Saturday, February 22, 2014

L'Abri Conference Revisited: The Best of All the Rest

Having already reviewed certain elements of the Rochester L’Abri conference in previous posts (1, 2, 3, 4) and being hard pressed to get on to other stuff (mailing the LifeSharer, finishing work on tomorrow’s sermon, getting ready for Hleb Yermakou’s visit next week), I’ve got one last “Revisted” column for you. It will be pretty quick but I hope you can still glean a bit of how interesting and helpful the conference was for Pat, Claire and myself.

The general sessions I haven’t yet reviewed were “Mindfulness, Meditation and the Mind of Christ” by Richard Winter, “Heaven in a Nightclub” by Bill Edgar and company, and “The Christian Life: An Other-Centered Walk” by Dick Keyes. (There was another, “Spirituality In Les Miserables,” but I confess to skipping out on that one.)

But before I talk about them, let me breeze through the elective lectures I attended: "What Narrates Your Stories?” by Clarke Scheibe; "Is Anybody Out There? Science and the Search for Meaning” by A.J. Poelarends; "Dependence on the Spirit and Delighting in the Law: Are These In Tension?” by Jerram Barrs; "Becoming a Deeper Christian: Learning from the Global South” by Hans Madueme.

My favorites were those given by Barrs and Poelarends but I found them all of value — some for explicit truths that were taught, some for the way they sparked new ideas and spiritual applications in my own head, some for the stimulation they provided through disagreement, and some for ideas they suggested about communication technique.

Okay, back to the general sessions to finish up.

Winter’s lecture covered the “mindfulness movement,” meditation techniques and their remarkably wide influence in medical practice, business, and the ever-popular self-help culture. It was an interesting and informative presentation, to be sure, but yet I wasn’t comfortable with it. Though Winter eventually gave warnings of how “mindful” meditation could be dangerous and suggested, at the end of his lecture, ways of meditation that were more carefully biblical, I found that the first 3/4 of the presentation was much too uncritical of “mindfulness.” For instance, David Siegel’s book, Mindsight, was presented as authoritative (it was one of two sources Winter suggested for further study); the speaker spoke with praise of the benefits he receives by practicing yoga; and the audience was even led in a brief meditation exercise.

Winter made the suggestion that the positives arising from “mindfulness” could be common grace in action. He’s probably right. However, with the force that is being exerted on modern culture by eastern religions and New Age ideas, I would have liked a greater distinction between biblical meditation and the mindfulness taught by Siegel and others. I would also have liked a clearer warning of the dangers of monistic meditation and, perhaps, more help in communicating these dangers to a culture that’s already inebriated with the idea.

“Heaven in a Nightclub” was actually a concert, given late Friday night by a very skilled musical ensemble. It was an attempt to trace elements of African-American history through slave spirituals and eventually jazz music. The musicians were very talented, the readings in between the songs were illuminating, and it was received warmly by the audience. The vocalist was a break-out session presenter, Ruth Naomi Floyd. A few weeks before going to the conference, I had found a couple of YouTube videos of Ruth performing and one of her giving a lecture similar to the one she was giving here in Rochester. I’d recommend that those interested in these important subjects do the same.

And finally, Dick Keyes’ talk (the conference closer) was one of my favorites of the whole show. The dominant theme was the virtue of humility. Keyes contrasted the self-centered life (a natural, inevitable result of man’s sinfulness) to the life of Jesus, a life that can be authentically lived through the Christian by faith. Looking at selfishness, humility, honesty, grace, and Jesus from different angles, Keyes helped the audience to better understand better appreciate the awesome liberty and love we can experience. It made for a great conclusion to the conference.

(Note: In a couple of the earlier columns I linked to Sound Word Associates where tapes and/or mp3 versions of the various sessions will be available, if they're not there already. You might find certain tapes of great interest yourself. And I hope these Vital Signs Blog posts give you some idea as to where to start.