Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthA Renewed SpiritualityDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Lynne's Blog

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: My conversation partners about friendship

Thursday November 22 2018

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: My conversation partners about friendship

In preparation for writing my book on friendship, I interviewed dozens of people ranging in age from 12 to 85. They said fantastic and fascinating things about friendship. I used their voices throughout the book, and I also drew on the voices of some of my closest family members, with whom I’ve been discussing friendship all my life.

My mother, now in her mid-nineties, has been a powerful model of friendship for me. She has always had a small group of close friends and a whopping circle of other friends and acquaintances. She is always open to making a new friend at church, at her golf club, in her neighborhood or in the wider community. She invites people over for meals, writes cards and notes, makes phone calls, sends emails and shares photos online, and she continues to do these things in her 90s. My father died several years ago, and she now goes on trips with her friends. She is always very conscious of those friends she hasn’t seen for a while, and she makes contact when too much time has elapsed. Mom has said to me many times, “You have to work at friendships. If you don’t, they wither.” She lives out her commitment to her friends every day of her life.

My brother is another valuable conversation partner with me on the subject of friendships. Mark has a tight circle of close friends, and he had made many intentional choices to provide support to them over the years. He works hard to be faithful to his family, so he limits his time with friends, but he never neglects them. Every Friday after work he gathers with his buddies to drink beer and swap stories for a couple of hours. He might play golf or squash with one or two of them during the week as well. Once a year he spends a weekend in Reno with his circle of local friends, expanded to include his two closest friends from high school who live a couple hundred miles away. And once a year, this same group of his local and high school friends spends five days together skiing. My brother exemplifies a wonderful balance of work, family and friends, and he also models careful, intentional thinking about his friendships.

My two sons have also stimulated my thinking about friendships. My younger son did masters degrees in England and Denmark, then lived Denmark and Germany for a decade. He made friends with people from all over the world and nurtures his connection with them in a variety of ways: blog posts, Facebook, Twitter, texting, emailing, Skyping, and visiting. It has been fascinating to watch him use such a wide variety of means to stay connected. My older son has nurtured a deep friendship with his wife, and he also stays in close touch with his childhood best friend and a wider circle of friends. You'll read more about both sons next week because they have very different views of contemporary communication technologies, and their viewpoints summarize some of the major issues I want to cover.

In my interviews, when people talked about social networking, most of them referred to Facebook. Those interviews were conducted a few years ago. I wonder what most people would refer to now.

In addition to social networking websites, many other new forms of communication connect friends with each other. Many bloggers enjoy in-depth discussions with the people who respond to their blog posts. Photo-sharing websites, online support groups and websites for people with narrowly focused interests provide venues for meaningful connection. Skype, Facetime, and other forms of online video conferencing play a major role in many people’s lives. Email remains popular, and many people use instant messaging and cell phone texting. These and other communication options will undoubtedly continue to proliferate, and the kinds of intentionality and commitment that have always been necessary for friendship will have relevance for the new, and as yet unknown, forms of connection as well.

(Next week: Two views about communication technologies. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post something new on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column of the whole webpage.)

This is the second series about friendship on this blog. The first series was called "Initiative in Friendships," and you can read the first post here. Just click "next post" at the bottom and you can work your way through the series of seven posts. Here are three of my favorite posts in the series:
         What Mary might have missed                    
         Different ways of initiating                   
         A gift given to me by initiative                             

This post is excerpted from my book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World. To learn about what the book covers, look here. I have several dozen copies of the book and I am hoping to sell them at low cost to people to use in groups. Every chapter ends with discussion questions, and numerous groups have used the book and told me it generated great discussion.If you'd like a sample copy to look over, let me know. If you read the series "Initiative in Friendship," mentioned above, you'll get an idea of what one chapter is like.

Here are prices for the United States (postage included):
     5 copies - $25
     10 copies - $40
     15 copies - $55
     20 copies - $70
Contact me at my email LMBaab[at]aol.com if you’d like to order books, or if you’d like to get prices for overseas, which are sadly much higher because overseas postage is so much.

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Strong opinions and responses

Thursday November 15 2018

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Strong opinions and responses

It was a bit daunting, a few years ago, to undertake the writing of a book on friendship, because so many people have such vehement opinions about social media. I have read their forceful views online in blogs and newspapers, and in print as well. I’ve heard strong opinions from friends and family members. Opinions on the subject of friendship today, and especially the role of online communication, vary tremendously.

On the one hand, many writers have expressed their passionate opinion—usually based on their own experience—that the many new communication technologies facilitate friendships in fresh and exciting ways. All these new ways of communicating are helpful, they say, in mitigating against the busy schedules and scattering of loved ones that can make relationships challenging in our time.

On the other hand, many other writers use language like “faux,” “pseudo” or “imitation” to describe friendships today, particularly friendships with a significant internet component. They believe we have exchanged meaningful and intimate face-to-face friendships for impersonal, superficial online connections. People can’t talk to each other with any depth these days, they assert, and as a result relationships are impoverished.

As I began to write a book on friendship today, I wondered how I would navigate a path in the midst of these strong and heartfelt opinions.

I also felt daunted at the challenge of writing the book because putting friendship under a microscope seems potentially dangerous. What if it damaged my own friendships? My friends are one of the most precious gifts in my life. They have supported, encouraged and affirmed me. When times have been hard, they have listened to my endless worries and complaints.

I am thrilled at the diversity of gifts and personalities among my friends, and I feel awed when I think about their commitments and expertise in so many areas. To have a window into their thoughts and priorities is a great privilege, and to be a part of their lives challenges me to be my best self.

To analyze something almost always changes it. Scary.

But I knew I wanted to write the book. I’ve been thinking about friendships and how they work since I was a child. We moved almost a dozen times in my first 15 years, so from an early age I had to give attention to the question of how to find and care for friends. I believe the basic skills of friendship remain constant, and I wanted to write about those skills, exploring the way they apply in the global, frenetic, digitally-connected world today.

I see friendship as a spiritual practice, a place where we live out the things we believe in. Friendship is a space where our values and commitments take flesh. This is true for people of any kind of religious commitment or people who have none.

For the sake of readers who have a Christian faith commitment or an interest in seeing the connections between the Christian faith and friendship today, I wanted to discuss the ways friendship with God overlaps with our other friendships. This very best Friend can teach us a lot about how to relate to others, guiding us, empowering us and giving us the confidence and peace that undergird healthy friendships. The many biblical passages about relationships are just as relevant in the online world and in our homes, neighborhoods and workplaces today as they were in dusty Palestine two thousand years ago.

(Next week: My conversation partners about friendship. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post something new on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column of the whole webpage.)

This post is excerpted from my book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World. To learn about what the book covers, look here. I have several dozen copies of the book and I am hoping to sell them at low cost to people to use in groups. Every chapter ends with discussion questions, and numerous groups have used the book and told me it generated great discussion.If you'd like a sample copy to look over, let me know.

Here are prices for the United States (postage included):
     5 copies - $25
     10 copies - $40
     15 copies - $55
     20 copies - $70
Contact me at my email LMBaab[at]aol.com if you’d like to order books, or if you’d like to get prices for overseas, which are sadly much higher because overseas postage is so much.

First post in a new series: Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world

Friday November 9 2018

First post in a new series: Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world

“A friend is someone you can rely on through thick and thin, who understands you, and who would tell you the cold hard truth. A friend is someone with similar interests who you want to spend time with. A friend understands your jokes and makes you smile.” —A  definition from group of teenagers, aged 16-19

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.”—Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

The light from a clear blue sky flooded my home office as I turned on my computer. My husband was eating breakfast, and the cheerful clinking of dishes from the other side of the house, coupled with the slanting morning sunshine on the trees outside my window, made me feel lighthearted and optimistic about the day.

I found a handful of new emails, one of them from my editor at InterVarsity Press. He and I had been discussing the possibility that I would write a book on friendship as a spiritual practice in this electronic age. When I saw his email, I wondered if the editorial committee had met to discuss my proposal.

I opened the email. Great news! They wanted me to write the book.

I wrote back, telling him I was delighted and mentioning one detail I’d thought of since we last corresponded. I closed his email and found one from my brother, Mark, responding to an article about golf I had sent him the day before and mentioning his son, Ross, who was working in a hotel.

Hi there Lynne. That was a funny article you sent me yesterday. We’re feeling pretty happy here because Ross just got a promotion. He’ll have a regular shift at the front desk rather than filling in as needed. It will mean full time hours for him. 

I wrote a quick email back to Mark.

Give Ross my congratulations. And you can congratulate me, too. You’re the first person to know I’m going to be writing a book on friendship in the Facebook age. I just got an email from my editor and I’m really, really happy.

Mark happened to be online and wrote back right away.

Great news, Lynne. Here’s a story for your book. Ross found out that the position had opened up at work because of Facebook. The guy who was fired from the position did some venting on Facebook, so Ross knew he could apply. Ross heard the news first on Facebook, at home, on his day off.

I wrote back to Mark, joking about the situation and its significance for what I wanted to say in the book. As I wrote, I pondered the fact that Mark was writing from his office in Oregon, while I lived in New Zealand. My brother and I – seven thousand miles apart – were having this conversation about my book and about communication today, while my husband was peacefully eating breakfast only two rooms away from me, not yet knowing I was going to write the book.

Was something wrong with this picture, I wondered. Not everyone can say their husband is their best friend, but I can. Was I slighting my best friend, who happened to be in close physical proximity to me, to have this online discussion with my brother, who I also view as a close friend – located in that moment on the other side of the world? Or was this simply a normal aspect of life today?

The new communication technologies of the past two to three decades have shrunk our world. People far away are present to us with an immediacy that was unimaginable only 30 years ago. What are “real” relationships in this new context? What are the characteristics of healthy, life-giving friendships in today’s world? What choices and skills are necessary to navigate these new realities?

This is the first post in a series adapted from my book Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World. Next week I’ll write briefly about some of the strong opinions about the questions I just posed, plus look at some of the aspects of friendship that can be viewed as a spiritual practice.

(Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post something new on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column of the whole webpage.)

This post is excerpted from my book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World. To learn about what the book covers, look here. I have several dozen copies of the book and I am hoping to sell them at low cost to people to use in groups. Every chapter ends with discussion questions, and numerous groups have used the book and told me it generated great discussion.If you'd like a sample copy to look over, let me know.

Here are prices for the United States (postage included):
     5 copies - $25
     10 copies - $40
     15 copies - $55
     20 copies - $70
Contact me at my email LMBaab[at]aol.com if you’d like to order books, or if you’d like to get prices for overseas, which are sadly much higher because overseas postage is so much.

Connections between the Bible and prayer: Sensory prayer in Revelation

Thursday November 1 2018

Connections between the Bible and prayer: Sensory prayer in Revelation

Through my childhood, in Episcopal and Anglican churches, incense played a role on special occasions. The priest would walk down the center aisle swinging a chain with a metal ball on the end. Inside the ball, incense was burning, and the smoke came out of cleverly shaped holes in the ball.

As I child, I was never sure if I liked the weird smell of incense. But it definitely signaled something about holiness to me.

Fast forward fifty-some years to the ordination of my colleague, James, to the Anglican priesthood. The ordination was held at St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral in Dunedin, New Zealand, and during some of the prayers, James lay face down on the marble floor.

How are incense and laying face-down related? Both draw on images of prayer in the book of Revelation.

In Revelation 1, the writer, who identifies himself as John, says he was “in the spirit on the Lord’s day” (verse 10). He hears a loud voice, then turns and sees an extraordinary vision of Jesus standing among seven lampstands, with white hair, eyes of flame, feet like burnished bronze, a sword coming from his mouth, and seven stars in his hands (verses 12-16).

John says, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead” (verse 17). This posture of awe and submission is echoed in many ordinations in the Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions. I was privileged to see it when James was ordained.

Chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation contain the powerful letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor, Jesus’ confronting and comforting words that are still relevant today.

Revelation 4 describes a vivid scene of worship involving precious gems, thrones, flashes of lightning, a crystal sea, four strange creatures singing “Holy, holy, holy,” and 24 elders who “fall before the one who is seated on the throne” (verses 3-11). So again, worshippers are showing their devotion with their whole bodies in a position of submission, awe, and trust.

In Revelation 5 a drama unfolds. A scroll has been sealed with seven seals, and a mighty angel looks for someone worthy to undo the seals. No one in heaven or on earth is worthy, except for the Lion of the tribe of Judah, who is also the Lamb. As the Lamb takes the scroll, the four creatures and the 24 elders again fall before him and sing, each hold a harp and a golden bowl full of incense (verses 1-8).

The incense is identified as the prayers of the saints. In Revelation 8:4, incense is again connected with the prayers of the saints. In my childhood, when the incense was burned in church, I wish someone had told me about this symbolism.

Because of many excesses in the Roman Catholic Church of the late Medieval period, the Protestant Reformers tried to return to simple expressions of faith: grace alone, faith alone, the Bible alone as a source of authority. This was often accompanied by simplifying everything: no art in worship spaces, no incense, no laying face down during ordination services.

I’ve been heavily influenced by both the Episcopal/Anglican heritage of my childhood, and the grace-oriented, Bible-focused faith I learned in my early adult life in various Protestant settings, accompanied by very little art, incense or other sensory-focused experiences.

In recent years I’ve been asking myself this: What does a rich prayer life look like when it draws on all bodily senses? How can smells, taste, touch, bodily movements, and art contribute to prayer? How can we grow in bringing our whole bodies to God in prayer?

Revelation offers a few answers to my questions, and, as Revelation always does, raises yet more questions.

(Illustration: Dave Baab’s interpretation of Revelation 1:12-16. Notice the seven lampstands, which Jesus in Rev 1:20 identifies as the seven churches. In the painting, Dave has broken up the continents and put one lampstand on each continent, symbolizing to Dave the reassuring reality that the church on every continent belongs to Jesus, and that Jesus will keep the light burning in and through his church throughout the earth. Also note the way Dave represented Jesus’ white hair, golden sash, bronze feet, and the seven stars in his right hand. I have the original of this painting hanging right beside my desk, reminding me that Jesus is Lord of the Church even in the midst of decline, scandal, conflict, and discouragement. Many times the painting has brought tears to my eyes.)

If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column of the whole webpage. Previous posts in this series:

          Connections between the Bible and prayer    
          The character of God and prayer      
          The context of the Lord’s Prayer                
           Instructions from the Apsotle Paul                   
           Paul's prayer in Colossians                        
           Two prayers in Ephesians            
           The prayer in Philippians                  
           Paul's thankfulness                       
           A story of healing motivated by the instructions in James              

Connections between the Bible and Prayer: the instructions in James

Saturday October 27 2018

Connections between the Bible and Prayer: the instructions in James

In mid-2010, I began to have some weird medical symptoms. I was tired all the time, and my left foot felt cold, even if the room was warm. We were in New Zealand, where spring begins in September. As spring went on, and then summer began around Christmas, the weather got warmer and my foot got colder. I got more tired, and I talked to the people in my department about working fewer hours.

Of course, I went to the doctor about this, and got a referral to a neurologist. He put me through a raft of tests, and everything kept coming back normal.

In late February, 2011, I was talking with Andrew, a lovely intern at our church. He asked me how I was doing, and I told him about this weird cold foot and fatigue. He asked if I’d like for him to round up some elders and come over to my house and pray for me.

“Yes!” I replied enthusiastically. I was quite pleased about this, because it seemed to respond to clearly to one of the longest passages in the New Testament about prayer, from the letter of James.

“Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.”   —James 5:13-18

The passage refers to I Kings 17-18, one of the more vivid Old Testament stories. Elijah is guided by God to pray for no rain as a punishment to Israel for its disobedience. And when he did pray for rain, the setting was the dramatic competition with the prophets of Baal to see whose God would bring rain.

Of course, passages like this one in James raise so many questions about unanswered prayer. When we pray for something, and God does not appear to answer, does that mean we haven’t been faithful like Elijah was? Does it mean we haven’t prayed hard enough?

Before 2011, I had quite a lot of experience with inner healing prayer making a significant difference in people’s lives, but I had almost no experience with seeing prayer contribute to physical healing apart from medical interventions. I had seen God answer many prayers in settings related to physical illness: giving relief from pain, giving doctors wisdom about the right treatment, and helping caregivers find strength. I was quite sure God answered many kinds of prayer related to physical illness, but I simply hadn’t seen a lot of direct healing from disease in answer to prayer.

On March 7, 2011, our intern, Andrew, came to our house with two elders and the spouse of one of the elders. Andrew brought a vial of oil, and he anointed my forehead with the oil. Then he, my husband Dave, and the others prayed for me. Fervently. Passionately. With urgency.

A week later I noticed that my foot wasn’t as cold. A few weeks after that, my foot felt normal again. It took a couple of months for my energy to come back.

In the seven years since that night, I’ve experienced times in cold weather when both of my feet have gotten cold, but never again the odd sensation of having one cold foot in a warm room. I had good energy for a couple of years after that night. Sometime in 2013 or so, aging caught up with me and I felt a reduction in energy. Since then I’ve had days where I’m as tired as I was in early 2011, but never day after day.

Truly God healed me because Andrew obeyed the words in James 5. It was a gift of love from God to me. And it was so good to experience the direct application of words from the Bible about prayer.

(Next week: sensory prayer in Revelation. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column of the full web page.)

Good news about my book, Sabbath Keeping: Finding Freedom in the Rhythms of Rest. It just went into its 14th printing, and the 13th printing was only about two months ago. I’ve also written a Bible study guide called Sabbath: The Gift of Rest, and lots of articles about the Sabbath, which you can access here.

Previous posts in this series:

          Connections between the Bible and prayer    
          The character of God and prayer      
          The context of the Lord’s Prayer                
           Instructions from the Apsotle Paul                   
           Paul's prayer in Colossians                        
           Two prayers in Ephesians            
           The prayer in Philippians                  
           Paul's thankfulness                       

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