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This small group ministry session based on resources from  SpiritualityandPractice.com contains a favorite concept of mine, Albert Schweitzer’s “reverence for all that is called life.” While the session itself has only a quote about it, you can find a fuller excerpt of his Reverence for Life here. In it, Schweitzer says, “The ethic of Reverence for Life…comprehends within itself everything that can be described as love, devotion, and sympathy whether in suffering, joy, or effort.” These thoughts work well with what Edward Hays calls “the challenge of the saints of the twenty-first century”: “to comprehend the sacred in the ten thousand things of our world”

Chalice/Candle Lighting

Opening Words:

The challenge of the saints of the twenty-first century is to begin again to comprehend the sacred in the ten thousand things of our world; to reverence what we have come to view as ordinary and devoid of spirit.
— Edward Hays

Check-in/Sharing

Topic:

A Spiritual Exercise from Awakening the Buddhist Heart: Integrating Love, Meaning, and Connection into Every Part of Your Life by Lama Surya Das

Lama Surya Das demonstrates how to activate a “spiritual intelligence” in all aspects of our lives. In the following passage, he suggests a reverence practice.

The great Indian sage Shantideva, whose name means the “Gentle Master,” lived in the 7th and 8th century. He spent his life teaching others how to see the equality of self and other, and to act from this belief. He said that if you raise even one hand in a gesture of reverence to anything or anyone, all the Buddhas clap, rejoice, and rain down blessings. Shantideva lived in a world where people regularly put two hands together and bowed. Yet he taught that even one hand could make a difference. In a practical sense, raising a hand in reverence means that we must put down our weapons. After all, it’s difficult to harm or manipulate someone when you are bowing to them.

Questions: Who has helped you cultivate a sense of reverence for life and for the natural world?

Check-out/Likes and Wishes

Closing Words:

I cannot but have reverence for all that is called life. I cannot avoid compassion for everything that is called life. That is the beginning and foundation of morality.
— Albert Schweitzer quoted in Reverence for Life edited by Harold E. Robles

To Practice This Thought: Raise your hand in reverence to someone or something.

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

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

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

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I just found out about this great service for visualizing information called Visual.ly. I didn’t have time to thoroughly explore the site, but I did play around with their “How Do You Compare with Twitter Celebs” feature. I opted for the random celebrity feature, and found myself going face-to-abdomen with @Shaq. While he clearly wins when it comes to the number of followers (4,195,447 to my 446), visual.ly says I’m a bigger retweeter, more interesting, and more social. So in your face, Shaq! At any rate, while the “How Do You Compare” feature is fun, the really great part about this site is the ability to create infographics and visuals. Maybe I’ll have time to mess with that some day. In the meantime, watch out, random celebrities! You can see the rest of the stats from my one-on-one with @Shaq at  http://bit.ly/pgPrXA.

Thanks to The Committed Sardine Blog of The 21st Century Fluency Project for pointing me toward visual.ly!

When I think of Questing (the subject of this week’s small group ministry session based on resources from SpiritualityandPractice.com), I think of something like Brad Pitt’s character in Seven Years in Tibet (but without his on-again-off-again German accent). You know, heading off on an adventure—preferable someplace where the landscape’s dramatically different from the one you’re used to—being challenged to the limits of your abilities. Kinda like the Amazing Race, I guess. Those sort of quests can be both physically and spiritually challenging. Fortunately, we’re talking about strictly spiritual quests here (unless you’re taking your small group to the Himalayas for this session), the kind of quest the Church of the Larger Fellowship takes you on with their new iPhone (and Android) app “Quest for Meaning.” If you’ve got an iPhone or an Android, you should check it out. In the meantime, here’s this week’s session on Questing.

Chalice/Candle Lighting

Opening Words:

People are looking for something and cannot seem to find it. They say they want more but cannot describe what that more is. This essentially is a spiritual quest. — James W. Jones in In the Middle of this Road We Call Our Life

Check-in/Sharing Topic:

Debbie Ford, author of The Right Questions: Ten Essential Questions to Guide You to an Extraordinary Life, is convinced that our lives can be enriched and transformed by asking the right questions. At a retreat, she was told that we each carry a flame and that hers was very small. The choices she was making were not feeding the fire but diminishing it. The image stayed with her: “Each of us has an internal flame that is the keeper of our life force. Each choice we make either adds to this force, making it stronger, igniting and feeding our flame, or diminishes the force, dampening our internal flame, reducing its power.” Certainly the people who are in our life contribute to this process: some dim the light; others serve as catalysts to a larger and stronger flame. Staying awake is also important. Far too much of the time we are on autopilot.

In her book, Ford examines ten questions which can spur us to greater spiritual growth: a few of these are: Will this choice propel me toward an inspiring future or will it keep me stuck in the past? Will this choice bring me long-term fulfillment or will it bring me short-term gratification? Am I standing in my power or am I trying to please another? Is this an act of self-love or is it an act of self-sabotage? Is this an act of faith or is it an act of fear? Am I choosing from my divinity or am I choosing from my humanity?

Questions: Discuss the importance of questions on a spiritual journey. If you are part of a religious tradition, what is its attitude toward questions?

Check-out/Likes and Wishes

Closing Words:

If we are spiritual beings on a human path rather than human beings who may be on a spiritual path… then life is not only a journey but a pilgrimage or quest as well. When we experience sacred moments it often is not so much a matter of outer geography but of finding soulful places within ourselves.
— Jean Shinoda Bolen in Crossing to Avalon

To Practice This Thought:When you encounter someone who believes he or she has all the answers, vow to honor all the questions.

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

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

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

A friend and colleague of mine, the Rev. Scott McNeill, tweeted this intriguing question yesterday:

It didn’t take me long to find an answer. A couple of possibilities ran through my mind (The Wire, Breaking Bad, Dexter), but I soon realized that the one show that gets my theological wheels turning is Doctor Who. I’m talking about the reincarnated Doctor Who, of course. (No, wait a minute…all of the Doctors are reincarnated in a sense.) I mean the Russell T. Davies version that premiered half a decade ago. I really wasn’t planning on watching it, but after seeing and enjoying Steven Moffat’s retooling of Sherlock on PBS, I found out that Moffat had taken over the reins of the new Who for the fifth season. I definitely wanted to check it out, but I knew I’d need to start at the beginning. Not the William Hartnell beginning. The Christopher Eccleston beginning. And I have to confess that Eccleston’s one of my favorite actors (loved him in 28 Days Later), so getting through the first series was a breeze. Things only got better with David Tennant, of course, and Matt Smith is a blast. In other words, I’m hooked.

It’s curious that so many other Unitarian Universalists are hooked, too. I think there are a couple of reasons why. One, the Doctor continues to regenerate into younger and younger bodies, which I think is a metaphor for what needs to happen with our religious movement. It’s time for the Eleventh Doctor, Amy Pond, and Rory Williams to run the show (and by show, I mean our congregations as well as the entire UUA). And two, the Doctor has turned into quite the Universalist. One of the most amazing scenes I’ve seen in the entire series was at the end of “Last of the Time Lords,” where the most powerful thing the Doctor can do to the Master, the very person who had worked so hard to destroy him, is to say, “I forgive you.”

It reminded me of the story I’ve heard from the Anabaptist tradition about Dirk Willems who, according to Wikipedia, “is most famous for turning around to rescue his pursuer, who had fallen through thin ice while chasing Willems after his escape from prison.” Willems was recaptured and eventually burnt at the stake. Of course, he had no way of knowing for sure that was going to happen when he saved his pursuer. And the Doctor had no way of knowing what might happen if the Master had accepted his forgiveness. (Indeed, the Master does return to threaten the Doctor once again.) In both cases, though, compassion and forgiveness are the driving forces behind their actions, not revenge or retribution. That’s the kind of television I want to watch. And the kind of theology I would believe in.

Last week, the Rev. Justin Schroeder, who serves as senior minister at the First Universalist Church in Minneapolis, posted a two-part interview with me on his new blog, The Well (as in “We drink from wells we did not dig”). If you’re interested, you can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here. In the interview, which was mostly about digital ministry and social media, Justin asked, “Do you have suggestions/best practices for religious liberals just starting to use Twitter, or wanting to start a blog?” It’s a big question, so I punted the answer over here to Phil’s Little Blog on the Prairie. To keep things manageable, I’m limiting this response to the first part of the question—suggestions for using Twitter. I’ll do a post on blogging sometime in the near future. So, getting started with Twitter…

If you’ve never used Twitter in your life, it may seem a bit mysterious. Fortunately there are some good introductions to this microblogging service. One of my favorites is Twitter 101: How should I get started using Twitter? from the Twitter Help Center.  It’ll answer all of your basic questions. And if you’re unsure about the difference between  a “#” and a “@” or a “DM” and an “RT,” it contains a link to their really useful Twitter Glossary.

That basic introduction will help anyone get started with Twitter. But Justin’s question was specifically about religious liberals using Twitter. As Katie Couric once observed, “no one gives a rat’s @$$ that I had a tuna fish sandwich for lunch.” Which I take to mean, “Why even bother to tweet unless you’ve got something interesting to say.” So, how does a religious liberal approach using Twitter meaningfully? Here are a couple of resources I like: @TinyBuddha‘s Ten Mindful Ways to Use Social Media and @FredericBrussat‘s 25 Reasons Why Twitter Is Spiritual.

For some advice from a Unitarian Universalist on how to make Twitter a form of ministry, check out @revnaomi‘s 10 Ways to Practice Ministry with Twitter from her excellent Patheos Experts page. And for a more general look at how Twitter can be used in ministry, here are some highlights from an @sharefaith post (their site seems to be down at the moment, so I’m copying these from a text-only cached version):

  1. To provide encouraging quotes.
  2. To link to edifying articles.
  3. To quote Scripture verses.
  4. To announce Sunday’s sermon topic.
  5. To share prayer requests.
  6. To learn from others.
  7. To listen to others.
  8. To open up doors of discipleship and edification.
  9. To be real.
  10. To be salt and light.

While some of the language here may be a little off-putting for religious liberals, the basic ideas still hold. The author does emphasize that Twitter may not be for everyone, though. “If you get on Twitter, use Twitter. If it’s not your thing, please don’t feel bad.”

Finally, if you want a handy guide on the subject, check out Twitter as a Ministry Tool: The Basics, a white paper from @ChurchJuice. It’s a nice summary of Twitter in general, with some good specific thoughts about how congregations and ministers can use Twitter.

That’s about it for now. There are some more advanced tools congregations and ministers (or anyone else) can use to get the most out of Twitter, and I’ll do a follow-up post about them sometime soon. In the meantime, if you haven’t tried Twitter, give it a shot. And if you have but didn’t know what to do with it, take a look at these resources and think about giving it another try. Done well, it can be a powerful and satisfying way to share and deepen your religious life.

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