A Set of Discussion Guides

A Set of Discussion Guides
Rev. Kathy Wolf Reed
Associate Pastor, First Presbyterian Church in Tuscaloosa, AL
for @This Point, spring 2011

Session One
“Emotions and Faith:
The Perplexing Relationship Between
What We Feel and What We Believe”
Matthew Richard Schlimm

Concept
The purpose of this first session is to explore Matthew Richard Schlimm’s lead article on the relationship between emotion and faith. Participants will examine their own relationship to the philosophical, cultural, and personal influences Schlimm describes in his work. Using Scripture and personal experience, they will then be asked to consider if and how membership and participation in a community of faith shapes individual experience of emotion.

Timeframe
The lesson is written for a 45-minute discussion period. Leaders are welcome to make adjustments according to the group’s needs and circumstances.

Objectives
Participants will:
• Name specific verses and stories in Scripture that evoke a personal emotional response.
• Consider how emotions are expressed within their faith community’s worship service, and whether or not there are certain emotions that are (or should be) excluded from the act of worship.
• Examine Schlimm’s concepts of appropriate and inappropriate guilt.
• Reflect upon how Christian faith has shaped their personal experience of emotion.

Preparation
• Participants should have read Schlimm’s lead article, “The Perplexing Relationship Between What We Feel and What We Believe.”
• Arrange the room in a way that is conducive to group discussion. If your group is larger than eight participants, consider forming smaller groups of four to six members.
• Write the following opening question on the board or newsprint:
• What is a verse (or story) from Scripture that brings you comfort?

Materials
• Bibles
• whiteboard or newsprint and markers
• paper and writing utensils
• copies of your congregation’s recent worship bulletin

Key Scripture
• 1 Thess 4:13
• Luke 18:9-14
• Luke 15:11-32

Sequence
Opening – (5 min)
• As your group gathers, encourage participants to reflect upon the opening question, (What is a verse or story from Scripture that brings you comfort?) and write their verse or story on a piece of paper. (Have Bibles available for reference.) Once everyone has had a few moments to respond, ask for volunteers to share their text with the group as well as a word or two about why it brings them comfort. Then ask participants to discuss the following questions:
• Are these verses and stories universal in the emotions that they evoke?
• How might they sound different to Christians of various experience?

Explore - (5 min)
• Ask for a volunteer to read the following verse aloud to the group:
• 1 Thess 4:13 - “But we do not want you to be uninformed...”
• Schlimm challenges his readers to consider whether Christians “experience emotions different than those outside the faith”.
• How does 1 Thessalonians seem to respond to this question?
• Do you agree or disagree? Why?

Encounter – (30 min)
• In his article, Schlimm poses the following question, “If emotions are one way we make sense of the world around us, why does our culture often devalue emotions, seeing them as irrational and childish?” Begin by asking participants:
• Do you think emotions are devalued in your community of faith? Why or why not?
• How are some specific ways that your faith community encourages or discourages the expression of emotions?

• Schlimm goes on to say, “the Bible suggests that nearly every emotion can be honestly expressed to God in prayer.” Pass out copies of a recent worship bulletin to your group and have them take a moment to go through the order of worship and identify the emotions expressed in your regular weekly service. (If they need an example to get started, point out that most services include a “prayer of thanksgiving” in order to express emotions of gratitude to God.) Once the group has had a few moments to look through the service, ask for a volunteer to act as scribe, recording responses on newsprint as participants name the emotions they see expressed in worship. (Be sure to have individuals explain how they see these emotions being expressed.) After everyone has finished sharing, look at your compiled list and consider the following questions:
• Are there any emotions often evoked in worship that are not on this list?
• Schlimm is careful to say “nearly every emotion can be honestly expressed to God in prayer.” What emotions (if any) do you think should be excluded from prayer? Why?

• Schlimm highlights guilt as an emotion having particular biblical significance. Throughout the final section of the article, he distinguishes between appropriate and inappropriate guilt in the Christian life. Drawling upon some of Schlimm’s Scriptural references (the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14, the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32) as well as personal experiences, consider the following questions together:
• How do you see a person experiencing appropriate guilt growing in their faith as a result of this emotion?
• How do you see a person experiencing inappropriate guilt stumbling in their faith as a result of this emotion?
• What words of comfort and solace would you offer a person experiencing inappropriate guilt?

Respond – (5 min)
• As a final exercise, ask participants to consider the following question:
• Describe one specific way that being a Christian has brought changes to your emotional life. (Encourage participants to name a specific person, relationship, or situation that has been affected by this change.)

Closing –
Close with prayer, using your own words or the following:

Almighty God,
you who is both righteous anger and tender love,
who demands our fear, and yet weeps beside us;
forgive us for the times when anger and jealousy motivates sinful action,
rejoice with in the times when your Spirit of mercy and grace
calls us to respond with acts of shameless love.
Help us to know
that in each and every emotion
your steadfast presence surrounds us.
Amen.

 


Session Two
“Emotions and Faith:
The Perplexing Relationship Between
What We Feel and What We Believe”
A Response to an article by Matthew Richard Schlimm
Skip Johnson

Concept
The purpose of the second session is to consider the main aspects of Skip Johnson’s response to Matthew Richard Schlimm’s lead article. Johnson affirm’s Schlimm’s position that faith influences the experience of emotions, and pushes readers to explore practical applications of this influence. Participants will be challenged to consider how wonder and awe play a part in their experience of faith, as well as how “taking on the mind of Christ” affects their daily routines and relationships.

Timeframe
The lesson is written for a 45-minute discussion period. Leaders are welcome to make adjustments according to the group’s needs and circumstances.

Objectives
Participants will:
• Reflect upon personal experiences of wonder and awe.
• Consider how “taking on the mind of Christ” affects personal interactions and decision-making processes.
• Discuss how certain emotions are heightened or lessened as a result of spiritual formation.
• Compare and contrast the responses of anxious emotional receivers and differentiated emotional receivers.

Preparation
• Participants should have read Skip Johnson’s response article.
• Arrange the room in a way that is conducive to group discussion. If your group is larger than eight participants, consider dividing them into smaller groups of four to six members.
• Write the following instructions on the board: When was the last time you were filled with wonder and awe? Turn to a partner and share the circumstances of this experience.

Materials
• Bible
• white/chalk board and markers/chalk
• paper and writing utensils

Key Scripture
• Phil 2:5-11

Sequence
Opening – (5 min)
• As your group gathers, have participants partner up and share their responses to the opening question: (When was the last time you were filled with wonder and awe?) Once partners have had a chance to share their experiences, ask for volunteers to share their response with the entire group.
• Johnson writes that, “Nikos Kazantzakis acknowledged that the changing of his eyes was a difficult accomplishment, one that he was able to do easily as a child, but now one he was best able to achieve only in the most creative times of his life.” Ask participants:
• Do you identify with Kazantzakis’ experience of openness to change, creativity, wonder, and awe?
• Why or why not?

Explore – (10 min)
• Ask for a volunteer to read the following text aloud:
• Phil 2:5-11, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus...”
• Johnson claims that “Religion serves as the ‘comprehensive interpretive scheme’ through which experience receives meaning.”
• How are some specific ways that “taking on the mind of Christ”, as it is described in Philippians 2, would give new meaning to our experiences? (If your group needs a prompt to get them started, ask how “taking on the mind of Christ” would change the meaning of disagreeing with a co-worker, responding to a panhandler’s request for money, or deciding whether or not to purchase products from a business with a reputation for exploiting its workers.)

Encounter – (25 min)
• Referencing again novelist Nikos Kazantzakis, Johnson refers to the process of “changing one’s eyes” as “a description of spiritual formation as we allow ourselves to encounter the power of God’s Spirit and to be realigned in the direction of the Holy.” Ask participants to name some specific ways in which our “eyes are changed” in the life of faith. (You may want to ask for a volunteer to record participants’ responses on newsprint for the group to see.)
• Compare your group’s responses to Johnson’s list of transformative experiences (prayer, contemplative meditation on Scripture, regular worship, etc.) Are there any practices or experiences not yet named?
• Does your group consider the majority of their responses to be individual or communal in nature? (Or is there a fair balance of both?)
• Are there ways in which your community of faith could be encouraging new or enhanced types of transformative experiences?

• Johnson suggests that changes brought about in spiritual formation, “adjust and tune one’s emotional affections. Some emotional experiences will be heightened, others will be lessened.”
• What are some emotions you believe become heightened as spiritual formation takes place?
• What are some emotions you believe become lessened as spiritual formation takes place?
• In your experience, is the process of spiritual formation a linear process with stages or steps, or is it more ambiguous? How so?

• Based on Johnson’s article, what do you think is the difference between an “anxious emotional receiver” of human experience and a well “differentiated” receiver of human experience? Does this difference in processing mean that the anxious receiver is more emotional than the differentiated receiver? For example, how might each receiver respond differently to a situation of tense conflict?

Respond – (5 min)

• Return to the opening activity’s discussion of wonder and awe. Given some of the discussion that has taken place in this session, ask participants to name one way that you can find a moment in your daily routine to experience wonder and awe. Encourage readers to make time for these emotions in the week ahead, and explain that the group will be asked to share some of the challenges and joys of this practice in the next session.

Closing –
Close with prayer, using your own words or the following:

Wondrous God,
on this day we pause to give thanks
for your ever-transformative, ever-surprising Spirit.
Grant us the blessing of eyes that see your presence more keenly
ears that hear your call more clearly
and hearts that know your love more deeply,
that we may go out into the world in awe,
proclaiming the good news of your son, Jesus Christ.
Amen.



Session Three
Reflections on Emotion and Faith:
A Response to Matthew Richard Schlimm
George Stroup

Concept
The purpose of the third session is to consider the main aspects of George Stroup’s response to Matthew Richard Schlimm’s lead article. Stroup challenges both Schlimm and readers to consider how faith encompasses the work of both the heart and mind, as well as explore the distinction between feelings and emotions. Participants will use Scripture as well as personal experiences to explore how faith communities encourage the love and worship of God in various ways, as well as how Christian piety is challenged in today’s culture.

Timeframe
The lesson is written for a 45-minute discussion period. Leaders are welcome to make adjustments according to the group’s needs and circumstances.

Objectives
Participants will:
• Review discussion on the experiences of awe and wonder from Session Two.
• Consider the distinctions in loving the Lord our God “with all your heart” versus “with all your mind”.
• Explore the relationship between knowing God and loving God, and how this relationship affects the practice of faith.
• Discuss how piety is understood and challenged in today’s culture.

Preparation
• Participants should have read George Stroup’s response article.
• Arrange the room in a way that is conducive to group discussion. If your group is larger than eight participants, consider dividing them into smaller groups of four to six members.
• Write the following opening instructions on the board: Find a partner and share one moment of awe or wonder you have experienced in the past week.

Materials
• Bible
• white/chalk board and markers/chalk
• paper and writing utensils

Key Scripture
• Deut. 6:4-5
• Matt 22:37

Sequence
Opening – (5 min)
• As your group gathers, remind them of last week’s challenge to make time for the experience of awe or wonder in daily life. Once participants have had a few moments to share their responses with a partner, begin a discussion of the following:
• How many in the group struggled to find a moment to experience awe or wonder?
• What might some of the challenges be to seeking out moments such as these in our daily routines?
• (referencing Johnson’s article in session two) What is it about the child’s perspective that opens them to experience God’s work in the world with a sense of wonder?

Explore – (10 min)
• Ask for a volunteer to read the following Scripture text aloud to the group:
• Deut 6:4-5, “You shall love the Lord your God...”
• How does this text differ from Jesus’ response to the lawyer in Matthew 22:37?
• Have participants form two groups, and ask each group to appoint a scribe for the opening activity. Ask one group to brainstorm a list of ways that your particular faith community encourages its members to love the Lord “with all your heart” while the other group creates a list of how your faith community encourages the love of God “with all your mind.”
• When the groups have finished brainstorming, ask for a spokesperson from each group to share their list. Note any similarities in responses.
• Is one list longer than the other?
• What do you think these lists reveal about your faith community?

Encounter – (25 min)
• Referencing Deut 6:4-5, Stroup points out that “The commandment is not to know God, but to love God and do some completely and ‘mightily’.” Remaining in the groups from the previous activity, ask the “with all your mind” group to come up with a brief description of an individual whose faith is based in the knowledge of God. Ask the “with all your heart” group to come up with a description of an individual whose faith is based in the love of God.
• If the groups need help getting started, prompt them with questions such as: What sorts of things does this person pray for? What kinds of religious materials would s/he read? How are they involved at church? How do they practice their faith in the world?
• Once they have finished their composite character, have a spokesperson from each group share the description, then answer the following together:
• How do these individuals differ in their practice of faith?
• What similarities do you see in the way they express their love of God?
• Do you think it is possible to separate love and knowledge of God? Why or why not?
• Do you identify with one of these individuals more than the other? If so, why?

• Stroup brings into question the issue of piety as it relates to emotions and faith. He notes that Schliermacher considered the very essence of piety “the consciousness of being absolutely dependent”.
• What are some ways that faith communities encourage their members to practice piety?
• How might this counter-cultural notion create conflict for people of faith living in a culture that often celebrates independence and self-reliance?

• Stroup challenges Schlimm to construct a clearer distinction between emotions and feelings. Drawing upon Schlimm’s lead article or Stroup’s response, ask participants the following:
• What do you think the difference is between feelings and emotions?
• Does the distinction between the two have an impact upon the “life of faith”? If so, how?

Respond – (5 min)
• Stroup ends his response naming the uncertainty of “what the differences are between emotions and feelings and how both are related to faith.”. Ask participants to consider:
• Are there particular times and circumstances in the life of faith when it is more (or less) difficult to see how emotions or feelings relate? (for instance, think back to the activity in session one when participant identified emotions evoked in their weekly worship service.)
• Ask participants to name specific moments in their faith journey when they had a strong sense of a particular emotion or feeling. Based on this particular experience, how would they respond to Stroup’s question of Schimm?

Closing –
Close with prayer, using your own words or the following:
Almighty God,
with our hearts and our minds
with our souls and our wills
may we remain faithful to you.
We pray that by the grace of your Spirit
we would grow in your knowledge and love
each day more so than the last.
In Jesus name we pray,
Amen.



Session Four
The Shape and Shaping of Emotion
Christine Roy Yoder

Concept
The purpose of the fourth and final session is to explore Christine Roy Yoder’s response to Matthew Richard Schlimm’s lead article. Drawing upon questions raised in Schlimm’s reflection, Yoder explores how the object of a particular emotion determines its positive or negative connotation. She then goes on to discuss the role of the faith community in shaping emotions, including how the concrete practices of a community shape the emotions of its individuals. Finally, Yoder brings into question “the relationship between emotions, desires, and the pursuit of wisdom.” Participants will reflect upon Yoder’s response in an effort to better understand how their own faith community shapes their own definition and expression of emotion.

Timeframe
The lesson is written for a 45-minute discussion period. Leaders are welcome to make adjustments according to the group’s needs and circumstances.

Objectives
Participants will:
• Discuss how the object of a particular emotion affects its expression.
• Explore how concrete spiritual practices of the faith community form and transform the mind-body connection.
• Reflect upon how their own community of faith approaches the topic of desire.
• Imagine what they as individuals or as a community might do to encourage the evoking of emotion in new and faithful ways.

Preparation
• Participants should have read Christine Roy Yoder’s response article.
• Arrange the room in a way that is conducive to group discussion. If your group is larger than eight participants, consider dividing them into smaller groups of four to six members.
• Write the following question on the board: “What is one way that participating in a community of faith changes your perception of love? Envy? Hatred?”

Materials
• Bible
• white/chalk board and markers/chalk
• paper and writing utensils

Key Scripture
• Romans 12:9

Sequence
Opening – (5 min)
• As your group gathers, ask participants to join partner up and respond to the opening question: (What is one way that participating in a community of faith changes your perception of love? Envy? Hatred?) Once partners have had some time to respond to these questions, ask volunteers to share their responses with the group. Then consider the following questions together:
• Is there a distinctly Christian understanding of love?
• Do you think it is possible for someone who does not belong to a church community to discover this Christian understanding of love? Why or why not?

Explore – (10 min)
• Have a volunteer read Romans 12:9 (Let love be genuine, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good.) aloud to the group. In her response article, Yoder holds that throughout Scripture, emotions are deemed either “faithful or foolhardy depending on their objects.” In this text, Paul seems to be telling the Romans that evil objects should be hated and good objects should be valued and loved. Ask your group the following question:
• How do we, as Christians, determine what is “evil” and what is “good”?
• Can you think of an object of emotion that some might consider good and some might consider evil? How do we then judge whether our emotions toward that object are faithful?

• For further exploration of these questions, form two or three smaller groups and assign each group an emotion. (For example: worry, anger, anxiety, passion, hope.) Ask groups to imagine a scenario in which this emotion is expressed “faithfully” or “foolhardily”. Once the smaller groups have had a moment to discuss, have them share their scenarios with the larger group.

Encounter – (25 min)
• Yoder asserts that “Formation of the faithful certainly requires stirring the imagination. But it also requires training the body and the emotions...” In order to reiterate this mind-body link, ask participants to describe the following:
• What would a community that only concentrated on faith formation of the mind look like?
• What would a community that only concentrated on faith formation of the body look like?
• What about faith formation of emotions?
(If your group needs some help getting started, ask them to envision a church that studied the academic aspects of Scripture without ever praying, or a church that did regular acts community service without ever devoting time to worship.)
• According to Yoder and Schlimm, why is it important to integrate the mind and body in emotional and spiritual formation?

• Yoder gives special attention to “the relationship between emotions, desires, and the pursuit of wisdom”. She goes on to suggest that many Christians are “confounded” by how to talk about desire.
• Do you agree or disagree with Yoder’s opinion that Christians struggle to talk about desire in the context of faith? Why do you think she has come to this conclusion?
• Yoder notes that often, discussions of desire focus on sexual desires and behaviors. Returning to the earlier discussion of objects of emotion, what object might an individual express desire toward in a faithful and healthy way?

Respond – (5 min)

• Yoder states that, “it is not enough to proclaim but not evoke, to teach but not enable affective participation, to appeal to the intellect and not care for the body.”
• What are some ways that you see your faith community evoking emotion from its members?
• enabling affective participation?
• appealing to the intellect?
• caring for the body?
• In any community of faith, there will be strengths and weaknesses of how members live out their lives together. Of these various aspects of church life, which do believe is the greatest strength of your faith community? Where does your community hold the most promise for growth?

Closing –
Close with prayer, using your own words or the following:

Holy God,
We give thanks for your Spirit
for gathering us into communities of faith.
Restore our minds, Lord.
Strengthen our bodies.
Make us passionate and loving toward all things good.
Save us from the objects and powers that draw us apart from you.
Give us the wisdom to love what is good and hate what is evil.
In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ,
whose goodness knows no end.
Amen.
 

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