Education

Education

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.

Christian Education and Brett Kavanaugh

Recently, for the Postmodern Christian Education class that I’m taking at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, we were presented with several case studies. An affluent white man who has always been involved in church but not in Christian education is facing retirement and about to become a grandfather. A group of urban singles and couples in their twenties who grew up in the church but are no longer involved in church struggle with their multicultural friends to find stable jobs and housing. A retired African American social worker in her eighties who has always been involved in her church and now many of her friends are passing away.

We were invited to think about where they are on their faith journey, the issues they face, and how we might design Christian education opportunities that meet their needs. I thought of these scenarios as another played out on the national stage; a highly successful white man in his early fifties about to be awarded an incredible honor, a lifetime appointment to a job that will help shape the course of our country, who sees his success threatened by a ghost from his past.

It has been a tough week. I have seen friend after friend post on Facebook about their experiences of sexual abuse in years past. I have read about record call volumes to rape crisis lines as the unfolding news triggers painful memories. I have read about seeking self-care during this time.
For me, some of this self-care has come in spending time in my studies. I look at what is going on in Washington and then I read about theologians thinking about important attributes to the concept of God. I wonder, “what can we do about the moral crisis our country is in?” Then I read about reflective, liberative, and transformative pedagogy. I am incredibly blessed to be in seminary right now.

A friend of mine posted about the Kavanaugh hearings. She spoke about his testimony about getting into Yale and Yale Law school.

From the way he spoke of it, it sounds as if his academic journey was hideous and soul-destroying, and only to be justified by a very specific reward, dangled in front of him for decades, and now to be inexplicably, outrageously, snatched away by conniving enemies.

It is a stark contrast to my experiences in seminary. One of the texts we are using for Postmodern Christian Education is Parker Palmer’s, To Know as We Are Known: A Spirituality of Education. In chapter 3, Palmer talks about the “hidden curriculum”. He quotes Schumacher,

Meanwhile, world crises multiply and everybody deplores the shortage, or even total lack, of 'wise' men or women, unselfish leaders, trustworthy counsellors etc. It is hardly rational to expect such high qualities from people who have never done any inner work and would not even understand what was meant by the words

This takes me back to the exercises in Postmodern Christian Education: How might we design Christian Educational opportunities for Brett Kavanaugh and his friends?

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?

English Spirituality and Mysticism

So...

I've signed up to take the online course English Spirituality and Mysticism.

I've taken online courses in the past, but this is the first one that I'm actually paying for since I took Grief in the Family Context back in 1999.

Things have changed a lot in online education since 1999 and I'm looking forward to this class, especially because I'm doing a lot with online education for my job right now.

Anyone up for joining me?

The Unexpected Rabbit

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. Happy New Year. Recently, I asked my friends what they thought I should resolve for the New Year. I am facing great uncertainty this coming year, especially around my spiritual journey and our political climate. Will 2017 be a breakout year, in some unexpected way?

Kim, Fiona, and I have gotten tickets to go see Amelie when it opens on Broadway. So last night, we watched the movie. Will this be the year that I find an old tin box full of childhood keepsakes? Will it be the year that I set off to help others in my own quirky way? Will it be the year that I build up enough courage to let something truly wonderful happen to me?

I already have a wonderful marriage, a wonderful family, and a wonderful life (to bring in a different movie title), but is this the year that something gets added to that, in terms of life ambitions, the spiritual journey and the work (much more than my job), that I am to do?

I didn’t get a lot of responses to my blog post asking for suggestions, but one that did stick with me was a reference to #OneLittleWord. The starting point for me in thinking about #OneLittleWord is a blog post by Deanna Mascle whom I met through a community of connected learners. Last July, she wrote Write Your Future in #OneLittleWord.

What is my one little word? Perhaps, it stays with the blog post I wrote at the beginning of last year. Unexpected. 2016 certainly had some unexpected twists. It looks like more of the same may be in store for 2017.

Let’s hope for some unexpected joy this year as we, like Amelie, find the courage to let something truly wonderful unexpectedly happen to us this year.

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