Personal

Personal reflections, comments about things I've been doing, etc.

Faith Formation Networks

One of the most exciting ideas I’ve come across so far in my studies at Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) is the Faith Formation Network. John Roberto, in chapter 3 of his book, Reimagining Faith Formation for the 21st Century presents this idea of Christian education in the context of digital media, connected learning, and personal learning networks. This is an idea I’ve had that I’ve been trying to find words for and an example of for a long time.

For me, this is something very different from parishes using social media to market their churches or even organizations using digital media to create and curate content. These are both components of a faith formation network, but merely components. The Faith Formation Learning Exchange gets us much close to finding faith formation networks, but if a faith formation network is based on a personal learning network, then it must be something individuals create for themselves.

There are various starting points for a faith formation network, and it seems as if many of the starting points right now seem to be focused on extending existing resources, like a church or seminary webpage or social media presence. It seems like we need some other starting points.

To illustrate this, let me relate an old marketing adage. People don’t by shovels, they buy holes. People buy things because they want or need it. They don’t need a shovel. They need to get a hole dug. The shovel that will be most helpful getting that hole dug is the one they will buy. We need to be thinking about experiences of the divine the same sort of way. People want to experience God. They want to experience forgiveness, acceptance, love, community, and many other things that we associate with God. For many people I know, church is probably the last place they would look for these sorts of things, with seminary coming in a close second.

Those of us who are drawn to God who wish to draw others to God need to think carefully about how people are invited into their faith formation network. To illustrate this, let me explore a little bit of my faith formation network.

I will start with one of the churches I currently attend, Grace and St. Peters in Hamden, CT. While not everyone will start there, and where you start probably doesn’t especially matter, especially if you are thinking of a faith formation network in the context of Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome, it is where many people start. There are a few important things to point out about the church I attend on most Sunday mornings. We started attending that church because my wife was friends with someone from that church in an online community and that friend invited us to church. It was an example of someone from one online network inviting another person to another network, which in this case was not online.

Another thing to notice is that I mention Grace and St Peters as one of the churches I currently attend. On Thursdays at lunch time, I attend a Eucharist service at The Church of the Holy Trinity in Middletown, CT. On Saturday evenings, I attend vespers at Three Saints Orthodox Church in Ansonia, CT. I also attend a dinner bible study and worship on Thursday evenings with people from Andover Newton seminary at Yale Divinity School and participate in their closed Facebook group. In a faith formation network, people find many similar and competing resources across the religious spectrum.

As part of being a member of the CDSP community I help maintain and participate in the CDSP Virtual Daily Office. This is a digital resource which ties back to digital communities. I’m in a small closed Facebook group with a cohort of students who first arrived on campus in the summer of 2018. We talk about the daily office there and the cycle of prayers that is currently being used in the daily office comes from that group.

I am also part of a small group that I started on Facebook for people seeking discernment. Given the difficulties of my own journey, I started the group and it has grown. One person from that group has started studies at CDSP. All of this illustrates the interconnectedness of groups and resources in a personal learning network.

There are numerous other resources that are part of my faith formation network. A high school classmate whose blog I subscribe to. A friend from my young adult days in New York City has a blog, Water Daily that I subscribe to. I subscribe to some of the better known resources online, like Brother, Give Us A Word from the Society of Saint John the Evangelist and Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations. There are a lot of resources like this that I subscribe to and I should probably find time to curate this list and make it more available.

There are also the various live streams on Facebook that are part of my faith formation network. Right now, one that I especially appreciate is Pop-up Prayer with Canon Katie. She identifies herself as ‘your Facebook priest’ and ends each pop-up prayer reminding people that they are “so loved by God”. It is a wonderful ministry and exemplifies much of what it means to be a node in a faith formation network. Another group of Facebook resources that I subscribe to is live church streams, perhaps best exemplified for me right now with Dallas West Church of Christ. This is the church where Botham Shem Jean attended and I started watching their streams as they remembered Botham’s life and called all of us to action.

Dallas West Church of Christ illustrates my point about shovels. I started watching their stream, not because I was looking for a church. I started watching their stream because I was praying for justice and their prayers and my prayers came together.

Next week, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry will be preaching at Western Mass Revival. I have been talking with the organizers about what happens after the revival. I’m particularly interested in this in terms of faith formation networks. We’ve set up a Facebook page for people who will be attending the revival, either in person, or watching the live stream. If you are attending the revival and want to join with us in a faith formation network, check out WMA Way of Love.

I hope to build upon some of this for a project for Postmodern Christianity and learn more about the role faith formation networks will play in my journey and the journey of those around me.

Whatever is right...

This week, I’ve been reached out to as the administrator of two different groups where things were getting divisive and nasty. In one group, I closed the comments and posted some thoughts. The original post ended up being taken down by someone else. In the other group, I simply deleted a post and shared my thoughts about the purpose of the group.

One of the groups is about the town I grew up in. I posted,

I remember growing up near the top of Henderson road. I often felt a social awkward and like a bit of an outcast. I remember when people picked on me. They called me names and threatened me. More often, I remember the kindness of people in a beautiful village overlooked by a majestic mountain.
The name calling and threats were not appropriate in elementary school and they are not appropriate here. Please join with me in helping make this place on Facebook as beautiful as the village we grew up in.

This resulted in a wonderful discussion. A few people shared memories of my late mother and we had a good time reminiscing. A few people spoke about having been bullied in school. One person confessed to having bullied people and asked forgiveness.

To that person, I responded,

Thank you for your response. I suspect that if we are honest, pretty much all of us have bullied people in the past, often in response to peer pressure.

The second group is for Christian seeking ways to share their faith in new ways in our secular world. I person posted a political video which started an argument about the current political administration in the United States. I posted,

I would like to remind people of the goal of this group. To quote from the description from early on, “Episcopalians need to get out more, talk about why they love the church, and have a pioneer spirit…we should seek out places where the church isn't known and plant seeds of hope and love.”
While our faith calls us to speak out about political injustices as we see them, this is not the place for it. Instead, this is a place where we should be exploring how we love our neighbors as ourselves; our Republican neighbors, our Democratic neighbors, and most importantly, our neighbors who are searching for God in this secular world, even if they wouldn’t use such language.

A friend of mine who alerted me to the post said in a private message (shared with permission),

I’d hate to see our little community just turn into another churning sea of discord. Perhaps it’s inevitable?

I responded,

I don't believe it is inevitable. Instead, I believe we are called to stand up against the tide of discord. To do this, we need to be intentional.

So, this is an invitation to all of us to intentionally stand against the tide of discord, to love our neighbors we disagree with, or, to quote Philippians,

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.

Writing and Thinking - Fiona's First Day at Simon's Rock

There were times around the dinner table when my eldest daughter would say, “I think I feel a blog post coming”. It was the world they grew up in, a world where we talked about life, education, religion, politics, music, poetry, and grasshoppers. These discussions helped shape all of us.

Now, my daughters are scattered. The eldest is currently working a doctorate at Doshisha University in Japan. The middle is building a community of artists around Boston and the youngest has just started at Bard College at Simon’s Rock at the other end of the Massachusetts.

Besides the discussions around the dinner table, we have sought to give all our daughters educational opportunities to nurture and develop a lifelong love of learning. They have been brought up in families where this lifelong love of learning is multigenerational. It is in their DNA.

At the break of day Saturday morning, Kim, Fiona, and I set forth from our home in Connecticut. I am working on a Masters of Divinity degree from Church Divinity School of the Pacific. So, as my wife and youngest daughter mostly slept, as I listened to The Vocation of Anglican Theology by Ralph McMichael on my Kindle. What is theology? How important is it for theology to be systematic or critical? What makes a theology ‘Anglican’? How do we think about other forms of theology? Reformed? Roman Catholic? Eastern Orthodox?

It isn’t so much about learning new information. When did St. Augustine of Hippo live? it is about being transformed by what we learn. What will Fiona learn at Simon’s Rock? How will it change her? How am I being changed by my studies at CDSP?

We went through all the check-in processes and then started moving Fiona into her dorm. We had a great lunch together and then headed off to the opening convocation. The sky opened up pouring down tears of sadness as parents prepared to say goodbye to their children and tears of joy at the prospect of the adults these students would become.

The students went of to their first writing and thinking workshop and the adults stuck remained in the auditorium. I whispered to my wife that the kids would probably have a better time that we would. I suspect that many of these students are apples that have not fallen far from the tree and their parents would love writing and thinking workshop.

To my pleasant surprise, the adults were given the opportunity to do a little bit of a writing and thinking workshop themselves. I thought and wrote about education. I will need to write a paper about this for the Postmodern Christian Education class I’m taking this fall. What is my theology of Christian Education? My current teaching philosophy? My learning goals for the semester?

These are great questions. Some I have clear thoughts on, others are more vague. I am influenced by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. My thinking follows the shape of a rhizome; interconnected without a clear starting point or endpoint. My goal is transformation, and I’m open to being transformed into something unexpected. I hope my daughters are seeking similar transformations.

Later in the afternoon, we all returned to Fiona’s dorm to finish off the unpacking and say our goodbyes. Fiona spoke about a poem they read, which Miranda immediately recognized, Mary Oliver’s The Summer Day which ends asking,

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

I look forward to seeing Fiona’s wild and precious life unfold at Simon’s Rock. It made me think of Robin Williams telling his students, Carpe Diem, Seize the Day. It is my hope that Fiona will seize the day at Simon’s Rock. It is my hope that Fiona will “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life” as Thoreau says in Walden.

At the end of the day, (yes, another metaphor our schedule gave us), after we left Fiona at college, we headed off to visit my father in a nursing home. Much of his short-term memory is gone and he’s had a rough few days. We got there and one of my brothers was visiting with him. Despite his health issues, he was lucid and coherent. We had a pleasant discussion, often returning to the same topic. In the background there was another patient who simply repeated “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” from Cinderella. It had the feeling of a strange absurdist play being performed at the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

On the way home, we received a text message from Fiona about “Air Traffic”. We didn’t have the context and weren’t sure what to make of it. We found out it was a reference to the book, “Air Traffic: A Memoir of Ambition and Manhood in America” by Gregory Pardlo.

It is hard to face our mortality, even if it comes simply in the reminder to seize the day. It can be harder to face the mortality of our parents, especially if our relationship with our parents is complicated, like Gregory Pardlo’s was with his father. Do I see Gregory’s father in my father? Do my daughters see Gregory’s father in me? These are perhaps some good questions for us all to think about but may also be beyond the scope of this blog.

This morning as I was preparing for church, Fiona messaged me asking my opinion about St. Augustine of Hippo. It is hard to go into details over Facebook Messenger, especially without knowing the context. I noted his important role in church history and his writings about grace. I am reading Christian Theology, An Introduction by Alister E. McGrath. McGrath focuses on Augustine’s view of grace, salvation, and original sin. He contrasts this to Pelagius in an either/or, black/white sort of way. It reflects a common view in Christianity that talks about Pelagianism as heresy. However, it seems like often both sides views are exaggerated. I think about the great quote from the Pope in Brother Sun, Sister Moon, “In our obsession of original sin, we too often forget original innocence”.

Fiona and I are also very interested in the Eastern Orthodox church and there is a lot we could explore on various Orthodox views of Augustine, but this is more than long enough already.

Now that my daughters are all off in different locations, I wonder to what extent we can have some of the old dinner discussions in longer form online posts. I am wondering if others want to join in.

What are you thinking? What are you writing about? What are your reactions to these thoughts?

What I Really Want for my Birthday

I’ve always been difficult to get gifts for. As a child, I always wanted something special, something I couldn’t describe or put a name on, and I was disappointed that I never got it. I grew accustomed to that disappointment and came to expect it on Christmas and my birthday. As an adult, I’ve generally not been one for possessions. If I need something badly enough, then I go out and get it. If I don’t need it that badly, in most cases I’d just as soon do without.

At times, I’ve gotten gifts that have been meaningful or have been something I really needed but hadn’t gotten around to getting. I’ve always appreciated these efforts of my loved ones.

However, this year is different. I have received so many great gifts over the past year. My wife has gotten a great new job that she likes and that makes a difference in the world. My eldest daughter got her Master’s Degree earlier this year and has started her Doctorate. My middle daughter is doing wonderful work to reconnect art to daily life. (Find out more and consider donating on the website for Miranda’s Hearth). My youngest daughter is in Thailand learning about rescuing and carrying for elephants. (Learn more at Loop Abroad). Big thanks to everyone who contributed to her fundraising to be able to afford this trip.

I too, have had a wonderful life changing experience this past year. I started seminary last fall and last month went out to my first summer intensive. I have met some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met in my life. At this time when we look at all that it messed up in the country and the world, the people I’ve met and my experiences at Church Divinity School of the Pacific have brought me great hope and joy.

So, what is left to desire for a birthday present? What I want is for each person reading this post to discover how they are called to help make the world a better place, whether it be through advocacy around prison reform, studies around the nature of gender, reconnecting art to daily life, learning how to better care for all of God’s creatures, or wherever my journey is taking me. What I want is for each person reading this post to feel some of the hope, love, and joy that has made this past year so special for me.

Thank you, everyone.

Deconstructing the Established White Christmas: Homelessness, Immigration, and Pain

“I need help,” the old man said. He had come to the Homeless Memorial Service and was looking for food, shelter, and comfort. It had been a long day and I suspect all of us wanted to get home to dinner. He had been saying the same thing for probably half an hour as we tried to get him to head up to the soup kitchen for dinner and then return to the warming station at the church afterwards. After telling his story several times and describing the extent of his few belongings we finally got him on his feet and heading towards the door. He had a 2018 calendar because he was hopeful for 2018.

The day before, I had been to a Blue Christmas service at another church. I prayed for my friends and family members who have lived on the streets. A couple have their own apartments now. Another is in jail after getting into a fight.

I prayed for my friends and family who have been fighting illness. Some have fought cancer this year and are doing well. Others are still in the middle of that fight. Some have died. I prayed for those who have pain yet to be diagnosed. Some are at home. Others are in hospitals or rehabilitation centers.

I prayed for those who have been separated from their families this year. Those U.S. citizens who have seen their hard working tax paying parents deported under new administration policies. Those U.S. citizens who have seen their parents take sanctuary in local churches to avoid deportation.

A vigil outside of one church particularly stuck in my memory. The church was a Spanish speaking Pentecostalist church in a rough part of town. Years ago, when that part of town was where the wealthy lived, it had been a beautiful mainline Protestant church. Some of the stained glass windows survive. Others are now covered with plywood.

On Facebook, a friend with OCD posted about his torments, questioning whether the Episcopal church was Christian enough. Many criticised his post while others offered prayers or tried to help people understand what OCD is really like.

I have just finished my first semester of seminary and I am missing my classmates and my readings. I’ve been thinking a lot about post establishment Christianity and if we can learn anything from post colonial theory. I’ve struggled with how theory and praxis intersect and I think there is something in these experiences to be explored.

Last night, I listened to an An Interview with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. I think about the “subalterns”, those suffering outside the existing power structures. Mostly, I exist fairly comfortably within the power structures, although there are places where I struggle or have been rejected by the power structures.

This evening, we celebrate the birth of Jesus. The established churches will sing beautiful carols. Some will have incense. I will be there, thinking not only of God becoming human and living with us, but of God becoming a subaltern. Fleeing to Egypt from the power structures, coming back from Egypt leading to a conflict with the power structures that resulted in crucifixion.

If you want to keep Christ in Christmas, walk with the homeless man saying, “I need help”. It is a modern vernacular translation of “Lord have mercy”. Pray with those struggling with pain and illness. Confront the political and ecclesiastical power structures. Most importantly, keep your eyes open for where the subaltern Christ has been born around you. O come, let us adore him.

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