Small Group Study Guide

Here's a possible 6-week study guide for small groups to use while reading Un-American Activities: Countercultural Themes in Christianity based on a course Tom is teaching this Fall.

A Senior University course offered by Tom Wilkens, Fall 2010

Week 1: Questions & issues for discussion
What are some differences between modernism and postmodernism, and why should anyone care?

What is the distinction between exegesis and hermeneutics, and why might it make a difference in understanding biblical literature?

Describe as well as you can these three approaches to the Bible: the approach of modernism, of postmodernism, and of fundamentalism. Which of them comes closest to your approach?

Do you find the perspective on life in the book – namely, life as pilgrimage – helpful and insight-producing or a useless artifice?

How well or inadequately do we communicate with our adult children about things that really matter?

Can Third World (developing-world) perspectives inform and assist First World (developed-world) people? If so, how? If not, why not?

Download the complete study guide - liberation.pdf.

these are a few of my favorite words - part 1

I've been trying to collect my favorite words from the book, a chapter a day, in the length of a tweet and posting on facebook. I've gotten through Chapter 10.

"Faith active in love is risky business, yet it is the chief business of Christians. The magnificent paradox of Christianity is that those saved - the safe and secure ones - must be prepared to take risks that endanger reputation, career, and even life itself." Tom Wilkens, Ch. 1 - Risky business

"How can I really be part of a Christian community with so many questions and doubts, when I'm not even certain that I am a Christian? ... Even now, when I go to church, I often feel like an outsider and that everyone else is 'getting it' while I don't. ... On my spiritual journey, I am learning to be uncomfortable." Kim Wilkens, Ch. 1 response - What's your worldview?

"Can we, the non-marginalized - the people who are on the edge of nothing, who crave security instead of faith - can we be Christian?" Tom Wilkens, Ch. 2 - Lutheran disdain for the epistle of James

"From an African theologian, I learned a good definition of sharing. Sharing is not - I don't need it, you can have it. Sharing is - I need it, but I see you need it too, let's share." Kim Wilkens, Ch. 2 response - The fear factor

"Today's human community still trades in the currency of exploitation and enslavement. You and I, willing or unwilling, are players in the market. We watch - at times with genuine bewilderment, at time with condescension or impatience - as the wretched of the earth ignore our lordly advice, our tutorials on how to run their lives, their governments, and their economies." Tom Wilkens, Ch. 3 - The case of the missing punch line

"'Life is difficult,' writes M. Scott Peck. But in America, we think we have the resources to try to fix it. We get extreme makeovers and trade spaces. We try to boost it, civilize it, correct it, cultivate it, edit it, enhance it, promote it, recover it, or revise it." Kim Wilkens, Ch. 3 response - Pushing the needle

"I find that I pray more in the Third World. I think that there are two reasons. First, I am more acutely aware of just how much there is to be thankful for. Second, I am also more acutely aware of how vulnerable we all are. There are few illusions about security and immortality that can be sustained in the Third World." Tom Wilkens, Ch. 4 - Central American sojourn

"I've experienced these paradoxes in the US too, but in Honduras the divide between the haves and the have-nots is so vast that these paradoxes become much more striking. Perhaps it was the joy in discovering that, when I left my comfort zone and the distractions of the stuff I've accumulated, I found myself in the presence of God." Kim Wilkens, Ch. 4 response - What did I discover in Honduras?

"I could measure my students' mastery of information and their critical ability to process it. But I could never measure the changes in their hearts, the transformations of their inner beings. I have no access to that; no teacher does. As a result, and as with so much that really counts in life, it is a matter of faith and hope, not a matter of certainty based on hard data." Tom Wilkens, Ch. 5 - Homily for a community of faith and learning

"Most groups of people only achieve pseudo-community, where the assumption is that everyone is the same, with the same goals in mind, and that everybody will play nice. True community requires experiencing the chaos of our differences, the breaking down of barriers to communication and emptying ourselves of the need to heal, convert, fix or solve." Kim Wilkens, Ch. 5 response - Where is your Antioch?

"Where is God? God is a sometimes-present reality, here as an affirming presence insofar as we are a community of love and justice. What is God? God is an always-persisting reality whose perfection includes change. Who is God? God is a currently partisan reality whose love of the poor is passionate and love of the rest of us is remarkably patient." Tom Wilkens, Ch. 6 - Who, what and where in the world is God?

"I used to think inside the box. I thought I could use Kim's scientific method to explain the world.... So using Kim's limited scientific method, I did not observe God, therefore God did not exist. Then I discovered that I had kind of been forced into this box to peacefully co-exist in the modern world, where everything is explained or rationalized away." Kim Wilkens, Ch. 6 response - Thought experiment

"We may not be of this world, which I take to mean that God and not the world is our ultimate source of being. But we are surely in the world, which I take to imply some responsibility for its systems and structures when they oppress rather than enable." Tom Wilkens, Ch. 7 - The grudging Americanization of Luther

"One of the problems I have is with the idea that good order in the church is desirable or even possible. When I hear those words, what I hear is control, hierarchy, rules and status quo. I agree with Kelly Fryer that 'ministry is something all of God's people do'." Kim Wilkens, Ch. 7 response - What does it mean to be a Lutheran?

"In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul made it clear that the greatest gift of the Spirit is love. Lutherans from Martin on have tended to balk at this. Surely faith, specifically faith in Jesus the Christ, is more fundamental, we insist. Surely Christianity is ultimately about faith and beliefs, and only penultimately about love and service. But just as surely this is not the message of the gospel…" Tom Wilkens, Ch. 8 - Can anything good come out of Norway?

"In our culture, this message of servanthood almost always ends up sounding negative instead of positive: Give it up, lose your life, be a servant. Why? What's in it for me?" Kim Wilkens, Ch. 8 response - In good company?

"It is when I have taken seriously people who suffer - because of their race or gender or sexual orientation or some other prejudice-triggering reality that simply never permits the pain to go away completely - it is when I have taken such people seriously that I have learned the most theologically." Tom Wilkens, Ch. 9 - God and the imagery of sexual love

"Encountering images of sex and violence in the Bible should not be surprising. What is surprising to me is the apathetic response toward these descriptions today. More disturbing is the use of select passages out of their context in the Bible and from the world they were created to boost a personal agenda of righteousness." Kim Wilkens, Ch. 9 response - Restoration

"The religious right has surveyed and then registered claim for the 'family values' turf. The religious center and left seem unable to put together effective counter-claims. This is one of the reasons I have been uncomfortable using the term 'family' as a metaphor for the church." Tom Wilkens, Ch.10 - Being one family with God: the rhetoric is easy, but the responsibility is not

"I believe we all want to be part of a healthy, reconciled, authentic community. This is something Martin Luther King Jr. named the beloved community, one with the type of spirit and type of love 'that can transform opposers into friend.' Depending on your experience of church, you may be thinking that either being beloved community in a congregation is a no-brainer or a pipe dream." Kim Wilkens, Ch. 10 response - Beloved community

Book Review in Lutheran Partners Magazine

Just found out from my pastor that the book got a nice review in the Lutheran Partners magazine, a bimonthly magazine of the ELCA for ordained and lay leaders.

"The chapters would be valuable for Christians of most denominations and would be useful for both ordained and lay Christians. In general, in fact, Un-American Activities is accessible, entertaining, and enlightening, especially for those trying to minister more effectively to the wandering, skeptical, and searching young adult."

David von Schlichten is pastor of St. James Lutheran Church, Youngstown, Pennsylvania, and the book review editor of Lutheran Partners magazine.
Find the complete review - March / April 2010 • Volume 26 • Number 2

Oh and the extra bonus in this review is that I get referred to as a young adult. I know he's probably talking about me writing on my thoughts as a young adult, but still, I'm feeling younger already!