I just got back from Chicago last night, and the experience was pretty amazing. It was a lot different from what I expected, but a lot better. I gathered with twenty other people, who were all scholars in faith formation. I’m pretty sure I was the only one who didn’t have a Ph.D. There were a lot of people I’ve admired for a long time, read their work, and used their ideas, so it was good to meet them in person. I also met a lot of fascinating people, and became newly intrigued with their scholarship. So, I spent most of my time picking brains.
We want to create a learning exchange, for two reasons: (1) so that we can begin to learn spiritual practices from each other across religious traditions, and (2) because there’s a disconnect between the academy and the congregations.
The opportunity for dialogue between traditions is ripe right now. We’ve been working in our own corners of the faith for five hundred to two thousand years or so, but at this moment in history, we can begin an exchange across religions of our best practices. There is, for instance, a lot of work being done in the area of synagogue renewal that we could learn from as Protestants. Or, in the Roman Catholic church, there are a lot of women who are running congregations, but they don’t have the support systems that women do in our mainline denominational churches.
Also, we want to do something about the logjam between the schools and the congregations. Academics often write for academic journals, they present papers to other academics, their concern is for their own audience, and then the research and information rarely gets to the congregations. Likewise, the needs and realities of what’s happening in churches don’t always get communicated to those who conduct research. The exchange would be so that we could learn from one another more effectively.
I’m already learning a great deal. For one, just the methodology of how to begin an organization. Watching John Roberto synthesize the creative energy of twenty people into a workable plan was incredibly insightful. And I think it will be a useful method as we walk farther along the Presbymergent road.
Here is one “best practice” that I learned (Although “best” was up for a lot of debate. How do you quantify a spiritual practice? How do you measure the effectiveness?). I’ll write about another one tomorrow.
There’s this concept that I’ve always wanted to articulate, and yesterday I found out that the Jews have been articulating it for a long time. Hayim Herring taught me the practice of hedorah, and I’m guessing on the spelling. I thought I could google it, but evidently google’s more interested in the swamp monster…. My Hebrew dictionary’s at work…. Anyone know the spelling?
Anyways, the idea is a practice of bringing the best of aesthetic beauty to faith. As spiritual leaders, we are to be constantly engaging our congregations in the life of beauty. He was careful to delineate that he wasn’t talking about the most expensive, but the best that a congregation can offer.
I think this is why I often reject the thrown-together contemporary worship service that some mainline congregations attempt in order to reach out to young adults. If contemporary worship is an authentic expression of who the congregation is, then it’s great. But, if the church decides to half-heartedly toss together a praise band (complete with drum machine) in order to reach a younger audience, and they don’t put any thought into the quality of musicians or music, and they think that the only key to it is singing a chorus a hundred times, well then that might not work out. In the business, we call it the “slappy happy” service, and we know it can have some awkward results….
So, I guess what I’m saying is that it’s not the style that gets under my skin, it’s when we’re not bringing the best of beauty to our faith. Hedorah. It is the sense that our worship together should include the creative endeavor to deepen our theological imaginations. That we aspire to bring the finest artistic expressions of poetry, music, and visual art into our spiritual communities. That the spiritual practice of writing a sermon is not only an intellectual exercise, but also an artistic expression.
the photo’s by geozilla