Saturday, July 12, 2014

2. Being Human (We Make the Road by Walking)

Engage

1.  What one thought or idea from today's lesson especially intrigued, provoked, disturbed, challenged, encouraged, warmed, warned, helped, or surprised you?

2.  Share a story about a time when someone played god and judged you, or a time when you played god and judged someone else.

3.  Tell us about a person who reflected God to you in some special way.

4.  Think about your hands.  What is something kind and creative you can do with your hands?  What is something mean or harmful you can do with your hands?  How can the same hands do both kind and mean things?

Activate

5.  If part of being image bearers of God means that we represent God in caring for the Earth, it's important to learn about your corner of the Earth.  You know your postal address (nation, state, city, postal code).  What is your environmental address?  Learn about your watershed, what makes it special, and the environmental issues it faces.

Meditate

6.  Observe a few moments of silence.  Let a silent prayer rise from within you.


We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation ~ by Brian D. McLaren, 2014

Friday, July 11, 2014

1. Awe and Wonder (We Make the Road by Walking)

Engage

1.  What one thought or idea from today's lesson especially intrigued, provoked, disturbed, challenged, encouraged, warmed, warned, helped, or surprised you?

2.  Share a story about a time when you most felt the humble awe and joyful wonder described in this chapter.

3.  What is the most beautiful place you have ever seen?  What was so special about it?

4.  What is your favorite animal?  Why do you like it so much?

Activate

5.  This week, choose one facet of creation that you love — birds, trees, weather, soil, water, light, children, sex, aging, sleep.  Observe it, think about it, learn about it every chance you can, with this question in mind:  if that element of creation were your only Bible, what would it tell you about God?

Meditate

6.  Observe a few moments of silence.  Let a silent prayer of gratitude arise from within you.

We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation ~ by Brian D. McLaren, 2014

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Spiritual formation ~ a year-long quest

Even though Brian McLaren writes from a Christian perspective, you can use his book to become more alive whether you are Christian or something else or no religion at all.  The flap promises "this book will inspire and activate you in your spiritual journey" even if you feel out of place in traditional church circles.

We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation ~ by Brian D. McLaren, 2014
This book puts tools in our hands to create a life-changing learning community.  The fifty-two (plus a few) weekly readings guide an individual or a group of friends through a year of rich study, interactive learning, and personal growth.  Discussion questions are designed to challenge, stimulate, and encourage, so that we can re-imagine what it means to live joyfully and responsibly.  Our goal is to move toward justice, creativity, and peace on our spiritual journey.
Part I ~ Alive in the Story of Creation
1.  Awe and Wonder
2.  Being Human
3.  A World of Meaning
4.  The Drama of Desire
5.  In Over Our Heads
6.  Plotting Goodness
7.  It's Not Too Late
8.  Rivalry or Reconciliation?
9.  Freedom!
10.  Getting Slavery Out of the People
11.  From Ugliness, a Beauty Emerges
12.  Stories That Shape Us
13.  The Great Conversation
First Quarter Queries

Part II ~ Alive in the Adventure of Jesus
14.  Promised Land, Promised Time
15.  women on the Edge
16.  Keep Herod in Christmas
17.  Surprising People
17A.  The Light Has Come (Christmas Eve)
18.  Sharing Gifts (Sunday on or after Christmas Day)
19.  Jesus coming of Age
20.  Join the Adventure!
21.  Significant and Wonderful
22.  Jesus the Teacher
23.  Jesus and the Multitudes
24.  Jesus and Hell
25.  Jesus, Fiolence, and Power
26.  Making It Real
Second Quarter Queries

Part III ~ Alive in a Global Uprising
27.  A New Identity
28.  A New Path to Aliveness
29.  Your Secret Life
30.  Why We Worry, Why We Judge
31.  The Choice Is Yours
32.  Peace March (Palm Sunday)
32A.  A Table. A Basin. Some Food. Some Friends. (Holy Thursday)
32B.  Everything Must Change (Good Friday)
32C.  Doubt. Darkness. Despair. (Holy Saturday)
33.  The Uprising Begins (Easter Sunday)
34.  The Uprising of Fellowship
35.  The Uprising of Discipleship
36.  The Uprising of Worship
37.  The Uprising of Partnership
38.  The Uprising of Stewardship
39.  Whatever the Hardship, Keep Rising Up!
Third Quarter Queries

Part IV ~ Alive in the Spirit of God
40.  The Spirit Is Moving!  (Pentecost Sunday)
41.  Moving with the Spirit
42.  Spirit of Love: Loving God
43.  Spirit of Love: Loving Neighbor
44.  Spirit of Love: Loving Self
45.  Spirit of Unity and Diversity
46.  Spirit of Service
47.  The Spirit Conspiracy
48.  Spirit of Power
49.  Spirit of Holiness
50.  Spirit of Life
51.  Spirit of Hope
52.  God in the End
Fourth Quarter Queries

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Sixth Step ~ Action

Questions

1.  Think of "spots of time" in your life "when somebody went out of their way to help" you.  Share some of those stories (p. 112).

2.  Also, share "the effects of the unkind remarks that have been a corrosive presence" in your mind (p. 113).

3.  How often are you conscious of thinking or behaving in a hurtful way?  Has this consciousness helped you to stop or shift your thoughts or actions?

4.  How often are you aware of or do you act on the positive or negative version of the Golden Rule?  How might you incorporate it more consciously in your life?

Pick up a stone to carry with you this month, to remind you to take action.
Actions

1.  "Make a resolution to act once every day in accordance with the positive version of the Golden Rule:  'Treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself '" (p. 114).

2.  "Resolve each day to fulfill the negative version of the Golden Rule:  'Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you'" (p. 114).

3.  Visit charterforcompassion.org to read other's stories of compassion and/or add one of your own.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Fifth Step ~ Mindfulness

These students walking and texting are not mindful of each other or the greenery around them.  Will we have a whole generation whose only connection is through hand-held devices?  These may seem funny to us, but walking and tweeting and texting and driving don't mix.

Lots of people aren't paying attention these days.  Basically, that means they are not being mindful.  I have seen people at restaurants on their mobile devices, not paying attention to each other.  Once I watched a mother and her young child, whose feet didn't reach the floor as he sat at the table, and they never spoke during their meal.  Both were playing with their iPads or droids, or whatever they had.

Questions

1.  Identify someone who regularly teaches or practices mindfulness and/or meditation.  Ask that person to provide information about their practice.  If we were meeting in person, we could ask someone to lead our group in a guided meditation.

2.  "The purpose of mindfulness ... is to help us detach ourselves from the ego by observing the way our minds works" (p. 105).  Have you ever practiced mindfulness techniques or have you ever meditated?  If so, would you share how these practices have affected your life?

3.  This is not a meditation we should perform in solitude, apart from our ordinary routines.  In mindfulness we mentally stand back and observe our behavior while we are engaged in the normal process of living in order to discover more about the way we interact with people, what makes us angry and unhappy, how to analyze our experiences, and how to pay attention to the present moment" (p. 106).  How often have you noticed your reactions as they arise, rather than allowing your emotions or reactions to control you?  This month, practice mindfulness and report on your experience in the comments.

Actions

1.  If you are not familiar with mindfulness meditation, check out one or more books listed in Suggestions for Further Reading on page 215 of our book:  Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong.

2.  A number of online resources may be helpful.  The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Mindful Awareness Research Center has a series of downloadable meditations of varying lengths at http://marc.ucla.edu/body.cfm?id=22.  Set a time each day to try one or more of these meditations.

Bonnie's suggestion

1.  On my book blog, I have been posting Monday Mindfulness ideas.  The link will take you to the whole collection of blog posts.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Fourth Step ~ Empathy

In packing to move to St. Louis, I've been sorting through all kinds of stuff I need to toss or give away.  Just this morning, on this third Monday when I promised to post new questions each month, I found two sets of audio cassettes about compassion that I had forgotten someone gave me:
  1. Awakening Compassion: Meditation Practice for Difficult Times ~ by Pema Chödrön, 1995
  2. The Only Way: From Cruelty to Compassion Through Inner Transformation ~ by Gerald May, 2002
Too bad I didn't find these last week, before I drove to and from St. Louis.  The trip is about eight hours in each direction.  I was well on my way before I realized I should have brought something to listen to while driving, especially since radio reception is spotty most of the way.  These tapes would have been perfect.

Questions

1.  Commenting on the futility of the Buddha's father's attempt to shield him from suffering, Armstrong writes, "As long as we close our minds to the pain that presses in upon us on all sides, we remain imprisoned in delusion, because this artificial existence bears no relation to reality" (p. 91).  What defenses do you use to shield yourself from suffering?  Do these defenses help or hinder your capacity for compassion?

2.  "Art calls us to recognize our pain and aspirations and to open our minds to others.  Art helps us — as it helped the Greeks — to realize that we are not alone; everybody else is suffering" (p. 98).  Discuss a piece of art, a performance, book, or movie that has helped you develop empathy toward others.

3.  Armstrong shares the story of Patty Anglin who "always claimed that the misery she experienced in a harsh boarding school, where she had learning difficulties, prepared her for her life's work" caring for children abandoned by their parents.  Was your choice of an avocation or vocation influenced by difficulties you exp;erienced?  Share your story.


Actions

1.  Spend a day "tuning into" how people around you are feeling.

2.  It is often difficult to witness suffering and to engage with someone in distress, especially when we are preoccupied with our own concerns.  Notice, over the next month, when you want to turn away.  Instead, remember how it feels to be hurt, depressed, angry, helpless, and distraught.  Then remember what it was like to have someone be kind and caring toward you.  Offer that person a kind gesture (pp. 101-102).

3.  Follow the instructions on page 102 to add three more stages to the meditation on the "immeasurable minds of love."

Facebook (added 4-24-14)

I shared this story with Donna, Shirley, Mary, and Alison on Facebook.  Let's include our responses here, so we can preserve them.  What do any of you readers think of what this woman did?
Jessica Eaves from Guthrie (Oklahoma - USA) recently had her wallet stolen by a man while she was grocery shopping.  Most people in that situation would immediately get the authorities involved, but she found a way to resolve her problem herself.

"I saw this gentleman down the aisle from me," Jessica tells us.  "He walked behind me, and when I got a couple of aisles over, I realized my wallet was gone."

"I spotted him in a crowded aisle and approached him," she continues.  "I'm a pretty out-there personality, but I was quiet and calm."

"I said to him, 'I think you have something of mine.  I'm gonna give you a choice.  You can either give me my wallet and I'll forgive you right now, and I'll even take you to the front and pay for your groceries."

The alternative?  Jessica reporting him to the police.

"He reached into his hoodie pocket and gave me my wallet," she recalls, adding that the man was extremely grateful for her help and forgiveness.

"He started crying when we walked up to the front," she says.  "He said he was sorry about 20 times by the time we went from the pickle aisle to the front.  He told me he was desperate."

She spent $27 on his groceries, which included milk, bread, bologna, crackers, soup, and cheese.  "The last thing he said was, 'I'll never forget tonight.  I'm broke, I have kids, I'm embarrassed, and I'm sorry.'"

"Some people are critical because I didn't turn him in, but sometimes all you need is a second chance," says Jessica.

She adds, "My brother and I lost my dad to suicide when I was seven, and I remember him telling me years ago that no matter what I become in life, to always, always be kind."

Source: Yahoo News
— with Lisa N Troy SmithWard.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Third Step ~ Compassion for Yourself

It's time to think about ourselves.  Not as in "I'm the most important, so give me everything I want."  Having compassion for self means the same thing as on a plane, where you're told to put on your own oxygen mask before trying to help others.  We must take care of ourselves *so that* we can spread the compassion to others.  Okay, I'll go read the chapter now and see if my analysis comes anywhere close to what Karen Armstrong says in Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.  Just so you know, I'm not teaching this book to you, but studying it alongside you.  We're learning compassion together.

Questions

1. How has a lack of self-compassion affected your life?  When are you least compassionate toward yourself?  What traits do you most criticize yourself for?

2.  We are all imperfect.  We are all influenced by our reptilian brain that reacts instinctively to real or imagined threats and can cause us to behave badly.  We are all influenced by environmental factors that affect our behavior toward others.  And we all have a "dark side" (pp. 78-79).  How does knowing this help or hinder your ability to cultivate and practice compassion?

3.  Armstrong discusses how suffering is a part of life, yet "in the West we are often encouraged to think positively, brace up, stiffen our upper lip, and look determinedly on the bright side of life" (p. 81).  Think about your experience navigating a difficult or tragic time in your life.  What would have been most helpful to you at that time?  How important was having someone just listen to or be with you?  What is your experience offering help to others in difficult times?  What helps or hinders you from being fully present when those around you face difficulties?

4.  "When people attack us, they are probably experiencing a similar self-driven anxiety and frustration; they too are in pain.  In time, if we persevere, the people we fear or envy become less threatening, because the self that we are so anxious to protect and promote at their expense is a fantasy that is making us petty and smaller than we need to be" (p. 88).  What does it mean to remove yourself from the center of your world?

Actions

1. Make a list of your positive qualities, good deeds, talents, and achievements.

2.  Our own suffering often increases our compassion for others.  Acknowledge the difficulties and suffering you've endured and how you used or might use your experience to help others.  For instance, if you've experienced a serious illness or took care of someone who did, consider volunteering to help others navigate a similar circumstance.

3.  Practice the Buddha's meditation on the four immeasurable minds of love, on page 85.
"...while he was working toward enlightenment, the Buddha devised a meditation that made him conscious of the positive emotions of friendship (maitri), compassion (karuna), joy (mudita), and 'even-mindedness' (upeksha) that lay dormant in his mind.  He then directed this 'immeasurable' love to the ends of the earth."
4.  Visit charterforcompassion.org and make a commitment to compassion — perhaps self-compassion.

[Bonnie's NOTE:  I've re-worded this 4th one slightly because the link, which had /join tacked onto the end, didn't work.  I've linked us to the Charter for Compassion page, where you can sign the Charter and read all sorts of interesting stuff.]