Christian

Conversation #9 Trevor Hudson No. 29 by Joshua Banner

Trevor-Hudson.jpg

“Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

So said Mr. Beaver to Lucy in C.S. Lewis' classic, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

I have the joy of practicing group spiritual direction twice a month in a prison. This practice is teaching me many things about following Jesus and about sharing Jesus with others.
 
This past Saturday, Jesse, a prisoner new to our prayer practices, shared that his experience of Jesus is still so new. He confessed he is just beginning to open himself to God, trying to determine if it’s safe to approach God further. I chuckled some about this and decided to be honest with him. “No, Jesse,” I said, “Approaching God is not safe. It’ll wreck your life.”

Jesus asks us, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”  As I mentioned last month, Jesus offers us a nice, hot cup of die-to-yourself. Why would anyone ever want to imbibe such a drink?

The cup Jesus offers us is the living water of transformation, of death and resurrection. It’s a drink of our baptismal waters. This strong drink is an acquired taste for most of us. It takes us time to learn how to regularly drink deeply of Jesus, the living water who is severe yet also liberating, sacrificial while healing, dangerous yet good. 

If you are given grace to desire this drink at all, the question then remains: how do I acquire more of a taste for God? If I’m honest, I’m scared of taking more of God into myself. I don’t know what he wants from me. How do I learn to want to surrender more of myself to God?

——————-

I do most of the cooking in our home. I prefer strongly flavored foods, the heat of peppers, the intensity of garlic and onion. The trouble is remembering that my family naturally enjoys milder flavors. Unwittingly, I’m changing their palate—slowly, meal by meal. Without working hard at it, I’m re-defining their tastes. My oldest son has recently taken to spicy mustard on his bratwurst. He’s also enjoying little dabs of the jalapeño jelly I canned a few years ago. My younger son now eats the salads I prepare, and my wife prefers her coffee black—if it’s from the fancy beans I buy.

Just by being myself, by being a person interested in certain foods, films, and books, someone who delights in the camping and canoeing we did this past summer—just by a kind of osmosis I am shaping the interests and desires of my children and spouse.

This is also the gist of what I offer as a spiritual director, a kind of Spirit-led osmosis. What matters more than the words I say to someone in spiritual direction is my internal contemplative posture. The greatest gift I can offer someone in direction is the way I sit in the presence of God with that person, how I share time and space with that person in and through the Holy Spirit.

It’s vital to unpack that word “share” here. I do not arrive at a session of spiritual direction to share God with someone as a performance or monologue. Sharing is two-way. It’s reciprocal. I can only be effective as a facilitator of a spiritual conversation if the directee has arrived open and willing to share the God that is already inside of herself. And that is the point: we join together to prayerfully discover the God who is already moving, breathing, and loving in and through us. Jesus has always been near. It’s just that we have yet to acknowledge him.

No doubt over the years some have left a session of direction with me unimpressed and sad to have wasted an hour. Perhaps I wasn’t the right fit for that person as a director, or perhaps she was not ready for direction anyway. Perhaps she didn’t know how to be weak.

The only pre-requisite for spiritual direction and growth is some experience of humiliation, even a minor sense of failure. I first sought direction in the middle of a very public position as the worship leader for a small Christian college. I was supposed to be the conduit of God for 1200 voluntarily assembled students. I sought spiritual direction when I finally accepted my inner emptiness. I had grown so tired of naming Jesus for everyone but myself. I had become a wreck. I was spiritually poor and needed help.

The group of men who choose to meet with us in the prison come broken, open, humble, and willing. One winter when we had trouble getting to the prison due to a massive snow dump, G, one of the most thoughtful and well-spoken human beings I’ve ever met, said, “You guys would come here on a sleigh. I don’t understand why you all are working so hard to get in here when we are working so hard to get out.” We told G, and we continue to remind all the men that we keep coming to the prison because of their holy openness to God. Their vulnerability means that we see Jesus in the lives of these men in ways we don’t see him anywhere else. These men have been drinking Jesus’ cup of die-to-yourself. They have been pushed to rock-bottom, yet in their humility they are each being transformed into something stunning.

My service as a spiritual director has led me to a focus on prisoners and also pastors. I am attempting to make connections between the two. I want pastors to come into the prison to pray with us. But this is not traditional prison ministry where we arrive to offer the men access to God. Instead, we go to the prison to see Jesus as he already is in the prison. It’s the witness of the Spirit moving among the prisoners that I’m so excited to share with the pastors. In the prison, practicing group spiritual direction together, we share in the eating and drinking deeply of Jesus. How will an experience of sharing God with the prisoners, the least of these, the moral lepers of our society—how might these pastors be changed in ways that transform the scope of their parish work?

As you listen and pray through my conversation with Trevor Hudson, you will hear us sharing deeply of God with each other, deep crying unto deep. I invite you to join us in drinking this cup of Christ to remember your baptism, to know him, the power of resurrection, the fellowship of his sufferings, that you and I might be conformed unto his death.

Josh

 

Loving God With Your 'Muchness' - Summer Retreat Part 6 No. 28 by Joshua Banner

Summer+Retreat+IMAGE.jpg

How ‘bout a Nice Hot Cup of Die to Yourself?

The essence of following Jesus is an idea that offends our minds: to Love God with all of our Strength, you must become weak. This is an other-worldly, a Kingdom of Jesus-the God-Who-Became-Weak concept.

What if our church marquee’s read “Come on in to worship with us and have a nice hot cup of die to yourself?”

Many of us have become so accustomed to the Gospel that we haven’t taken the deeply offensive nature of what he is asking us: we must die to ourselves, to this world, to our best ideas and deepest passions. The Gospel is no longer “offensive” to us. It is not moving in on us and invading our hearts and minds. To follow Jesus, we must confess with John the Baptist, “that I may decrease so that he can increase” in me and in the world around me.

In this final movement of the Summer Retreat 2018, we offer out bodies as living sacrifices to God. This episode uses a lectio divina format using the Message translation of Romans 12:1-2. The focus question is how does love for God in the heart, mind and soul become tangible and concrete through action. How can love become active in my daily life?

With the end of this summer experiment and now that we are officially a not for profit, the Invitation is moving into a season of fundraising with a kickstarter campaign launched later in the Fall while also searching for long-term, sustaining supporters. If the Invitation has been of help to you and if you believe it will be of help to others, please subscribe to the podcast, help spread the word about the Invitation and about the crowd-funding with kickstarter, join us in spiritual friendship, and become a sustaining supporter!

The Love & Peace of Jesus Christ to you,

Josh

 

Exploring the Depths of the Soul - Summer Retreat Part Five no. 27 by Joshua Banner

Summer+Retreat+IMAGE.jpg

Can Your Soul Become a BS-free Zone?

I have the joy of offering group spiritual direction in a prison. So I don’t mean to offend you by being crass here, but early on in the prison I learned to describe the prayerful conversations of spiritual direction as a “bullsh*t free zone.” This definition translates quickly for the inmates. The prison is riddled with many layers of bullsh*t, an absence of freeing and reciprocal honesty. The men who have chosen to return to our prayer practices over the past four years are self-selected. They return for our group practice of spiritual direction to enjoy a time and a space to be frank, raw, and honest with themselves, with each other, and with God.

New participants discover this freeing and reciprocal honesty quickly, too. Mike, on his second visit to our bi-monthly practice, looked at me with wide-eyed awe as he and I spoke intimately with each other. He leaned over and whispered, “I have never been so vulnerable with anyone since I got here.”

The shock of describing a prayerful conversation as a “bullsh*t free zone” requires those of us outside the prison to stop and consider the deeper implication here: the Holy Spirit reveals the holy love of God through the profane? Our lives are smothered in layers of information and misinformation, layers of false, empty desires that compete with each other, layers of pain and exhaustion, resentment and anger, layers of bullsh*t.    The Holy Spirit enters this gross confusion. The Spirit cuts through it. The Spirit shines light into it. The Spirit lifts us out of that pit.

In this episode, I meet with the small group to consider the deeper regions of our souls. We consider the many layers of resistance to moving into the depths of soul-spirituality. The intention here is that as we sink into God through contemplative prayer practices, we will each identify our own resistance to God, confess and surrender to His love, and be ever-more transformed.

Apologies for the delayed release on this episode. A few of the contributors got sick at the end of July, and then I got pretty sick too! A virus in the summer is not good. I hope you and yours have had a better second half of the summer than I.

We will soon be sending out our final episode of the summer retreat on ‘Strength.’ Thank you for allowing me to serve you in spiritual direction this summer. Despite the illness, it is a wonderful gift to share with you!

Peace of Christ,

Josh

 

The Mind is for Love: Beyond Academics - Summer Retreat Part FOUR no. 26 by Joshua Banner

Summer+Retreat+IMAGE.jpg

A spirituality of the mind is vitally more important than Christian academics and intellectualism.

There. I said it. This is my confession, the confession of a recovering theology student and teacher. I love theology. It's helped me so, yet I've come to love prayer more. It's taken another christian tradition to reveal to me that the two are not at odds. Evagrius Ponticus, most actively remembered by Eastern Orthodox christians said, "If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian."

The mind often gets short shrift in spiritual formation circles. Yet then in theological circles, the mind often gets placed in such a lofty, unattainable position. I'm saying that spiritualists tend to under-appreciate the mind while theologians tend to over-idealize the mind.

Again, on one hand, rich, abundant, Christo-centric, orthodox Christianity is about more than intellectual assent to our celebrated doctrines. In fact, it's fair to say that our minds often get in the way of our capacity to spiritually perceive Jesus as the Holy Spirit would have us deeply know Jesus. Deep, loving knowledge of God is not academic or intellectual, yet on the other hand it's a knowledge of God that so fully engages our minds in ways that are beyond anything we could ask or imagine that our minds become so full of love and truth that we don't need to be smart about our God-knowledge. We find instead that sitting lovingly in the presence of God with our minds open with our hearts to Jesus--this is all we end up being capable of.

The mind is intended to serve love.

I remember sitting with Carol on the front steps of her house. I was maybe 15 or 16. Carol was a spiritual mother, one of many people who have given much to me. Carol taught me through her presence. It was her manner, poise, the tone of her voice, her smile, the glint in her eye. It was the graceful, deep way about her that spoke to the deep inside of me. I sat on her steps yet again misunderstanding the things of God, trying to sort these things out when words were not very helpful.

"I wish I could just destroy my mind," I told her. It was so long ago. I assume that I had been inspired to make such a statement because I was gaining a sense that Jesus is more than my mind could easily accept. I look back today and understand that my mind had been offended by God. Carol assured me that this was a good thing. She explained that the point is not to destroy the mind but rather to redeem the mind, to put the mind in its right place, to use the mind for its correct purposes.

This is the context of holiness or wholeness. This is self-care: to put the mind in its right place alongside the heart, soul, and strength in service of worship and prayer of a God who generously reveals himself to us yet who is beyond our reasoning.
 
I invite you to the summer retreat, part four, a spiritual conversation with friends as we consider prayers of the mind. 

Happy summer-time!
Peace & Love,

Josh

 

5 Minute Prayer #13 'Meditation on Isaiah 9' no. 18 by Joshua Banner

FOUR.jpg

"Drop the mirror and let it shatter.
Crush the hourglass and stop the clock's ticking.
Stand still.
Hold your breath."


Immanuel, God Incarnate with us. The manifestation of God in human form is a first principle, absolute salt, the truest Reality, terra firma, the fabric of the cosmos. Words fail. How can we say anything well about Advent? No, we must immerse our consciousness in the presence of the Incarnate One, whom one theologian described as an "ontological revolution." Our minds will never wrap around Advent, yet it helps to proceed how St. Anselm and others encouraged have taught: to believe in order that we might come into understanding. We begin with Him, present in his Kingdom, and then everything else becomes clearer and true.

We had wandered in a darkness and then the Light of lights dawns upon us.

A few weeks ago I offered you a  long-form retreat, a mediation on lamentation. I humbly offer it for your advent prayer and worship if you haven't already spent time with it. It is perplexing that a few days after sending that your way, I enter into a new experience of confusion and hurt. This isn't the space to elaborate on my personal trouble, but its safe to say that I have new reason to understand Advent as a time of longing and ache. 

When we lament and ache, we have access to Jesus, our terra firma. He is ground zero. He is base camp, our safe harbor of love and healing.

I invite you to join me in this short-format, 5-Minute Prayer where I pivot off #13 from the prayer guide, "40 Ways to Spend 5 Minutes With God."In approaching this prayer method I recite a Meditation on Isaiah 9, a creative piece I wrote for a worship service back in 1999. Both the prayer guide and the reading can be found on the 'resources' page on at invitationpodcast.org.


Words will fail me in expressing how helpful it is to return to this writing on Isaiah 9 after all these years right here in the midst of personal hurt--to "drop the mirror" and rehearse Immanuel. I've been attentive to the swelling #metoo movement that has overtaken our country in the wake of the revelations about film producer Harvey Wienstien. These days I have to limit my daily intake of news and politics. I even deleted my facebook account to better find solace from the many heavy things pressing upon us. I assume you are also experiencing your own difficulties. Great or small, whatever our hindrance to faith, we bring every part of ourselves, every experience to Him especially during Advent. This year my gift box is full of questions instead of gold. Let's rehearse Immanuel and drawn near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings us, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water (Heb 10:22).

Peace of Christ to you!

Josh

Conversation # 6 Christopher Hall No. 16 by Joshua Banner

Is it fair to connect social injustices like racism and our industrial prison system to our own personal belief in Jesus' ability to transform our lives? 

I am beginning to believe it is fair to do just this. Our collective, national sicknesses are deeply connected to my own sense of who God is for me today. If I come to believe that the Holy Spirit can transform my own life, then I will develop hope for my neighbors, even my enemies and hardened criminals. 

In this latest discussion Christopher Hall and I wrestle with these things. Chris is the newest president of Renovaré I trust because he is careful and loving with the church. As you listen to this episode, you'll hear my consternation with the failings of the church to believe transformation is possible. As I read more and more about racism and the incarceration system, as I complete my third year volunteering in local prison, I see the weaknesses of an American Church that continues to criminalize and scapegoat people of color, especially black men. Chris challenges me to be more hopeful in the church. He argues that the church might respond to this crisis if they only could be informed about the crisis. This is a delicate subject to bring up Chris says, yet it is gaining traction even among evangelicals.

How do we challenge American Christians to risk, to look and see beyond the confines of their own communities to see the struggles of their not too distant neighbors?

Author and activist Michelle Alexander describes the blindness of those who enable institutional, systemic racism. She says:

Martin Luther King Jr. in his speeches would often remind his audiences that, you know, most folks who support Jim Crow aren't evil bad people, they're just deeply misguided. They're blind, spiritually blind to the harms of the policies that they support. And I think the same thing can be said today, many people of good will are blind to the harms of mass incarceration and the devastation, the war on drugs has caused.

In this conversation Chris Hall challenges us to practice the spiritual discipline of moving our bodies and our minds out of our comfort zones into new "learning spaces" that we might be transformed into the character of Jesus.

I invite you to participate in this conversation, episode #16, a conversation with Christopher Hall!

Peace of Christ to you!

Josh

chris-hall HS.jpg

Conversation #5 Nathan Foster no. 12 by Joshua Banner

When was the last time you were surprised by your life?

There are many reasons for us to despair today. Jesus anticipated this struggle when he spoke about "wars and rumors of war." In the face of catastrophe, he tells us to not be alarmed because all "these things must come to pass." How do we keep our heads above the water? If not the struggle of politics, terrorism, and racism, just looking at your bank account might cause your chest to tighten and keep you up at night. Or your trouble may be with relationships--confusion with family, friends, neighbors, or co-workers.

The couple who offered Susanna and me marital counseling asked us early on a penetrating question: When you consider the future, is it a gift wrapped in a bow full of surprise and goodness? Or is the future a bomb, a tragedy yet to unfold? 

If not either of these extremes, perhaps your future seems mediocre like the persistent banality of refrigerator buzz (for Radiohead enthusiasts, fridge buzz is a theme throughout Ok Computer). Perhaps the the future is merely the passing of time and events; its perfunctory, with little to no vitality.

What then do you make of Jesus' words? "I came to give you life, life abundantly."  (John 10:10)

Or what about this prayer from the apostle Paul in Ephesians 3:20: Unto him who is able to accomplish more than anything we can ask or imagine? 

How seriously, how deep can this hope penetrate into our mind, heart, our soul?

If you sense a desire deep inside your soul for more, for more help, more friendship, love, clarity, hope, depth, rich goodness, then you are hearing the Invitation of Jesus. That is what the Invitation Podcast is for, a time and a space for us to journey together toward the Desire above and beyond all desires.

In this episode no. 12, Nathan Foster and I sit down to talk about various ways to pursue God through spiritual discipline. We talk about ecumenicism, mysticism, and parenting. Nathan is someone who has struggled and yet continues to hope in the abundant life with Jesus, to believe that God can and will continue to transform his life beyond anything he could ask or imagine.

Conversation #4 Josh Garrels & John Mark McMillan no. 10 by Joshua Banner

Holy Spirit, spiritual kung-fu?

While recording artist John Mark McMillan still loves the faith of his father's charismatic church, while he believes in prophetic ministry and the power of the Holy Spirit, much of his early spiritual formation has been what he calls, "Christian kung-fu." Recently he has turned to Dallas Willard and Richard Foster to learn the basics of Christian life. He is surprised that exercise--the discipline of caring for his body--has allowed him to find the daily energy to tend to prayer and the demands of music and family.

Josh Garrels also has been learning to take more control of his calendar, to delegate creative work to others, and to practice Sabbath keeping with his family. 

In episode no. 10 I sit down with these recording artists to discover their shared interest in the ordinary, basic disciplines of life. This conversation turns out to be a refreshing interaction about popular culture, music making, pursuing God, love for the church, and caring for family. Garrels did not grow up in the church and brings an earnest, wise hunger for God to his music and faith. In this episode he discusses his interest in: “...old[er] traditions that have cared aesthetically for the wholeness of the Gospel both the theology at the heart of it and the culture that surrounds it." He says, "So many of us have grown tired of an exploited culture that has barnacled itself to the Gospel that isn’t very aesthetically pleasing."

This conversation with Garrels and McMillan is at times brutally honest about Christianity, yet it avoids  church-bashing cynicism. The three of us love the church and hope for her flourishing.

I invite you to listen to Conversation #4 episode no. 10, a conversation with Josh Garrels & John Mark McMillan!We discuss discuss the charismatic, Evangelical, and Catholic church; aesthetic care of worship and worship spaces; reading the Bible for what it actually says; family disciplines and Sabbath keeping, creating more space for God with exercise, when to set aside our screens and be closer to each other. Of course there is discussion about their creative process in writing music and who they are reading: Dylan Thomas, Wendell Berry, AW Tozer, Eugene Peterson, Richard Rohr, Richard Foster, and Dallas Willard.

Conversation #3 Sharon Garlough Brown no. 7 by Joshua Banner

 

January 7, 2017

In late November I had the good pleasure of sitting down with author of Sensible Shoes, Sharon Garlough Brown. In our conversation Sharon says:

"Whenever we are talking about spiritual disciplines, we have to talk about them as ways of receiving the love of God, and then abiding in the love of God, and then finally responding to the love of God."
 

I fear that we often get this backwards. We focus on our actions trying to live out the Christian life without substantially receiving much of his love into our lives. When we get this backwards--when we don't live with a deep sense of God's love--we will either practice a vain, superficial Christianity or a very guilty, heavy Christianity. 

In my conversation with Sharon Garlough Brown, you'll get a glimpse of a woman compelled to serve God out of an abundance of love. 

A few years ago several women in my spiritual direction cohort recommended Sharon's books to me as a good way to introduce folks to contemplative prayer and spiritual direction. A few even said they were training to become directors all because of what the Spirit stirred in them through Sensible Shoes. I quickly read the book and introduced it to Harderwyk where it has taken off. 

For those of you who still feel outside contemplative spirituality--those who are scratching their heads wondering who Ignatius of Loyola is--this conversation should be helpful. Sharon and her fiction are very much in the Spirit of the Invitation Podcast extending the invitation into the deep love and life of God. 

I welcome you into conversation #3 with Sharon Garlough Brown as we discuss Sharon's journey into spiritual direction, the story behind her Sensible Shoes books, Ignatian Spirituality, the missional church, Henri Nouwen, Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, the disciplines of silence, lectio divina, journaling, Scripture meditation, and Sabbath keeping. Sharon also recites a section of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem "Aurora Leigh."

Conversation #2 Brad Kilman no. 6 by Joshua Banner

December 20, 2016

In early November I had a reunion with my long-time friend, Brad Kilman. Brad and I have been friends since we were 18, almost 25 years. We were interns together at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City in 1999. We wrote our first worship songs and recorded them with Charlie Hall for his Generation Productions during that time.

Over the years since I have had to discern my way through the conundrum of contemporary worship. There is enormous power in those instruments and musical voicings that can easily dethrone God with ego and self-worship. As I've struggled to trust leaders and songs, Brad has been a touchstone especially when he says things like:

"I only have my own affection and my own prayer. And if that is not true and honest before him, the I have nothing to give...."

It had been two years since we had been together, so there was much to talk about. The recurring theme of our discussion on and off the podcast mic was how to follow God. As the conversation progressed, we began to outline the similarities between leading worship and practicing spiritual direction.

Mostly it was just good to be with a spiritual friend. 

A spiritual friend is a true gift of the Holy Spirit. A spiritual friend shows you God in ways that make you jealous for more of God. Deep calls unto deep. Brad's relationship with Jesus--the way he sings to God and loves God is contagious. 

I welcome you into conversation #2 with Brad Kilman as we cover topics like song writing, mentoring worship leaders, the influence Charlie Hall and Don Chafer had on us, balancing life with ministry, serving a local church community, the ego, the enneagram, Taizé, and our first experiences in a recording studio.

 

www.bradkilman.com Also check out www.theversesproject.com to find more of Brad's music. The next interview will be with author, Sharon Garlough Brown in anticipation of a contemplative prayer retreat for church leaders she will be co-leading with Josh February 7-8. Then we will begin releasing a new five-minute retreat format that will correspond to Josh's prayer guide, "Forty Ways to Spend Five-Minutes With God." At the end of this episode you can hear a bit of a song based on Psalm 103 written by Brad and recorded in a cabin during their time in a cabin near Three Rivers, MI.

Conversation #1 Joseph Byrd OLF no. 5 by Joshua Banner

November 1, 2016

In this episode, I sit down with my spiritual director, Joseph Byrd OLF, to conduct the very first interview of the Invitation Podcast! Joseph has helped me and many others, even so-called 'hardened prisoners,' experience God's loving presence.  In this conversation with Joseph you can experience our shared joy and love for each other and God. Our deepest lessons are more 'caught than taught,' as God is a person to experience instead of a concept to explain. In this discussion with Joseph, my hope is that you will catch on to a new experience of God as I have over the past seven years.

Joseph says:

"Prayer is so much like music....What my sense of God has become is flow."

And goodness, does this conversation flow!

Join me for Conversation #1 with Joseph Byrd OLF as we cover topics like prayer, suffering, waking to God as if from a dream, music, prison outreach, CS Lewis, Dallas Willard, Teilhard de Chardin, St. Ignatius, St. Francis of Assisi, Isaac of Nineveh, Evelyn Underhill and more.

Retreat #3 - Revelation 3 no. 4 by Joshua Banner

"I will come in to you to eat with you, and you with me."

September 18, 2016

We eat from many different tables even while the Spirit of Christ has invited us to eat from the abundance of his table. As CS Lewis has said, "It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us....We are far too easily pleased."

Yet, how do we sit down and participate in the greater pleasures of God? This retreat slowly and carefully guides you through Scripture, quotes from great authors (Fredrick Buechner, Origen, Theophan the Recluse), and questions for you to consider, all to help you become more familiar with God in prayer.


Join me for Retreat #3 as we meditate on Revelation 3 and consider the inner regions of our hearts.

Music:
“Save My Life” Josh Banner 1999
“Always Faithful” by Brad Kilman www.bradkilman.com
"Silence" Josh Banner and Susanna Childress 1999
Josh with Jared DeMeester (uke & upright bass)
Other sound design by Josh (rhodes w/ fx) & Josh Holicki (snare)
“Light of Jesus” Instrumental Josh Banner