Picking up on the last posting about the story of the 3 Russian monks, I was thinking about what "spiritual development" might mean and how it is achieved. I have known people with graduate degrees in divinity, who were spiritually lost. Their lifestyles were devoid of anything that would represent a Christian faith, or even a Christian world view. People who could quote passage and verse, or could share the thinking of Bonhoeffer, or explain Niebuhr's Christ and Culture
, but lacked a basic faith.
I have also known people who could barely write their own names, perhaps have memorized a couple of Bible passages, but were an example of a profound faith in God that impacted every area of their lives. Their conversation revolved around God and church and faith. Their questions were largely about how they could grow in faith, or as one friend often asks, "Do you think I am doing better than I used to do?"
As I think about the kind of Christians I want to help develop, I would have to choose the latter. But I wonder sometimes about the kind of Christians our church structures are currently developing. I have said this before, but I am even more convinced that if we want to learn about love, we should learn by doing more than talking about love, or memorizing passages about love. We will produce a certain type of Christian when our knowledge is not developed in a more hands on type of a situation. Everything is one step removed from reality with the assumption being that if I read 1 Corinthians 13, I will be able to make the connection on my own. That I will generalize my learning, to use a special education term. But we have learned in special education that in order for some learning to take place, it must occur in the actual situation. That is, if you want to teach me to exchange money in a store, you need to take me to the store, or I won't learn. I cannot learn some things under simulated conditions...I need to be in the actual situation.
So I guess what I am advocating is a kind of a spiritual curriculum. A curriculum that is not knowledge based as in a public school classroom (what much of religious education looks like) but a different kind of approach. One that is more practical, more applied that teaches me in the actual situation so I don't need to generalize my learning. I am learning directly and will therefore be able to make the direct application.
Take love for example. What does a situation look like where people have to really make an effort to love others? What occurs in such a situation that changes people? What if I was taught about how to love people with challenging people in the room, in my midst? I will then either learn to love those people, or I will exit the difficult to love person or exit myself. Largely, in the past it has been the difficult to love person who has been asked to leave, and I have not learned the lesson about love. It is also useful to consider situations where we are not confronted with people who have been characterized as "difficult to love" and think about what people are learning in situations where "difficult to love" people are excluded from places where people are being taught about love?
People who act atypically, for whatever the reason (disability, sin, whatever) teach me about love. I think about the students I taught who were emotionally disturbed. In their rantings and swearings at me, I came to understand that their rantings and swearings were their disability talking. I wasn't always perfect, but I was softened by them, and learned to love them. Their rantings and swearings were less threatening to me because I came to understand them and love them in spite of their emotional disturbance. I was changed, I learned to love. I am now drawn to such people. I am still rejected at times, and I still am impatient, but I was forced to learn to love them, and I was the beneficiary of the lesson (I hope they were to some extent as well). The end result is that I was softened. I learned another aspect of the love of Christ. I could have studied love all day long, but the real learning came to me when I was confronted with people who caused me to put my head knowledge, and the faith I claimed to have into practice.
People with various disabilities will do that. I don't say that because I find them particularly difficult to love, but they will act atypically, they will take me out of my comfort zone, and as a result, I will grow. I want that growth for everyone in the church. For such growth to occur, there needs to be a change in the way that we do church, the way that we do Sunday School, the way that we do Bible study, the way that we do missions, the way that we do most things in the church. Instead of learning about how to love people, love people who others have not loved. In order to help the poor, don't have speakers come to tell you about the poor, have poor people come to your church and be in your Bible study. They may know a great deal more about faith and how it is acted out in daily life than you do with your 60K per year income. We may know the head knowledge, but they just might know the faith knowledge.