Sunday, November 16, 2014

Adult Spirituality Group notes

At the start of each meeting, we all ask around, "Where and how did you see God in your life this week?"  For instance, we reconnect with wisdom and perspective via (73 year old) Joan Baez' songs about God, overnight at 3am when all our cells are open, and Sunday morning bright sunrises.

For this week, we read Chapter 7, "The Practice of Living with Purpose -- Vocation" (An Altar in the World , by Barbara Brown Taylor.)

The author summarizes that no matter what we're doing, it's up to us to decide what that purpose is.  "The point is to find something that feeds your sense of purpose, and to be willing to look low for that purpose as well as high.  It may be chopping wood and it may be running a corporation.  Whatever it is, perhaps you will hold open the possibility that doing it is one way to learn what it means to become more fully human, as you press beyond being good to being good for something, in a world with the perfect job for someone like you." 

Day discussed the idea of karma yoga, which is the notion of approaching work as a spiritual practice.  The author writes, "Work connects us to other people....  Every human interaction offers you the chance to make things better or to make things worse.  To decide to make things better can cost you bundles of self-interest."  (p. 114)
--Pete added that all work must involve personal investment (ego) and have tolerable conditions.

Rose became enthusiastic to find out more about having a church social game night, perhaps at the Chili Cook-off next Saturday, or near the Winter Solstice at 6:30 PM, 12/20/14.

Looking forward to next week, please read Chapter 8, "The Practice of Saying No -- Sabbath" (p. 121).  Thank you.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Adult Spirituality Group notes

This Sunday, we traveled in Chapter 6 & 7 to explore the concepts of land ownership two thousand years ago in Jesus' age.  It was very different than today.  For example:
• Every 50 years, the land went back to the "original owner".   Check out the concept of (See URL->) "Jubilee".
• In China, every 99 years the land goes back to the state.  This recently happened in Hong Kong, e.g.
Native Americans didn't have a concept for land ownership.  Nobody could "own" anything.  Things were commonly held.

Member Jan van Pelt brought several suggestions for the next book we should read.  Group members were most interested in two books written by Barbara Brown Taylor.  You're welcome to take a look at the following online book descriptions: 
(See URL->)  Altar In The World  (Two months ago she was on the cover of Time magazine.)  This book is about finding God outside of church.
(See URL->)  Learning To Walk In the Dark  (Her newest work!)  This book is about how it is out of the dark that new epiphanies happen.

For next Sunday:  (8/25)
Please have read Chapter 8 (p. 90->) and Chapter 9 (p. 103->).  Thanks!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Adult Spirituality Group notes

1.  This week, we entertained a question surmised from our reading about Jewish self-identity and their erroneous concept from old times that Israel was given to them.  (They first killed all people's on the land in Israel.) 
- Jews need to figure out how they're going to get beyond the victim/oppressor mentality.  For example, Jews have often taken unfavorable jobs, e.g., money changers.
- Jews have been out of Covenant repeatedly and been brought back.

2.  Ok, we're at the height/depth of the summer!  You should know our schedule.
For next week:  Let's read Chapter 6 (p. 46+), Prologue (p. 73+), & Chapter 7 (p. 80).

While members Rose & Pete will be on vacation, we need leaders for four Sundays:
8/24/14 - Charlotte will lead our book discussion.
8/31/14 - Our class is cancelled for Labor Day.r
9/7/14   - Charlotte will lead our book discussion.
9/13/14 - It is unclear who will lead the week's discussion.  Any volunteers?

P.S. - Charlotte made an Activist Plug -> Don't let the FCC allow a merger of telecommunication companies!  Please read the article by Bill Moyers
"Don’t Let Net Neutrality Become Another Broken Promise".

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Adult Spirituality Group notes

Hearts aglow, we began by congratulating ourselves for our nuanced study of history and doing what is pointed out in an issue, entitled (see URL->) "Wade Deep: Bible Study as a Remedy for Shallow Faith" (Circuit Rider magazine May/June/July 2004). 

We soon lathered into discussion:
Chapter 3: You Know Where I Come From
The early Christian community appears not to have been particularly concerned about any aspect of Jesus' life before the launch of his ministry.  This later on became more important.  Reza Aslan, author of our book Zealot, spells out how Jesus was born in the tiny hillside village of Nazareth, not Bethlehem.  Mathew and Luke, in the New Testament, both tried to make Jesus fit into the Jewish myths and prophecies about the coming Messiah.  For example, "The Jewish Messiah is the descendant of King David; he comes to restore Israel, to free the Jews from the yoke of Roman occupation, and to establish God's rule in Jerusalem." (p. 28)

--This chapter reminded Pete Bailey of Joseph Campbell's book, (see URL->) The Power of Myth

Chapter 4: The Fourth Philosophy
This chapter discussed the philosophy that was context to Jesus in Palestine.  Jesus toiled as a tecton, a woodworker or builder, six days a week, from sunup to sundown, to build palatial houses for Jewish aristocracy, returning to his crumbling mud-brick home at night.  He would have witnessed for himself the rapidly expanding divide between the absurdly rich and the indebted poor.

--Check out the article, (see URL->) Sunday Homily: Pope Francis on Wealth Redistribution that tackles the chasmic wealth gap today!

The fourth philosophy was centered about the notion of zeal, after which our book Zealot is named.  Zeal implied a strict adherence to the Jewish Torah and the Law, a refusal to serve any foreign master--to serve any human master at all--and an uncompromising devotion to the sovereignty of God.  Many Jews in first-century Palestine strove to live a life of zeal in his or her own way.  During Jesus' lifetime, zealotry did not signify a firm sectarian or a political party.  It was an idea, an inspiration, a model of piety inextricably linked to the widespread sense of apocalyptic expectation that had seized the Jews in the wake of the Roman occupation. (p. 41)

For Next Week:
We should definitely read both Chapter 5 (p. 46+) Where is Your Fleet to Sweep the Roman Seas and the notes (p. 233+).  The notes will enrich our understanding of author Reza Aslan's research.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Adult Spirituality Group notes

This week: 
The Chapter 1 & 2 history helped paint a picture of the tumultuous revolutionary social/political context that Jesus was immersed in and communicated about, e.g.,
"As for the towns of these people that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance," God told the Israelites, "you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them all--the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canannites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jubusites--just as the Lord your God has commanded" (Deuteronomy 20:17-18).
Knowing the context helps one sift his 2,000 year message to our present day context.  (Some expressed interest in the book, (see URL) The Sins of Scripture:  Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love, by John Shelby Spong.) 

Jesus was Jewish and quoted old testament scriptures in his talks.  Rose Bailey mentioned that our church should invite (see URL) Rabbi Ted Falcon, who is a member of the Interfaith Amigos, for a sermon about: 
• How renewal of the covenant/10 commandments occurs several times in the Bible to supersede violence.
• How should we interpret the Old Testament today?

For next week:
Please be ready to discuss chapter 3, p. 25+ "You Know Where I Am From" and chapter 4, p. 34+ "The Fourth Philosophy".   Thanks!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Adult Spirituality Group notes

Right now is a great time to join our Adult Spirituality Group.  We're just beginning the book, Zealot - The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, by Reza Aslan.
(from cover slip)  "From the internationally bestselling author of No God But God comes a fascinating, provocative, and meticulously researched biography that challenges long-held assumptions about the man we know as Jesus of Nazareth. 
"Two thousand years ago, an itinerant Jewish preacher and miracle worker walked across the Galilee, gathering followers to establish what he called the "Kingdom of God".  The revolutionary movement he launched was so threatening to the established order that he was captured, tortured, and executed as a state criminal.
"Within decades after his shameful death, his followers would call him God.
"Sifting through centuries of mythmaking, Reza Azlan sheds new light on one of history's most influential and enigmatic characters by examining Jesus through the lens of the tumultuous era in which he lived: first-century Palestine, an age awash in apocalyptic fervor.  Scores of Jewish prophets, preachers, and would be messiahs wandered through the Holy Land, bearing messages from God.  This was the age of zealotry--a fervent nationalism that made resistance to the Roman occupation a sacred duty incumbent on all Jews.  And few figures better exemplified this principle than the charismatic Galilean who defied both the imperial authorities and their allies in the Jewish religious hierarchy.
"Balancing the Jesus of the Gospels against the historical sources, Aslan describes a man full of conviction and passion, yet rife with contradiction; a man of peace who exhorts his followers to arm themselves with swords; an exorcist and faith healer who urged his disciples to keep his identity a secret; and ultimately the seditious "King of the Jews" whose promise of liberation from Rome went unfulfilled in his brief lifetime.  Aslan explores the reasons why the early Christian church preferred to promulgate the image of Jesus as a peaceful spiritual teacher rather than a politically conscious revolutionary.  And he grapples with the riddle of how Jesus understood himself, the mystery that is at the heart of all subsequent claims about his divinity.
"Zealot yields a fresh perspective on one of the greatest stories ever told even as it affirms the radical nature of Jesus of Nazareth's life and mission.  The result is a thought-provoking, elegantly written brilliant portrait of a man, a time, and the birth of a religion." 
We should read the notes in the back of the book along with the extensive bibliography.  They are interesting for Rose because there is more detail and depth.

For next week:  Please read chapter 1 & 2 and be ready to discuss quotes that most engage you.  Thanks!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Adult Spirituality Group notes

Our discussion of Chapter 8 "Myths and Traditions" explored different churches communion rules & structures.  We were curious to learn how the wider community has authentic personal communion experiences:

The author cautioned "that once you decide that there are rules around who takes communion and who doesn't, you can get to the point where taking communion boils down to making sure a soul is freshly laundered and squeaky-clean before its body can take the bread and wine into its mouth. This gets very close to manipulating God.  And once you begin to make rules, there is no end to the rule-making."  (p. 89)

(interim pastor)  "When young and I attended a Lutheran church, I dressed up for God."
(Gudrun Murti)  "To dress up for God is good because we aren't most authentic if only base.  Our ideals are important, not just putting out our laundry for God."
(Day Murti)  "To be truly present in the moment is to not just bring one version of yourself, but all levels."

For next week, please read chapter 9, "A History In Brief" (p. 97+).
- As Nora recalls the history of the sacred meal--and how food and celebration have long been a part of our faith communities--she reminds us that Jesus used simple everyday routines "to bring us to our senses."  In what ways does sharing food with friends and family compare with the sacred meal of communion?
- Jesus washed his disciples' feet possibly as a way of showing them vulnerability.  Are there times we should be as humble and vulnerable before our friends and family?

The next book we plan to read is called Zealot - The Life And Times Of Jesus Of Nazareth.  Please check out the online review at .

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Adult Spirituality Group notes

We discussed chapter 7, entitled "Magic and Thanksgiving": 

MAGIC - "We need concrete things that tie the ordinary to the extraordinary, like the long lines that tether a hot air balloon to the ground, to bring the kingdom of heaven near to us.  The hope is that these rituals will not diminish the holy nor make it mundane but are set aside to keep it close."

THANKSGIVING - "The Communion ritual is a way of putting aside time to give our thanks--and in that putting aside of time, we have the opportunity to see what our lives are like now and what they can become." 

For next week discussion, we'll read "Chapter 8: Myths and Traditions":

- Have you encountered rules and regulations about communion that have kept you from the table?  How would it feel to be denied this gift of community because of some transgression?
- How do you react to the statement, "You are a  guest at God's feast.  You are an honored guest"?  How does the openness of God's table compare to the gift of his grace in our lives?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Adult Spirituality Group notes

We consumed the chapter "Eating the Body and Blood":
During communion, we should think of Christ as being present, the sacramental bread is feeding the Church body of Christ, and the wine is the blood of Christ giving our congregation energy.  Our church needs to live Christianity and do the work of Christ.  "The larger narrative of the Christian religion has been a story, a metaphor into which I have fitted my life.  I am a character in this book."  (p. 72)

"Consecrating bread and wine for Communion is like a wedding feast:  it calls out of these ordinary elements their essential beauty and their life-giving core." (p. 66) 
 Day - I am curious about the above quote and this chapter as a whole because my formal first name is Deven (pronounced "Dayv-ANE"), short for Devendra the king of all elemental beings in Hindu mythology, similar to Zeus and Thor, with lightning and thunder as my weapon.  I like to directly intuit the subtle relationships in nature's intricate web.

Tom - For me it is richer to think of Jesus doing a miracle to turn water into wine.  "Jesus is said to have turned water into wine....  In the clear water of our lives lies undiscovered wine.  It is our charge, as men and women, as human beings, to commit ourselves to seeking and finding that heady spirit in our sisters, brothers, and ourselves.  (p. 66)
Rose - In our church, we never talk about the meaning of communion.  Some people can relate with a sermon, but for others who've had a tough complex worldly week, consuming the communion sacramental wafer and wine can better bring them into Christ's church body.  We should do a sermon on communion and coffee hour presentation about our book, The Sacred Meal, for the congregation.

Next Sunday 6/8, we'll discuss Chapter 7 "Magic & Thanksgiving" p. 75+.
Whatever you believe about the elements of communion, Nora reminds us that this is a ritual of thanksgiving.  What type of remembrances and thanks do you bring to the table?  Are there problems (baggage) that block you from being truly thankful?

In what ways would you like to see your life, your spiritual growth transform?  How do you think the regular practice of communion could keep you focused on a larger vision of God's grace in your life?

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Adult Spirituality Group notes

We dove into our reading, chapter 5, "Afterward" (pp. 51+).

Author Ann Lamott writes in Traveling Mercies, "I do not at all understand the mystery of grace--only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us."  We could translate our subtle expansive feelings of Grace after Communion to the subtle light prisms from dew drops in forests as well as to the expansive horizons on immersive multi-sensory wilderness treks.  Our hearts are alight at center!

In this mystical moment, the congregation's full silent hearts are like being in tune with all the community of hearts in nature.  Rose & Pete narrated their subtle expansive feelings atop a 9,000 ft. mountain.  "We took photos, ate dinner, and watched the sky changing.  There was snow on the ground.  We drove down a road late at night and watched hundreds of sheep crossing the road, with owls and hawks flying."

This is just how Communion can light our hearts.  "The difference between Jesus and us may not merely be one of degrees of divinity, but also his openness to others and their capacity to bend and awaken his heart." (p. 62)

Next Sunday, 6/1, we'll discuss the following questions relating to Chapter 6, "Eating the Body and Blood" (pp. 63+).

Do you have childhood memories of taking communion?  How do these memories differ from your experiences with communion today?

Nora Gallagher describes the consecration of the elements as "calling out of these ordinary elements their essential beauty and their life-giving core."  How is your spirit "nourished" by partaking in the sacred meal?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Adult Spirituality Group notes

Our group discussed the notion of silence as construed in Chapter 4, "Receiving".

Being awake to silence is a way to center ourselves for our experiences at the altar during communion, when we are invited into what Jesus calls heaven.  Pastor Dan likes to invoke a period of silent contemplation by having the congregation "keep our heads down and hearts up."  This is a reminder to "do nothing" (not even try to clear one's mind), but remain whole while bathing in silence.  This allows the experience of communion to most deeply touch and heal every part of our integrated lives.

 This prescription in communion to "do nothing" strikes Americans awkwardly.  "Working hard for what you get is ingrained in our psyches; it's the advice we give our children and students, the very basis of the American Dream."  (p. 39)  "By making our greatest and most important goal the one of productivity, we miss out on the ways that God's gifts of Grace come to us by doing nothing."  (p. 41)

Next Sunday, we'll discuss Chapter 5, "Afterwards" (p. 51+).  Think about how these questions relate:
1.  How did you feel after your last communion?  Can you recall that feeling just before participating in the next communion?

2.  When you're taking communion, take note of the people immediately around you, even if you don't know their names.  Pray for each of them before and after.  Pray for them daily in the week following communion.  How does this affect your practice of taking the sacred meal?  Does it change the way you view the world around you?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Adult Spirituality Group notes

For this week, the group read Chapter 3, "Waiting":  Taking Communion has three parts, waiting, receiving, and afterward.  The waiting is warming up by making oneself open and receptive, ready for this deeper ritual.  Mostly, church-goers are in our thoughts and concepts, reflecting upon the sermon or our baggage (both personal as well as our participation in societal) from the week.  The waiting period is critical to become fully real and alive, awake by each raising up our antennas.

We found the author's reflection helpful: 
"So part of waiting in Communion is examining what we did last week to find the kingdom of heaven in our midst and to help others find it.  I urge you to go both easy and hard on yourself in this regard.  You can't just condemn yourself for not doing enough.  Join the crowd.  None of us does enough.  I think it is important to find the things you did do and honor yourself for them, small as they might be."  (p. 37)

For next week, please read Chapter 4, "Receiving" (starting on p. 39).  Think about how these questions relate:
1.  When was the last time you spent an afternoon doing "nothing," the way you did as a child?  How did you feel afterward?

2.  Why do you think we as a culture have a hard time receiving unearned gifts?  How can regularly participating in communion help us to understand God's unearned gift of grace?

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Adult Spirituality Group notes

In response to the questions for Chapter 2 "Communion as a Practice", we were inspired by these two quotes:
1.  "Instead of thinking of Communion as a ghoulish eating of human flesh, think of those who gather at Communion as the body of Christ.  We are the body given for each other.  This is my body, he said, look around you.  When we show up and do our parts, we are the sacrament, the body of Christ.  Do this to remember me.  Do this to remember who you were with me.  Do this to remember who you are."
2.  "Jesus doesn't call us to live in a soft cocoon, distracted and undisturbed, allowing others to pay the costs of our comfort.  When it comes right down to it, Jesus followed where compassion led him, and he bore the cost of what he found.  Jesus asks us to follow where compassion leads and bear the cost of what we find.

For next week: 
Please read Chapter 3 "Waiting", pp. 27-38.   Think about how these questions relate:
1.  What are the things in your life that you keep "buried" when you come to the altar that keep you distracted from the possibilities of communion?
2.  What can you do in the coming week to find the kingdom of heaven in the midst of your everyday life?  How can you help others see it?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Adult Spirituality Group notes

Right now is a great time to join!  We're just reading the first chapter of a new book, entitled The Sacred Meal by Nora Gallagher:
The Sacred Meal
     Unlike every other Christian practice, communion is meant to be done together—as the Gospel of Matthew tells us, where two or three “gathered in my name.” You simply can’t do it by yourself. You can pray alone and fast alone. You can even go on pilgrimage alone. Communion, on the other hand, forces us to be with others.
     But like these other practices, communion has the same intention: to gradually move us out of one place and into another. Author Nora Gallagher says it’s like taking a journey to a foreign land, and she divides the trip into three parts: waiting, receiving, and afterward. While we wait, we sort through our baggage, filled with worry, guilt, anxiety, and pain. Communion teaches us how to receive—that God’s gift of grace comes to us by doing nothing. Finally, we surrender our invisible baggage and, now lightened, are free to reflect upon and understand the journey we have shared.      Gallagher writes,“Every time it is the same, and every time it is different.” This is your family, your table, and act of community—the gathering of the body of Christ.

The Ancient Practices
     There is a hunger in every human heart for connection, primitive and raw, to God. To satisfy it, many are beginning to explore traditional spiritual disciplines used for centuries . . . everything from fixed-hour prayer to fasting to sincere observance of the Sabbath.  Compelling and readable, the Ancient Practices series is for every spiritual sojourner, for every Christian seeker who wants more.
Our tidy group of five revealed our initial perceptions about this church ceremony of Communion to reenact the Last Supper and reclaim our focus on Christ.  Some are more public and social (outwardly bonding), while others are more private and internal (inwardly bonding).  Our book discussion group will certainly help us put organization/words to this 'out of the ordinary' practice in the ensuing weeks.

For next week:  Please read chapter 2, pp. 9 -  25.  Think about how these question sets relate:
  1. How does communion build community when it is taken in silence?  How does it bond us, moving us "out of one place and into another?"
  2. When human nature causes us to be attracted to those in power over us, how can communion remind us of another type of power, that of Christ's compassion and vulnerability?