Saturday, April 6, 2013

Formation at the movies

I went to see the movie Spring Breakers, with formation (personal, spiritual, intellectual, moral, communal) in mind.  

You can read what I found by heading over to

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

readings for week 4

Formed to live by the word of God

Isn’t it enough for our community to be formed by the word of God, rather than bringing in these old confessional documents which, to be honest, many of us are at best only vaguely familiar with?  We call them (the Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, and Canons of Dort) “three forms of unity,” but don’t they often come between us rather than binding us together?  Why bother with these difficult confessions, when we have the Bible to bring us together?

Fair enough.  Given the choice between the Bible and the confessions as a lamp for my feet and a light for my path, I would choose the Bible every time, and I would urge you to do the same.  But what if the confessions could actually lead us by the hand to the Bible, could place it in our hands and teach us how to open it, how to hold it, how to read it?  We may not love them for their own sakes, but they put this marvelous treasure within our reach.

The Heidelberg Catechism is a particularly good teacher, a trustworthy guide, in our effort to be formed to live by the word of God.  The last few pages of this catechism are a leisurely, reflective meditation on one brief passage of Scripture, the Lord’s Prayer.  You can find the text here, on the website of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, one of the several church bodies that seek to live by this confession: (You'll need to scroll down to the "Lord's Prayer" link at the bottom of the list.)

As you linger with this selection – maybe even reading it out loud with someone else! – you might ask yourself:

- How does this help me to understand the Lord's Prayer more deeply?  
- If I were to pray the Lord's Prayer every day with the Catechism's explanation of it in mind, how would my life be formed by it?
- If we prayed this prayer together with the Catechism's explanation of it in mind, how would our community be reshaped by it?  How might we be formed in ways that are more responsive to God, more hospitable, more connected?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

readings for week 3

Formed to honor our adversaries

This week, we turn to what has been called "our least favorite" confession, the Canons of Dort.  Why "least favorite?"  Well, even if you agree with all its theological statements, it's hard to love -- at least, love in any simple way -- a document whose main purpose was to be a theological smackdown.  Even acknowledging the different time and culture in which the Canons of Dort were composed, I am reluctant to offer this document, as a whole, as a shining example of how we should be formed in our approach to those who differ from us today.  

 And yet there is something compelling tucked into the conclusion of the Canons – literally, the last two pages.  Here, at the end, the authors finally reveal why they’re arguing so hard.  What do you do when you are no longer the suspect, oppressed minority, but are now dominant, powerful, and accused by a new upstart minority as being intellectually and morally lazy, complacent, and dangerous?  In the Conclusion of the Canons, while still delivering the smackdown that I mourn for today, the writers also extend a kind of generosity, even if it is a harsh generosity: they urge both sides to consider one another’s views and take the time to carefully explain what they really mean, how they have been misunderstood, rather than basing their judgments on rumors and nasty accusations.  

Here's a link to an online version of the Canons of Dort maintained by the Canadian Reformed Church, one of the several church bodies that seeks to live by this confession.   I'm delighted to see that this church body seems to agree with me about how important the Conclusion is! -- on their website, they put it front-and-center as a kind of introduction to the rest of the text.

As you linger with this selection – maybe even reading it out loud with someone else! – you might ask yourself: if we were to live by these words, would they help us to better honor our adversaries?  What would it look like, how would we be formed, if we did this?  How might we be formed in ways that are more responsive to God, more hospitable, more connected?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

readings for week 2

Formed to seek common ground

Throughout these weeks of Lent, we are considering the Reformed confessions from a somewhat unconventional angle – focusing our attention not just on the content, on what the confessions say, but on how those confessions work, the particular sensibilities or habits of mind they display, the postures they embody.  We are asking: If we gave the time and effort to discern those sensibilities, habits, postures, and lingered with them for a while, trying them out, how might they form us as a Christian learning community?

I invite you over the course of the next week to consider some selections from the Belgic Confession, which offers a refreshing approach for defining and proclaiming our distinctives.  The Belgic Confession was written on behalf of a minority group, evangelical Reformed Christians who with this document were pleading to the majority Roman Catholic Christians – who also had the government on their side – pleading with them for a place at the table, for recognition as faithful Christians.

The document makes its case for this recognition not by ignoring differences, but by seeking common ground.  Over and over again, the Belgic Confession works by saying: we have our distinctives, our differences, but those differences are not the deepest or truest thing about us; what is most deep and true in us is what is most deep and true in you – the overwhelming goodness that comes from one source alone, the one God, and that our Lord graciously shares with all of us. 

As you linger with these seven selections – maybe even reading them out loud with someone else! – you might ask yourself, for each one: how does this selection seek for common ground?  And what would it look like, how would we be formed, if we did likewise?  How might we be formed in ways that is more responsive to God, more hospitable, more connected?

The links below are to an online version of the Belgic Confession maintained by the Reformed Church in America, one of the several church bodies that seeks to live by this confession.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

readings for week 1

40 in the Bible: a selective survey

This week we begin the season of Lent, the 40-day period leading up to Easter.

Why 40?  This week's readings offer an opportunity to explore that question together.  The number 40 is frequently featured in the Bible as symbolizing fullness or completion -- in the words of one writer, 40 signifies "a span of time sufficient to accomplish what needs to take place."  Over and over again throughout the Bible, a period of 40 days or 40 years comes to a close, and God says: "Enough!"

That's especially important as we think about approaching Lent as a time of intentionally focused formation -- paying attention to the ways in which we are being formed as persons and as community.  The work of formation is not limited to these 40 days, of course, but the 40-day period offers a bounded time with a clear destination: Easter, when we celebrate the new life that comes not because of our work but as God's gift in Jesus' resurrection and the promise of our own.  

I offer you here a "selective survey" of occurrences of the number 40 throughout the Bible.  "Selective:" this list does not include every single time the number 40 is mentioned in the Bible! -- but perhaps it offers enough different instances to deepen our Lenten imagination as we read and reflect on them.  

Four ideas for how you might take up this week's reading:

1) You might find it helpful to read the passages out loud, as a way of slowing down and lingering with the texts.  (You don't have to read all of them at one sitting!  Take your time.)

2) You might find it helpful to return to the passages (or at least some of them) more than once this week, noticing how they resonate in different ways at different times.

3) As long as you're reading out loud (and maybe more than once), why not read with someone else (or in a group) at least one of those times?  The simple act of reading out loud with another or others, perhaps stopping to discuss (or even simply to repeat before going on) when something is especially striking to one of you, can be a powerful opportunity to begin experiencing formation in a communal way.

4) If you are reading this in conjunction with the Lenten Chapel series "Formation matters for community" at Trinity Christian College, you might find it helpful to also include a reading of Trinity's Commitment to Campus Unity, which is structured around four postures that characterize our life together: we seek to be responsive to God, formational, hospitable, and connected.  That document is here:

Here's the selective survey:

Genesis 7
Genesis 50:1-3
Exodus 16:31-35
Exodus 24:15-18
Exodus 34:27-28
Numbers 13:25
Numbers 14:33-35
Deuteronomy 2:1-7
Deuteronomy 8:2-10
Deuteronomy 9:8-21
Deuteronomy 10:10
Judges 3:9-11
Judges 8:28
Judges 13:1
I Samuel 4:18
I Samuel 17:16
II Samuel 5:4
I Kings 11:42
I Kings 19:1-8
Ezekiel 29:8-16
Jonah 3:1-5
Matthew 4:1-11
Acts 1:1-8