Monday, September 13, 2010

More things I took away from that seminar

Other notes/reactions from this lecture series ⇐click

These aren't exactly, or only, notes from the seminar; I've added some of my reflections, reactions, extrapolations, prejudices, etc. You've been warned.

It takes seventeen hours

...for a group to become a group. Not contiguous hours necessarily, but consistent hours. That is, if the same group of people meets three hours every week for six weeks, by the 6th session it'll actually be a group.

But! The clock restarts if the group changes. So if one person misses the 2nd week, then the 2nd week doesn't begin at hour#4; it's hour#1 because the group is different. If that person comes back the 3rd week, then that week again begins at hour#1.

This is one reason that short-term missions, particularly involving road trips, can bring groups together. Working together 4 hours a day in the same team, it'll become a "real" group on the 5th day. If the team is also in the same car (i.e., with no others), then it'll become a "real" team sooner because they'll hit 17 hours sooner.

No, I don't know what research (or whose research) this is based on, but it's consistent with experience: meeting 2 hours a week for 9 weeks, we have a real team in a way that being together for 8 hours on one day doesn't. Maybe two days back-to-back, 8½ hours a day, would form a real team. If everyone survives it, that is.

But that's not illegal!

Apparently some 70% of institutional pre-school happens in a spiritual place like a synagogue or church. Only 8% have any spiritual component, mostly because they're afraid it would be prohibited by the government.

But that's not true; if you inform the parents and give them the opportunity to opt out, it's entirely legal. (It might even be constitutionally protected). You do have to inform the parents, though.

[per research by Dr. Kathy L. Dawson, Columbia Theological Seminary, as described by Dr. Rodger Y. Nishioka, Sept 2010]

We need doctrinal statements

In the past, theological education was divided into 3 categories:
  • Historical/doctrinal, including systematics
  • Practical theology
  • Biblical studies
We can agree that the vocabulary isn't very good here, as it may lead readers astray (is the Bible impractical? Is systematic theology unbiblical? etc.) but well, no better terms have come along that are broadly understood.

The above is rather a boomer perspective. Some would say that language creates a reality (rather than merely describing it), and of course they're not wrong.

But if we say that meaning is determined entirely by the hearer (that for example the parable of the sower from Matthew 13:3-9 means what each person gets out of it and no more), we're saying there's no objective reality to it. This line of thinking doesn't work in a community of faith, because it implies that even God doesn't have any ultimate reality.

To be a community we have to have something in common, and in particular a community of faith needs a statment of what we believe in. What I take from this is that the Apostles Creed and its ilk are still relevant today -- especially today. We have to be careful with the wording, because language does influence the paths our thoughts take.

Speaking of language

Starbucks educated an entire generation on coffee. They use "tall" to mean "medium"; "grande" and "vente" are both larger sizes (I flunked their vocabulary quiz).

These coffee-salesmen gave us language and expected us all to learn it! A rhetorical question: Why can't we, the church, reclaim theological language? Why can't we teach people words like grace, sin, pardon, mercy? (Do we need to teach them propitiation, atonement, soteriology? Please God, no...)

A sensory experience -- a sacramental one

One thing about Starbucks: there's a sensory experience when you go there, which connects the smell of coffee with the sounds from the espresso bar, the friendly voices from behind the counter, the furniture, the music, etc.

Here's how we can do something analogous: Suppose your congregation takes communion once a month. A couple of hours before services start, have someone get a frozen "take'n'bake" loaf from the store and bake it in the church oven. Everyone coming in takes in the aroma: "smells like Communion."

A little girl comes in, and smells that, and hears the words from the pulpit, "This is my body broken for you." If she believes it, she will know that she belongs to Jesus Christ, and whenever she smells bread baking (where else do you get that aroma nowadays?) she'll remember that. Eighty years later, in the nursing home, when she catches the smell of bread, she'll think "smells like Communion"; she'll remember the words of her Lord and Savior, and she'll know that whether in life or in death, she belongs to the One who died for her and rose again.

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