Story and photos by Dan Gangler
INDIANAPOLIS – More than 330 United Methodist clergy from across Indiana heard featured speaker, the Rev. Dr. Kirk Byron Jones, address the issues of awareness, stillness and playfulness during a Feb. 24-25 retreat held at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis.
Jones, a native of New Orleans, currently serves as pastor of a Baptist church in Massachusetts and as an adjunct professor at Andover Newton Theological Seminary in Newton Centre, Mass. He is a graduate of Loyola University and Andover Newton Theological School and also holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Emory University and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Drew University.
During his two 1-hour-long presentations, Jones began by telling clergy about his own experience as a pastor-evangelist when two decades ago he quietly collapsed into a chair behind a pulpit completely exhausted while preaching during a weeklong revival. That wake-up call led to six weeks of rest and a new direction in his life and ministry.
During his recuperation, he discovered stillness by reading Howard Thurman (a preacher), Mary Oliver (a poet) and LeRoy Robert Satchel Paige (a professional baseball pitcher) and what they had to say about stillness.
He said Psalms 46:10 reads: “Be still and know that I am God.”
“God doesn’t need our exhaustion.” He began to see stillness as communion with mystery. “We can be so squirrel-minded constantly moving… If we can’t wait until Christmas or Easter is over, something is wrong; we need to stop a moment,” he said.
“Stillness allows us to experience the presence of God. Stillness facilitates creativity. Rest leads to peace. Peace leads to clarity. Clarity leads to creativity.”
He then referred pastors to his book, Fulfilled: Living and Leading with Unusual Wisdom, Peace and Joy (Abingdon Press), which became the basis of his content during the two presentations.
He expressed that he began to write as a way of coming out of his exhaustion and says in a way he began and continues to write for his life after 20 years of writing and nine publications.
He said the key to his better-paced life is: “Every morning I have my brew – not Starbucks.”
B.R.E.W. stands for:
Be still (Psalm 46:10),
Receive God’s love (John 3:16),
Embrace yourself (Psalm 8:5) and
Welcome the day by being grateful about life. (Psalm 118:24).
“Each morning I empty myself… When we get love-up (by God), we live from acceptance and not for acceptance… Life becomes lighter in the love of God… God calls me to be love,” he said.
He testified that the three realities that changed his life were stillness (morning B.R.E.W.), awareness of life around him and playfulness.
During the second day of the retreat, he moved toward seven principles he uses to enhance his life, especially his spiritual life and his ministry. They include:
- Ready curiosity as opposed to apprehension before the unfamiliar,
- Peace rather than over anxiousness with conflict and paradox,
- Trust of vulnerability rather than being defensive before challenge,
- Acceptance of interruptions as invitations rather than intrusions,
- Practicing communication as open dialogue as opposed to closed monologue,
- Having more patience than angst with waiting and
- Deeper awareness and acceptance of the soft, subtle expressions of the subconscious mind and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
He said, “Stillness makes for a more peaceful congregation – deeper appreciation of quiet – not quiet brought by fatigue – spiritual, conscious and participatory quiet.”
One of the attributes to a more relaxed style of living is playfulness, which, he claimed, also benefits leadership in ministry.
He said playfulness:
- Helps us be relaxed in an overstressed world,
- Makes us more comfortable being empowered,
- Helps us maintain our alignment with the ongoing playfulness of God,
- Cultivates adaptability in a rapidly changing world,
- Helps us savor the learning on the way to the solution,
- Keeps us strong and spiritual for the struggles of life and
- Keeps us even open for divine opportunity.
Jones said some of that playfulness comes to him from listening to jazz. He attributed the music and singing of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong as especially empowering. “Their magnificent power transcends their mesmerizing artistry… When they sing and play, it’s as if someone greater is at work singing and playing inside of them,” he said.
These and other thoughts and ideas for a more fulfilled life and ministry are shared by him in Jones’ book Fulfilled: Living and Leading with Unusual Wisdom, Peace and Joy (Abingdon Press) and available from Cokesbury.com.
Jones also said he is open to ideas and comments. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. One can dialogue with him on Facebook.com at Yes to Grace and The Sacred Seven Group and on Twitter.com at Kirk Byron Jones.
Other activities offered at the clergy retreat included an array of afternoon activities following the theme of playfulness (including singing, basketball with the bishop, photography, labyrinth walks, prayer, finger painting and Indiana State Parks), several booths related to United Methodist ministries across the state, supper and games at Dave and Busters recreational center and an evening Taizé-style worship service in St. Luke’s Chapel.