Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

2/20 2014

No More Monologues

 

The Art of Spiritual Conversation:

We do ourselves a great disservice in the church when we do not teach the art of spiritual conversation. Talking about spiritual things cannot be something that is relegated to pastors. The language of Christianity cannot be something that is merely sung in worship songs and uttered in ancient liturgical sayings.

When people’s primary experience in the church is that of being passive recipients, then we have not prepared them to take Jesus seriously. When individuals are told to sit down and shut up or only use other people’s words to articulate what they believe, then we do not actually invite them into a place of authentic wrestling with what they believe. If the invitation into the messiness of the Christian journey is not extended at church, the necessary skills are not taught and celebrated, then it is no wonder that the people of God who are searching and seeking meaning and substance will walk away from the church finding it to be a dull and dry vessel with very little good news to share.

I am not advocating that we throw out the past by doing away with things like the Confessions and the Hymns. What I am saying is that they in themselves are not the end all. It is not enough to say and sing the “right” words. The words of those who have come before us and the words of pastors today preaching and teaching the Biblical text are not untouchable. They provide us with an opportunity to do what Christians have been doing for centuries now…

To figure out what in fact we do believe. They invite us to articulate our faith not in the words of others but in our own words. They invite us to be a part of a living faith right now in 21st Century America. Spiritual conversation refuses to settle for wrote memorization. Spiritual conversations move from consumerism to engagement. Spiritual conversations move us away from being isolated spiritual beings and force us into frustratingly human relationship. They require humility and vulnerability as we share our questions and our ideas.

By Simeon Harrar ’14, Director of Student Ministries at First Presbyterian Church in Lancaster, PA

Read more about Simeon at his website: http://www.simeonharrar.com/

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1/23 2014

Questions are the answer?

Questions are the saving grace of our Wednesday night youth group at Homestead United Presbyterian Church.

To provide a bit of context, our group meets at 6:00 p.m., we share a meal prepared by a gracious church member, we play an ice breaker game, and then we have an hour-long Bible study! I give a short 10-15 minute presentation on the passage chosen for the week, after which the remaining 45 minutes is just a traditional Bible study. This includes ages ranging from 6th grade to the youth group adult helpers whose age I prefer to leave unannounced.

The Bible study, (rightly so) has become the climax of our night. It is truly a magnificent experience and has helped all who are present grow in our knowledge of scripture and our relationship with God. Often times I wonder how this is possible. Yes of course through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but how does this Bible study with such a wide range of ages not become another lecture from the older generation to the younger? The answer for our group is found in an inquisitive teenage girl who is unashamed to ask the “tough” question and is unwilling to settle for any answer that is theologically and philosophically flawed and void of truth. (My own interpretation but I think it fits.)

When I started my internship at HUPC, I was warned about this inquisitive girl. The members groaned with pains of agony when her, and her brother, who has moved on to college, were mentioned. Sudden circumstances left the church without a youth pastor – forcing the members to pick up the burden. So, in their defense they were not trained, nor had they even considered some of the deep questions that were asked.

As someone who studied religion in undergrad and now on my way out of seminary, I was excited for the challenge and was not disappointed. To paint a picture, this young lady is home schooled, loves to read especially – Harry Potter – and carries an authentic vibe with everything she does. She has not been corrupted by the awkward social standards found in the school halls, and she is not burdeedn with the concern of other people’s opinion. It really is a blessing to the whole group. Were it not for her, our group would not be a Bible study, just a lecture.

Nonetheless, the greatest blessing in her questions is the fact that she really searches for the truth without the critical tone I’ve come to expect from my fellow classmates. She simple wants to grow in her faith; and the result, she is the one who has grown the most in my short time with the group. She is the brightest apprentice of the group, and has pushed me, the youth workers, and the other students to think deeper about everything we confess. This young lady brings to life the words of Jesus, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you (Matt. 7:7),” not only for herself, but for our entire group and I couldn’t be more thankful.

Written by Damian Berry, M.A. student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

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12/27 2013

God Is With Us

  Praise the Lord! 
          How good it is to sing praises to our God; 
          for God is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.  Psalm 147:1

Singing! Christmas nights were filled with singing when I was growing up.  Several generations of my family would gather in my grandmother’s kitchen or living room and sing. As children, my cousins, siblings, and I would reluctantly join in with the choir of voices, because it was Christmas day and “there should be singing;” it was fitting. The vocal playlist would range from “Joy to the World,” to “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and favorite Gospel melodies.

There, in the room, amidst the messiness of crumpled wrapping papers, half eaten dishes and sparkling lights, voices would emerge sometimes off key but always in concord. This is where the family tradition of Christmas singing began and continued year after year. The older I became the better I understood that something more than crumbled wrapping papers, half eaten dishes, and misplaced notes were in the room.

There, in the room, amidst the year’s joys and sorrows, hopes and disappointments, fulfillment and ongoing yearnings, singing was proclamation; singing became testimony; and singing reshaped reality. God is near! God is here! God is with us! Through singing we brushed up against and encountered an intangible wholeness, peace, and solace. Through singing, praises were offered to a gracious God who is inclined to come close to us. Through singing we were inclined to continue living in the beauty and messiness of life.

Today, on December 27th we no longer wait in Advent anticipation. We celebrate God’s presence with us. God has drawn near and God draws us near. We live in the midst of life’s beauty and messiness with the presence of God. We look ahead to a world shaped and reshaped by the presence of God. This is the joy and bidding of Christmas.

May we find wholeness, deep peace, and solace in the presence of God; may we be shaped and reshaped by the presence of God; and may we continue to shape and reshape the beauty and messiness of life with the help of God.

…and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”  Matthew 1:23

Written by: The Rev. Dr. Lisa Thompson, Assistant Professor of Homiletics at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

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