Monday, November 22, 2010

Chapter 16, again

Because so many members were absent on Sunday, we'll discuss Chapter 16, on forgiveness, on Nov. 28.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Extra Credit!

Those who are interested in the difference between spirituality and religion (although both words have many different meanings) might find some enlightenment in this blog post from the Rev. Steve Woolley, an Episcopal priest:

The enemy of spirituality

P.S. I am sinfully proud of myself for managing to make that link live!

Geography of God, Ch. 16

"There is forgiveness" is another way of saying that God reigns. If that were not true, our actions would be the last word; there would be no way to unravel them, repair relationships, turn back toward God. Why do you think that, even though our very souls depend on God's forgiveness, we find it so hard to forgive one another?

Can forgiving others allay our own guilt?

"Seventy times seven" is another way of saying "every time, no matter how great the sin." What are the sins in your life — either against you or by you — that you believe are hardest to forgive? Why?

Do you think that forgiving is easier for those who believe in life after death?

Lindvall says that the idea that denying that some sins are forgivable is, in effect, denying the grace and power of God. Do you think that's true, or is the problem sometimes just our inability to comprehend God?

"We're all bastards" — or sinners — "but God loves us anyway." Can you think of any way in which this definition of Christianity is incomplete?

How about the definition of God as "one whose gentle hands this universal falling can't fall through"?

The fine line between forgiving and excusing has troubled Christians for all of their history. How do we find that boundary for ourselves?

The analogy of cleansing the air is a good one, because bitterness often does seem almost like a visible form of pollution. We aren't always aware of our need to forgive, though. Sometimes we have internalized our victimhood until it becomes part of our identity, polluting our relationships. How can we take stock of the grievances to which we cling?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Geography of God, Ch. 15

Lindvall's story about the upcoming baptism and confirmation of the young soccer player raises several points. The Presbyterian Church considers baptism a sacrament and, as such, a part of worship, not a private ceremony, even though it is a sign and symbol of the covenant between a believer and God.

However, is the purpose of including baptism in worship so that others know one has been baptized? I would say it is also, if not primarily, so that other members of the congregation can remember and reaffirm their own baptismal covenants and vow before God to support the new Christian in his or hers.

Lindvall says that ethical behavior lies at the heart of Christian life. That is true. It is not, however, the root of salvation. How can we help people to understand that Christian behavior is a response to salvation, not an attempt to earn it?

Does thinking of sin as "a simple word that describes the reality that things are not as they ought to be" change the way you think of sin?

Rousseau and other Enlightenment philosophers, Marx and other communist/socialist thinkers, and Freud and other psychoanalysts have differing views of what causes humans to sin. All of them have some legitimacy: Certainly social pressures, the struggle to survive, and the way in which we were taught and nurtured all influence our behavior. However, they can also serve as excuses for sinful behavior by allowing a sinner to claim the inability to control his/her own actions. The Christian alternative is feeling influenced, empowered and freed by God to behave according to God's laws rather than human priorities. Why don't we?

Is an understanding that humans are not essentially good necessary to understanding sin? Are we to understand that God created us flawed or sinful?

If, with God and in Christ, all things are possible, are we to understand that it is *only* with God and in Christ that some things are possible? Do we believe that anyone can change?

If "some assembly required" is an accurate description of faithful Christian life, what is the balance between God's power and our freedom?

Obedience, imitation and inspiration are all helpful guides in living as a Christian. Can we assemble a Christian life out of those pieces alone? How helpful is "What Would Jesus Do?"

Lindvall's discussion of hypocrisy is fascinating. Can you think of other ways of behaving that the secular world might consider hypocritical? Have you heard of the concept of "acting as if"?

Lindvall quotes Krister Stendal about using the word "love" so much that it has lost its power. Is that true? What can we do correct that problem, given that love is the basis of the Gospel?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Don't miss out!

Thanksgiving and Advent are busy times, so keep an eye on the church calendar, on the right.

Geography of God, Ch. 14

After a hiatus caused by (among other things), a computer crash (the church computer is back online [thanks, Marc!], although the wireless is still down), travel and other events in the lives of congregants, and pastoral busy-ness, we are getting back on track with our book study. Here are the questions for Chapter 14, but if you've recently missed another chapter (like the very important one on prayer) and want to backtrack, we can do that.

Being a Christian means following Christ. That is sometimes a lonely road, especially at times when the world seems hostile to Christian ideas. For example, turning the other cheek is an idea that’s simply not supported in modern culture. What are other ways that Christianity is isolating?

At the same time, being a member of God’s church, the Body of Christ in the world, means worshipping and worshipping in concert with other believers who have been given talents and callings different from our own. How are we strengthened by being members of a community of faith?

How is our work strengthened by our cooperation with others? One way I can think of is that it’s made more visible, to the glory of God.

What are some of the joys of community?

Weaknesses? Do we sometimes censor ourselves?

At base, Christianity is a faith born of a relationship: God’s covenant with God’s people. If we isolate ourselves, are we denying the presence of God in the lives of others?

Let’s talk about the idea that “relationship is the very thing that made us into ‘selves’.”

How does our understanding of the Trinity inform our understanding of what we should be as Christians?

How do different relationships (Lindvall listed marriage and friendship, but others also are relevant) model Christian discipleship? As our world becomes populated with families of increasingly diverse configurations, how can that teach us different, broader ways to be companions on the journey of discipleship?

How can we model Christian values in relationships with people who are difficult to like or love?

Remember that Daylight Savings Time starts this weekend. Alert people will set their clocks back and have an extra hour to sleep. If you arrive an hour early, start the coffee!