Spiritual Mentors: Frederick Buechner

This week, I am profiling people who have had the most influence on my Christian spiritual life. Today’s profile is of a writer who changed the way I view God and grace.

Frederick Buechner

His Influence: Have you ever had a moment in your life of simple awareness and peace that you didn’t exactly know where it came from? You are just going about your business, in your normal everyday routine, and something catches your eye or a realization of gratitude and thankfulness  comes to mind. Maybe, these moments come from a look on another person’s face, or from a word that seems to jump off a page at you, or there is a particular aspect of nature that you never really paid attention to in the past. Frederick Buechner calls these moments, acts of grace, and has spent his life searching for these moments, celebrating these moments, and encouraging his readers to “listen to their lives” for drops of grace that can be traced back to God himself.

By the time he was 25 years old, Buechner had already written a best selling novel but when his second novel bombed and his New York City existence was marked with increasing writer’s block, he was left mostly frustrated and depressed. Out of curiosity and some driving force, Buechner began attending church at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, which was led by the famed preacher George Buttrick. During one sermon, Buechner was so moved he began to sob and knew his life no longer belonged to him but was now in the hands of a God who he had barely paid attention to in the past. Buechner would go on to become an ordained Presbyterian minister but he never held a church position because he would continue writing. His books were not written for the Christian sub-culture, with its often bad taste and melodramatic narratives. They were written for anyone who had struggled with doubt and who had ever been overwhelmed by a world that didn’t always make sense.

Because Buechner came to faith so unexpectedly, his writings have been absent of church speak and clichés. The characters in his fiction always have a heavy dose of sin even though they are capable of such life and holiness. In other words, Buechner is describing the life we live – full of God one moment but trending towards failure the next. Yet, God is always present, always a mystery in the most wonderful and beautiful way possible. Buechner’s God is not just one to follow and praise but one to fall in love with.

What I have learned from Buechner. On the surface, just reading Buechner books put me in a good mood in the same way that a certain song might put me in a good mood. No other author has that kind of influence on me. But deeper than this, Buechner description of God and his love for Jesus absolutely inspires me. If I have ever written anything of quality it has usually been after reading Buechner’s prose. I have walked out of a room after reading Buechner and my world has changed. He has encouraged me to” listen to my life and see if for the fathomless mystery that it is”. He has reminded me that all moments are key moments and that all of life is grace.  The very image of the sky seems different now that I am viewing it through Buechner’s lenses. Buechner celebrates life and more importantly the giver of life.

What Frederick Buechner can teach you: “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.”

Buechner recommendations: If you want to experience Frederick Buechner for yourself, check out these recommendations.

The Sacred Journey/ Now and Then/ Telling Secrets – These are Buechner’s memoirs and the best way to understand who he is and why he writes the way he does.

Brendan – Historical fiction about a seafaring saint doesn’t sound that exciting but this is a joy to read.

Peculiar Treasures – A kind of Biblical Who’s Who done in complete Buechner style.

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Spiritual Mentors: Michael Roe

This week, I am profiling people who have had the most influence on my Christian spiritual life. Today’s profile is of a musical artist that most people have never heard of.

Mike Roe

His Influence: The first song that I ever heard from the 77s, the band that Mike Roe founded in the late 70s, had a line that goes, “You spit out Manna, God sends quails.” I snapped to attention. I had been exposed to Contemporary Christian Music, and all of its superficial fluff and lame melodies, for so long that I hadn’t realized that an honest lyric and edgy rock music was even possible from a group of Christians. I picked up the album(actually a tape) and probably played it non-stop for a year. The album had it all –  longing, celebration, teenage angst, blues, beauty, and a voice that was both haunting and uplifting.

Who was this guy? All I had was a band photo and a name in the liner notes. How did he mix longing, doubt, and disappointment with hope and faith? I was a confused teenager who didn’t think anyone could identify with me, who had very rarely had any kind of message reach into my soul and touch it with such poignancy as Roe’s songs did. I began to frantically search for older albums by the band. Every find was like another “letter from home”. It seemed like every song he wrote was one that related to me. He wrote about teenage lust, about the difficulty in forgiving others, and the superficiality of personal accolades. And Roe and the band encapsulated these subjects in pop songs that jangled and dripped with hooks or in rock songs that were so refreshingly bare for that overbloated musical time period.

The one song that meant the most to me and seemed to sum up my life during my high school and college years was a song entitled, “Come and Gone”:

The wrong places at all the wrong times
Too far ahead, too many years behind
Make-up my face to hide another line
But it’s a waste when all your precious prime’s

Come and gone
Come and gone
Baby, come on

And now you’re coming to me every day
You’re telling me it’s gonna be O.K.
And though my story isn’t much to read
If I’ve got you, the rest is history

Life is tough, our lives are broken but in Jesus we have a story to be grafted in to. A story with a glorious ending that can, even in the darkest times, be experienced right now and right here. Roe discussed his faith at a bare bones level that I needed as I muddled through my teenage years. In Roe’s music, I found comfort, hope, and an identity that was real and authentic and without fluff and church- speak. He has the most glorious ability to sweep you away through music and then knock you over the head with a lyric, or maybe it is the other way around. No matter, it is utter genius and something that I praise God for every time I listen.

What Mike Roe can teach you: “In this world you will have trouble. (Some of it self imposed) But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Mike Roe recommendations: If you want to experience Mike Roe and the 77s for yourself, check out these recommendations.

77s – Sticks and Stones – my first 77s album and the perfect choice for new listeners.

77s – 88 – The greatest live album of all time.

Michael Roe – Say Your Prayers – this should be the Christian Life Hacker soundtrack.

Spiritual Mentor: David Leyerle

This week, I am profiling people who have had the most influence on my Christian spiritual life. Today’s profile is a minister that I knew growing up and later worked under for four years.

David Leyerle

His Influence: As the Minister of Recreation at my hometown church I would have admired and looked up to David simply because we shared a love of sports, competition, and basketball. But there was something else about David that I soon began to notice, even at a young age. First, the Family Life Center, a fancy name for the rec center belonging to the church, that he ran was not an exclusive club for church members but was a gathering spot for downtown area kids and anyone else who might walk through the doors. In other words, the people you saw at the FLC were not the people you would expect to see in my downtown, wealthy, historically rich, large church on Sunday and that was just the way that David liked it. David didn’t just have a heart for the underprivileged and then remain a safe distance from them,  he called them his friends and journeyed with them. At the FLC, I was exposed to the homeless, the mentally ill, and ethnic groups that my school rarely included. The community I found at the FLC seemed to embody what I understood to be important to  Jesus  – acceptance of all people and being a friend to the mostly friendless. David helped create that environment and demonstrated such acceptance and compassion that it made a huge impression on me. His was a faith that seemed to make a difference in the world, a faith that was tangible and real, something that seems to be important to young people.

What I learned from David: When my wife and I began pursuing social ministry and were just overwhelmed with the lack of obvious opportunities to serve, I emailed David and told him of our love for ministry among the underprivileged. He asked us to come visit his new ministry in town that was geared towards underprivileged families and kids. We visited and ended up serving at the ministry as sort of “missionaries in residence”. The best part was building a mentor relationship with David that taught me countless lessons about service to others, hospitality, acceptance, generosity, and love. The only people who seemed to dislike David were either people who weren’t thinking straight due to drugs, mental illness, and alcohol or people who weren’t thinking straight due to condescension, hypocrisy, and being out of touch with the Bible’s call to love the poor, the orphan, and the widow. He is not only a mentor but also a hero. He is retired now and living in downtown Houston. You can probably find him at some pastry shop reading a newspaper and noticing the unnoticeable.

What David can teach you: That Christ’s love for others was never from a distance.

Spiritual Mentors

This week, I will begin a series of posts profiling my Christian spiritual mentors. These are people who have, through their writing, life, or art have influenced the way I approach and view God. I do this so that you might begin to recognize those people in your life who have had the most meaningful impact on the way you live your Christian life. I also hope that I will begin to understand what it takes to influence another person so that they can grow closer to Jesus. Here is the list of my Spiritual Mentors:

David Leyerle

Michael Roe

Frederick Buechner

Dallas Willard

Each profile will include information about the person but will also list what I learned from them and what others could learn from them as well.

The More of Christ Newsletter Is Out

If you enjoy the blog and want to receive the latest issue of the More of Christ, Less Of Everything Else newsletter then email me at scott . jeffries {at} gmail . com. This newsletter comes out quarterly and includes the following:

– an announcement regarding a new Men’s Retreat in the DFW area
– simple yet effective exercise to begin listening to God
– three essentials to the Christian Life

Tools and Tricks To Manage Your Technology and Get Something Redeeming Out of It

Sometimes I compare technology to a runaway train. We get on the train and just let it take us wherever it wants to go. Technology has such momentum and power and is so pervasive that we feel helpless in its onslaught. A thoughtful Christian must learn to take control of their technological life and manage it with intentionality. Below, you will find some common internet and digital technologies and ways that I have found to manage them and then benefit from them, even spiritually.

Browser: I use Google Chrome for a couple of reasons. First, it allows you to type web searches in the URL box and not in a separate Google search engine box. This saves time. Secondly, you can add apps to your Google Chrome page much like you would your smart phone. I have added the Bible app in order to get easy access to scriptures without having to find a website that includes scripture.

Twitter/Facebook : By using the Tweetdeck Chrome and iPhone app, I can see my three Twitter accounts and my two Facebook accounts all in one place. I don’t have to go to three or four different places. Tweetdeck also allows me to post to all of these social media locations from one location.

Facebook: I have a filter in my Gmail account that sends all Facebook correspondence to a separate folder in my email. In other words, I don’t have an endless stream of Facebook activity in my regular email list and I can get to the Facebook messages and activity at my choosing.

Email: I try to only check email twice a day. I am one of those people who constantly hit refresh to see if I have any new email. This can become an incredible distraction and time drain. By only checking email twice a day, I let things build up in my account and tackle several emails in one sitting.

Blogs: I think the Christian church has really benefited from blogging. Obviously, or I wouldn’t be spending time writing this blog. But, it can be a real bear tracking down new post and activity across our favorite Christian blogs. I use two tools in order to manage my blog feeds. First, I use Google Reader as my blog reader. I subscribe to the RSS feed for my favorite blogs and their new content goes directly to my Google Reader where I can read all of my favorites in one spot. In order to handle the reading and viewing of these blogs more efficiently, I have started using Feedly, which takes the Google Reader content and presents it in a more magazine web page style.

Cell Phone: Someone else will have to address the tools and tricks to manage cell phone use and get something redeeming out of it. I have just recently obtained my first personal cell phone.

TV: Take control of your television viewing and get more redeeming quality from what you watch by doing two things. First, get a Netflix account that also includes Netflix Instant so that you can watch movies through the web. Second, run your Netflix through your Wii or purchase a Roku box that will play Netflix items through your TV. This, of course, gives you access to more popular choices, including television shows, but it also gives you access to documentaries and obscure films that celebrate life and address spiritual issues. Roku gives you access to hundreds of developed “channels” including several from Christian resources and churches. I can access Vimeo and YouTube through our Roku and watch sermons, conference proceedings, and clips from my favorite preachers and teachers. This is a favorite getting-ready-for-work activity of mine.

Podcasts: Listen to sermons and Christian podcasts through your MP3 player by finding them on the web or through iTunes. My morning commute is often taken up by these podcasts.

How to Handle Technology

"Technology has exceeded our humanity"

Image by Toban Black via Flickr

Here are three steps to manage technology so that it does not become a detriment to your spiritual life.

1. Refuse to feel behind. No one wants to feel as if they are out of touch or behind the times. The truth of the matter is no one is completely up to date on technology. Even the person with the most advanced smart phone may not have a Blu Ray HD/3D Television with web capability. Make technology something that makes your life easier and more enjoyable but if you find yourself chasing after fads, you will quickly be stretched thin and constantly wanting. Be satisfied with what works.

2. Always choose relationships over technology. If you have a habit of texting during family dinners or checking Facebook more than twice an hour then you might be choosing technology over relationships. The people in front of you need your attention and time, especially if you have kids. Studies have shown that parents often spend more time handling email than time with their kids.

3. Read scripture slowly. The information overload of the internet era has made us all masters at skimming and scanning online material. We are losing the art of reading for deeper understanding. How is that going to affect our reading of scripture? Will we lose the ability to concentrate for long periods of time on God’s word? How are we supposed to fully consider and take in God’s word if we have no experience with meaningful reading.

Ways To Connect

I am working on a special post that maps out ways a Christian Life Hacker can use technology to enhance their spiritual life. Look for this post in the next couple of days. In the meantime, here are two easy ways that you can connect to this blog. First, click on the “Email Subscription” link to the right of this post. Once you filled out the proper information, you will begin to receive my posts in your email box whenever they are posted. Secondly, follow me on Twitter by visiting my @christlifehack feed or if you have a Twitter account, become a follower and get all of my Tweets in your feed list.

The Christian Life Hacker Sermon

Yesterday, the pastor at our church gave a sermon on how God changes us.  I have eaten lunch with him once but we didn’t get around to talking about my passion for discipleship and spiritual growth. So I was greatly pleased that yesterday’s sermon was on spiritual formation.

In the sermon, he told a story about a pastor who read the same passage from Philippians every day for a year and how the exercise drastically changed his life. Because, as our pastor explained, there is one truth but many applications of scripture. He challenged us to pick a passage out of Philippians and read the same passage every day for the next week. He guaranteed that we will see change in our lives.

I have chosen Philippians 4:4-8. By only choosing five verses I give my self a way to meditate on a verse a day for the next five days. This morning, the verse is “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.” As a person who doesn’t always appreciate the worship aspect of the faith, this is a verse that convicts me and has me seeking God’s help in learning how to rejoice and rejoice always.

You don’t have to be a member of our church to take this challenge. Join me in reading Philippians 4 everyday for the next week. The pastor guaranteed change, let’s see if he is right.