Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Emerging Christian Way

Ch. 14 – Spiritual Discernment 

Nancy Reeves addresses spiritual discernment from the viewpoint of a clinical psychologist and a Christian.  As such, she brings several unique perspectives to the table.  For example, she refers to the work of C. S. Lewis, raising the question, “Are we hard-wired for God?”  She discusses the role of a healthy ego.  She also lightly touches on spiritual discernment, using the transfiguration of Jesus as a template.  In the end, Jesus is our companion and guide, gently nudging us by the work of the Holy Spirit to prayerfully listen as we lean on God’s grace day by day.

How did this final chapter speak to you and your own process of discernment?  Is your discernment “spiritual?” 

For our final discussion, several group members have requested that we gather as one large group.  This will allow for a broader discussion of today’s reading, as well as any follow up questions we might consider together. 

I look forward to the Spirit’s leading us in group conversation!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Emerging Christian Way

Ch. 13 – Pastoral Care for the 21st Century

1.  Donald Grayston has been around the block a time or two, citing a long and impressive resume.  As part of his introduction, he emphasizes, “Work with the people who want to work with you, instead of spending your energy persuading the people who don’t want to work with you (or are not ready to work with you) to work with you!”  How has this wisdom proven reliable to you over the years?  Can you expand this strategy to other areas of life?

2.  The topics of pastoral care and adult Christian education are probably rare conversation pieces around most coffee tables.  Grayston indicates that they have traditionally been applied separately within the church.  He believes they can come together, however, in the realm of spiritual formation…creating “the essential matrix for congregational membership and adult Christian discipleship.”  From your experience over the years, how have you seen these two disciplines applied?  How have you been the recipient of each, and what value do you place on them?

3.  Grayston advocates for a much longer new member process than the typical model of several weeks.  Review his discussion of “field placements” on page 224.  Have you seen this model work in any congregation or religious setting?  What are the challenges of successfully implementing such an extensive and long-term program in this age of instant gratification and constant mobility?

4.  On page 226, Grayston introduces the concept of 16 as the minimum age for a rite of entry into adulthood.  Building up to this would be four critical areas of examination: spiritual practice, sexuality, social justice, and pilgrimage.  He then provides an integrative approach to spiritual formation for adolescents which include the four elements as outlined on page 229.  How does this prescription compare with the Lutheran model of confirmation? 

5.  Grayston encourages congregations to offer individual and/or group spiritual direction for each of its members.  How does st. Mark provide this already?  What additional means of spiritual direction would be beneficial to you and others?

6.  Finally, what else did you gain from this reading?  Are there any issues for Pastor Mark you wish to raise concerning this material or related issues?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Emerging Christian Way

Ch. 12 – Christian Education and the Imaginative Spirit

1.  Susan Burt is genuinely excited about her subject: “We are being motivated by a new story, an emerging vision that embraces search and meaning, not certainty.”  “As a result, our focus has shifted from the afterlife, to an emphasis on transformed lives, communities, and world in this life, through relationship with God and each other.”  She identifies the Christian community as the most effective context for Christian education.  Compared to my own conservative religious upbringing in rural Minnesota, I have seen and experienced this shift of focus.  Please share your own observations/experiences.

2.  Burt emphasizes the role and urgency of imagination in this process.  I was intrigued with Alan Jones’ quote, “The work of imagination is serious business because through it we build or destroy the world.”  And Carol Wehrheim says, “It is our imagination that propels us toward the God of all creation.”  Review Wehrheim’s five bullet points on page 204.  Briefly share one or two examples in your life where imagination was applied to these areas and led to some kind of personal transformation.

3.  Burt further develops her thesis, “The Power of the Imagination – to Build or to Destroy,” with biblical examples on page 209.  Let’s go with her questions here on page 211:
  • So how might we provide spaces and opportunities to encourage such imagination, passion, and compassion?
  • In what places are these gifts honored and nurtured in our Christian education practices?
  • What do we need in order to foster “Christ-given imagination?”
  • What changes for us personally, and in the world at large, when we imagine all people as truly valued neighbors, rather than as rivals or strangers, or “lesser than…?”

4.  Burt notes, “It is in the question, in the not-knowing, that learning occurs.  Remember also that questions do not necessarily need answers, and it is important that we create environments where questions and doubts can be openly and respectfully asked and explored.”  “It is not the answers but the questions that will lead to new discoveries, creative imagining, and transformed lives.”  Where do you encounter such environments and with whom do you share this common search?  What compels you to participate and share in this journey of imagining and learning?

5.  Burt’s mantra reminds her, daily, to let go, to suspend, and to be open to transformation: “Let go of preconceived notions and prejudices.  Expect surprises, expect miracles.”  Review her suggested applications of this on pages 215-216.  How have these, or other applications, provided freedom of imagination?

6.  “When we exercise our imaginative spirit, we move the biblical story out of literalism, factuality, certainly, and fixed answers, and into the unknown.  The story is born anew – a liberating, healing story, revealing deep truths, and an invitation to ‘discern God’s message for this time.’”  I couldn’t have said it more eloquently!  But it doesn’t stop there…she concludes: “Transformation-centered Christianity propels us into transformative acts of love, compassion, and justice.” 

In other words, personal transformation has a purpose and goal that always extend beyond us, into whatever communities we encounter.  What are those groups you are touching right now?  How are you engaged in such transformation in the various relationships and lives around you?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Emerging Christian Way

1.  Bruce Harding begins with the not-so-subtle question, “So what the hell is happening in worship today?”  Not a happy camper.  His verdict: “We have become passive consumers of music and this passivity is affecting our congregational song.”  He attributes such change to recent worship trends, as well.

Without pronouncing judgment, where have you noticed or experienced the greatest changes to our worship and music over the past two decades?  What has been the goal of these changes and for whom were they made?

2.  Harding claims that the cultural battles between traditional and contemporary worship voices are irrelevant…that “the only essential instrument for congregational song is the human voice.”  I agree with his statement that, “Duty quickly turns to delight when a sense of accomplishment and ownership over congregational song prevail…in which the communal voice is at the heart and soul of worship.” 

Can you provide examples of this from your own range of worship experiences over your lifetime?

3.  On the one hand, Harding affirms that, “It is imperative that we remember there is nothing wrong with our tradition.”  On the other hand, he affirms that “to simply dwell in the past will suck the life out of a worshipping community…we must also always be ready to ‘sing a new song.’ 

“The important thing is to choose well, to look for music with depth and rich metaphor, and to lead it sensitively and with awareness of the power music has to take us to a deeper place.” 

What is your sense of balance between old & new music/worship expressions?  What is the appropriate balance between personal preference and diversity for the sake of outreach?

4.  “Increasingly, we are also inviting the song of our sisters/brothers from around the world into our sanctuaries.”  Our recent Lenten mid-week services focused on ELCA missionaries around the globe, including their diverse worship and music. 

How has such exposure to different cultures expanded your appreciation for the Spirit’s activity?  Do you have any favorite ethnic music outside of our country?

5.  What else did you gain from this week’s reading?  Where do you feel most encouraged to explore new forms of music or worship?