As one who confessed that, after having met some remarkable role models, all I ever wanted to be was a great Sunday School teacher, how do I explain all the time and money invested in those later credentials in Sociology of Religion?Â The sixties>happened, and they were pretty exciting, whatever else you may have heard about them.Â For this young suburban pastorâ€™s wife, mother of four, the sixties were an early taste of the change that swirls around us now, overwhelming many and bewildering most.Â
From the early Womenâ€™s Movement I learned that the personal is political.Â I learned that centuries of church history only told part of the Christian story, which is a nice way of saying that, if it didnâ€™t lie, at least it didnâ€™t tell the whole truth – - about women, about power, about institutional preservation.Â From there itâ€™s an easy matter of connecting the dots to the academic discipline that drew me in.Â The sociologistâ€™s fundamental question is, what is going on here – - not what do people say is going on, but what is really going on?Â It is the relentless probing and sifting and connecting of human behaviors.Â
As a resource center director I work nearly every day of my life with educational resources.Â I scan almost all, read parts of many, but actually give a thorough reading to precious few.Â These are the ones that I want to write about here, but first I want to own my personal agenda.Â It may not be yours.Â For one thing, the sociologist I was trained to be has made me an observer of our craft, asking questions like, what is this â€œChristian educationâ€ thing we have (we say) been called to do?Â What is it we â€œteachâ€ about?Â Why do we do it?Â What happens as a result?
As Christian educators we say we teach for transformation; we seek to move others ever deeper into relationship with Jesus and his God, nudging them ever closer to that slippery slope.Â Of course, as Israel Galindo points out in The Craft of Christian Teaching, we arenâ€™t teaching at all, unless learning takes place, learning = change.Â No learning = no change.Â So far, so good.Â But what of the â€œwhatâ€ of our teaching, its content?Â Again, with Galindo, I agree that itâ€™s all about relationship, the one with Jesus the Christ.Â This, of necessity, requires that we share in that same relationship.Â We can no more teach that with which we have little experience than we can preach about it.Â We may be great performers, but sooner or later we are found out. It seems to this observer of Christian education that, blessedly, most of us are teaching precisely because of our desire to communicate what our relationship with Christ has meant in our own lives.Â I wonder how often we realize that we have considerable power to shape the lives of learners.Â If our vision has been shaped by Jesusâ€™ vision of the reign of God – - his understanding of how God intended things to be in this world insofar as we are given to understand it – - then that will shape our teaching.Â Â Suddenly the personal becomes political.
Does it not follow, for instance, that this vision will affect how we select curriculum resources?Â In my own case it explains why I chose to review with enthusiasm Hope for Children in Poverty two weeks ago.Â My understanding of what discipleship demands of us is to work toward the realization of Jesusâ€™ vision of the reign of God.Â That is what I learned from those early teachers.Â I donâ€™t think Jesus (or God) is pleased when childrenâ€™s lives are crippled by poverty.Â Or when persons of color are discriminated against, or church doors are slammed in the faces of gays and lesbians, or walls built to keep immigrants, or Mother Earth is assaulted one more time.Â It figures that I would bless a book advocating hope for children in poverty.
Does this mean that all our teaching becomes teaching about social justice?Â No, I donâ€™t think so.Â To â€œteachâ€ Bible stories, to explore prayer practices, to sing our faith – - all of this opens up ways for the Holy Spirit to form us.Â Itâ€™s all good.Â What I do believe, however, is what I have already said: as educators we have considerable power to shape lives.Â Do we exercise that power?Â How?Â Do we provide those learning opportunities that lead others to be Christians whose personal transformation may one day contribute to social transformation?Â Admittedly, my professional experience has been pastoral, not educational, and it has been in small to medium-sized churches.Â I have been able to use my pastoral office, however, as a platform for a great deal of teaching in worship and in small groups.Â I have been spared the kind of political hardball many of you face in large multi-staff churches where energy is consumed in conflict management rather than education.Â
My cards are out on the table now.Â I have an agenda: for me the personal is inescapably political, and readers will understand, as we say in the vernacular, where Iâ€™m coming from!Â So why now am I about to sing the praises of a book that would make an excellent small group resource on contemplative prayer?Â Because as J. David Muyskens writes in Forty Days to a Closer Walk with God: The Practice of Centering Prayer (Upper Room Books, Nashville, 2006), â€œThe practice of Centering Prayer leads us into active ministry.Â Contemplation gives us deep peace and, at the same time, deep disturbance.Â It opens us in love to the suffering of the world as well as to its joy and beauty.Â Contemplative prayer will take us to places of solitude and company . . . we move from the center to the periphery where the redemptive love of Christ embraces those on the margins.â€Â
Muyskens is a minister in the Reformed Church in America, hardly a hotbed of religious activism.Â He also is a graduate of the Spiritual Guidance Program of Shalem Institute and works with Contemplative Outreach, Inc.Â Given that many sixties activists learned the hard way about what happens to the soul when it is not nurtured, Muyskens is on target when he writes, â€œOur world desperately needs to know its true Center.Â People need to experience the love of the Source of life in whom we live each day.Â Our fractured world is in grave danger of destroying itself.â€Â
While admitting that â€œto a superficial observer the practice of Centering Prayer may seem to be private, centered only in self,â€ actually â€œquite the opposite is true.Â It draws us into community, never bringing us to solitary stillness and leaving us there.â€Â Rather, it brings us to God, Creator of all, and connects us with all creation.â€Â Muyskens takes seriously the radical nature of the Gospel.Â He packages it in a forty-day experience which includes six weekly meetings – - and beyond, if participants so choose.Â Forty daily readings are followed by suggestions for group study and additional resources for leaders.Â Thomas Keating calls it â€œa thorough and friendly introduction to Centering Prayer.â€Â Â
As I sat down at the computer to finish writing this piece, I checked e-mail and printed out the lead article in this weekâ€™s newsletter from The Alban Institute, â€œChanging the Conversation: Nurturing a Third Way for Congregations.â€Â Its author suggests that, if churches want to find the way forward, they will need to change the conversations in which so many churches are currently mired.Â How about a small group entering honestly into centering prayer together?Â Â What could be more subversive?Â
Date posted: Monday, July 23rd, 2007 1:32 pm | Under category: Christian Education, discipleship, Prayer, theology
RSS 2.0 | Comment | Trackback