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.

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.

Number Two: Power Issues

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: PAR as Theological Praxis

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 this discovery. 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 an 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.