main cow pic

01.31.15

Announcing A New Liturgy No 6: The Examen

Filed under: A New Liturgy — 9:32 am

Hey friends. I am so excited to announce that A New Liturgy No 6: The Examen is coming on Feb 17th.

Liturgy6Cover shadow

The Story:  Last April, my spiritual director—Father Michael Sparough, SJ—guided our Practice community through the historic Christian practice of The Examen. The night was so powerful and unexplainably holy that we wanted to invite more people into the experience. So we turned the live recording of Fr Michael into a full New Liturgy—fleshing it out with an evocative musical score and three original songs. We hope it helps you connect with God in a deep and daily way.

Because this is such a powerful practice and Father Michael has been so gracious, we are offering
the liturgy in two forms…

(1) A New Liturgy No 6: The Examen - a digital download of the full 25 minute Examen liturgy.

(2) ANL No 6: The Examen Expanded Edition - a digital download and physical CD of the liturgy, plus a number of extras to help you go deeper with The Examen and deeper with God. We’re working really hard to make this expanded edition as robust and helpful as possible, so stay tuned!

You can stay up to date at anewliturgy.com/blog and facebook/anewliturgy.

Really excited for you to experience this one, friends. Grace and peace!
Aaron

01.14.15

The Beatles (part 2)

Filed under: creativity,music — 10:18 am
The Beatles

The Beatles

After re-immersing myself in The Beatles’ music, I’m feeling really inspired.  Continuing from last week’s The Beatles (part 1) post, and here are a few more random reflections…

(6) Everything I know about creating vocal harmonies is from The Beatles. First, they often added subtle, simple, gradually building harmony parts. Listen to Paul’s background singing on “The Ballad of John and Yoko“. He doesn’t even sing until half way through the song (the bridge)…adds only a couple words on verse 5…and then sings the whole verse 6. And it’s exactly what the song needs!  Second, the Beatles would often sing odd counter-melodies rather than the traditional harmony part. For example, listen to the chorus of “Yellow Submarine”. What a strange and wonderful harmony.  Finally, they often followed the “less is more principle”. Paul sang one single harmony line on “I’m So Tired”, and it was perfect.

(7) If I had to guess Enneagram types, I’d guess that John is a 1 (or 4), Paul is a classic 3, George is a 4 (or 9), and Ringo is a 7.

(8) As fruity as Paul could be, he did give us “Helter Skelter”, which is one of the most brutal Beatles songs ever. It doesn’t make up for the schmaltz of “Martha My Dear” or “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, but it is really heavy and quite awesome.

(9) Similarly, Lennon spent so much time keeping people arms length with humor and wordplay, but his moments of sincerity were devastatingly beautiful.  The tender and heartbreaking “Julia” (about his mom who died when he was young) will make you cry.

(10) Let me end with a controversial one.  Ready?  The Beatles songwriting is a bit overrated. This pains me to write. To be clear, I believe that Lennon/McCartney are one of the greatest songwriting teams in history, and many of their songs are absolutely, brilliantly, game-changing: “In My Life”, “Strawberry Fields”, “Something”, “Yesterday”, “I Am the Walrus”, etc.  The Beatles are why I wanted to be a songwriter!  HOWEVER, when you really look at it, even a superfan must admit that they had a ton of stinkers also. “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, “Good Morning”, “Your Mother Should Know”, “Doctor Robert”. And the White Album is a clear example of one brilliant album spread over two records.

This is actually really encouraging to me. Whenever I think of the mythic Beatles, they become an almost fictional, inaccessible fairytale that has nothing to teach mere mortals like the rest of us. But when I remember that they were actually just four guys (extraordinarily talented, of course) who were capable of writing bad songs AND brilliant songs, then there is hope for the rest of us!

So friends, may we each each create something today. In whatever you do, find a way to breathe new life into it. Take a risk…reimagine the process…use a new tool…approach it from a new angle…or simply toss out the old and begin with a new, clean sheet of infinite possibility.  And let’s see what happens.

You may end up creating a stinker like “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, of course. And it sure will be fruity. But who knows, you may stumble upon a “Hey Jude”…

01.10.15

Jumping into the New Year

Filed under: The Practice — 1:02 pm
Practice David room

the Chapel

Hey friends.  This Sunday night, our Practice community is diving into Practices for LIFE in the Now and Not Yet, and I’m so excited. Ridiculously excited. Nuclear-ly excited. (Annoyingly excited?) Regardless, can I tell you a bit about it?

For the next few months, we’re exploring two foundational questions: (1) What is the LIFE to the full that Jesus invites us into? (2) How can we actively align ourselves to it?  Or said simply: What is Jesus’ invitation and how do we say “yes”?  Read more here.

To do this, over the next five weeks, we’re immersing ourselves in the central prayer of the Christian faith: The Lord’s Prayer.  This Sunday night begins with a deep dive into “Our Father who art in Heaven”.  Read more here.

Holy Communion

Holy Communion

——
Personally, looking back, 2014 was one of the best years of my life. After a difficult and pretty dark couple years, this is no small thing.  Thanks be to God.  And much of the joy was getting to be a part of this Practice community. I love this tribe.  They are some of the most honest, humble, gutsy, sincere, intelligent, deep, and godly people I know…and it’s such an honor to be on this journey with them.

You are more than welcome to join us. Everyone is welcome.  The only requirement is a willingness to roll up our sleeves and humbly learn to put Jesus’ words into Practice. We’ve all been invited to live in God’s unforced rhythms of Grace. Will you join us?  This Sunday, 6PM, in the Willow Creek Chapel.

Grace and peace.
Aaron

Table at the Center

the Table at the Center

01.08.15

The Beatles (part 1)

Filed under: creativity,music — 12:07 pm
The Beatles

The Beatles

The Beatles are my all-time favorite band who have influenced everything I write, sing, and play.  And recently, after a bit of a hiatus, I’ve been listening back through their albums and feel SO INSPIRED by the Beatles again.  Here a few random observations…

(1) McCartney’s bass makes a lot of good Lennon songs into great Beatles songs.  Whether it’s “Dear Prudence”, “Come Together”, or most of Sgt Pepper, Paul’s melodic, inventive bass parts carry many otherwise so-so songs.  (Really, take a moment to listen to “Dear Prudence” and imagine it with simple bass line.)

(2) Lennon sure loves tempo and time signature changes.  He jumps tempos in “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, “Bungalo Bill”, “Happiness is a Warm Gun”, etc…and he loved to flip time signatures to drop/add a beat in “Good Morning”, “All You Need is Love”, “Don’t Let me Down”, etc.  Because John Lennon was both a creative genius and musically untrained, he was able to make these complicated changes seem deceptively simple.  My guess is that he was never thinking about tempo or time signatures at all…but simply following the muse.

(3) Ringo is wildly underrated.

(4) Everything is better with the clash of opposites. Like hot air meeting cold air creates tornados, Lennon’s cynical angst meeting McCartney’s cheery pop created the most important rock band of all time. Lennon (alone) gives you the rarely accessible art-rock-noise of “The Plastic Ono Band”, and McCartney (only) gives you cheesy, fruity, bubble gum like “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime” and “The Girl is Mine”. But the tension of BOTH changed the music world. One of my favorite examples is Paul’s line “It’s getting better all the time”, followed by Lennon’s line “It couldn’t get much worse”. So great.

(5) The Beatles never got too big to keep risking.  This is extremely rare and one of the keys to their musical revolution.  Many bands “discover their sound” and then spend the rest of their career re-hashing that same formula over and over…with diminishing returns.  But it’s a rare band that becomes wildly successful…AND KEEPS EXPLORING!  (U2 is another obvious example).  It reminds me of these brilliant words…

“It is common history of enterprises (band, companies, churches, etc) to begin in a state
of naive groping, stumble onto success, milk that success with a vengence and, in the process,
generate systems that arrogantly turn away from the source of their original success:  groping.”
<MacKenzie, Hairball>

——-

Curious to hear your thoughts and reflections.  Where do you agree/disagree?  What would you add?

Part two (and probably Part three!) coming soon…

12.04.14

Practicing Advent

Filed under: The Practice — 3:30 pm
Advent

.

 

Things are so heavy in our world right now.  I find it both overwhelming and paralyzing.  The temptation (at least for me) is to get angry and cynical, or simply numb the pain with busyness and egg nog.  But there is a better way.

This is the great gift of ADVENT.

In December, as a Practice community, we are joining in the deep Christian tradition of ADVENTa season of deep longing, powerful hope, wise preparation, and unforced rhythms of Grace.  We’ll only gather twice, but both Sunday nights are shaping up to be pretty special…

Advent: December at The Practice

Christ’s invitation “to keep company with me and learn the unforced rhythms of Grace” is not just for us, but for the sake of the world.  For God so loves THE WORLD.  We learn to align our lives with Christ so that His love might fill us and overflow into everyone we meet.  We don’t ignore or deny the present pain – in fact, we are brokenhearted and work toward justice – but we know that death won’t have the last word.  O Come O Come Emmanuel!

Please feel free to join in any and every part of this journey.

Grace and peace,
Aaron

 

 

11.27.14

Practicing Gratitude

Filed under: God's movement,quotes,The Practice — 7:09 am

A couple weeks ago, I got to share with The Practice why GRATITUDE may be the center of the center of following Christ.  In honor of Thanksgiving, here are those thoughts…

To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us.
And He has given us everything.  
Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.  Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God.  For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience.  And that is what makes all the difference.”  (Thomas Merton)

Jesus Christ is inviting every one of us into life to the full.  And Gratitude is the very center
of this kind of life.  Why?  Because God’s Love and Goodness is at the very center of Reality,
and Gratitude helps align us to what is most true.

N.T. Wright says “A sense of astonished gratitude is very near the heart of authentic Christian experience.”
Fr Ronald Rolheiser writes ”Sanctity has to do with gratitude. To be a saint is to be fueled by gratitude,
nothing more and nothing less.”

Meister Eckhart famously taught “If the only prayer you say in your whole life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”

Gratitude aligns us with what is most true in the universe:  the Love and Abundance of God.

 

And together, we watched this devastatingly beautiful short film about Ed’s Story.  May it encourage and inspire you today.  Happy Thanksgiving, friends.


Ed’s Story, Gratitude from Baas Creative on Vimeo.

11.14.14

Am I missing it? On becoming Matthew McConaughey…

Filed under: life — 4:41 pm

I still haven’t recovered from one scene in Intersteller.  (Spoiler alert).  When space pilot Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey, returns to his ship after their first mission, he discovers that a couple hours on that planet actually equalled 27 years on earth.  So while it was the same day to him, his children at home had lived 27 years.

Watching all he had missed

Watching all he had missed

And so he sat down to watch 27 years of video messages from his kids:  first talking about school homework…then sharing a college story…then introducing his newborn grandchild…and on and on….until finally, his middle-aged son whispers “Dad, I know you probably aren’t getting these messages.  We haven’t heard for you in so long.  So this is my last message…”

It was all I could do in that packed movie theater to not lay down on the floor and cry.

Because Cooper missed his kids’ childhoods. While he was off trying to save the world, his kids had to grow up without a father.  It didn’t matter that he loved them…because he wasn’t there to show them.  And by the time he realized his colossal mistake, it was literally too late.

——-

Many of our fathers did this.  And my friends and I are in the season of deciding whether or not we’re going to do the same.  None of us would ever consciously decide to miss our kid’s childhood, of course. Never!  But we are setting the patterns in our 30s that will make the choice for us.

This is especially dangerous for those of us in professional ministry.  As soon as we add “God called me to this work”, we can justify and spiritualize our workaholism.  At least Silicon Valley CEOs can be honest and say they are driven by ambition, success, and power.  We church workers, often driven by the exact same stuff, try to spin it as “humbly paying the price for The Lord’s work.”  No wonder so many pastor’s kids hate the church.  No wonder so many pastor’s wives hate the church.

Friends, we don’t have to do it this way.  There is a better way.  Our kids don’t need us to save the world; they need us to see their world, and join them in it.  They need us to be there.  Not just physically there, exhausted after work, but emotionally present.  WITH them.  Seeing them…hearing them…delighting in them.

This will cost us something.  We may miss out on certain work successes and perks.  We may not reach the peaks of our professional ambitions.  But honestly, are those peaks worth our kid’s childhoods?

There is another way.  And our children desperately need us to find it.  There is still time.

10.16.14

A Conversation about Creativity, The Beatles, and Creating Art During my Crisis of Faith

Filed under: creativity,God's movement,music — 9:09 am

My friend and filmmaker Kurt Larson recently invited me onto his Bad Headshots podcast.  We had a fascinating conversation about the creative process, growing up in the Midwest, and even making art during my own crisis of faith.  (He tricked me into going to some deep places! Ha.)  I think the world of Kurt, and am really honored to be a part of this.  Please give it a listen and let me know what you think!

——-

Bad Headshots Podcast:  Musician Aaron Niequist

——-

Bad Headshots Podcast

Bad Headshots Podcast

 

09.23.14

Learning to Be Peacemakers in Israel and Palestine

Filed under: Discipleship,Palestine / Israel — 1:57 pm
Lynne Hybels

Lynne Hybels

This Saturday morning was the first official Israel/Palestine “learning community” at Willow Creek. We set out 300 chairs, not knowing if people would come, and over 650 showed up. It was a stunning, powerful, fascinating, heartbreaking, and inspiring three hours.

I sat in the front row and pretty much choked back tears the whole morning.

Lynne Hybels began by sharing a bit of her journey into peacemaking. She read from the beatitudes and framed the whole conversation in terms of being “a common friend” to both sides. There are few people I know who live this out more fully. Lynne finished by gently yet prophetically declaring:  “It is possible to be Pro-Israel and Pro-Palestine. In fact, I believe this is the only way to be Pro-Peace. And Pro-Jesus.”  Amen and amen.

Second, Todd Deatherage (co-founder of Telos Group and friend/mentor to many of us) did the impossible: he presented a dual-narrative history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in 60 minutes. It was brilliant. Like watching a master painter with his canvas. Or like watching Obi Wan explain the force to Luke! Obviously, Todd would be the first to say that he could only give a basic sketch in such a short amount of time – the actual conflict is SO complex – but with God’s grace he attempted to offer an honest story that honors both perspectives. Such a gift. At the end, he shared a few principles for peacemaking…

Todd Deatherage

Todd Deatherage

Robi and Bassam

Robi and Bassam

Finally, we heard from two peacemakers who have lived through the unthinkable. Robi Damelin (Israeli) and Bassam Aramin (Palestinian) both lost children to the conflict. Hearing their stories broke my heart, especially as a father, and yet their commitment to peace blew me away. When tragedy strikes, most people choose to either shut down or take revenge…which only prolongs the conflict. But Robi and Bassam have chosen the way of engagement, non-violence, and reconciliation. A couple quotes…

“Revenge is never an end to the violence, only a new beginning.”  (Bassam)

“Without a grassroots movement of reconciliation, there is no hope for peace. There may be a cease-fire, but not peace.” (Robi)

I highly, highly recommend checking out what they’re doing with The Parent’s Circle.

——-

FYI, Willow recorded this whole morning, and they are deciding the best way to make the content available. I’ll keep you posted. You’ll definitely want to see this!

——-

Saturday morning was like pouring jet fuel onto a fire that’s been burning in me for a long time. I want to be a peacemaker. I want to give my life to the things that Jesus gave his life to…although I’m not always sure what to do. But Saturday reminded of a wise mentor’s response to the question “What do you think Jesus would do if he walked into Jerusalem today?”

After hearing the question, the 85 year old man paused for a moment…with a very intense expression…and then whispered quietly…

“If Jesus walked into Jerusalem today, he’d do now what he did then:
care for the poor, speak truth to power, and get himself killed.”

08.29.14

Robin Williams and The Liturgy

Filed under: God's movement,music,worship — 10:32 am
It's not your fault (1)

It’s not your fault

The death of Robin Williams has really messed with me.  It’s just so profoundly sad and heartbreaking.  But while re-watching many of his interviews and movies, one scene keeps playing in my mind, reminding me of the power of slowly repeating the Truth in love.  Remember the famous “It’s not your fault” scene from Good Will Hunting?  (Watch it here)

This brilliant scene is profound at a number of levels, but lately it’s been reminding me that we all need to hear the Truth more than once.  Slowly, firmly, and with great compassion.  Over and over.  Reality takes time to seep through our defenses and distractions, and we can’t always hear the beauty of Grace when she first begins whispering.

So as a worship leader, this raises a number of questions…

(1) If most of us need to hear the gentle truth repeated over and over, why do I spend so much time pursing innovation in worship and creative ways to reimagine our liturgy? Why are we so quick to add video content, moving lights, and production value to keep things fresh?

(2) If God often speaks in an easily missed, gentle whisper, why are many of my worship sets so loud? It’s pretty hard to hear a whisper at 110 dbs.

(3) Am I more afraid that people will be bored, or more afraid that I will add to the distraction?

(4) Do my worship liturgies create space for people to hear God whispering over and over, or do I give people one more entertaining opportunity to miss God’s voice?

(5) At the core, is my faith in God or in my ability to lead people to God?

These are easy questions to ask and impossible questions to perfectly answer.  But we need to wrestle with them.  I certainly do!

Which is why the Liturgy continues to capture and mess with me.  We gather together to tell the Big Story…over and over, over and over, over and over…until it finally begins to sink in.  Slowly and deeply.  And in these holy moments, the beautiful Truth God has been graciously whispering to us since the beginning of eternity sneaks past our defenses and into the cracks of our aching hearts.  Hallelujah.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

May we all learn to have ears to hear what God keeps whispering.

08.28.14

So what is this Practice thing?

Filed under: Uncategorized — 8:55 pm

Created by New Branch Films.

08.20.14

Cutting away everything but the essence

Filed under: church,God's movement — 1:31 pm
old church

church

My friend Rob used to say that the mark of a great sermon is how much content you leave on the cutting room floor.  So he’d learn as much as possible…and then spend the rest of the week cutting away everything but the very essence of the idea.  Out of this deep knowledge and complexity, he was able to make things profoundly simple and focused.

I wonder if it’s time for the church to do the same thing.

Over the last couple decades, the modern church as become really complicated: programs, services, classes, coffee shops, gymnasiums, and everything in between. It’s all great stuff, of course, but the sheer quantity can overwhelm and make it difficult to distinguish the essence from the extras.

One of my friends recently confessed “I’m not exactly sure why I go to church these days. Mostly out of guilt, I guess.” He went on to explain…

“I can build a case for really ‘high church’ (taking the holy sacraments) and a great case for really ‘low church’ (praying/sharing in a living room), but I can’t figure out why we need all the stuff in between. And my church is ONLY the stuff in between.”

——-

What do you think? Does this resonate with you? What would it look like to trim the church down to its essence? What would we lose…and what could we gain?

08.04.14

So what can we actually do? Practice.

Filed under: The Practice — 11:48 am

As you can tell from my last couple posts, the darkness of the world has really been weighing on me this summer. Especially the carnage in Gaza. I can’t shake it. Most days I feel torn between two bad options: (1) lashing out in anger and blame, or (2) giving up and avoiding it all. Anger or avoidance. Adding to the conflict or burying my head in the sand. But thankfully, Jesus offers us a third way of constructively engaging reality, and it begins with prayer.

I know this in my head, but don’t alway practice what I think.

And so this coming Sunday, August 10th, we are having our one “summer Practice” gathering in the Willow chapel. 7-9pm. We will begin with an opening worship liturgy that anchors us in God and leads us to pray for our world. Together, we’ll lift up Israel/Palestine, the violence in Chicago, and a number of issues that break God’s heart…asking for peace, justice, and God’s will to be done on earth. Whether your heart is heavy or hope-filled (or a mix of both), let’s bring the fullness of who we are to these prayers, songs, and intercessions. Amen.

Father Michael teaching The Examen

Fr Michael at The Practice

Following the opening liturgy, Father Michael Sparough will guide us through the Jesuit practice of The Prayer of Imagination. If you’ve never experienced Fr Michael or this practice before, prepare to go on a powerful journey with God. (Check out Fr Michael’s last visit to The Practice HERE). I’m so excited for our community to be lead by such a godly and gifted spiritual director.

Communion

Communion

Finally, as is our practice, we will end the night by gathering around the central practice of our faith: Holy Communion. Because our hope is Jesus Christ. We don’t trust in violence, power, or even politics to bring peace; we trust in the power and grace of Christ. We don’t trust in our own abilities to fix ourselves and become the people God made us to be; we trust in the power and grace of Christ. There are many things we can and must do, but our faith is in God alone. Hallelujah.

So please join us!  The Willow Creek chapel.  7-9pm.  Everyone is welcome.

practicetribe.com

Grace and Peace,
Aaron

 

07.30.14

Contemplation as the Path to Peacemaking

Filed under: Discipleship,Palestine / Israel,The Practice — 4:08 pm

We’re all friends, right?  If so, can I ask for a favor?  Please take an hour this week or next and listen to this teaching from Brian Zahnd…

“Contemplation and The Way of Peace”

In light of Gaza, Ukraine, and so much of the unrest in the world, Zahnd digs deep into the question of How can we actually follow Jesus into peacemaking?  Really?  Not just hippy-dippy idealism.  Not just angry activism. But how do we become the kinds of people who can tangibly love our enemies and choose The Way of Peace?

Peacemakers

Peacemakers

I don’t mean to overstate here, but learning this would change the world.  Or at the very least… if I can learn this, it will change my entire life.

As a side note, Brian has spent a lot of time in Israel and Palestine, and spends quite a bit of time telling stories:  being in a bunker with his friends in Gaza…in a rocket shelter with his friends in Sderot, Israel…and with many of his Jewish, Christian, and Muslim friends in the Holy Land. If you’re looking for a first-hand, both/and perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you may find this helpful.

Jesus said: “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”  Friends, many of us would call ourselves children of God, but if we’re very honest, we have not yet become peacemakers in the way of Christ.  We Christians are often known primarily for the people/things we’re against.  But there’s a more beautiful Way.

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