This week, I had the opportunity to attend the National Church Leadership Institute 2015, held at Andover Newton Theological School. This conference, attended by close to 400 religious leaders from across the country and beyond (one traveled from London!) was organized by the Center for Progressive Renewal (www.progressiverenewal.org). The tagline for the conference was “The headlines tell a story of decline and despair. But cultural trendlines paint a picture of possibility.” The cultural trendline workshops were crowdsourcing, DIY (do it yourself – facilitated by our own beloved Adam Hearlson); the shared economy; the cloud; and local food movements. The purpose of the conference was to challenge religious leaders both ordained and lay to scan the horizon line of our times and chart faithful pathways into the future.
While I was not able to attend all of the breakout sessions, I did attend “The Cloud” lead by Jim Kast-Keat. Jim is a self-described “divergent thinker, an ideation specialist, and an aspiring minimalist.” He is also the Associate Minister for Education at Middle Collegiate Church in NYC. I went into the session “The Cloud” thinking that finally someone would help me to get up to speed on the newest technologies. But instead, what I got was someone inviting me to slow down and to remember the old practices of silence and sharing. Jim did this by abruptly stopping three times in the course of his jam packed, 45 minute presentation.
Projecting “Thinking Break” up on the screen, he invited us first into a moment of silent reflection and then into a moment of 1:1 conversation with our neighbor. How many of us are in the practice of taking “Thinking Breaks” where we give ourselves time to be in touch with our own thoughts and feelings? How many of us are in the practice of taking the time to ask those around us what they are thinking and feeling and being intentional about really listening to what they have to say? These are simple practices but ones that are easily forgotten in fast pace of our lives and the onslaught of information that washes over us every day.
What if the next time we were driving in the car listening to the news, we turned the radio off after one story and spend a moment or two thinking about what we just heard? Perhaps even offering a prayer? What if when we came home after work, we did not jump right into the next thing that was demanding attention, but instead took a moment too ask those we love about their day and really be present to hear what they have to say?
It struck me that what Jim was having us do there in that workshop was to integrate what we do on Sunday mornings in worship out into our lives. He was having us practice being still, listening to our hearts and speaking and listening from the heart to those around us. And an interesting thing happened in that workshop. Those “thinking breaks” instead of being an interruption, actually ended up helping me hear more clearly and take in more completely the vast amount of information that he was presenting. In the midst of so much change and complexity in the world today, it can be very helpful and refreshing to remember the ancient practices of our faith, practices of silence and sharing that take us not out of the world but that enable us to be more fully attentive to it. “Be still and know…” says the Psalmist. May it be so.