Monthly Archives: August 2015

A learning tour

Earlier this summer I was accepted to be a part of a twelve day learning tour in November to Israel/Palestine.  Mennonite Central Committee has been leading these tours for the last few years, giving church leaders the opportunity to become acquainted first hand with the daily realities of life there.  Historically Mennonites have worked especially closely with Palestinian Christians and Israeli peace groups.

This will be my third trip to that region, also 2000 and 2004.  Because I find it easier to sympathize with Palestinians, who continue to be on the receiving end of so much injustice through home demolitions, middle of the night house raids, harassment at checkpoints, bombings of residential areas, etc, part of my preparation for the trip includes gaining a better understanding of Israeli/Jewish perspectives and their version of history.  One way will be to initiate some conversations with a few rabbis in the Columbus area.

Another will be through reading a highly recommended book called My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel (2013).  The author, Ari Shavit, is from a family with long ties to the Zionist movement, himself a complex mix of Israeli journalist, peacenik, historian, and poetic storyteller.  I’m about a quarter of the way through the book, just at the point when the Zionist Jews in Palestine are hearing rumors of Hitler’s implementation of the Final Solution for exterminating Jews across Europe, which went into full motion in 1942.

Here are the opening words of the book:

For as long as I can remember, I remember fear.  Existential fear.  The Israel I grew up in – the Israel of the mid-1960s – was energetic, exuberant, and hopeful.  But I always felt that beyond the well-to-do houses and upper-middle-class lawns of my hometown lay a dark ocean.  One day, I dreaded, that dark ocean would rise and drown us all.

And some words from the following page, after Shavit recounted a conversation as a nine year old with his dad in 1967, when he feared the Arabs would destroy Israel.

For as long as I can remember, I remember occupation.  One a week after I asked my father whether the Arab nations were going to conquer Israel, Israel conquered the Arab-populated regions of the West Bank and Gaza.  A month later, my parents, my brother, and I embarked on a first family tour of the occupied cities of Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Hebron.  Wherever we went, there were remains of burned Jordanian jeeps, trucks, and military vehicles.  White flags of surrender hung over most houses.  Palestinian children my age and younger had fear in their eyes.  Their parents appeared devastated and humiliated.  Within a few weeks the mighty Arabs were transformed into victims, while the endangered Israelis became conquerors.

I find it important to resist the false choice of whether to be pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian, as well as the false choice of whether to be a bridge builder (and thus, somehow a “neutral party”) or an advocate (and thus, somehow, choosing sides).  I would hope to be pro-Human, pro-peace, pro-justice, and perhaps more concretely, pro-story.  To be a witness.

Because the trip is in November, the experience will be fresh as we enter the Advent season.  I hope to incorporate stories of Palestinian and Israeli families, and those struggling for a just peace, into our worship together as we enter that season of hope and anticipation of love’s birth in impossible places.

Spirituality types

The Alban Institute puts out helpful essays about church life and this week I came across an archived article titled, “Spiritual Identity and Worship Planning.”  The author draws from the work of Urban T. Holmes who wrote a book called Discover Your Spiritual Type which names four types of spiritual identity: mystic, feeling, thinking, and visionary.  These could also be named contemplative, charismatic, intellectual, and crusader (that is a lousy word with its association with violent wars, but it essentially means mission-oriented, visionary).  The basic argument is that people are drawn into the Divine in different ways and that each person has one or two primary ways through which they do this.

This of course relates to worship services.  Contemplatives value practices such as silence and meditation.  Charismatics openly express emotion and value impassioned singing and speaking.  Intellectuals want to be challenged to think in new ways.  Visionaries look to be propelled into acts of service and justice-making.  It strikes me that the high church and low church traditions also present at least two other spirituality types, respectively.  Sacramental spirituality values ritual, liturgy, and sacraments as a path to God.  Communitarian spirituality values relational connectedness and human diversity as a manifestation of the Kin-dom of God.

There are no doubt more ‘spirituality types,’ but we get the idea.  These kinds of differences are the reason one person can walk away from a worship service and consider it deeply reverent and renewing, while another person would consider it boring and hollow.  Or someone may find worship mentally stimulating and thought-provoking while another experiences it as stuffy and heady.  One person is motivated and charged while another is annoyed at feeling emotionally manipulated.

I have mixed feelings about these kinds of typologies.  It’s useful to see things broken down in this way and to claim certain types/gifts for oneself.  It’s certainly helpful to know the ways one is most naturally drawn into awareness of God’s presence.  I’m also wary of drawing too sharp of lines – and I’m personally not content with choosing one type at the expense of others.

My hunch is that, of the four types named in the article, CMC is most comfortable in the visionary and intellectual spheres.  We put a strong emphasis on the outward expression of faith (visionary) and people appreciate thinking new thoughts.  But I also note, for example, that there were a number of charismatic outbursts during Mark’s licensing service and that people commented afterward how energizing and freeing this was.  We also try to leave spaces for silence and acknowledge that God is just as much in the space between the words as in the words themselves, although pure contemplatives would not be fulfilled with this.  We’re certainly a communitarian bunch, no doubt about that.

Along with our collective spirituality, it’s worthwhile considering what type/s you might be, and how this relates not only to your worship experience, but also to how you nurture your faith throughout the week.  Perhaps small groups emphasize and practice a certain spirituality type that helps further develop that area for its members.  People are indeed different, and we need the full orb awareness and practice of the spiritual life in order to be the Body of Christ.