Early last week, I was struck by the realization that many in my congregation are doing the most incredible and profound "christian formation" work that I have ever known. Two examples:
+ Each month at our church council, a question generated by the council members is researched in advance (by me.) This gives us a shared study resource to consider before we devote upwards of 45 minutes to a discussion and question/answer session. The first two questions this year have been: 1) What does it mean to claim that Jesus died for our sins? and 2) How can we know the difference between God's will and our own?
For the first gathering, I wrote a brief summary of competing understandings of atonement theology that generated a passionate discussion - complete with hymn references - of how we find wisdom and concerns in all of the ways scholars and theologians have wrestled with the Cross. At our second meeting my assignment was more open-ended: Christianity teaches that Jesus is the embodiment of God's image in the world; so, to understand God's will in our lives, go first to the Scriptures and see what they teach you. Well, people truly went to the Bible - they did their homework - and they came back with both insights and questions that were profound.
+ For this year's Good Friday encounter with song, story, silence and solidarity I invited the band to do two things based upon our theme of misunderstanding: 1) Pick a Biblical character in the passion narratives that you want to know better and write a brief narrative about how that person might have been misunderstood by Jesus, how they misunderstood God's grace in the life and death of Christ, or how they themselves experienced misunderstanding in any of its layers. And 2) to come up with a song from any realm that speaks to the lives of one of the narratives (in this case we have been considering Mary Magdalene, the Virgin Mary, Peter and Judas.)
Well, the songs have been incredible - everything from the Police's "Secret Journey" (for Peter) and U2's "Until the End of the World" (for Judas) to Billy Preston's "You Are So Beautiful" (for the Virgin) and "One Moment More" by Mindy Smith (for Magdalene.) We're also using Mose Allison's "Everybody's Crying Mercy" to summarize the confusion Christ experienced from those he loved.
This is Christian Formation for adults that matters: it meets them where they live and invites their serious spiritual reflection. What's more, this way of doing study together grows out of our ordinary lives and asks us to think about God's grace in an incarnational way. To say that I am blown away and energized by all of this would be an understatement. What a blessing.
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