’ve taken out the conditional clause in the second rule. Simpler is better, after all. Here they are:

  1. Do not overthink or justify avoiding an experiment
  2. Do not feel guilty if an experiment fails
  3. Do one thing at a time

I’ve been spending a bit of time this morning having some ideas for experiments. In order to do so, I started with the 3 aspects of the other “Golden Rule”, and I have added in a fourth from the early bits of Genesis. These will be my categories:

  1. Love God
  2. Love others
  3. Love yourself
  4. Love creation

These are all important, and of the first 3, I don’t believe one is more important than the others. If we love God but not ourselves or others we have only reverence. If we love others but not God or ourselves we have only burnout. If we love ourselves and not God or others we have only selfishness.

I also think that in an era where the President of the USA thinks climate change is a hoax, it’s legitimate to promote (4) to this list too.

So each of my “experiments” – which if successful I’ll be calling “ways of life” must fit in to at least one of those 4 categories above. Each time I post an experiment, I’ll provide my reasons for pursuing it, my hopes, my fears, and how I’ve started (I’ll be posting the experiment a little after I’ve begun).

Where are the experiments going to come from? Well, that’s kind of my first “experiment”. I’m going to try and read the Bible every day – starting with the gospels – and I’m hopeful that in doing so I’ll be inspired with more ideas. It seemed a little too dull and obvious to go with #1 as “Read the Bible Daily” so I’ve opted to skip that one out and treat it more as an underlying necessity.

Time to start on finding Experiment #1, then…

 

 

Experimental Christianity

Welcome to my new blog. For those that don’t know much about me – which will, I expect, be very few of you, since I’m mostly going to be sharing this with friends and family, here’s a brief introduction: I’m a Christian, I’m male, white, British, 20-something and work in the web industry. So you’ve probably built a picture up from that. But I’m also a questioning Christian, not an “alpha male”, not proud of my race or its history and have been through more than enough by way of life lessons. So, you know, don’t judge a book by its cover – at least, not until after you’ve read it!

I want to spend my life learning what it means to follow Jesus. I could spend many blog posts going in to why, but that’s not what this space is for. If you want more on that, go to my other blog, watch some Rob Bell videos, or maybe just read your Bible.

I’m also an over-thinker – which you’ll quickly discover if you do read my other blog (are you tempted yet?). Despite this, the more I read of Jesus’ teachings, the more I read about those who have tried to take him literally on his every word, or at least to take him very seriously, the more I become convinced of two things:

  1. that there is a huge need for us to end our affluence, dependence on wealth and status, and general desire to serve Mammon instead of Yahweh/God.
  2. that robust, deep, theological discussions are, well, a bit pointless

Why? well, as far as answering the first point goes, see above but add in Shane Claiborne’s incredibly moving autobiography into the mix. As for point two, to quote Ronald Sider:

“Millions of Christians also have come to see the need for simpler lifestyles. What they want now are concrete, practical suggestions and specific workable models.”

Jesus wanted to create disciples. What does that mean? It means to encourage other people to follow his teachings, practises and way of life. In fact, early Christianity was often called “the Way”. It wasn’t a code of ethics, a church service style or a set of prayers. It was a way of life.

Ways of life mean changing the way that we think and behave. There is much debate about which of these might come first and the best way to achieve the change of one or the other. Such debate is, quite frankly, beyond my intellectual capacity – and is also a bit pointless. If they’re related, maybe just trying to change both, and seeing what happens, is the best way forward?

Trying.

Seeing what happens.

Essentially, I’m suggesting experimenting. 

Too often we weasel our way out of real change by discussing an idea until we can discuss our way to an abstracted flaw, such that we can reject the idea out of hand. Instead of doing that, I’m going to try and learn to live a simpler lifestyle. I’m going to do that because I believe that life is too busy, too much of a rat race, too much chasing after the next goal or idea or ego massage or financial upgrade or relationship or whatever else we put our mind to other than experiencing the love of God and the transformational nature of The Way. I’m going to try to stop worrying and over-thinking the ways in which I can do this and start to try actually doing it.

I’d like the journey to not be one I do alone. So what I’m going to do is this: I am going to challenge myself, and anyone who will join me, to a series of lifestyle changes, practises and meditations that I hope will transform my inner self and my outward actions to further experience God and to love others around me. I’ll post my challenge up and let you know how I’m getting on. Hopefully you can let me know how you’re getting on, too.

I’m going to set myself 3 important ground rules:

  1. Do not overthink or justify avoiding an experiment
  2. Do not feel guilty in any way if an experiment fails due to willpower
  3. Do one thing at a time

 

I hope that in doing this, I can provide real, practical solutions to some of the problems that we face as people who try to follow Jesus and The Way in today’s world. I hope that you’ll join me in that journey.

Here goes!