Christian faith is personal but never private. Our Christian faith speaks into the public arena where civic discourse takes place. How can we share more of our faith? We have to start by going deeper.
The Episcopal Church inherits a long English tradition of Church involvement in society. Since the Civil Rights era, the Episcopal Church has embraced a radical social agenda as an expression of the Baptismal Covenant with its emphasis on respecting individual human dignity and confronting the evils of systemic, social injustice. Yet, individually, Episcopalians struggle with the legacy of privatized faith. We have come to define ourselves as those who are not evangelicals. Too much enthusiasm in the expression of our faith tends to embarrass Episcopalians who were once nicknamed God’s frozen chosen. An epithet, no longer so true of us, we still find it difficult to share our personal faith more publically.
The aim of our Lent program in 2017 will seek to address how as members of the St Martin Community we can be more publically expressive of our faith in the service of the Common Good. We live in a time when none of us can afford to ignore the challenges of both the present time and our society’s future directions.
The Lent Program
The title of our Lent program this year is Going Deeper. It will seek to address how as members of the St Martin community we can become more publically expressive of our faith in the service to the world around us. We live in a time when none of us can afford to ignore the challenges of both the present time and our future.
Going Deeper will run over five Tuesday evenings from March 7th until April 4th.
- 5:30 pm Stations of the Cross with Holy Communion
- 6:15 pm Community meal and program discussion
- 8:30 pm Compline (night prayer)
The cost will be $45 for five meals. This year we are not separating eating from talking, so the program will take place in the roundtable setting. To participate in the program will require arrival in time for the meal at 6:15 pm. The evening will conclude at 8:30 pm.
Sunday Adult Forum
Tuck Shattuck will be leading the Adult Forum during Lent. The Forum meets after coffee at 10:45 on Sunday mornings. For those who may not know Tuck, he is a retired priest of the Diocese and an academic historian who has written extensively on the history and development of the Episcopal Church. Many of us are Episcopalians by habit and yet we know so little about the history of our tradition and its contribution to American life. Knowing our past enables us to have a clearer sense of the kind of impact we can make upon the world today.
Recommended Lent reading:
Going Deeper is a weekly program that draws inspiration from Miroslav Volf’s book A Public Faith: how followers of Christ should serve the Common Good. Miroslav Volf is the Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School and director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. I recommend this book to you if you want to delve more deeply, but it is not required reading, though will certainly be helpful.
Ashes and the Phoenix is Forward Movement’s Lent meditation book for this year. Ashes and the Phoenix offers a way of observing a daily response to the call to keep a holy Lent by leading us from Ash Wednesday to Easter through the emotions, symbols, sights, sounds, and scents of Lent.
Both recommendations are available in book or Kindle format from Amazon Smile.
Week five: Competing stories
We live in an age of great conflicts and petty hopes ….. our satisfied self is our best hope. Not only is this petty, but a dark shadow of disappointment stubbornly follows our obsession with personal satisfaction. We are meant to live for something larger than our own satisfied selves. Volf (99)
A central challenge of all religions in a pluralistic world is to help people grow out of their petty hopes so as to live meaningful lives, and to help them resolve their grand conflicts and live in communion with others. That’s where the importance of learning to share religious wisdom well comes in. Volf (100)
Questions for consideration:
- Is your life of faith an add-on to an otherwise conventional life? 
- Where do you seek the wisdom that will help you to live what I call a joined-up life, i.e. a life where your faith story actively guides your decisions?
- List three things that are important to you about being a Christian. Cross out two and discuss the third.
- Although not much practiced by Episcopalians, the phrase Jesus Saves is fundamental to talking about being a Christian. What in your life story does Jesus save you from?
Homework: Episcopalians are able to harness a stronger and more intelligent commitment to Christian faith – if we dare? Over the next week please reflect and make note of what do you feel you need most to help you be more convinced about your faith- i.e. how can you really believe?
 Believers find themselves constrained by large and small systems in which they live and work and to survive they have to obey the logic of these systems, which often run contrary to the Christian vision.
Week Four: Faith, hope, love and human flourishing
Volf quoting Moltmann (56), optimism is the expectation of a continuance of the good things we already enjoy whereas hope is the expectation that God will bring about something new –e.g. a raising of the crucified Lord. Hope is integral to the human flourishing, individually, communally, and globally.
Christianity understands human flourishing as the consequence of placing God at the center of our lives. True happiness is the fruit of our love for God and our neighbor. This is complex. Can you love your neighbor as yourself before you learn how to love yourself? The answer to this question rests on whether love of God is at the centre of our living.
Following the Enlightenment with the rise of secularism, love of God became redundant and the focus became the moral obligation to love our neighbor (notwithstanding certain exceptions e.g. race & gender). Individual flourishing was tied to the flourishing of all, and the flourishing of all tied to the flourishing of each. (59) Marx: from each according to his abilities and to each according to his need.
In the late 20th century human flourishing became reduced to experiential satisfaction – I flourish when I experience personal satisfaction. Love of God and love of neighbor – if still acknowledged at all are now defined through the lens of individual personal desire. Modern Christians may still appear to acknowledge love of God and neighbor, but only to the extent that such love is consistent with the experience of self-satisfaction. When love shrinks to self-interest, and self-interest devolves into the experience of satisfaction, hope disappears as well. (61)
With the pursuit of the personal experience of satisfaction –i.e. my faith must always be satisfying for me – never disturb me – God is reduced to a Divine Butler, or a Cosmic Therapist. (69)
- In thinking about your on flourishing, where does God come in? Do you stand with Augustine – our hearts are restless O Lord, until they find their rest in thee.
- If God at the center of your human flourishing, how does this shape your response to the burning issues of the day –poverty, the environment, bioethics, media, international relations, the pursuit of pleasure, and government?
- God is the secret of our flourishing as persons, cultures, and interdependent inhabitants of a single globe –Volf (74). You can say the words but do you really, really mean it?
Week Three: Effective faith
Faith gives meaning to our lives by gathering all our efforts on behalf of ourselves, and our communities. Through our efforts-work God creates, redeems, and consummates the world. (36)
The sophisticated among us tend not to ask for God’s blessing in our efforts-work because:
- We don’t really believe that God can be interested in the concerns of our daily lives, which often seem trivial even to us, let alone God.
- To ask for a blessing is to ask for a special advantage perhaps not afforded to others. If success is a result of God’s blessing isn’t this tantamount to cheating?
- To ask for blessing is to shirk our responsibility to succeed.
In these ways, we deny God’s essential nature as a giver more generous towards us, than we are to ourselves. Through giving us what we need God directs our purpose and gives us meaning in our work. At times our endeavors may be misguided esp. when we seek an unfair advantage over another. But our mundane work is part of our service to God and it is God who sustains us in it, hence it’s important to seek God’s blessing in our endeavors.
Spiritual health warning: God’s blessing is a blessing of faith. Faith opens us to God’s guidance. Blessing is not simply a resource for a way of life whose content is shaped by factors outside of faith itself (such as national security, economic prosperity, our thirst for pleasure, power, and glory) – from faith’s perspective, these are inconsistent with a faith approach to life and work. (29)
Miroslav Volf identifies idleness as a major malfunction in the life of faith. He suggests three reasons for faith’s idling:
- Faith demands too much so we weaken the demands with pick and mix.
- Believers find themselves constrained by large and small systems in which they live and work and to survive they have to obey the logic of these systems, which often run contrary to the Christian vision.
- Faith seems irrelevant or too inflexible to apply to contemporary issues.
- How do these three statements apply to your own faith experience?
- Do you have an expectation that God will bless you to succeed in your efforts-work?
- Have you experienced failure as a means to discover greater happiness and meaning in life?
- Is being morally responsible in your efforts-work important for you? If so from where or from what do your draw your guidance?
Homework: In what ways can you see your faith idling like an engine that has yet to be put in gear?
Numbers in brackets refer to page numbers in Volf’s A Public Faith
Week two canceled due to blizzard. program advanced to week three.
Week One: Sharing our faith
Let’s be honest, many of us are embarrassed to show that we are Christians. So much of the public perception of Christianity, drawn from the strong political voice of fundamentalism in America is that it is oppressive, judgmental, and potentially violent. We don’t identify with this voice and so we pull back, feeling ashamed to speak of our faith for fear of being branded as one of them in a secular humanist culture that sees the antidote to hostile religion as less religion.
Miroslav Volf in A Public Faith – in a section titled Countering Faith Malfunctions (40) says that the antidote to hostile religion, which he calls thin religion is thick religion. When we accommodate our faith to the vague and privatized religious expressions favored by secular society, we give energy and meaning to business as usual, whose course is shaped by stories other than our faith story; stories of nationalism, of economic and material prosperity in a world of scarcity, of individualism. These stories stifle our commitment to the faith story within us. When our faith story matters to us it maps our life in new ways that draw on an ancient wisdom that shapes our experience of what it means to be truly human.
- All of us experience an excitement to share great experiences with others. Think about a great movie you have seen or a wonderful dining experience you have had. Do you want to keep it to yourself? Do you want to tell others? Whatever question is pertinent ask yourself: why and note your principal feelings? Beginning with sharing your individual faith story, discuss the contrast between these feelings and feelings about being more public with your faith.
- Discuss the following barriers to sharing your faith in order of importance on a scale from 1 – 4:
- Social embarrassment -i.e. not cool to be seen as one of those fundamentalists.
- Uncertainty due to lack of knowledge -i.e. I don’t know enough about my faith to feel confident in public.
- Reticence due to ambivalent commitment -i.e. do I really feel and trust what I say I believe?
- It’s just not a priority for me -i.e. just getting through the day is enough of a challenge.
Homework: Ponder the following questions: When did you first become conscious of God? What are your memories of that time?