Monday, April 23, 2012

The Emerging Christian Way

Chapter 10 – Worship: Pilgrims in the Faith

1.  Mark MacLean addresses a deeply personal, yet very public topic of ongoing discourse within the Christian community: How are we to worship?  Our responses are as unique as our individual life experiences, viewpoints, and preferences.  Any kind of consensus on a large scale is therefore difficult, if not impossible.  (Thus, the proliferation of countless religious expressions!) 

MacLean begins with an intimate, mystical encounter with the Spirit at a church service on the island of Iona.  He effectively introduces the origin and purpose of the Hebrew word for Spirit, Ruah.  “It is essential that each worshipping community find a way to lift its faithful membership into that Spirit of God which binds our hearts…for God’s BreathRuah – is central to our being and vocation.”  How has this “breath” and “blowing wind” of God touched you in worship?  Where and when do you encounter it?  How has it shaped you over time?  (Please be sure that every participant has opportunity to share a response.)

2.  MacLean quickly moves into the challenges we face as worshiping communities.  He stresses that we have “lost our sense of corporate worship as the central if not utterly essential moment in the life of Christian community.”  “Our challenge is to provide a space for this new generation of faith to find a spiritual home, and to be willing to hear their voice when they arrive.  It is through our corporate worship that this window is first cracked open so it can be flung wide for Ruah to blow through them, and us.”

What might “space for this new generation of faith” look like as we address this challenge together?  How might we become better equipped to re-think this issue and explore fresh opportunities for inclusion and growth?

3.  As MacLean moves deeper into our present debates of style and substance, he cites the broad backgrounds of the Liturgical Renewal Movement and Contemporary or Evangelical Worship, providing general formats of worship from each (pp. 176-181).  Take a moment to review these again.  Briefly describe your own experience or awareness of them.  What do you see as the strengths and limitations of each?

4.  MacLean urges us to move beyond the split.  “The irony for both communities is that these styles are dated, outmoded, and neither adequately lifts the culture of the gospel in the midst of the dominant culture.”  “The future of worship lies in deep authenticity and artistic forms.”  These five themes include:

  1. Revelation
  2. A new emphasis on the Bible
  3. Historical consciousness
  4. Influence of the Reformation
  5. Ecumenical character
Briefly review each (pp. 183-184).  Individually and collectively, how do these five forms serve to shape our church today?

5.  MacLean concludes with the realization that this will always be an ongoing debate...a “shared pilgrimage in faith.”  As “pilgrims,” we share in this journey…reveling “in the rich stories of the other pilgrims around them, who are moving on their own distinct paths toward the same destination.”  How does the term, “pilgrim,” aid us in defining our vocation and our destination?

6.  “Authentic, innovative worship moves beyond the concerns of bulletins and spreadsheets, instrumentation and multimedia, personality and taste, age and tradition, and points to the mystical realm of the Spirit.”  “Authentic worship names our unique heritage amidst our diverse reality, and openly shares the richness of the full human condition as a spiritual gift.”  Let this wisdom simply be our closing prayer today… “Lord, let it be so.  Amen.”

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Emerging Christian Way

Chapter 9 – Social Justice and a Spirituality of Transformation

1.  Bill Phipps is a minister, and it shows.  This essay reads like a lengthy, but eloquent sermon…carefully crafted with compelling examples and a sense of urgent necessity.  Bill is a straight shooter who doesn’t cloak his thoughts and feelings with vague descriptions.  His opening sentences are profoundly direct, “What could I possibly say?  I was blank.”

Have you ever witnessed an atrocity of the kind Phipps gives in the beginning?  Do you agree with his quote from Margaret Atwood: “The facts of this world seen clearly are seen through tears; why tell me then there is something wrong with my eyes?”

2.  From here, Phipps provides additional stories of attempts to renew and transform social attitudes and behavior.  These include the “Women in Black”; the “People and the Planet”; the “Bow Riverkeepers”; the “Celebration of Water”; and the place of homosexual people in the life of Christian congregations.  “In each of these stories,” he concludes, “a universal spirituality with a particular expression lifts up a spirituality of transformation, which leads to action.”

Which, if any, of these examples capture your own interest and/or passion for social change?  Can you provide examples or experiences of your own that have greatly changed your point of view?  What are the current challenges & barriers for developing further attitudinal and behavioral changes in our society?

3.  Phipps stresses that “social transformation through action takes priority over correct belief.”  After citing several biblical references, he says, “In other words, true spiritual transformation is more likely to occur when we ‘act into belief’ rather than then when we try to ‘believe into action.’”  “Actions…are more important than what we say.”

The rest of his essay serves to further illustrate this driving premise.  Where do we, as Lutherans, tend to favor responses that “stay in the head,” versus getting to “the actions that will transform lives?”  Where has “actual engagement” in ministry opportunities served to initiate such transformation for you?  Please consider sharing some specific examples.

4.  Citing Archbishop Oscar Romero as one of his spiritual heroes, Phipps includes Romero’s poem, “Prophets of a Future Not Our Own.”  Look at this poem again (p. 165).  What does it mean to you?  What might it mean to the United States?  What might it mean to the entire world right now?

5.  Following this, Phipps concludes, “I believe our modest efforts for justice and peace are better if they are interfaith, if we fully respect and honor other paths of faith.  No one has the corner on truth.  We live in a multicultural world; if we are to be effective, our work for social change needs to reflect this reality.”

Do you agree with and accept this final premise?  Given our local context…how are we working together, multiculturally, here in the Rockford area and in northern Illinois?  What more can we do, together, to promote social change and transformation?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Emerging Christian Way

Discussion Questions:  Chapter 7 – Paying Homage 
Chapter 8 – Radical Inclusion

1.  In this refreshingly concise and clear essay, Bruce Sanguin offers a thesis supported by tolerance and open-mindedness toward the larger faith community of the world.  He begins with a not-so-tolerant lampooning of the Southern Baptists for their hell-bent agenda and tactics of peddling conversion at all costs to Muslims.  Sanguin’s message: this is bad…very bad.  Have you encountered such efforts with other Southern Baptists or with Evangelical Christians bearing a fundamentalist agenda?  What attitudes/theology inform such exclusion and claiming of truth?

2.  From here, Sanguin introduces a different model, as presented in Matthew’s depiction of the Magi…noting that “the basis of the unity of all peoples of faith is biospiritual.  We have all come from the same place and are made of the same stuff.  We are stardust, reconfigured in human form, inspired by the Creator.”  The Magi travel to Israel for a single purpose…to pay homage to the Christ child. No Southern Baptist agenda here. This, Sanguin suggests, is our healthy alternative…the way of the Magi. 

Let’s discuss his follow-up questions: What would ecumenical relations with other faiths look like if they were homage-based?  What would it mean for Christians to make the long journey across strange cultural and religious landscapes bearing only gifts of respect for all that is sacred in other traditions?

3.  Finally, Sanguin contends that “the deeper we go into our own faith system, the closer we get to God…[and thus] the more we are informed by values of diversity, inclusivity, and respect for the inherent dignity of other people and faiths.”  Only by adopting the wisdom of the Magi will we, too, be equipped to “return home by another road,” transformed by our experience.  So where in your life have you returned home by “another road?”

4.  Anne Squire writes with a similar passion/goal, embracing the language of inclusion in understanding “the kingdom of God.”  I chuckled at her opening quote from Don Cupitt, “What Jesus preached was ‘the kingdom’; what he got was the church!”  What does this statement imply about the historical and current affairs of the church?

5.  Squire says that “radical inclusion demands that membership in the community in question be open to all.”  Let’s address her initial question: What did Jesus mean when he talked of the kingdom of God?

6.  Squire then quotes John Dominic Crossan, who says, “Jesus robs humankind of all protective privileges, entitlements, and ethnicities that segregate people into categories.”  Thus, she writes, “The kingdom of God, as defined by Jesus, is a realm of radical inclusion, a society of radical equality.”  Therefore, “no one has the right to speak for God in the choice of who is in and who is out.”  Sounds eloquent and simple…yet the world struggles to adopt such attitudes of mutual tolerance.  As we look around us, what are the greatest barriers/hurdles toward this path of grace?

7.  Squire notes many of the individuals and groups most directly affected by current restrictions and exclusions (pages 147-151).  The key to addressing these, she suggests, is “education about the early days of Christianity…[as well as] the new formulations of theology, which allow the church to re-create itself.”  She invites us to think and live in “the kingdom way”…motivated and informed by Jesus’ own vision of God’s kingdom. 

What does thinking and living in “the kingdom way” mean for you?  How does it promote inclusivity in your life journey?