FIVE DISCUSSION TOPICS
What are your favorites?
1. Parish priorities. See special page.
2. FINDING SOUL FOOD IN THE MEDIA
When I told my sister that one of my greatest pleasures was to watch television, she was horrified. Yes, I find some of the PBS programs very informative and even inspiring. When there is nothing of interest on television, I can watch a documentary from Netflix. I also regularly check the Catholic television networks, only to find that there is rarely anything of interest to me, while there is proselytizing against abortion nearly every day.
For years I have recorded and downloaded television programs to show in class. There is an increasing push to make teaching a multi-media affair. My great source of inspiration is the web, mainly foreign. Nearly every week I watch Sunday celebrations where everybody sings, in churches decorated with great art, and with inspiring homilies.
“I have come to think that social media is not an optional extra, but rather a central part of the church’s mission. Social media will be integral to the Plenary Council” of the church of Australia in 2020 (Archbishop Coleridge, Australia). Yes, social networking has become a major aspect of social life – hence it has to be part of the kingdom of God in the making. The cell phone generation finds most of its soul food in the social media. The Arab spring and the electoral victory of Donald Trump were made possible by the social media. Adults should not be behind the times of their children.
DISCUSSION: Where do you find soul food on television, CDs, your cell phone, and the internet? How important is your social networking – for professional reasons besides keeping in touch with family and friends?
3. WHY GO TO CHURCH: AN ANSWER
A church goer wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper complaining that it made no sense to go to church every Sunday. He wrote:
“I’ve been going for 30 years now, and in that time I have heard something like 3,000 sermons, but for the life of me, I can’t remember a single one of them. So, I think I ‘m wasting my time, and the preachers and the priests are waiting theirs by giving sermons at all.”
After a lengthy debate, someone wrote this clincher::
“I’ve been married for 30 years now. In that time my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. But, for the life of me, I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals. But I know this: They all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me these meals, I would be physically dead today. Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today!” (copied from a parish bulletin)
Is this a fair reply? What would your students say about both the question and the answer?
4. SPIRITUAL BUT NOT RELIGIOUS
1. People who claim to be “spiritual but not religious” often imply that religious people are actually not very spiritual. If this is the way they perceive things – that religious people are not spiritual – aren’t they right to be “spiritual and not religious” and oppose those who seem to be “religious and not spiritual?”
2. What is the meaning of “being spiritual and religious?” What is the meaning of being “spiritual?” and what is being”religious?”
3. One might define “spiritual” as the equivalent of “spiritual but not religious” (according to #1 above.) Such a definition makes possible a dialogue with secularists, because each side can use its own variety of “spirituality.”
This leads to two new questions:
4. Is there a universal spirituality? If yes, what is it?
5. To what extent is “spiritual and religious” understood mainly as 1) orthodox doctrine (according to the CCC) 2. devotions and rituals (e.g. Mass attendance) and 3) a religious social ideology, whether conservative or liberal (Syllabus of Errors vs. a liberationist theology)?
This is a common topic in class discussions. How do you handle it?
Broadly defined spirituality for me is the taming of instincts, the control of passions, the disciplining of desire. This conception is the core of education. It is the spirit of creation in evolution and civilizations. It is the wisdom of the sapiential literature. It is the cultivation of moral and intellectual virtues in Aristotalianism and virtue ethics. A definition of Christian spirituality would be discipleship following Jesus Christ. It includes the broader definition of spirituality at a higher level.
What is your position?
5. SALVATION RECONSIDERED
I draw on the work of William Loewe, (in Lex Crucis) who himself was inspired by Swedish Lutheran Gustaf Aulén in his Christus Victor (1931). Basically, the various soteriologies can be classified into three or four broad categories.
The first millennial saw the development of salvation histories, e.g. in Irenaeus. Salvation is seen as the unfolding of a narrative beginning with creation continuing with the glorification of God through theosis, leading to the recapitulation of all things in the New Adam. This kind of narrative is appealing to the imagination, hence its wide use in religious education. It relies heavily on biblical knowledge; it is widely used among evangelicals.
With Anselm, theology is freed from the figurative language of salvation stories and becomes rational discourse. Origen’s imagery of ransom or redemption from the power of Satan is transformed into a rational discourse about sin and satisfaction in light of the imperative of honor, the corner stone of the feudal ethic. Incarnation in Cur Deus is seen as a locus theologicus rather than a historical event. Systematic theology was born; it prevailed from Scholasticism down to today.
A different form of soteriology runs from Abelard to Luther to Schleiermacher: salvation as personal experience. Historical theology dethrones systematics, and faith becomes piety, that is, a religious experience. John Wesley’s experience of his “heart strangely warmed” is at the core of Evangelicalism. Inner healing in Pentecostalism and Orthodoxy adds another dimension to this tradition.
I would add one more type of soteriology, that of liberation theology which takes the world rather than the self as the locus of salvific transformation. This form of theologizing has animated the civil rights movement in the U.S. and social transformation in Latin America.
Each of these forms of soteriology has its advantages. In preaching and teaching, salvation as personal experience seems most desirable to me, because it shows authenticity. Most often I hear abstract generalities which may hide a lack of deep personal experiences or suggest a reluctance to share one's inner life. A testimony is often more convicing than a lecture, although both are useful. On the other hand, liberation theology often turns into socio-political ideology and social polemics.which betray the cause of social justice
Where do you stand? Do you share faith experiences? To what extent is social reform today mostly a political discourse?