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!
Some initial observations:
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.
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?
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.
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:
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
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
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
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
I have already stated several times that one key assumption behind the DITB project was that theology is not the process of constructing an abstract, systematic model of God. At least, it shouldn’t be. Unfortunately, much theology is just that. Modern academic theology has tended toward the pursuit of constructing grand systems of theory that attempt to explain God and the universe. The end result of this endeavor is inevitably the construction of an idol made, not of gold, wood, and stone, but of human ideas. A reasonably adequate Christian theology, on the other hand, is the observation and reflection (theological praxis) of what God is doing in, with, under, against, and for the local congregation. The DITB project was an attempt to embody this statement and observe what would happen if a group of ELCA suburbanites—who have had no traditional, academic theological training—engage in what many consider to be one of the most difficult and abstract theological concepts: the Trinity. Further, I wanted to see what would happen if we tried to connect the Trinity—traditionally a conversation reserved for the conversation of the intellectual elite—with the practice of spiritual formation—something traditionally considered a matter of “practical” theology.read more