You are currently browsing the monthly archive for June 2011.

Much of yesterday’s “21st Century Faith Formation” session with John Roberto focused on moving from a “Curriculum Approach” to a “Network of Lifelong Learning Approach” to faith formation. But before we delved too deeply into that subject, we took a detour through the world of classical music with Benjamin Zander’s excellent TED talk “on music and passion.” The purpose of the detour was to present another “attitude shift” faith formation leaders need to make in order to bring the Faith Formation 2020 initiative to life in their congregations. The big take away for me was this (from my notes):

Zander said something about the way some folks approach promoting classical music. They say 3% of the population appreciates classical music. What can we do to make that 4%? The attitude shift is behaving as if EVERYONE could love classical music. How would we behave if we believed that! The same applies to how we promote what we do in our congregations regarding faith formation.

This attitude shift is in addition to the Stockdale Paradox shift I mentioned in yesterday’s post. That first shift helps us keep on moving forward, even if the news is a bit depressing (like organized religion becoming extinct, etc.). This second shift helps us expand our vision to include offering faith formation to folks we may never have considered as wanting what we have to offer. Why limit ourselves to that sliver of the NPR listening audience who might also be interested in progressive religion? Maybe there are some people listening to the Sugar Shop on the local community radio station who might get excited about what we have to offer. Our Universalist forebears thought their message was pretty much irresistible. Why don’t we?

So, a Lifelong Faith Formation Network. I’ve written about the basics of this concept before (see Always Open, Always Faithy), and the specifics really haven’t changed since then. What was new for me today was using Clay Shirkey’s notion of Cognitive  Surplus to help gather the content for a congregation’s Lifelong Faith Formation Network. John suggests forming task forces to search the web for resources (both online and hard copy) that you, the Faith Formation Leader, then curate. He goes onto describe the process of curation as: Research, Aggregate & Evaluate, Deliver, Communicate & Connect. (I went into more detail about this recently as well. See Becoming a Faith Formation Curator.)

We spent the rest of the afternoon trying to figure out what discipleship in the 21st century looks like. Of all the words that are a hard sell for Unitarian Universalists, “discipleship” may be one of the hardest. I’m constantly trying to figure out what a UU version of it might look like. Ultimately, what it seems to boil down to is how one practices one’s faith in the world, which would make “practitioner” a suitable word. But that doesn’t seem to have quite the same umph (a theological term) as “disciple,” and “practitionership” isn’t even a word. Sometimes I think that “faithful citizen of the Beloved Community” is on the right track, but it’s a mouthful, and a bit squishy at that. So if anyone has any thoughts on what a Unitarian Universalist version of discipleship might look like (and be called), let me know. (Take a look at Craig Roshaven’s People of the Way for some more ideas.)


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.

There are a couple of reasons I love the quote on kindness from His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama that opens this small group ministry session. One is that I totally agree with the sentiment: there’s “no need for complicated philosophy” when it comes to trying to live our lives in ways that bring more kindness to the world. And two, it reminds me of my all-time favorite words for closing a Unitarian Universalist worship service, “Be Ours a Religion,” by Theodore Parker:

Be ours a religion which, like sunshine, goes everywhere;
its temple, all space;
its shrine, the good heart;
its creed, all truth;
its ritual, works of love;
its profession of faith, divine living.

On my best days, those words (both Parker’s and the Dalai Lama’s) give me a sense of just how all-encompassing a faith—our faith—can be.  At any rate, here’s a small group ministry session on Kindness, based on resources from

Chalice/Candle Lighting

Opening Words:

There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; my philosophy is kindness.
— The Dalai Lama



A Teaching Story from Buddha of Infinite Light: The Teachings of Shin Buddhism, the Japanese Way of Wisdom and Compassion by D. T. Suzuki

Buddha of Infinite Light by D. T. Suzuki is a commentary on the path of Pure Land Buddhism. Here’s a story from this tradition about kindness.

When a man heard noise coming from his yard, he looked out and saw neighborhood boys climbing up one of the fruit trees in the yard, trying to steal some fruits. So he went out into the yard and placed a ladder underneath the boys in the tree. He then quietly returned to his house. Is this not a stupid thing to do? The boys are stealing his fruits, but the owner does not stop them from committing an unlawful act. This man feared that when the children try to come down the tree, nervous about being caught, they might slip and fall, and hurt themselves. His impulse was to prevent them from being injured, not to save his property from thieves.

Questions: Share a story about a time when you were surprised by someone’s kindness to you.

Check-out/Likes and Wishes

Closing Words:

Be kind to people whether they deserve your kindness or not. If your kindness reaches the deserving, good for you; if your kindness reaches the undeserving, take joy in your compassion.
— James Fadiman and Robert Frager in Essential Sufism

To Practice This Thought: Find a way to be kind to an unsuspecting person.

Group Session Plan based on resources on Kindness from

For a PDF version of this small group ministry session, click here: Kindness.

For more information on small group ministry, visit the UU Small Group Ministry Network.

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