There are three or four things that John Roberto presented yesterday during the “21st Century Faith Formation” course that really captured my imagination. One is Phyllis Tickle’s book The Great Emergence, which Roberto used to put the entire Faith Formation 2020 thing into perspective. What Tickle posits is that Christianity is going through a major upheaval (which is does every 500 years or so) that pretty much renews and revitalizes the whole shebang. It’s the reason why 20th century and 19th century ways of doing faith formation are no longer working.

Another attention grabber for me was something called the Stockdale Paradox. James Stockdale (who was Ross Perot’s running mate in the 1992 Presidential Election) was a prisoner of war during the Viet Nam war. According to Wikipedia,

In a business book by James C. Collins called Good to Great, Collins writes about a conversation he had with Stockdale regarding his coping strategy during his period in the Vietnamese POW camp.

“I never lost faith in the end of the story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

When Collins asked who didn’t make it out of Vietnam, Stockdale replied:

“Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

Stockdale then added:

“This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Witnessing this philosophy of duality, Collins went on to describe it as the Stockdale Paradox.

Here’s a PowerPoint slide from today’s presentation that gives the gist of it:

I hope to write more on this in the future, but for now, suffice it to say that retaining one’s faith while confronting brutal facts may be the key to meaningful faith formation in the coming decades.

One more thing that grabbed me today. I’ve always had a little trouble explaining the “hunger for God” part of the Four Scenario matrix of Faith Formation 2020. Roberto put this into context using N. T. Wright’s notion of the echoes of God’s voice from his book Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. Jesus’s message resonated both then and now because it captured the echo of God’s voice found in these four things:

  • The Longing for Justice
  • The Quest for Spirituality
  • The Hunger for Relationships
  • The Delight in Beauty

These are things that people still hunger for, and faith formation in our congregation’s should be feeding them.