Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Martin Luther: A Life, by James Nestigen

Chapters Three & Four

1.  As Nestigen says, “There is good money in bad religion.”  What were indulgences and how were they used and abused?  What enabled John Tetzel to be such an effective indulgence salesman?  How do religious hucksters continue to separate fools and their money today?

2.  “In the years following the explosion out of Wittenberg, Roman Catholic officials made several direct efforts to contain the damage.  Several people got involved with the “fire control,” including Johann Staupitz (by assigning Luther to lecture); Frederick the Wise (who ignored pressure from Rome to preserve his own political and financial control); and theologian Thomas Cardinal Cajetan (who met privately with Luther in a disconcertingly meeting).  Why did none of these curb Luther and his agenda?
3.  Describe the relationship between Luther and Philip Melanchthon.  How did they assist each other over the years?

4.  Luther’s theological approach was termed as, “dialectical.”  He often used two extreme positions to arrive at a conclusion somewhere in the middle.  He did so in the “Heidelberg Disputation,” where he set up a contrast between a theology of glory and a theology of the cross.  His basic question:  “How do human beings really come to know God?”  In light of this contrast between glory and the cross, what was Luther’s answer?

5.  What were the effects of Luther’s writings being distributed to the laity via pamphlets (“flugschriften” – flying writings)?  Why were these so effective?

6.  Luther concluded that there are only two sacraments, not seven.  Why did he make this distinction? 

7.  What was Luther’s definition of “Christian freedom?”  How is this different from secular freedom (political & personal)?

8.  Luther was excommunicated in 1520 by the pope.  What was Luther’s “fiery” response? 

9.  What happened at the Diet of Worms?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Martin Luther: A Life

Chapters One & Two

1.  Nestigen begins with the question, “Who was Martin Luther?”  “But there is much more to the identity of Martin Luther, enough to make him forever controversial.”  Prior to reading this book, what was your knowledge/opinion of Martin Luther & his legacy?

2.  Nestigen introduces us to Luther’s parents and his years of upbringing.  What were those years like for Martin?
3.  What drove Luther to the monastery?  What was his chief fear?

4.  Luther’s journey as a monk led to both his ordination as a pastor and his academic promotion as a doctor of the Bible and church…assuming “another public office, swearing to uphold the church’s witness as well as its theology, its thinking about Scripture, and its tradition.”  His plate was full.  Why was Luther still doubtful of himself?

5.  Luther was drawn to both the Psalms and to Paul’s writings.  He was particularly engaged with the “‘righteousness of God,’ a phrase from the Psalms and from Paul’s writings that became Luther’s point of focus.’”  This led to the question, “How do I find a gracious God?”  Identifying with Luther, what theological questions linger for you?  Is there one, in particular, that stays at the forefront of your thinking and reflection as a Christian?

6.  Luther gets some relief from his doubts as he embraces his newfound understanding that, “The merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’”  “Luther immediately felt ‘as though reborn.’”  Thus, God gives us what he commands…allowing us to respond in the only way we can: by faith, and not by works.  Why did this comfort Luther, and why should it comfort us?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Chapters Nine & Ten

1.  Entitled, “Service with Dignity,” Lupton shares the ongoing conversation that ensued with his longtime neighbor and subsequent friend, Virgil, regarding outside assistance.  Lupton portrays a difficult process of listening, adaptation, trial & error, and eventual limited success. 

What was Virgil’s longstanding gripe with the way those who provided outside assistance conducted themselves?  How did Lupton respond and what was the result?

2.  “Little affirms human dignity more than honest work.  One of the surest ways to destroy self-worth is subsidizing the idleness of able-bodied people.  Work is a gift, a calling, a human responsibility.  And the creation of productive, meaningful employment fulfills one of the Creator’s highest designs.  Because of that, it should be a central goal to our service.”

How does this statement speak to our Christian vocation as co-stewards of God’s creation?  What is the value and goal of work to you as a Christian?
3.  “Even as work is essential for life with meaning, so neighboring is essential for meaningful community life.  Becoming a neighbor to less-advantaged people is the most authentic expression of affirmation I know – becoming a real-life, next-door neighbor.”  Lupton goes on to discuss “re-neighboring” as a primary transformation strategy.  “Be an interested, supportive neighbor for at least six months before attempting to initiate any new activity.”  And finally, “Need does not constitute a call!  Focus your efforts in one or two areas that have a compelling interest to you, that maximize your giftedness.”

How have you experienced the effectiveness of such sage advice?

4.  In chapter ten, Lupton argues, “But superbly run betterment programs do little to strengthen the community’s capacity to address its own needs.  And often they can work at cross-purposes with community development.  They are entry points but not ending points.”

Give some examples of where this plays out.

5.  Here are a few nuggets from this chapter.  Briefly discuss each:

- Henry Blackaby, “Find out what God is up to, and get in on it.”

- Ask yourself: What is my parish?

- The best way to assure effectiveness is to spend enough time as a learner, ask enough questions, and seek wisdom from indigenous leaders to gain an accurate picture of both existing realities and future aspirations of the community.

- When we focus on what is wrong, we miss what is right.

- What we look for is likely what we will see.

And finally…

- The poor, no matter how destitute, have enormous untapped capacity; find it, be inspired by it, and build upon it.

(Next week…Martin Luther!)

Monday, October 6, 2014

Toxic Charity, by Robert Lupton

Chapters Seven & Eight

1.  Lupton introduces chapter seven by using Warren Buffett and Bill Gates as models of wise giving.  Time and again, Lupton stresses, “Due diligence is the cornerstone of wise giving.” 

What do we have in common with these two billionaires?  How do they stand apart from ordinary persons/investors/givers?  What can we learn from them?

2.  In, “Controlling the Lake,” Lupton shares the success story of the yucca famers of Nicaragua, aided by the masterful genius and shrewd guidance of community developer, Geralyn Sheehan.  (Did you notice she was Minnesota-bred?  No real surprise, of course!)  “Controlling the lake implies ownership by the community of their community.  This begins with a change of perspective.” 

Why was this such a successful effort?  Who deserves the credit?
3.  Lupton goes on to illustrate how Opportunity International’s microlending was further enhanced through careful community development over the long haul.  Turn to pages 117-120 and review Lupton’s bullet-list of questions.

How might each of these apply to Transform Rockford?

4.  While microlending has gone mainstream, it has not been very successful to the poor in our country.  He lists these are central:
(1) an ingrained work ethic, (2) a demonstrated entrepreneurial instinct, and (3) a stable support system. 

Why are these elements so difficult to achieve in our culture?

5.  In chapter eight, Lupton revisits, “The Oath for Compassionate Service,” pages 128-132. 

Briefly review together and comment on each.  

6.  Finally, Lupton shares another important laundry list for successful community development on Pages 138-140.

Again, briefly review.  How do these serve as a template for Rockford and other cities that struggle for renewal?