Tag Archives: Sunday meeting

Integration: Try singing to feel harmony in the Spirit

When Hallowood Institute holds its first seminar at the end of the month, participants will experience a top-notch teaching on the signature topic of the institute: integration. The presenters are primarily interested in the sweet spot pulsing between psychology and Christianity.

The more specific topic for the session: “spiritual bypass,” is all about how Christians unwittingly use their faith as part of their psychological defense system instead of experiencing it as transforming. Many Jesus followers experience internal rigidity or chaos, but not a life-giving faith. Psychotherapists help such people integrate their many selves and the kaleidoscope of stimulation they encounter every day into a sweet harmony — within themselves, with God and others.

Integration is the key to well-being

Dan Siegel calls “integration” the “key mechanism beneath both the absence of illness and the presence of well-being. Integration – the linkage of differentiated elements of a system – illuminates a direct pathway toward health” [Mindsight review]. Siegel is not a Christian, as far as I know, but he travels with them. His definition of integration resembles the key scripture on which we focused last month as we explored spiritual gifts:

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).

Paul could have said, “The Lord integrates the many unique manifestations of the Holy Spirit for the good of individuals, the body and those they touch.” Siegel describes the natural properties in the brain, body and society that allow for integration; Paul names the integrating force beyond our natural capacity: the Holy Spirit. We are all in need of the integration that leads to health. Our linkages are restored and maintained by the presence of Jesus.

The rigidity and chaos we witness in the lives of our friends and loved ones is disintegration: the incapacity to “keep it together” characterized by the automatic thoughts behind “that thing you do” and the divisive reactions of “going it alone.”

The people in “Choir! Choir! Choir!” have a nice approach to fighting the disintegration that characterizes urban life all over the world.

When we sing together, we are integrating

Siegel’s example of how integration happens, or not, is an activity we experience every week as the church: singing. The work of a choir transforms individuals into an integrated whole and helps people find a deeper integration within themselves. Here’s what he does at his seminars:

1) He asks brave volunteers to come up on the stage and form a choir. He gives them a pitch and asks them to make a uniform sound. After 30 seconds he hold up his hands and stops them. Because once you’ve got the pitch, singing it gets old fast.

2) Then he asks the choir to cover their ears so they can’t hear one another and then individually launch into whatever song they’d like to sing. The audience laughs as they start, but after a minute they want him to stop them, so he does. The sound is kind of irritating.

3) Finally, he asks the singers to sing a song most of them know, however they are moved. It is always amazing how this pick-up choir finds a song: Row-Row-Row, or maybe Oh Susannah, and more than half the time Amazing Grace.  Once the melody is established, individual voices emerge providing harmony above or below the tune, playing off one another, “moving intuitively toward a crescendo before the final notes.” The faces of the choir and audience light up as a palpable sense of vitality fills the room.

As the choir sings, everyone is “experiencing integration at its acoustic best.” Each member of the choir has his or her unique voice, while at the same time they are linked together in a complex and harmonious whole. The balance between differentiated voices on the one hand and their linkage on the other is the embodiment of integration.

Coming to harmony takes at least a weekly effort

Siegel’s first two exercises expose disintegration. The single note humming is unchanging and rigid – in a short time it is dull and boring. The initial risk and excitement of volunteering gives way to the monotony of the task. The singers are linked, but they can’t express their individuality. Without moving toward integration, systems move away from complexity and harmony into rigidity. One-note faith that is all principle and routine and one-note religion that is all about the group and never the individual is not only boring, it can be deadly.

When the singers close their ears and sing whatever comes to mind, there is cacophony. Such chaos tends to create anxiety and distress in the listeners. Now the choir has no linkage, only differentiation. When integration is blocked this way we also move away from complexity and harmony into chaos. Go-your-own-way faith that is only personal and private and go-your-own-way religion that is all about the individual and never the group is not only anxiety-provoking, it can be deadly.

Siegel proves with brain science and psychiatric practice what Paul reveals in 1 Corinthians. My mind, brain/body, and relationships are meant to be integrated in a harmonious whole. Paul says, in his extended teaching on spiritual gifts (chapter 12-14), he prays with his spirit and prays with his mind — and he does it all in caring relationships with other Spirit-moved people. He is cooperating with his transformation with his whole being; as a result he is made whole and he breeds wholeness.

Likewise, the body of Christ, as a whole, has a sense of mind, brain/body and relationships that draws us into harmony. To the Philippians Paul writes, “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” Then individuals who are like Jesus will form a body that looks like Jesus and the world will see the light and love of God walking around and inviting them into relationship. The very nature of the church should breed harmony in the world, not division.

a picture of integration
Steve A. Prince and friends, Prayer Works, 2019. A collaborative drawing completed at the 2019 CIVA conference at Bethel University, St. Paul, Minnesota.

Just like it takes a conscious effort to bring a choir of strangers into harmony, it takes regular practice to be a harmonious church living in love, able to worship together without fear or shame. We work on it every week in our Sunday meetings. Some people enter the room and feel bored by some rigidity they see or are overwhelmed with the chaos of meeting so many different kinds of people. It will take some time and some kindness to help them leave their disintegration behind and enter into the Spirit with us. Singing together is a big help.

Maybe it takes even more conscious effort to be the pick-up choir on the stage, bringing the whole “audience” of the world into a “palpable sense of vitality.” When we worship, or just meet in Jesus’ name anytime, we should be conscious of volunteering to create harmony. It is not just for ourselves, but for the world we love that we seek out that sweet spot of integration, where the Holy Spirit brings us into harmony in ourselves — our minds, spirits and bodies aware and cooperating with truth and love, and where the Holy Spirit brings us into harmony with others — our mind, spirit and body in Christ revealing the way of Jesus for people hungering for transformation.

Rather than just thinking about it, why don’t you put on the headphones and be a part of the choir right now? On our first album we specialized in real people doing what we do when we sing. One prayer kept appearing as the album went on, and each time it arrived it carried a call for integration at the heart of it: “Lord, bring your peace to this broken place of hurt and pain. Restore it with Your power and grace.” When we use that song, the leader calls us together from wherever we come from into a common tune on behalf of the world. Spend a minute to practice. It takes quite a bit of effort to get out of rigidity or chaos and into harmony. [Restore us, oh Lord!]

Six reasons to be part of the Sunday Meeting

A lot of our church is not in the meetings on Sundays. It is good that there is more to us than what is happening in the meeting. But…what’s with that? I am not sure what. You may be able to tell me.

I was talking to Rachel the other day and we realized how many people never meet with us on Sunday nights — at the wonder-filled meeting when the church makes itself visible to the world (and to the unseen world, as well). A lot DO come, of course. I took a video last night and managed to upload 15 seconds of it to youtube — this was before everyone got there!

The nice meeting last night notwithstanding, there are a lot of people in the church who have NEVER been to a Sunday meeting yet. For instance, we have teens meeting in the afternoons and they never come to the meeting (this happens in NJ, too!), We have a cell based at UArts and most of the students have never been to a Sunday meeting. Rachel’s cell is full of people who are devoted to their AA meetings but not to our Sunday meetings. Play groups, game night, Circle Thrift friends – the list goes on of vital places that don’t connect with Sunday night much, or at all. With about 40-50 more people we think we’d be ready to multiply the congregation – and I just located more than fifty in these various other meetings! What do you make of that? If people are not part of the weekly meeting are they a part of the church yet? We have an expansive group that never gets into the group! What’s with that?

There are more Pew-identified unaffiliated people than ever. Maybe that’s what’s up.

It is possible that we just haven’t reminded ourselves lately why we have a Sunday meeting at all. After all, the church has met on Sunday for a couple of thousand years — it’s a habit, and a lot of people stopped thinking about why about a 1000 years ago. The meeting can and does go on without any particular need to have an explanation because it is just what Christians do. Some weeks I am finished with the meeting and I say to myself, “What was that about?” No one told me, no one apparently needed to even care why it happened. It seemed like people thought the meeting had a right to be served rather than the meeting having an obligation to serve the purposes of the people who showed up.

So why do it at all? Why imply that these 50 otherwise-connected people ought to show up? I’ll give you six reasons and you can give the rest. I say this old, wonderful Sunday meeting we perpetuate is irreplaceable for a number of reasons:

1) It is a coming out. LGBTQ friends use the phrase “coming out of the closet” for becoming who they are. The idea is important on a variety of levels. At one level it means admitting who one is to oneself. It is also about choosing who to tell about who you are. Most commonly, I think people think it is about making a political statement by being public about one’s identity. Christians don’t have the history of stigma and oppression as gay people do (at least in the United States), but there is a distinct similarity on all three of the levels mentioned when one comes to a Sunday meeting where Christians are being Christians and doing what Christians are and do. It is on the first day of the week because Jesus came out of the tomb as the risen Lord on that day — we’ve been identifying with Him ever since. If you don’t come to the meeting, you are likely to become a closeted Christian.

2) It makes us a citizen. Paul says our citizenship is in heaven. When a Christian takes on that allegiance in the world, it makes a difference. In the United States, this unique citizenship is often in question, since the state has often sponsored and coopted Christianity, so many people think a US citizen and citizen of heaven are the same thing. But the visible body of Christ, meeting boldly in public is a statement of differentiation and often defiance.  If you are not a visible ally, to whom do you belong?

Notice I have not said anything about getting some great thing by coming to the meeting, yet. There are great things that happen every week and great people there who will love you. But I don’t think the meeting will ever be a good enough “product” to justify getting off our butts every week and going to it. In a way, it is redundant, and you can consume similar things elsewhere.  But there are certain things that we just can’t be and do unless we have that public meeting

3) It makes us effectively public. People prefer to think that they can have everything privately, these days. Maybe Amazon’s business model is built on that premise. They can deliver what you want to you door; you never even have to go outside!  — the ultimate in privacy.

  • Being a Christian is public. We claim Jesus before people and Jesus claims us before the Father.
  • The meeting is a main way we are an “us” as God’s people is an “us.” People can come and see it.
  • It  is a main way we accept the liability for being one of God’s people with these other people.

I love the risk and the trust of that!

4) It makes us an incarnation. We need to be incarnate and to actively incarnate our life in the Spirit or our faith is subject to being all in our heads and it won’t last. People need to be able to see us and touch us, experience us, or Jesus in us is hard to find. Likewise, we need to see each other and become part of a people, or we are too autonomous to receive the juice that comes with being together.

5) It makes our love bigger than a preference or a choice. There are pilates meetings to attend, NA meetings, book clubs, classes, political meetings, service groups and, primarily, our demanding workplace. A lot is going on. We can get with people like us and do what people like us do. My family, in itself, is the size of a small village. There is plenty there to keep me busy for a long time. I don’t need a lot more people in my life…UNLESS there is God making me bigger than what I already am or what I prefer. The Sunday meeting is a living example of and a laboratory for being more than what I already am and loving more than I need to love. If you only love those who love you, what makes you a Christian? Obviously not all our loving is happening in the Sunday meeting, far from it, but it is square one for starting down the road to being bigger.

6) Without worship you shrink. Here is a key issue. Worshiping, praying, discerning the truth in what is taught is an acquired skill that one can lose.  A log burning alone soon loses heat. You can come to the meeting, of course, and not worship there, too. But we are more likely to go with Jesus if we do the kind of things that mean we are going with Jesus. I still love to hear Richard Burton talking about it.

The institution of the church has been so bad, so irrelevant, so into its own authority, so led by the “B” team that it deserves much of its inattention, in my opinion. Even though I lead the church, I don’t always think the Sunday meeting, in its particulars, makes that much sense. Sometimes the people who put on the weekly meeting can’t remember why they do it, they just do it. They may not think they have any new believers around, so it just becomes habit, not strategy. Is that the issue? What do you think?

Right now, we are changing in many ways. The Sunday meeting is developing along with the rest of us. No matter what it becomes, I will have six good reasons, at least, to be there with you. Maybe some day the meeting will get us all into trouble together, it will have become so odd to have one. That’s OK with me, too.