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The current installment of the COEC began meeting in 2007.

We are currently on a "break," for no particular reason, and many little reasons - mostly pertaining to life circumstances. If anyone is interested in calling a meeting, feel free to post on the blog, join the google group (see link below) and send an email, or contact either Nancy (nancykj10@yahoo.com) or Jesse (schroeder.jesse@gmail.com) for more information.

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2.09.2009

Sunday Wrap Up

Yesterday we met at the Global Gallery and watched a provocative Nooma video that led into an even more interesting discussion. Questions of the role of breathing God's spirit emerged, critiques of behavior modification churches were leveled, and concepts of loving our neighbors through self-forgetfulness were shared. We welcomed several new voices who added much to the discussion. I received this e-mail regarding the discussion last night and asked if I could share it with the group. I felt I couldn't answer it fully as it touches the core of how our group positions itself as open to atheists and agnostics alike, yet still circles around the Judeo-Christian worldview we are entrenched in. Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

From a face in the crowd:

So, I just realized one thing that seemed not right to me during discussion. It seemed to me like there was an absence of God's presence in the discussion. Now I don't know how you feel about this or what your groups view is on this, but do you ever open group with prayer or pray for God's wisdom and guidance during discussions or even pray for people/each other?. It just seemed like everyone was trying so hard to figure out God and how he fits into our lives and our own thoughts and feelings about the topic today that God just seemed to be left out of it. Anyways, I was just wondering what your thoughts are on this, I seriously realized it just now, I couldn't believe I had completely forgotten to remember God. Scary.

15 comments:

Jesse said...

Thanks Andrew for the great recap of a discussion that went in many different directions. I also really appreciate the comment from "the face in the crowd." Im going to push back a little bit, and I hope my words aren't taken as a defense of the cohort or our procedures, but simply my opinion and perspective.

While I think it may be the case that we can try to understand God with our own minds so much that we may actually "miss" him in some way, in my opinion that is not the case in our discussions. Part of the intention is to address God intellectually (loving with all our minds, perhaps) but also to have the freedom to entertain any question, any possibility, any perspective with the hope of being surprised by God. I know I encountered God in a fresh way yesterday. I thought Adams comment regarding being fully human was especially spirit-led and I amstill wrestling with the implications.

Part of what i think can happen is that we create circumstances in which we think God can work and others in which he can't. Starting with prayer for example or disagreeing on key doctrinal points. We have pre-set spiritual feelings. I've tried in my time with the cohort to experience and expect God in other types of feelings and in the process i feel like I've learned and encountered God a lot - perhaps even more than I ever have before.

Adam Newby said...

I think each person in our little community would give a different response to these questions. Which is why I like being a part of this community. Here's my first reacitons:

I echo Jesse in that many of us who have been brought up in American Christian religion have placed certain requirements on how God can be experienced. We kind of get into this mind frame ... like "okay, this is Sunday. And I'm going to meet with other christians. Therefore there will be prayer, and there will be bible reading. And I will experience God."

What about on a Friday night, when you go out to a restaurant with your friends. And you talk, and laugh, and share troubles, and debate, and enjoy community with one another. And the whole night passes, and you never pray with your friends, you never have a discussion about a Bible passage, and the name of God (as if he had a name. His name is above all names) is never even mentioned. What does that mean? Does that mean we didn't experience God? After all, we are taught that we should worship God always. That in Him, we live, move, and have our very being. Here are 2 ways to look at this. 1) I should feel guilty for enjoying time with my friends and not worshiping God. 2) Being a part of a community, loving my community, being a friend, having relationships is part of experiencing and worshiping God. So why can't we do the same thing on Sunday afternoon. If not praying with my community is wrong on Sunday afternoon, then it should be considered wrong on Friday night, as well. I'll say this: I experienced God yesterday. I experienced sharing 2 hours of my life with a group of people who love. And I think anyone who got to know the individuals in our community would come to see that ... individuals who love. God is love.

Also, it's hard to judge any group of folks on one meeting. Any of us who have moved to a new city and searched for a church or a community to be a part of have experienced this. So, I certainly wouldn't expect a new face to experience that love. I'll also say that we do pray. We have prayed spontaneously at people's houses. We have prayed over Skype with one another. We often pray during our worship times together both liturgically and non-liturgically It's just not done in a controlled, strict, forced, scheduled way.

Finally, I'd say that we don't have a "group view" on this or anything else. We are each unique. And if we had a "group view", it would be that we all think it's okay to have different views on any given subject. I hope each of us would try our best to love and treat humanely any person we find in our midst, no matter his/her views.

Shalom, friend.

Nick said...

I completely agree with Adam on this. I will just add two things. The first, which Adam alluded to in his example of going out with friends, is that God is always present and doesn't need an invocation to be there. The question for ourselves is are we aware of his presence and seeking to live in his presence? A key part of this awareness is prayer. But, (point two) what do we mean by prayer? I will be the first to say that prayer is absolutely vital to a relationship with God. As with any relationship communication is critical. The Bible in fact tells us to pray unceasingly. However, if prayer is always a time of focused, bowed-head, eyes-closed conversation it would be impossible to pray unceasingly. I can't remember if this was mentioned by Bell in the video, but I think we can see unceasing prayer throughout our daily walk with the Lord as sort of rhythmic and kind of like breathing. I am not saying that there is inherent communication with God by merely being, rather it is a discipline that requires practice and intentionality. But with practice the communication becomes instinctual. If you want to try, just see how long you can go in your day truly aware of God's presence. If you are like me it will last about 45 seconds before you are distracted. We were talking on Sunday about our christ-likeness to others becoming more instinctual and less selfishly motivated as we grow closer to God. I think the awareness of God’s presence and unceasing prayer are like this as well and the two are pry closely related. Communication, growth, behavior all evolving during our walk. Coming back from the side track, I think that times of intentional corporate prayer are great and even necessary to a thriving Kingdom community. But that doesn't mean that God has to be invited to "join" every discussion since he is already there. I am not surprised that members of your group are praying with each other outside of Sundays and I would be much more worried if there was some prayer at group on Sunday and that was it, with no interest in supporting one another in prayer during the rest of the week.

It was my first time at one of your meetings and I really enjoyed the stimulating conversation. I thought it was apparent that it is a loving community.
-Nick

Adam Newby said...

Thanks for sharing this, Nick. Valuable insights, indeed. I was blessed by reading this. Thanks for your contributions on Sunday to the discussion. Thank you to all the new faces for your contributions.

Zack said...

Some great comments guys thanks. Adam you can really get on a roll sometimes.

I'd agree that God's presence is always with us and that we try to live prayerfully through loving each other. However don't you ever think that sometimes our discussions seem to get caught up in figuring things out. We might have even decided we can't figure things out, but we're still trying to figure out how living like we don't have it figured out actually works. Some of discussions have even more of that feel then last Sunday's.
I think there could be some benefits to opening in prayer and subjecting ourselves to The Divine. It might set a mood of spiritual rather than solely intellectual discovery. However I think that brings in some other problems and isn't really the answer. I'm not sure how to angle our conversations towards wonderment of God and less of intellectually dissecting how He works.

Scot said...

Hi Face, and welcome! Thank you for sharing your concern and welcoming comment. I think expectations can be different for each of us and that may come into play here. I know the first time I attended the cohort I didn't know what to expect. I was just looking for a place to connect with people who like me had come to a place on their faith journey where there seemed to be more questions than answers. Prior "church experience" had somehow become less than fulfilling and I was longing for an outlet that offered acceptance and companionship to a Christian who realized his understanding of God was too small and wanted to explore outside the box he had been limiting God to. I think I've found that and I like it. It somehow is life giving in a Spiritual sense, it fulfills a need. I too experienced God presence yesterday, especially as I began to realize how holy everybody was making the ground around me:)

I don't think there is a conscious choice made not to pray when we gather. I suspect that we all believe in and practice prayer and would never consider it inappropriate. There seems to be a sense that (as others have commented) God is present whether a invitation is given or not. The context for getting together as a group is moving closer or "drawing near" to Him. We want to do that, but we're not so sure about the "how" to do that. That's a key component. So we are exploring together and trusting that He is leading us forward each stumbling step of the way.

Anonymous said...

Hi all.
I'm a stranger to these parts. Hope it's OK if I jump in this discussion. Regarding Face's comment and the follow ups. I think some of you may have missed the point of his question. That being, do you pray as a group to seek guidance and wisdom. Yes, I think we all get that God is everywhere and doesn't need an invitation. We see and feel God's presence. But does that mean that God is sanctioning everything we do? Does the sincerity of our motives ensure that we are going in the right direction. I fully support wrestling with ideas and concepts that may have always been accepted dogma. Doubt, I think does help to bring us to unexpected places (that can be good or bad) and it can I suppose help build spiritual muscle. But too often I think doubt is not a place where one should linger, and shouldn't really be thought of as a virtue to extoll. Humility and intellectual honesty demand acknowledgement of doubt. But so does sin. I wouldn't try to wear either as a badge of honor.

This quote from Adam, was, I thought interesting:

"What about on a Friday night, when you go out to a restaurant with your friends. And you talk, and laugh, and share troubles, and debate, and enjoy community with one another. And the whole night passes, and you never pray with your friends, you never have a discussion about a Bible passage, and the name of God (as if he had a name. His name is above all names) is never even mentioned. What does that mean? Does that mean we didn't experience God?"

I don't think it means you didn't experience God, but I don't think it necessarily means you did either. All the things mentioned above can be experienced by anyone, religious and non-religious. And experiencing God doesn't necessarily mean honoring God (although it could). Experiencing God may mean just taking from, but not giving to God. If Jesus was any kind of a role model and had any sort of connection with God, even He prayed. I guess he must have mistakenly "created circumstances in which he thought God could work and others in which he couldn't" (as per Adam's insight). Prayer is keenly important if we're really looking for answers and because it brings us into closer communion with a divine mystery. But if all we care about are the questions it's importance is sharply reduced.

I hope some of what I say here hasn't come across as too harsh or strident.

Love to you all!

Adam Newby said...

I think this is a great discussion. I'm really glad Andrew posted this question. Isn't good dialogue great?

Anon, great thoughts. Very valid.

I think our discussions are meant to be just that: discussions. Just like a group of folks would have sitting around a dinner table (or having a cup of coffee together, hehe). Discussions where ANYONE would feel comfortable and non-intimated (christian, agnostic, atheist, etc). I hope I haven't come across like I'm against prayer. I actually think I need more prayer. I just think it's not necessary to have a corporate prayer at discussions which are meant to bring dialogue between people of diverse beliefs and backgrounds. At least not always. Nonetheless, as stated before, I still God's presence and guidance.

When we have our celebrations of the faithful once a month, we usually focus a lot on subjecting ourselves to The Divine. I think Zack raises a valid question in response to Face's question. Should we try to invite The Divine more often? And, if so, how?

For the new faces, this isn't a new subject. It's a subject many of us have been wrestling with.

Jesse said...

I'm really enjoying the blog/dialog as well, and so I'm going to jump in one more time. First, some things that others have said that I really like.

Zack said, "I'm not sure how to angle our conversations towards wonderment of God and less of intellectually dissecting how He works." Such a good phrase! "Wonderment of God" - What is challenging is when we are amazed and wonder at God, but don't reach a resolution. I think that can feel foreign and uncomfortable, when we raise tensions and wonder at how God might be able to hold it all together, but don't reach an agreement by the end of the discussion. Perhaps at that point we rest in the wondering and don't force an intellectual statement as a necessary conclusion.

"Anonymous" said, "Prayer is keenly important if we're really looking for answers and because it brings us into closer communion with a divine mystery." I especially appreciate the idea of coming into closer communion with a (the?) divine mystery. However, I think there are a variety of ways in which we can come into closer connection with God. Prayer is certainly one, and I echo Adam's statement that I desire to pray more.

I would disagree with the comment that "doubt is not a place where one should linger, and shouldn't really be thought of as a virtue to [extol]." There may be a danger in trying to reach a resolution right away that falls short of the depth of the full profundity of the divine mystery. Just because I pray something doesn't mean it is true, right, or divine. In fact, my prayers may often be generated from my conceptions and desires of how I want God to be.

So again, I think about Zack's comment - how can we be satisfied with mystery? Mystery that we are certain we have encountered, that we can describe and engage and even explain to a degree, but still leaves us in awe and wonderment. I almost always leave the discussion sessions still doubting - not doubting the mystery itself, but my comprehension.

I experience that type of an encounter with God when we really dig in, unpack, challenge and question the different ideas that we bring up in our discussion sessions. And for me, personally and in a sense communally, it is a powerful form of prayer because I have encountered God, and am walking away changed.

But I like that we don't say "Amen" at the end of our meetings because it allows for the conversation and encounter to remain open-ended, continuous, and running into the rest of my life.

Greg said...

Thanks "face" for coming to our gathering, and for sharing your thoughts with Andrew afterward.

You wrote, "It just seemed like everyone was trying so hard to figure out God and how he fits into our lives and our own thoughts and feelings about the topic today that God just seemed to be left out of it," and "I couldn't believe I had completely forgotten to remember God." I think these reflections are wholly merited. It's rather ironic actually that our group has chosen a format of engagement that twice a month involves critically-centered discussions when one of Emergent's biggest talking points is a critique of cogito, ergo sum's overly-analytical influence on the Church in the first place. Brian McLaren, through his narrative writings; Peter Rollins, through his parables; Rob Bell, through his noomas; all of these are examples of new ways to engage, yet we still cling to that to which we're so accustomed: trying to figure God out or sometimes even "trying to figure out how living like we don't have it [God] figured out, actually works," as Zack so eloquently framed it.

It's not like I really think an encounter with God demands an abnegation of all my critical faculties; or maybe it does, and I'm too mired in my left-hemisphere to realize it. Like Jesse, I too echo Zack's sentiment that an "angle towards wonderment" is needed.

Chris said...

Hi again everyone.
I'm previously "anonymous". I created an google account so...

I agree, conversation is the best.

Jesse said: "There may be a danger in trying to reach a resolution right away that falls short of the depth of the full profundity of the divine mystery."

Yes and no. I think it's folly to think that one could ever "reach the depth of the full profundity of the divine mystery." No matter how much time you took. Maybe that's in fact what you were saying. When I said I didn't think it was wise to linger in a place called doubt, I didn't mean to imply that a person should try to reach a resolution right away. Not at all. Haste in almost any area is surely disastrous (except maybe the Olympics).

I think what I meant to say was this. Religious people often refer to themselves as "pilgrims." I think maybe even me included. All pilgrims have always had a destination in mind. They were going "somewhere". The journey may have been long, arduous, or maybe even unexpectedly joyous at times. But the pilgrim had a restlessness for a vision, a conception of "home". He knew he had to journey, but wasn't content with the journey.
A pilgrim wasn't, isn't a Nomad.
When we linger in doubt, or maybe better stated, when we fall in love with doubt, we become Nomads. Is living the life of a Nomad, worse than the life of a pilgrim? This may be fodder for more conversation.

Sarah said...

'Face' here,
So, I’m kind of new to the whole blog community and wasn’t really expecting so many insightful and carefully articulated responses. I find it really exciting, I had no idea how people would respond, but I really appreciate all of the comments so far...all have touched on things that I've never really thought about before or presented alternative viewpoints on issues that I thought I had resolved for myself . Specifically, Jesse’s comment about ‘being surprised by God’ really made to start to wonder about other situations where I might have encountered God, but didn’t realize it because I wasn’t expecting it. I agree that sometimes we can narrow our view of God or put him in a box by expecting him to only act in certain ways or in certain situations, and I find that I constantly have to remind myself that God is so much bigger than anything I could ever conceive of. I too really liked the phrase ‘wonderment of God’ It reminds me of how awesome and amazing our God is and how worthy he is of our praise and worship-his ways are higher than our ways. I don’t know, but I wouldn’t want to worship anything or anyone that I could reduce down through my own intellectual effort in order to understand.
After reading the comments and talking to Andrew I do have a better understanding of how the group operates and I understand that part of what makes the group so great is the fact that it’s just discussion. I personally feel like it’s a safe place for me to come with all of my questions and doubts and not feel like I’m going to be reprimanded in some way.
Anyways, just wanted to introduce myself and say thank you for all the wonderful comments.

Adam Newby said...

Wow. You couldn't have said it better. Worthy of praise, indeed. Isn't that awesome?

Zack said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zack said...

I've deleted my comment here and reposted it on the main page.