A Visual Guide to Making Sense out of the Deep in the Burbs Project

This Prezi attempts to capture the “what” of the Deep in the Burbs Project. I drew this sketch today in order to organize my thoughts and decipher the focus of my writing. I could go in so many directions with this project!

2014 Journal P122

Some initial observations:

  1. This project is about the intersection of the abstract theological construction of Trinity and the lived experience of Trinity. There is a synaptic ignition that takes place when these two boxes connect.
  2. This project is about the troublesome word impact. How does a spiritual leader in a local congregation introduce a new idea to people without inflicting violent colonizing effects?
  3. This project is about how the process of Participatory Action Research (PAR) itself is both (a) an answer to the question posed in #2, and (b) a possible model for missional church leadership and spiritual formation as the experience of collaborative and participatory discernment and movement in and with Trinity.
  4. This project is about how spiritual formation is a mixture of personal, internal connection with God and communal, external, social action with God. It is not an either/or dichotomy of the two modes of spirituality.

Further elaboration on the above points:

Number One

A great deal of literature exists regarding the danger of constructing abstract, systematic theological systems that attempt to explain God. This academic endeavor is, ultimately, the construction of an idol that differs little from Aaron’s construction of the Golden Calf at the base of Mt. Sinai. Yet, human beings have an experience of the divine in various ways, and, thus, need to discuss them in order to share them and make sense out of them. Language itself is an abstract construction, so, as soon as humans discuss their divine experience they run the risk of building an idol.

This project helps us understand the necessity for the communicative act of bringing the theological models into conversation with the lived experience. As in all communicative rationality, this dialogue both humbles the interlocutors, broadens and fuses the horizon of each, and, thus, creates a new and, hopefully, more peaceful space in which life can unfold.

In other words, the local church should not shy away from theological discussion. It should, however, frame those theological discussions in a communicative process, that invites the lived experience to speak as loudly as the doctrinal statement. This process will simultaneously free the church from doctrinal stagnation and deepen the congregation in theological wisdom.

Number Two

This project has obvious pedagogical implications. I proposed to introduce an abstract idea about Trinity to a group of suburban ELCA Christians. The danger in this proposal was in the temptation for me to use my power to colonize the people into agreeing with my assumptions about the connection between Trinity and Spiritual Formation.

My power is inherent on several levels. I am a rostered ELCA pastor and that, within this ecclesial system, imbues me with positional power. (He’s the pastor, he must be right) I am a doctoral candidate which also, within the Western educational hierarchy, imbues me with the power of knowledge. (He’s educated, he must know what he’s talking about) I am the lead researcher, and I invited everyone to the conversation. (It’s his research project, so we need to do what he wants, or make him happy) I am a teacher which, within the uni-directional, expert-to-novice, depository pedagogical model of the West, imbues me with the power to assert the correct answer. (He’s the teacher, he will tell us what we should know) I am a white, middle-class, educated male, which, within the history of patriarchal dominance in the West, imbues me with authority. (He’s a man, so we will defer to his leadership)

Number Three

One of my biggest challenges was to find a way to bracket my perceived power and use it to facilitate a space in which people felt empowered to think and speak freely. Participatory Action Research methodology, combined with the practice of Dwelling in the Word, created, in my perspective, a space that provided the necessary freedom for people to encounter the abstract construct of Social Trinity on their own terms and within the context of their own lived experience.

A provisional conclusion from this observation of our lived experience (a “so what”) is that missional leadership should pay attention to the issue of power. If we seek to lead the church to discern where God is moving, what God is doing, and how we are invited to participate in these activities, then leaders will need to continually evaluate their own power and find ways to emancipate their communities–both within the congregation and in the neighborhoods–to freely experience God.

It is also my provisional observation that the process of PAR and Dwelling in the Word is and experiential knowledge of the Trinity. In other words, the increased awareness of the social/relational/entangled Trinity came more through the experience of PAR and Dwelling in the Word than it did through the viewing of animated videos that attempted to explain the doctrine historically and theoretically. That is not to say that the propositional quality of the videos were not helpful. It is to say that, perhaps, the videos simply served to frame, and provide language, for the lived experience of the Trinity that the RT had throughout the project.

Number Four

One of the things that really surprised me about this project was how little the conversation of social Trinity impacted the RT in the way it did to me. One possible reason for this is the fact that I grew up in a fundamentalist, conservative, Baptist, pietistic background in which spiritual formation was perceived as an internal, personal affair. The trajectory of my spiritual formation has been one of inward to outward. I discovered early on in the project that the RT had a for more balanced and communal experience of Spiritual Formation than I ever did. One possible explanation for this is that the Lutheran heritage has formed its people into a more community-based, culturally oriented understanding of spiritual formation. Many of the RT members experienced the opposite direction of flow in their ideation and praxis of spiritual formation that I had. They had always acknowledged the three persons of the Trinity from a creedal tradition, but, now, with exposure to a social/relational/entangled Trinitarian framework, they had better language to articulate their lived experience.

Conclusion

This post is a terse, cursory draft of some initial thoughts that attempt to make sense out of my experience in and with the RT. I look forward to our meeting on Monday night where the RT communicatively debriefs and attempts to make sense out of this project that we have shared.

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