Category Archives: 04 Research Findings

What do the data tell us?

Visual Outline of 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!

As I meditate with this sketch I make some initial observations:

  1. This 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 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 is about how the process of Participatory Action Research 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.

Further elaboration on the above points:

Number One: Theological Reflection

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. read more

An Increased Awareness and Understanding

The Deep in the Burbs research question was: How might an increased awareness and understanding of the social Trinity impact the ideation and praxis of spiritual formation in suburban ELCA congregations? Therefore, we must first address the obvious question. Did the increased awareness and understanding of the social Trinity have any impact at all on the team’s ideation and praxis of spiritual formation? Then we can address the second, and more complicated question. If it did have an impact, how was it impacted? Once we have named the specifics of how the social Trinity had a direct impact on the team’s ideation and praxis of spiritual formation, then we can name certain implications that the DITB project might have for leadership in missional spirituality. read more

What Did We Learn About Spiritual Formation?

It is time to attempt a simple synthesis of what the research revealed in direct relation to the research question itself. The data seem to indicate that an increased awareness and understanding of the social Trinity impacted the ideation and praxis of spiritual formation in the RT members in two primary ways.

A Directional Shift

Vertical-Personal Spirituality

First, it provided new language and attentiveness to the active presence of the Holy Spirit in the world. Each team member entered the project with some awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit. The team members most able to express the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit, at the beginning of the project, did so in such a way that the Spirit was the presence of God that helped guide the individual in either (a) personal devotion and relationship with God, or (b) the process of making life decisions. The ideation of the Holy Spirit, prior to the DITB project, seemed to reflect one of an internal and personal relationship with God. Let’s call this a vertical-personal spirituality in which God is perceived as being up there and the Holy Spirit is in here, within the individual. The role of the Holy Spirit, they reported, is to help the individual look up to God and grow spiritually in an internal manner. This vertical-personal relationship does not negate the horizontal, social relationships that individuals have with others. In fact, many team members indicated that small group involvement and corporate worship were important parts of their spiritual practices prior to the DITB project. However, the important dimension of the vertical-personal spirituality is that the horizontal relationships with others are not necessary to spiritual formation. In other words, it is possible, in the vertical-personal spirituality, to have a relationship with God through the Holy Spirit apart from social interaction with other people. This, I would argue, reflects the typical, modern, Western individualism that is especially expressed in the suburban context. read more

The Deep in the Burbs Project Narrative

I will use this section to provide a brief narrative of the project and pause to reflect on the findings in their narrative context.

Phase One

Phase 1.1: Sessions 01-02—February 24 and March 3, 2014

The first two team meetings were held at Bethlehem Lutheran. I will take a moment to describe the room set-up in detail, because it was important that the physical set-up of the room be conducive to communicative action. I organized the room and facilitated the opening questions according Peter Block’s advice.[1] I placed three tables in the corners opposite the main door. A circle of 18 chairs sat in the center of the room. We always held our large group discussions in a circle, because everyone is equal in this configuration. There was a small table against the wall, next to the entrance, which had an assortment of snacks: a veggie tray, pita chips with hummus, fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, and enough mini-water bottles for everyone to have two bottles.[2] I also placed an assortment of colorful markers, post-it notes, and a large piece of paper on each of the tables. This added pops of color to the room. Finally, I stuck three pieces of paper to the wall, opposite the entrance, upon which was written: “Spiritual Formation” on the first, “The Trinity” on the second, and “The Suburbs” on the third. This created a visual reminder of the purpose of our gathering. read more