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If you’ve been following these weekly small group ministry sessions I’ve been posting, you’ll know that I’m basing them on resources from Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat’s excellent website SpiritualityandPractice.com. The site is full of quotes, reviews, book excerpts, and tips on living a more spiritual life, and one of the things I like the best about it is that it’s incredibly up to date. Which means that if you’re looking for a quote that’s an oldie but goody on a particular subject, you probably won’t find it there. So while this weeks session on Peace is built out of those contemporary resources, I couldn’t help but offering one of my favorite meditations on peace by Lao-Tzu:

If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.

If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.

If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.

If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.

If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.

Chalice/Candle Lighting

Opening Words:

When you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart.
— Francis of Assisi

Check-in/Sharing

Topic:

An Excerpt from Imagine a World: Poetry for Peacemakers complied by Peggy Rosenthal

Peggy Rosenthal has compiled this collection of poetry for peacemakers for Pax Christi. Here is a poem on the spiritual practice of peace.

Waging Peace
by Sarah Klassan

How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who
announces peace. Isaiah 52: 7

Not something separate. Not
a convenient screen, a wall hastily fabricated
to keep a conflict’s blaze contained.
Or the self safe.

Nor something hammered out at tables.
And never sentimental, say a moonlit evening,
an incandescent sky. The Pacific Ocean
on a breathless day. You might as well

wage peace as war. You’d have to stand
exposed at the crossroads of unguarded anger,
a presence, not an absence,
not gritting your teeth. Forcing your clenched hands

open. Your heart’s hard core
and everything the stubborn mind conceals
revealed. Disarmed
you may become disarming,

the terror in your unmasked face
radiant, your unshod, wounded feet beautiful
beyond words.

Questions: Who is the most forceful and impressive peacemaker you have ever encountered? What did you learn from that person?

Check-out/Likes and Wishes

Closing Words:

Peace and war start within one’s own home. If we really want peace for the world, let us start by loving one another within our families.
— Mother Teresa in No Greater Love edited by Becky Benenate and Joseph Durepos

To Practice This Thought: Whenever you get angry, vow not to add to the sum total of violence in the world.

Group Session Plan based on resources on Peace from www.spiritualityandpractice.com.

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

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

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As I mentioned yesterday, a recent article in the Daily Mail (UK) entitled “People deprived of the internet feel ‘upset and lonely’ and find going offline as hard as quitting smoking or drinking” got my colleague, the Rev. Naomi King, and me wondering, “What’s that about?” So we decided to have an online conversation on the subject in our blogs (you can read Naomi’s initial post on the subject here). And if you haven’t read the original article yet, here’s a paragraph from a summary of it in TechCrunch:

A new British study released today backs up what we otherwise know intuitively, that Internet usage is increasingly becoming an addiction. Out of 1000 people surveyed after being cut off from the Internet for 24 hours, 53% reported feeling “upset” about being deprived of online access and 40% said that they felt lonely after not being able to connect to the Internet. Participants described the digital detox akin to quitting drinking or smoking and one even said it was like having his hand chopped off (!).

And here are our responses to the article:

Naomi: Our digital lives are our lives – so much part of who and how many of us are, we feel real loss and disconnection when separated from the technologies that support our communities of connection and how we practice our faith. Addiction is an issue, but I want to notice the differences between internet addiction and the grief that comes from being separated from where we have meaningful relationships. When folks who’ve been largely defined by work find themselves unemployed or retired, there’s a similar sense of grief and loss. They weren’t necessarily addicted to work. Liberal religious spiritual life is so much about balance. We want to notice when we’re being defined or only have meaning in discrete sections of our lives and turn there instead of addressing more difficult or absent relationships and meaning. As liberal religious people, we seek revelation and meaning everywhere in our lives – via social media, in families, with friends, through work, through volunteering, through play.

Like many people I connect with in my social media ministry, I’m often housebound, due to my chronic illness. Since I’m also hearing impaired, I love the print and video forms of social media because I can connect with fewer missed words and attitudes. I also connect across faith divisions and with colleagues, in ways that busy schedules and long distances don’t allow. Our lives are more grounded and attentive because of the ways we’re staying connected. I love being with people, talking with people, finding out what’s going on for them spiritually, sharing stories and enthusiasms and encouraging folks in living faithfully the best they understand. How could I not be attracted to social media, where so many people are increasing and deepening their connections to the holy and to one another?

Phil: My response to this article comes from my own experience of intentionally taking Internet Sabbaths. I can identify with what the people in the article felt: “fidgety, anxious and isolated.” What’s more, “people” (including myself) “experience these feelings even if denied online access for a short time.” I have to confess that I was surprised by these feelings, since I had tried to make sure I wouldn’t feel deprived during my Internet Sabbaths. My wife and I have subscribed to the Sunday New York Times so we would have plenty of reading material. We try to cook several (if not all) of our meals on Sunday, starting with pancakes in the morning. And my six-year-old son is always around in case I want to play with Legos or something like that. Still, I found myself with odd moments when I was jonesing to get online and check the Internet. And as a former smoker, the urge felt very familiar, which is what I think the article was getting at. People who are denied Internet access report feeling the same sort of feelings that smokers and drinkers feel when deprived of alcohol or tobacco. (Of course, there’s a spectrum of dependency, from bad habits to all out addiction. The article seems to be talking about a milder sort of dependency.)

My sense is there are two things going on here. One is missing connections with other people. Part of the urge I felt was about wanting to check in and see how things were going with the friends, family, and colleagues I’m in contact with via the Internet. However, most of us can go relatively short periods of time without contacting our friends, family, and colleagues and not feel “fidgety, anxious, and isolated.” I’m perfectly capable of spending a morning, afternoon, or entire day away from my wife and son without feeling those things. I may miss them, but I don’t experience withdrawal (although if we’re going be apart all day, I’m likely to call at least once to see how things are going). So I’m thinking that there’s some combination of missing connections and the habit of using the technology that comes into play here. With more and more people connecting with smart phones via the mobile web, the temptation to whip out your device for a quick fix can be pretty compelling. Even when they’re off, they’re calling to us, just like a pack of cigarettes in a coat pocket calls out to regular smokers or a bottle of scotch in the cabinet calls out the moderately heavy drinkers. Good news is there’s no reason to quit the Internet completely. It’s more a matter of understanding those urges and developing habits that keep them from overwhelming us.

For the latest on device addiction, see the Ars Technica article: “Setting, avalanche of information creating smartphone addicts.”

For the last few months I’ve been trying to take an “Internet Sabbath” on Sundays at home. And I have to say that I’ve had varying degrees of success. For example, one Sunday I felt incredibly anxious about not being able to check in with my various social media networks. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was missing something: a good conversation on Twitter, some news from Facebook friends about how their weekends were going, updates from Google+ about who was adding me to one of their circles…things that I would normally do without a second thought on a regular weekday or Saturday. But I resisted the temptation to hop online, even for a few minutes, to see what was up. And you know what? I survived. I was able to check in once my Sabbath was over (I usually try to go from, say, 12:01 a.m. on Sunday morning to 12:01 on Monday morning). The online world had carried on nicely without me, and I was able to once again step into the digital stream renewed and refreshed—which is pretty much what I understand Sabbath time is all about.

This kind of Sabbath might be a little more complicated than a traditional Sabbath (“In Sabbath time,” Wayne Muller tells us, “we remember to celebrate what is beautiful and sacred; we light candles, sing songs, tell stories, eat, nap, and make love”). An Internet Sabbath calls into question one’s entire relationship with media and web technology, and the reasons for taking one need to be clear. Here’s what Elizabeth Drescher says about unplugging from the internet in Tweet If You ♥ Jesus:

Efforts to “unplug” are laudable when they invite us to reflect on the transformation in which we are currently participating so that we can make better choices about how we live our lives in the context of our most important relationships and most deeply held beliefs. But they are misguided when they contribute to the illusion that the effects of digital culture on our daily lives, including our religious and spiritual practice, are something from which we can truly opt out, even temporarily.

I do find that for me Internet Sabbaths are a time of reflection. These Sabbaths give me the opportunity to pause quietly for a moment and think about my relationships, with family, friends (both those with whom I have face-to-face relationships and those with whom our interactions are primarily virtual), and the wider world. And these Sabbaths have become a chance to re-engage with some forgotten pleasures from days gone by: looking through the Sunday New York Times, listening to classical music on Minnesota Public Radio, actually reading a book (not on my iPad, but an real live book). All in all, I’d have to say that the benefits of these Sabbaths outweigh any sort of detriments regarding my online presence. Of course, if I wake up some Monday morning and find that my Klout score has dropped significantly, I may have to re-examine the whole undertaking. But until then, I’m content to spend my Sundays unplugged.

For more information on Internet Sabbaths, check out the National Day of Unplugging website and “Author Disconnects From Communication Devices to Reconnect With Life” about William Powers, author of Hamlet’s BlackBerry.

N.B. I wrote this post more than a week ago as a fifteen minute free writing exercise. Since then, I’ve shared the following article on Twitter: “People deprived of the internet feel ‘upset and lonely’ and find going offline as hard as quitting smoking or drinking,” which drew a response from my friend and colleague the Rev. Naomi King, (@revnaomi on Twitter). Naomi asked:

Long story short, Naomi and I have agree to have a dialogue about this on our blogs. Since I already had this post ready to go, I thought I’d start with it. Future posts will address specific questions, like “What’s your spiritual practice re: turning off the media feed? Why?” and “How do you reflect on your relationships? How does that include social media supported relationships?” I’m looking forward to the exchange.

The corner of Ford Parkway and Cleveland Avenue in Saint Paul, Minnesota was the first place I saw the tagline for the United Methodist Church’s Rethink Church initiative. The words were printed on a bus stop bench: “Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors.” I remember thinking, “No fair! They stole our slogan.” Of course, that never was our slogan (I believe the Unitarian Universalist Association was rolling out “Nurture Your Spirit, Help Heal Our World” around that time). Still, not every UMC congregation’s doors were completely open, at least to those who identify as LGBTQ. At any rate, Openness is a quality that’s highly prized in a religious communities, and the same is true for individuals. Hence this week’s small group ministry session based on resources from SpiritualityandPractice.com.

Chalice/Candle Lighting

Opening Words:

By being receptive, we can avail ourselves of the spiritual wealth available to us. By being open, we can receive things beyond what we ourselves might imagine.
—Deng Ming-Dao in Everyday Tao

Check-in/Sharing

Topic:

An Excerpt from Blue Truth: A Spiritual Guide to Life & Death and Love & Sex by David Deida

David Deida sheds light on the spiritual practice of openness and what that means in terms of relationships, self-realization, and our emotional life. Here is an excerpt.

Right now, and in every moment, you are either closing or opening. You are either stressfully waiting for something—more money, security, affection—or you are living from your deep heart, opening as the entire moment, and giving what you most deeply desire to give, without waiting.

If you are waiting for anything in order to live and love without holding back, then you suffer. Every moment is the most important moment of your life. No future time is better than now to let down your guard and love.

Everything you do right now ripples outward and affects everyone. Your posture can shine your heart or transmit anxiety. Your breath can radiate love or muddy the room in depression. Your glance can awaken joy. Your words can inspire freedom. Your every act can open hearts and minds.

Opening from heart to all, you live as a gift to all. In every moment, you are either opening or closing. Right now, you are choosing to open and give fully or you are waiting.

Questions: Are you waiting for anything in order to live and love without holding back?

Check-out/Likes and Wishes

Closing Words:

Openness is a receptivity to everyone and everything. It is quite fundamentally an other-centeredness, a disposition of availability to others.
—Wayne Teasdale in The Community of Wisdoms edited by Wayne Teasdale and George Cairns

To Practice This Thought: Whenever you feel you could be more open to the moment, adopt a gesture—hands cupped upward, for example—to signify your receptivity to others and God.

Group Session Plan based on resources on Openness from www.spiritualityandpractice.com.

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

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

The Reformation was one of my favorite periods to study when I was an undergraduate. Coming from a staunchly Protestant background (first Lutheran, then Methodist, and finally Episcopalian), guys like Luther and Zwingli and Calvin were heroes. If there had been trading cards for these guys (like these Torah Personalities cards), I would have had a shoebox full. It was the whole cultural upheaval thing that got me. The world was changing and everyone was caught up in it. If I had been around at that time, I could only imagine myself as being on the side of “Veritasiness,” as Stephen Colbert might say. No way I would have been fooled by all that Roman Catholic rigmarole. The truth was pretty plain to see, some 400 years or so after the fact.

But then on further reflection, I realized that I probably would have had a pretty low tolerance for being burned at the stake or boiled in oil. So I was just as glad to be on the tail end of the Reformation thing. Plenty of nice, cozy churches to visit if I wanted to. Lots of books to read about the history of religion and spirituality and what have you. And no one harassing me to believe this or that or the other thing. So after a few years of staying away from churches all together, I took a leisurely stroll over to the Unitarian Universalists, and I’ve been here ever since.

There’s something about all that excitement, though, that I miss. I mean, how often to people get defenestrated these days? The good news is that I’m starting to feel some of that excitement again, and I think it’s because we are, indeed, at the beginning of a new Reformation, a Digital Reformation. What does that mean? Here are a couple of quotes from Elizabeth Drescher, author of  Tweet If You ♥ Jesus that might give you some idea of what we’re talking about:

What is the Digital Reformation? A revitalization of the Church driven by the often ad hoc spiritualities of ordinary believers as they integrate practices of access, connection, participation, creativity, and collaboration, encouraged by the widespread use of new digital social media into all aspects of daily life, including the life of faith.

And what will it take to be a Luther or a Zwingli or a Calvin this time around?

Being known as a leader in the Digital Reformation…does not so much depend on whether or not you wear a collar, what color your shirt might be, or what your title is, as much as it does on your ability to effectively participate in or establish wider conversational spaces where others are encouraged to share their own perspectives.

There may be little risk of getting burned at the stake during this Reformation, but there are dangers for our liberal religious tradition. I’m thinking obscurity. Maybe even oblivion.

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