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Blog

Some of my written words, thoughts, and ramblings. 

My Reasons for Eating Only Plants
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Three years ago, my wife and I decided to be vegan and maintain a plant-based diet. Prior to that, I technically was a ‘pescatarian,’ but would often call myself a ‘flexitarian.’ Sometimes I’d eat meat, others times I wouldn’t. Prior to that, though, I was like a professional meat eater. My personal food pyramid was all meat with an apple here or there . After reading a lot of books, articles, and documentaries as well as consulting with friends who are vegan, we decided it was imperative for us to make a change to our diet.

As I have tried to formulate the reasons why I maintain a plant-based diet, I thought it would be good to share them for others who might be interested. I have found people get quite passionate about what other people should or should not eat, which is understandable. Changing the way one eats, changes one’s life style and that is not an easy change. I’m not writing to convince you to become vegan, I only want to share my journey and answer some of the questions I often get.

Maintaining a plant-based diet is a lot easier than we had expected once we retrained our brains to look at ingredient labels and question exactly what was in our food. And, being vegan does not mean we only eat cardboard. We eat good, I must say, we simply do not eat any animal products (meat, fish, dairy). And, we eat plenty of protein, in case you were wondering. For someone who has little self-control with donuts, m&m’s, and all sorts of other sweets (gummy bears have animal product in them I’ve learned), being vegan has become a built in self-control method for me.

I have settled on four main reasons why I became vegan. They are health, environmental, ethical, and spiritual. Although I’ll introduce each below, this won’t be a long post. There are countless resources out there to help answer your questions, this is simply my sort of elevator speech.

HEALTH

My doctor suggested that in the coming years I would probably need to get on high cholesterol medicine since it runs in my family and mine was always borderline concerning. My total cholesterol was usually over 260. After being vegan for three months, I was retested and my cholesterol dropped to 205. Some vegans have cholesterol lower than 75 because they are not putting any cholesterol into their bodies.

The World Health Organization has recently classified processed meats as carcinogenic. There are also studies that show a plant-based diet can reverse cancer growth and heart disease, eliminate autoimmune diseases, lower cholesterol, and more. I strongly recommend the book The China Study. It blew my mind. After reading it, I went vegan cold turkey (odd pun, now isn’t it).

ENVIRONMENTAL

I’ve come to believe that it is impossible to care for our environment without caring for what and how we eat. The pollution from the industrial food production in our country, such as raising cattle for instance, out pollutes all cars, trains, boats, trucks, and airplanes...combined. The waste from the animal industry poisons communities, waterways, and more, while the amount of water used to raise one cattle to maturity is staggering.

Sure, I turn the lights off, walk or bike when able, compost, and recycle, but maintaining a plant-based diet is, by far, the greatest way to currently care for the environment and decrease one’s carbon footprint.

ETHICAL

There are also ethical reasons why I decided to become vegan. This is the gross part, but we all must face it or we simply chose to be willfully ignorant. We currently raise and slaughter over 10,000,000,000 animals each year; that's ten billion. This doesn’t include fish and sea animals that are caught through industrial fishing methods, such as bottom trawling that uses nets as big as a 747 aircraft to catch anything and everything. Most chickens, cattle, turkeys, and pigs are caged in CAFOs, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, where they endure horrific living conditions. They are also pumped with countless chemicals and antibiotics, which are then transferred to us as we consume them.

The way we slaughter animals is anything but humane, ethical, or sanitary. Many animals are still alive or conscious as they are put in scalding baths and butchered. Sadly, fish and sea creatures are unable to adjust to the water pressure as they surface because nets are drawn up so quickly. There are even reports of the negative impact on the emotional and mental well-being of those individuals who work in these environments. Horrific, yes. Google it and read more at your own risk.

We also have enough land to grow ample amounts of food so every living person can have enough to eat. Instead, the majority of our crop is fed to the billions of animals that we then eat. We’ve turned raising and eating animals into an industry; a beautiful creation into a commodity.

SPIRITUAL

When I think over the reality of our current food industry, things aren’t right. They are not working as they should. For so long, I chose to be willfully ignorant and maintained an ethical slumber because I knew I would have to make a change. When I think about all of these reasons, what I eat and how I care for creation becomes a spiritual issue. It is one way I can honor and care for all of creation; humans, nature, and animals. It is one way I can live out my spiritual life to be a co-creator and co-laborer with the Divine. And it is one way in which I must live a life counter to the culture.

I’ll confess, though, I will still kill that disgusting looking spider in my bathroom...I’m not perfect, but am working on it.

RESOURCES

If you’re looking to learn more, I recommend the following books and documentaries.

Books: The China Study, Eating Animals, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows, Slaughterhouse, The Food Revolution, Animal Liberation, How Not to Die

Documentaries: Food, Inc; Forks Over Knives; Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead; What the Health; Cowspiracy, Dominion

Nathan AlbertComment
A Break to Declutter
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This past December during the season of Advent, which celebrates the Divine becoming flesh or incarnate, I also wanted to be more incarnate in life. I desired to be present with family, friends, and the world around me. So, I took a break from social media. I deleted all social media apps from my phone and blocked a lot of websites on my laptop.

Although it was brief, it was a good few weeks. I didn’t experience too much FOMO. I think I used my phone a lot less. I felt more productive and less distracted. I was bored more often, which I think was good for my brain. I was more present with my wife and sons. I was still able to keep in touch with my friends and loved ones. The world didn’t end and I didn’t miss out on too many things.

This break gave me some time to consider how I want to continue to use social media. During the ‘fast,’ I decided to regularly do this throughout the year. Initially, I planned a similar break during Advent, Lent, and a month over the summer. This would allow me to be free from social media for a third of the year. Not bad, I thought.

Then, I started reading books like Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism, Jaron Lanier’s, 10 Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, Andrew Sullivan’s article, I Used to be a Human Being: An endless bombardment of news and gossip and images has rendered us manic information addicts. It broke me. It might break you, too, Catherine Price’s How to Break Up with Your Phone, and a few articles on New York Times here and here, among others.

And, now things are all messed up.

Now it seems imperative that I should quit social media entirely, but also seems impossible to do so. It’s only been 10 years. I know life without social media. I was there before Friendster, even.

So why do I feel as if it’s essential to my life? Is it actually essential to my life?

Some questions I have been asking are: What is my reason for being on social media and is that truly a reason to be on social media? Is trying to get a few additional ‘likes’ or build my platform really worth the hours I spend online? How much of my time and attention is needed to earn a small profit of occasional social media connections? What value is regularly checking social media bringing to my life?

I’ve also been paying attention to how social media makes me feel as I use them. Usually, Facebook makes me angry or completely numb as I scroll unaware, Twitter makes me frustrated, and Instagram’s regular advertisements annoy me.

To figure all this out, I am using Lent to go through a Digital Declutter based off of the challenge Cal Newport gives in his book. I’ll be deleting all optional technology from my phone, which includes all social media, news, email, shopping, etc. My phone will be a ‘dumbphone’ that sends texts, makes calls, plays music and podcasts, and gives directions when needed. I’ll be blocking similar websites on my laptop using BlockSite. All my future blog posts have already been scheduled. This should limit my time online while not hindering my responsibilities at work.

Hopefully, using my phone and social media less will mean that I can be more productive and focused and less distracted and anxious. Hopefully, I’ll experience plenty of leisure activities, such as playing my guitar, going for walks, journaling and writing more frequently, and even discovering a new hobby or two.

More than anything, I want to be face-to-face with people, not face-to-phone around people.

At the end of the Digital Declutter, Newport suggests adding back only those apps or websites that actually add value to your life. So, who knows where I will find myself after this process and what I’ll be deleting or adding back into my life. My guess is I’ll probably delete Facebook, but may keep Instagram. I think this will be more than a detox, it will be a declutter that will allow me a more focused and fulfilled life.

Nathan AlbertComment
On Being an Ecumenical: Part 3
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In the first part of this series, I introduced you to my new noun, Ecumenical. In last week’s post, I shared a bit more about this definition. Today, I want to share ways in which you, too, can live as an Ecumenical.

Living as an Ecumenical means acknowledging and appreciating every facet of the whole diamond, which is the Christian Church, rather than thinking that the unpolished part needs to be removed or only one facet ever gleans the brightest. It means going back to the mystery that is found in our faith and creeds.

Being an Ecumenical means valuing the richness and uniqueness of each tradition within our Tradition. It means we acknowledge that there won’t always be unanimity, but we’re ok with that because we know that unity does not require uniformity. It means we remember and live as if we are a family. As the scriptures remind us, just as an ear can’t say to the eye ‘I have no need for you,’ we in one tradition can’t say to another, ‘I have no need for you.’ Instead, we work to be together trusting that we are more than our specific and particular tradition.

When you’re an Ecumenical, you can honor, respect, and even practice spiritual rhythms from the whole Christian Church. I believe this because my spiritual life has flourished as I’ve started incorporating spiritual rhythms from the diversity of the Christian tradition.

For instance, I worship with Gospel music, do the daily office or fixed hour prayer with the Episcopal Church's Book of Common Prayer, pray through the use of icons similar to the Orthodox church, try to spend 10-20 minutes a day in centering prayer and meditation as practiced by many Catholic individuals, study sermons like a good Evangelical but also think Communion, or the Eucharist, is a better sermon than the best preacher could ever preach, and I read as many authors who are not from my tradition as possible.

So, what I’m really saying is that if you’re thinking of planting a church that plays a lot of Kirk Franklin and Fred Hammond, follows the Episcopal liturgy, does weekly communion, and has a bunch of icons in the sanctuary...do it. That would give me so much life. I’d tithe you all my money.

Being an Ecumenical also means practicing justice, fighting racism, dismantling white supremacy, creating equitable spaces, renouncing war and violence, overcoming poverty, protecting and caring for all of creation, pursuing spiritual, emotional, and physical health, building a greater understanding of our neighbors, and partnering with other faiths and organizations who are doing similar work rather than competing with or combating them.

And for goodness sake, being an Ecumenical means we’ve got to stop fighting, and bickering, and blaming, and belittling other Christians who may think differently from us. It means having the humility and the gracious freedom to realize that we don’t have the whole faith tradition figured out and that maybe we are wrong about a few things here and there and that just because someone thinks differently does not mean this person is a heretic.

And, being an Ecumenical means trusting that God has been, and still is, on the move, making all things new and that God continues to be up to something good in our world. As Ecumenicals, we’ve got to get on board and keep up with the movement of Spirit.

Imagine if we lived like this. Imagine if we lived as Ecumenicals. Would it bring you hope? Would it speak deeply to your soul? Would you want to be a part of something like that? Honestly, I think it would. And truthfully, I think I’m all in.

See, I’ve fallen in love, not with one particular church, but with the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

I stand in awe not only of my tradition, but of our Tradition.

I want to practice the faith with not only a few Christians, but with the depth of Christianity.

I affirm one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

And I believe that when we do this together, in unity, then all people will know God is love.

So, perhaps I’m not an Evangelical. But, I am an Ecumenical. I hope you’ll join me.

Nathan AlbertComment
On Being an Ecumenical: Part 2
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Last week, I introduced you to a new noun, Ecumenical, and why Evangelical has become tainted. In today’s post, I want to walk you through my new definition of the term.

Even though the original intent of the word has merit, I think Ecumenical is a better term than Evangelical. It is a term that might embody what the Jesus tradition is all about and allow us to tell a great and hopeful story, one that people are longing to hear.

As an adjective, ecumenical means promoting unity and oneness among the world’s Christian churches. It seeks cooperation and better understanding among different Christian traditions. It values the beauty of diversity, names and embraces our differences, sees everyone as members of the same community, all the while not letting these things bring division. A lofty goal, for sure.

Ecumenical comes from the Greek oikoumene, which can mean “the whole inhabited earth.” It’s used in a handful of different ways in the Christian scriptures, but many branches of Christianity have used it to denote the catholicity or the universality of the Church.

I have found that ecumenicalism is a movement back to the essentials, back to the apostolic faith, back to the affirmation of the Nicene and Apostle’s creeds, and back to the elements that actually unite all of us. Regardless of our traditions, if we’re honest, I think we can get on board with such a movement.

Before he was executed, Jesus prayed for all of us who would believe in him. A simple and profound prayer, Jesus prayed that, despite our differences, we might be one. He didn’t pray that we would be theologically correct in all doctrines, or that we would memorize the Bible, or that we would all be in the same church, or that we would all think or pray or worship the same way. He prayed an ecumenical prayer over us. He prayed that we would be one so that all people will know God loves them and sent them Jesus.

Does that blow your mind? It does mine.

So, when the Christian Church is one, unified, or ecumenical, that will be how all people will know that God loves them and became visible and knowable in the person of Jesus. That’s how the incarnation of Christ will continue….when we become Ecumenicals. It’s right there in our beloved scriptures and right there in Jesus’ prayer.

I’m realizing that this wasn’t what I was taught. Oneness wasn’t an esteemed value. Instead, I was taught my ‘one’ tradition was better than all the other false ones out there. I heard this message in each tradition I’ve been a part of. Those other Christian traditions were wrong and we were right and knew the real truth. Because they weren’t like us, they had no place with us. Such divisive hubris.

Additionally, particular spiritual practices or rhythms that seemed too Catholic or too Orthodox or too traditional had no place in our lives. What deeply saddens me is that in an effort to be uniquely relevant, we stripped away so many spiritual practices, rhythms, and liturgies that we ended up losing richness, depth, and beauty, and we became irrelevant.

I think we can do better. I think we can live better as Ecumenicals.

Stay tuned. In my next post, I will show you how to be an Ecumenical.

Nathan AlbertComment
On Being an Ecumenical
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I am claiming an adjective as a new noun. I’m an Ecumenical.

I have been in a soul searching season for the last couple of years and I have discovered that I’ve always been an Ecumenical, I just didn’t have the word for it. This post is my attempt to define it. My manifesto on being an Ecumenical.

I grew up Lutheran, became a Baptist, spent years in non-denominational and evangelical Protestant churches, became ordained in a pietistic denomination, currently work as a chaplain at a university founded by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and have started attending an Episcopal church. A church mutt, you might say, and I think being Ecumenical is deep in my bones.

For a long time, I proudly identified as an evangelical, but these days I find that term no longer means what it once meant.

The term evangelical originates in the Greek term euangelion, which means gospel, or good news. The Protestant faith tradition that took on that adjective is full of passionate people willing to share good news, who emphasize salvation by faith, individual and communal conversion and transformation, the authority of ancient scriptures, and a deep desire to bring people to a dynamic personal faith. I believe in this and it’s a part of who I have been for a long time.

But, to a lot of people, that is not what the term means anymore.

To a lot of people, ‘evangelical’ is synonymous with fundamentalist, anti-women, anti-LGBTQ, and just plain anti-nice or -decent. When 81% of white evangelicals vote for a conservative presidential candidate that makes outlandishly racist, sexist, and xenophobic remarks, it sends a message, whether we realize it or not, that evangelicals are just that; white, conservative, racist, sexist, and xenophobic.

At this point, you might disagree with me and say, “Well, I’m not like that.” This might be true and I hope it is. We at least have to acknowledge, though, that this is how many people think of evangelicals. To them, evangelicals are not announcing good news, telling a better story for all people, or sharing hope.

The term evangelical has become tainted. Sure, we can try to reclaim it, and I know many individuals who are fighting to do just that. I’m thankful for their work. Sadly, I think that ship has sailed. I don’t think we should reclaim it, I think we should find a new term.

And, lucky for you, I did just that with turning Ecumenical into a noun. You’re welcome.

Of course, you’ll have to wait for my next post to understand how lucky you are and how I define Ecumenical.

Nathan AlbertComment
A Book Hoarder Set Free
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I’m a recovering book hoarder, which is interesting considering I hated reading until I was in my mid-twenties. It became a dream of mine to have a huge personal library with hundreds (ok, let’s be honest, thousands) of books. It would be a visual reminder of all the knowledge that I soaked up but had most likely forgotten. Of course, I would regularly reference those books and reread them. People would come over and after we perused the spines, we’d sip tea and discuss deep questions of life found in a book’s pages.

Then I moved a few times and had to pack up all those books that adorned my shelves and I was quickly convinced to rid myself of most of them. Plus, I never had anyone come over to peruse some spines and drink tea.

My view of books has changed. Most books I treat as an experience which I enjoy while reading and can pass onto others. Most of the textbooks I’ve read for my degrees, I’ve rarely referenced. And the random goal I had to read every book by so-and-so author wasn’t thought out well. Only a few have I actually read a second or third time. To this day, though, I am still holding onto a Garfield book that was my favorite in elementary school.

So, I’ve been periodically whittling down my book collection to only the most impactful books and authors. These are the books that changed my way of thinking, transformed my soul, woke me up to a new level of awareness, and ones that I have and will read again.

I’ve linked them below if you’re looking for a great book to read. I’ve also included a few runner-ups.

East of Eden, by John Steinbeck

The Way of the Heart, by Henri Nouwen

Live of the Beloved, by Henri Nouwen

Wounded Healer, by Henri Nouwen

New Seeds of Contemplation, by Thomas Merton

Thoughts in Solitude, by Thomas Merton

Concerning the Inner Life, by Evelyn Underhill

Strength to Love, by Martin Luther King Jr.

Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning

Lion and Lamb, by Brennan Manning

The Preacher and Prayer, by E.M. Bounds

Jesus and the Disinherited, by Howard Thurman

Becoming Human, by Jean Vanier

Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, by Ruth Haley Barton

Invitation to Solitude and Silence, by Ruth Haley Barton

The runner-ups:

Just This, by Richard Rohr

Reclaiming Conversation, by Sherry Turkle

The Prodigal God, by Timothy Keller

Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson

The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander

Mere Churchianity, by Michael Spencer

And most importantly, Garfield in Space, by Jim Davis.

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Nathan Albert
Just a Reminder: You Are So Much More
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For a while, it was a goal of mine to have a huge personal library with hundreds or thousands of books. Then, I moved a few times and had to pack up all those books that adorned my shelves and I was quickly convinced to rid myself of a few...hundred. Now, I’m trying to whittle down my book collection to only the most impactful books and authors.

One of my favorite authors is Henri Nouwen. A Catholic priest, Nouwen was one of the most profound spiritual writers in the last century.  Much of his work centers on humanity’s belovedness, identity, personal and spiritual formation, and ancient contemplative practices. I’ll read anything and everything he has written (and I encourage you to do the same).

Nouwen speaks of three lies we believe about ourselves in order to earn love, happiness, reputation, success, or belovedness. These three statements he calls the lies of our identity. They are:

  1. I am what I do.

  2. I am what I have.

  3. I am what others say or think of me.

It is upon these statements, Nouwen believes, that we try to build our identity and our lives.

We try to achieve so much we can feel like human doings rather than human beings. We purchase unneeded material possessions to impress people we don’t really like, sometimes with money we don’t even have. And, we believe the thoughts or words of another person, even a stranger, summarize the entirety of our personhood. Building our lives upon such statements, though, often brings more stress, frustration, and unhappiness than peace, joy, or love.

The profound mystery of the spiritual life, however, is a truth that proves these statements to be lies. For the truth is you are not what you do, you are not what you have, you are not what others say or think of you.

You are so much more than that. You are a beloved child of the Divine. That changes everything. I hope you’re reminded of that today.

Nathan Albert
Attentive to Advent, Not Social Media
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Because of a new software update on my phone, every Sunday morning I get a notification from Apple’s Screen Time app telling me how many hours I used my phone in the last week. Have you looked at that app? It tells you how many times you pick up your phone, the minutes you use each app, the number of notifications in a day, and your average weekly and daily usage.

At around the same time as I started getting these notifications, I starting looking at rhythms in my life; daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly rhythms. Those which were life-giving, those which were draining, those that I would like to change, and those that I would hope to incorporate. This has been a refreshing and deliberate process for me.

Over the last couple years, I have changed the way I use technology. I have realized that the technology which was created to connect us with people far away has actually become the barrier in connecting us with people directly in front of us. More often than not, I’m tethered to a device, almost a slave to its notifications and vibrations, and that makes me less present to life around me. And, I know I am not alone.

About a year ago I decided to make a few simple changes. Now, I no longer keep a phone near my bed at night and instead bought myself an old school alarm clock. I’ve deleted a lot of apps that wasted my time, such as Facebook, CSR Racing, Monument Valley, Candy Crush, and SimCity Build It (Ah, how I miss them). And, I’ve tried to make sure there are times in my day and week where I am not near my phone or laptop.

These simple changes have been great and helped me be less tethered to a device. And, I thought I was doing OK...until Screen Time. Now it’s been visualized just how much time I spend on other social media apps such as Instagram, Twitter, Amazon, and Gmail. These are keeping me connected to something other than my family, they are my go to when I’m waiting in line or am ‘bored,’ and are always there when I’m hoping to see the latest and greatest post.

So, with the arrival of the Advent season, I’ve decided to take a break from all social media. (Incidentally, I feel like a complete nincompoop posting on social media that I am stepping away from social media. That seems so counterintuitive.)

I’m deleting all apps from my phone and blocking websites on my laptop. I’m going to intentionally make my smartphone a dumb phone. I’m also planning to shut off my phone for an entire day once a week. Although this new rhythm will only be for a matter of weeks, I think it might be a great one; one that allows me the space to wait for the One’s arrival we celebrate in Advent, to open myself to the One who is always present to me, and to step away from things that seek my attention so that I might be attentive to the One who became the Christ.

This is the time of year we celebrate the incarnation, the Divine becoming “in fleshed,’ and I want to better model incarnation in my own life. I want to be present to God, be present to my wife, be present to my sons, be present my friends, present to nature around me, and present to Christ who is in all and through all. Here’s to a new rhythm. See you soon.

Nathan Albert
Leaving Behind Santa for the Divine
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I was recently reminded of the following quote from the English author, Karen Armstrong:

We often learn about God at about the same time as we are learning about Santa Claus; but our ideas about Santa Claus change, mature, and become more nuanced, whereas our ideas of God can remain at a rather infantile level.

What a striking thought for us to ponder as we enter the holiday season. Have our views of the Divine remained infantile? Are they no longer working for us? Or, have our views of the Divine grown deeper, evolved with our experiences, become more nuanced, and introduced us to a God that is bigger than the box in which we often put God?

Some theologians have described the spiritual path as one that includes times of construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction. And, I think this is the point Karen Armstrong is making. For many of us, a spiritual path was constructed for us, but as we have grown up we have found it no longer works.

Just as we deconstruct our view of Santa Claus after childhood (at least I’m assuming you’ve done this), it is easy for us to deconstruct (and even reject) an infantile view of the Divine, rather than reconstruct a faith that leads us to new levels of spiritual awareness. One of the early Saints described such a spiritual journey as moving from drinking only milk to feeding upon nutritious solid food.

I have experienced such a process in my own spiritual journey. In fact, I moved away from not only an infantile faith, but one that correlated the Divine as some sort of Heavenly Santa who would give me presents, or blessings, when I was good and give me coal when I was bad, or sinned. This type of God reflected the Santa Claus seen in Coca-Cola commercials; an old plump white guy with a beard who seems, at the same time, both jolly and somewhat creepy.

Yet, I crave a spiritual path and a God that is bigger, more complex, and more mysterious than a Heavenly Santa Claus. I want to embrace the Divine who is Love, Grace, Truth, Hope, Peace, Justice, and Joy. The One who is always present to me, as close as my very breath, who is before, through, and in all things, and is working to make everything new.

Maybe you do, too.

If so, my hope for all of us this holiday season is that we sense the Divine in fresh and new ways, that we encounter a spiritual path that embraces nuances, doubts, and ambiguities, and that we reconstruct a bold and mature faith that leads us to love, hope, joy, and peace.


Nathan Albert
Two Years Transforming; Forever Grateful

For the last two years, I traveled to a monastery outside of Chicago every three months for a three day retreat to tend to my soul. With a group of 70 others, as part of the Transforming Center, we practiced ancient spiritual practices and rhythms such as silence, solitude, centering prayer, lectio divina, confession, the daily office, and more. We traveled together down a road of spiritual transformation and it happened in this place.

For the last two years, I was fortunate to sit under the teaching of Ruth Haley Barton. I had one of her most well-known books, Sacred Rhythms, for about a decade. A mentor of mine had given it to me years before I entered ministry. I had never opened that book. A few years ago, though, I finally took it off my shelf….and donated it. I was going through a minimalism phase and thought I had no need for it.

Then, as part of this community, I had to re-buy, read it, confess to Ruth what I did with her book, and, of course, have her sign my new copy.

During these years, Ruth became my rabbi. We read her books, listened to her stories, studied her teachings, and practiced spiritual rhythms. I was honored to sit at her feet and follow in her footsteps.

It’s difficult to put into words what this experience has meant to me because it has radically altered my soul, mind, and life. For someone who was so eager to enter ministry and do work for God, I was shocked at how quickly I became burnt out and forgot to be with God. The Divine has become more real for me, present with me, and alive to me. It has truly been one of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life and I am ever grateful for this community.

I have learned to be present to the One who is always present to me.

I have learned to be with God before doing for God as well as how to be in God for the world rather than in the world for God.

The best thing I can bring to my leadership, life, family, and work is my own spiritually transforming self.

Silence and solitude have become essential practices for spiritual health.

The Daily Office gives me a rhythm to commune with God throughout my day.

Centering Prayer and the Breath Prayer have settled my soul.

Spiritual transformation happens, not because I do anything, but because I open myself up to the God who transforms.

And I have learned that in returning and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and trust shall be your strength, for the Lord waits to be gracious to you.

If you follow the Christian tradition, perhaps as a leader of an organization or work in ministry, want to pursue seminary, yet feel as if the Christian faith isn’t working anymore, if you’re tired or worn out, if it seems as if God is distant, or if ministry is killing your soul, I encourage you to join a Transforming Community.

It has made me a better husband, father, friend, coworker, and neighbor. It has made me a better human. It has healed my soul. God will use it to change your life, too.

Nathan Albert
Epic Views and Prayers
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Moving to Lynchburg from Rhode Island, my family traded in the ocean views for the mountain views. We have enjoyed those moments every so often around town when you can get a quick, yet stunning, glimpse of the mountains. They pop out from between the trees or you notice them as you turn off the highway. Certain spots on campus give you the perfect view of Sharp Top Mountain.

Recently, my son and I were driving around Lynchburg and we ventured down a road on which we had never traveled. As our car slowly made its way up a massive hill and reached the top, we were overcome with a majestic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. From the back seat, my son exclaimed “That’s epic.” Ok, he’s only two, so he actually said, “Woah, look at all those mountains, Dada.” I’m pretty sure I kept saying, “This is amazing.” But, he was right, it was epic. In that instant, that road become my favorite in Lynchburg.

There’s something about ocean and mountain views that stir up a sense of awe within me. They make me pause, they slow me down, they calm me, they force me to be present, they remind me that next to their vastness I am so small, and when I’m driving around town, they can get me to start veering off the road.

Studies have shown that looking at a tree for a few minutes can drastically lower your blood pressure and relieve anxiety. Although I don’t have a similar study, I think the same can be said for looking at a mountain range or the vast ocean. Somehow looking at such a sight can settle you, remind you of your foundation, or simply pause to say, “Wow.” Some people argue that little word, “wow,” is the simplest prayer.

And I have to agree. It’s acknowledging the beauty and awe inspiring view of the Creator’s creations. That is prayer.

May you glimpse something majestically epic today.

May the beauty of the Creator’s creations bring you peace.

And may you, with gratitude and awe, pray.

Nathan Albert
Learning to Be
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For the last two years I have been on a contemplative spiritual journey. It has been a journey of recovering the truth that I am a human being, not simply a human doer. As a minister, it’s been a journey of learning to be with God, first, in order to do for God. As a husband and father, it’s been a journey of learning to be present to my family at all times.

Now, as a task oriented, to-do list completer, J on the Myers-Briggs, and Achiever on StrengthsFinder type of person, I like to get stuff done. Yet, in my rush to complete a task I have often ignored people who ultimately matter more than tasks. Sure, I’ve checked something off of my list, but I have neglected the people around me. I’ve been present to my list, but not present with the people I love dearly.

I’ve also seen how easy it so to get lost in our devices, such as our phones, tablets, or laptops, which results in ignoring the people around us. It’s interesting to note that our technological devices were created to connect us and be present with people who are not physically near. Ironically, though, these devices often hinder us from being present with people physically near. The device created to break down certain barriers actually creates more barriers.

So, I have been learning how to be with God and be with people. I have been trying to log off, shut down, turn off notifications, and leave my phone in the other room. I am working to be present with people around me rather than rush to get a task completed. Through it all, I have been learning how to be.

There is a great psalm found in the ancient scriptures. Written from the voice of the Divine, Psalm 46:10 simply states, “Be still and know that I am God.” Some meditate on this short psalm by reading it slowly as written below:

Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.
Be.

It is in our being and our stillness that we can know the Divine. Learning to be still, learning to be, has been a beautiful life-changing quest. And, I invite you to learn to live as you were created to be; a human being, not a human doer. Be with. Be still. Be.

Nathan Albert
Thoughts on Preaching: Say Less, Preach More
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As a former actor and artist, I have found preaching to be an artistic craft. The sermon is an art form, actually, and delivering a sermon is a performance art.

That isn’t to say preaching is simply a show or a performance. Instead, it is an ancient form of communication that is deep, rich, and beautiful. It is the interweaving of words, thoughts, ideas, truths, stories, and silence that is powerful and passionate.

Preaching is also mysterious. Somehow, as one stands up to speak about the God of Love, the Divine One, the God of Love transforms hearts and souls of those listening. As we preachers craft our sermons, it is a chance to create, play, partner with the Divine. It is beautiful

Lately, I’ve observed that some sermons are really long. Like an hour. As I listen to these sermons, I find myself wondering if sometimes the longer the sermon the less is said. Can anyone relate to this? Half way through the 50 minute sermon, you start wondering if with all this talking if anything good is being said.

And so I’ve come to wonder if the more one preaches, the less is one’s sermon. The longer one preaches, the less one says. The longer one preaches and the more one says definitely means the more the listener forgets. Most congregants can’t remember your three to five points or that clever acronym you created. Most say that congregants remember about 20% of a sermon. So, roughly a few minutes of what you say or one point.

Because of this, I think every sermon should only have one point. And say that one point more than 20% of your sermon so your people remember. Some traditions are better at this than others. I think of the Catholic and Episcopal services I have attended where the sermons can be quite profound and leave me wanting more. Recently, one of the most powerful sermons I have ever heard was 5 minutes and 8 seconds long. It was delivered by Fr. Richard Rhor and I can’t get it out of my head. You can listen to it here.

I think it’s best that we preach who Jesus is and what God has done through Jesus. If we don’t do this, we don’t have a sermon. If we don’t announce Good News for all people, if we don’t announce the Gospel, than we don’t have a sermon and we’re not preaching. We are just teaching some good advice or a moral idea.

So, my advice for us preachers, is let’s say less and perhaps our sermons will preach more.

 

Nathan Albert
Even the Ice Sings Out
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Sometimes a song is all that can be said. Sometimes music is better than words.

And sometimes, a song and music can be heard in unlikely ways.

Recently, I was on a three-day silence and solitude retreat. I am a part of a cohort of ministry leaders and clergy who gather every three months for such a retreat. On a beautiful afternoon with four hours of silence and solitude, I decided to walk around a lake near our retreat house. I made my way around this almost three-mile lake, looking for deer that roam the area, searching for animal tracks, finding the remnants of acorns, listening for the engulfing noises of silence, and watching all sorts of birds fly and chirp around me.

At one point, as I was crossing a bridge I realized that part of the lake beneath me was still frozen. Making my way to one side of the bridge, I saw small currents and waves being made in the lake as the wind picked up speed. These small waves started pushing up against the edge of the ice. Because of the warmer weather, though, the ice was melting and breaking. As these waves began to push against this ice, it made this spectacular sound. It sounded like a wind chime.

I stopped to listen and thoroughly enjoyed this surprising music. It was as if the ice was singing; as if the ice was an orchestra.

Tonight, I was reading my son the bedtime story, Giraffes Can’t Dance. It’s a cute book about Gerald the Giraffe who is quite clumsy on his feet. His village has a yearly dance celebration, but everyone makes fun of Gerald because he’s so clumsy and cannot dance. Sulking alone in the forest, he meets a cricket who tells him to find the music around him and let his body respond. The cricket says, ‘everything make music if you really want it to’ and goes on to show him how wind, trees, birds, and bugs make a melodic tune each evening. Not to spoil the ending of this bedtime story, but Gerald finds the music around him and becomes the best dancer in the village.

And so I was reminded that ‘everything makes music if you really want it to.’ It’s true. Even the ice can sing out. And, it’s just as beautiful as a full orchestra.

Nathan Albert
A Fresh Start and Clean Slate
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Life has brought a new season, which has resulted in a new blog and a new website. Ah, the perks. And by perks I mean paying for a new website and trying my best to figure out how to be all designer and IT-like. 

As of right now, I'm not smart enough to figure out how to transfer my old blogs to this site. So, maybe that just means it is time for a new one. It's been a long time since I've posted a blog. Much of that is due to busyness of life, having a toddler, and working for a church. Sometimes people don't like what you have written, and sometimes those people are in your church. So, it's time for a clean slate; a fresh start.

A fresh start is where I currently find myself. My wife and I recently transitioned out of our roles serving a church. I was there five and half years, while my wife was there ten years. Staff restructuring and budget cuts made it painfully obvious we would be leaving our positions. So, both unemployed, it's time for a fresh start and a clean slate. 

We are entering a season of rest, renewal, and hope. It comes with a few vacations, a new workout routine, a desire to start up my podcast again, and perhaps back to writing a blog or two. I trimmed my beard, got my hairs cut, and am ready for what is next. And somewhere, somehow, we are expectant that we will meet God, doors will open, and our lives in ministry will flourish.

Here's to a new blog, a new website, a clean slate, and a fresh start. 

 

Nathan Albert