Wednesday, November 17, 2010

After You Believe, by N. T. Wright

Question 1:  Wright’ final chapter begins with an introduction to the “virtuous circle.”  Virtue happens “as Christians find themselves caught up within a particular circle of activities and practices.”  As he has said repeatedly, “the key to virtue lies precisely…in the transformation of the mind.”  As with a bicycle (or better yet, a motorcycle!) you need to learn to operate several maneuvers at once to maintain your balance and move forward.  The five elements of the virtuous circle include: scripture, stories, examples, community, and practices.
  • Identify two of these elements that have served to draw you closer to the virtuous life of faith.
  • Provide an example of the power and effect of each in your life.

Question 2:  The reading of scripture is central to the virtuous life.  Wright speaks of us not merely as readers, but as “actors within an ongoing drama.”  This leads to the biblical story becoming “second nature” to us.  He urges us to read it in large chunks and in small bites; but always to make it habit-forming.  Live with the tension of encountering variations of complexity and diversity in the Bible.  Give time an opportunity to allow scripture to work its way into our lives.  No doubt, this has been the case for each of us throughout our lives. 
  • Trace your own footsteps through the scriptures…
  • How would you describe your current position when contrasted with your understanding of scripture as a young adult?
  • What have you learned over the years as you seek to get your arms around the Bible?

Question 3:  “Scripture, then, is habit-forming and character-forming.”  “Living within the world of stories increases – if we let it – the capacity for discernment.”  “Wisdom, after all, is what we’re after; not rules, not templates, but a sense of understanding how the ways of God and humankind work…” 
  • How have you come to understand and appreciate the complex nature of scripture and its characters?
  • How does scripture serve to guide you into the ways of wisdom and spiritual discernment?

Question 4:  Wright gives examples of those who have developed the character of virtue.  This is not limited to mere imitation, but like a spark that turns into a flame, is “led by the Spirit and can be a means toward something quite new.”  Using powerful examples such as Maximilian Kolbe and Chesley Sullenberger, Wright points out that they didn’t have time to think, but they didn’t need to.  “The thinking had been done a long time before, and the second-nature habits of self-giving love had been ingrained as a result.  The moment came; the decision was made.”
  • Recall of a time when you had no time to think, only to act…
  • How did you know what to do at that moment?
  • Recall a similar experience applied to some faith action…
  • How did you tap into your well of Christian virtue at that point?

Question 5:  Here, Wright moves from an individual to corporate context of faith in action.  In essence, he lifts up the work of the church, in all its many forms and groupings.  Our Panera group fits the bill here, too!  Whatever the configuration, our common goal is to develop the fruit of the Spirit.  This community of believers “is the forum within which virtue is learned and practiced.”  “This is how virtue happens: whole communities deciding together, as Hebrews says, ‘to stir up one another to love and good works,’ and then working at it so that what might to begin with have seemed impossible (or at least very unnatural) becomes, remarkably quickly, second nature.”
  • Examine your own such involvement with the church…
  • Name those events, efforts, and connections that mattered.
  • Where have you partnered with others to be the church in action?
  • What were the specific “fruits of the Spirit” that resulted?

Question 6:  Wright’s final section summarizes the central practices of the Christian faith, largely flowing out of the various elements of worship.  These also flow out of our understanding of Word and Sacrament.  The point is, we do this togetherall of it!
  • In conclusion, reflect on the whole of Wright’s book…
  • What have you learned to appreciate about virtue?
  • What has surprised you most about virtue?
  • Where do you still seek to grow in Christian virtue?
  • Finally, name one example – some person – of virtue for whom you can lift up and give thanks today.

*Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!
*See you again January 13 as we read, Belief, by Francis Collins

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

After You Believe, by N. T. Wright

Question 1:  The “Royal Priesthood”…that’s quite a vocation we bear!  Wright asserts that worship is central to Christian virtue.  It must be learned, however.  While spontaneity has its value, in limited fashion, worship is best approached through training over time.  The analogy of the match and the candle was quite effective here. 
  • Where have you previously “struck a match,” only to see it die with nothing to light? 
  • What “candles” have you found useful to keep the fire burning? 
  • Where has this occurred in your faith life, specifically? 
  • As a result of this, can you name those worship practices that now have become “second nature” and therefore “virtuous?”

Question 2:  Wright promotes our function as “rulers,” flowing out of this royal priesthood.  “…the early Christians were becoming the agents of God’s sovereign rule through their work in announcing Jesus as Lord.”  Transformation is the result.  The virtues that accompany our role as rulers include the work of evangelism, justice, beauty, and freedom.  “Freedom, like authenticity, is what we are promised when our desires and longings completely coincide with God’s designs and plans for us as fully human beings.”  “To accept appropriate moral constraints is not to curtail true freedom, but to create the conditions for it to flourish.”
  • How has this alignment of virtues (partially or otherwise) allowed you to function as a ruler of God’s sovereign kingdom? 
  • Name a specific situation where this “freedom” has brought about transformation, either in you or someone else.

Question 3:  In this brief section, Wright discusses faith and virtue, active in love…specifically, acts of service.  This, too, is a habit or “second nature” that characterizes Christian virtue.  Indeed, this was a different way to be human, as the emergence of the early church shows. 
  • What particular habits of love – service – have made the greatest impression on you?
  • What specific service opportunities have you participated in that further deepened your faith?
  • Why was this so important to you?

Question 4:  Wright identifies several distinctions between pagan virtue and Christian virtue.  Foremost, however, is the distinction that Aristotle’s tradition led ultimately to pride, while Christian virtue is shaped by the cross and leads to humility.  “The Christianly virtuous person is not thinking about his or her own moral performance.  He or she is thinking of Jesus…and how best to love the person next door.” 
  • So, in terms of moral discourse, what do you see as the value and role of non-Christian traditions? 
  • How do we integrate our Christian values with other traditions, without compromising or de-valuing our core virtues?

Question 5:  “God’s work of rescuing, restorative justice must happen in us in order that it can happen through us.”  “It is thus more or less impossible to speak of God with any conviction or effect if those who profess to follow Jesus are not exemplifying humility, charity, patience, and chastity.  These are not optional extras for the especially keen, but the very clothes which the royal priesthood must ‘put on’ day by day.”  Wright addresses the long-standing divisions between those who cultivate their own holiness (in the absence of promoting justice) and those who are passionate for justice but treat personal holiness as an unnecessary distraction.  Wright presses for integration.
  • How has the Lutheran Church traditionally approached these two aspects of faith?  Where is the ELCA presently headed on this? 
  • What are your personal goals in relation to holiness and justice? 
  • How might we more effectively partner with those whose values and strengths are different from ours?

Question 6:  Here, we have chapter sex…I mean, six!  Wright discusses and connects humility, patience, chastity, and forgiveness.  As he suggests, love holds them all together. 
  • Take a moment and review his emphasis on each. 
  • Which of these present the greatest challenge to you?
  • To our society?
  • Which present the greatest satisfaction and reward to you?