Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Joy of Giving Up

I haven't given up a lot this Lent. Nothing, really. No attempts at systematic self-deprivation this year.

Well...I take that back. I have given something up. I have given up the fantasy -- the "wish-dream," to sound Bonhoefferian -- that the ELCA cares about the spiritual formation of its membership...about helping Lutherans grow into their lives in Christ in a deeper, more mindful manner.

That's not to say that individual Lutherans in the ELCA do not care about spiritual formation -- I'm privileged to know many who do -- or that there aren't pockets of strong, intentional spiritual practice within our denomination.

But I don't think this is a priority among the power-brokers in our denomination. Nor, sadly, do I think it's a priority in the pews. Despite our place within the Church catholic, I do not think that our particular church culture, either at the top or at the grassroots level, supports the type of spiritual direction that gives people access to the tools of traditional Christian practices that add depth and dimensionality to the faith experience.

The thing is -- letting go of the idea that my lay ministry training is ever going to include a spiritual-formation component, letting go of the idea that the ELCA is all that interested in the ministry of spiritual direction, letting go of the hope that someday there will be a groundswell of Lutheran lay interest in such stuff -- it's liberating. It means that I no longer have an excuse to not get on with it, instead of waiting for this program or that class or this official pronouncement. And I have the comfort of knowing that I have allies, spiritual friends, from a variety of Christian traditions, who've come to similar conclusions.


Lutheran Zephyr said...

I think as Lutherans we are particularly confused about spirituality. Lutherans hold on to several different pieties (I know that the upper midwest Lutheran piety is generally different than that of East Coast German Lutherans) and also a damn good theology of vocation. And so in this context, what is a Lutheran spirituality? What what would good, broad-based and personal spiritual direction look like? Is it possible that the best spiritual direction is good liturgy, regular remembrance of baptism, and attentiveness to the church year and simple daily prayer?

I agree that there is a spiritual malaise in our pews and a lack of will (or ability) by folks in High Places to do much for or about it. Of course, I am generally skeptical of what it is that people in ecclesial bureaucracies can do for folks in the pews, anyway. I figure that hierarchies can help us do things we can't do on our own - such as publish hymnals or feed the hungry in Africa - but I'm not sure what Higgins Road can do about the spirituality of folks in the pews of Bucks County, PA.

Just my two cents.

Chris T. said...

I worry that it goes back to what's happening in the seminaries, and I think this is happening across the board, not just in the ELCA.

How many seminary grads do you know who leave thinking that the last four years had been primarily about spiritual formation? Most folks seem to view it as professional training, and hopefully chapel will fulfill the spiritual part. Ecumenical div schools are even worse, though the work they do for the wider church is wonderful.

I could have gone back into the ELCA candidacy process with another congregation after my first one "lost" my application — in fact, the people at the synod level encouraged me to do that. But I didn't get the sense that any of the seminaries I visited had a clear idea of how they might form people to be mature spiritually and lead others into maturity. I heard a lot about teaching you how to counsel (with a lot of psych stuff), how to read the Bible (which is important, of course), and how to run a church. If the leadership isn't fully-formed, how can it help form the congregations it leads?

P.S. an after-thought said...

After growing up Lutheran, going to Sunday School always, year round, in those days, and attending a Lutheran college, I was steeped in both Lutheranism and the Bible, but I never learned about spirituality or Christian service, or prayer in any of those settings. I first learned about it in a mixed Bible Study, actually started by a Lutheran Pastor, who, I think, wanted some kind of spirituality that just wasn't happening in his Lutheran circles.

And I thank God for the mixed-background study groups I've attended since then. Even the group that I've attended at my church has had people from mixed backgrounds, which adds a richness.

Granted, my background is narrow, but I can't help but think that the old pastors weren't taught much about how to pray if it wasn't right out of a book, as an example. And, in some churches, traditionally, only the pastor can lead a class for adults.

In blogs, I've read about spiritual practices of some blogging pastors, but I've never heard any pastors speak personally about this type of thing. Is it infrequent or are they Lutheran-reluctant to speak of such things? I don't know.

That said, it is still most important what one DOES with the faith-knowledge. And that is serving others in love.

LutheranChik said...

I'm just getting increasingly frustrated with a denomination whose idea of spiritual formation is Bible study + "Christ in Our Home." I mean, come on.

And while I think that the Lutheran theology of vocation -- Luther's view that milkmaids and peasants had as noble and God-gifted a vocation as priests and religious -- I think it can become a copout for spiritual complacency. Putting it in a Benedictine framework, if one's work isn't balanced by other things like prayer and worship and hospitality, etc. -- one's spiritual life gets out of whack. I think there's real, time-tested wisdom there, and we Lutherans aren't getting it.

And, just so ya know -- I've talked about and written about this issue on numerous occasions in my lay ministry program...to complete silence. So I've given up on that front.

Anonymous said...

People are skeezed out by the idea of having a prayer life. It's too gooshy and personal. Except it is supposed to undergird all that we do. Anyway, I left the Lutheran church for people who loved their prayer closets like I did, and I came back because the theology out there is rotten. Luther described the transformation of the heart through prayer and reading of the Word best when he discussed lectio divina. I don't understand why that's not shared with laypeople. Michele

Lorna said...

read this with interest.

Right now God's working on me, in me, with me - on the difference between giving up and letting go.

Spiritual formation is important - and more and more I come to the conclusion that time with Him and with in fellowship with healthy Christians to whom we can really be accountable (in the best possible way) is what it takes.

Bless you in and on your journey to wholeness IN Him