Saturday, August 31, 2013

Parish as Learning Community: Providing Learning Spaces for Adults

Going through my blog feeds this morning, under technology, I just saw this: Optimizing Informal Learning Spaces: Ten Tips for Universities - it occurred to me that just as universities are places for learning, our parishes should be as well. A parish is, according to the catechetical documents, a learning community. This should be true for all ages, not just for the children and youth. So, the idea of both formal and informal learning spaces for adult learning is one that we might consider borrowing from universities.

Certainly there are rooms where formal learning sessions for adults take place in every parish. However, what about people who do not come to "sessions?" What is available for browsing on Sunday morning, for example?  Where can people go to learn about good Catholic resources? To share and discuss faith informally?

Let's start with formal space. Some parishes do have libraries - and those are a great idea. These usually consist of a collection of books and videos, with perhaps the ability to use a DVD player. But why not add tablets populated with Catholic apps that people can sample? These could be prayer apps or news apps. The Missio app, for example, provides a daily feed of news videos from around the Catholic world, provided by the Vatican.  There are ways to attach tablets to a surface or the space could be monitored by a volunteer librarian.
Less-formal space is even better - it could involve an adult learning lounge. Why not provide a monitored open space with audio CD's, CD players and headphones, with comfortable chairs? There are many good audio learning resources. Tablets, as mentioned above, would also be a great idea. A literature rack could include a list of great Catholic apps for phones and tablets.  Magazines, a few pamphlets that can be taken home, even some of those inexpensive CD's that people could purchase might be a great idea.  Wi-fi so that people can use their own devices would be a must. Put a seating group off to the side for people to gather for informal discussion - or even consider a separate space behind a divider or in an adjoining room so that those who wish to study privately can do so without disturbance.

A great idea for the discussion area is to have a member of the parish staff present for informal Q&/A - on a rotating basis, perhaps. Or, provide table tents with the "Question of the Week" based on the Sunday gospel reading. These are available online both in English and Spanish from Sadlier and RCL/Benziger.

In the case of both adult spaces - do make them hospitable! Pleasant furnishings, perhaps some coffee and doughnuts, and a friendly volunteer monitor who knows about the collection would be a great addition.  Promote the space - put something on the website and in the bulletin regularly about the "learning lounge" and encourage adults to continue their lifelong journey of learning and growing in their faith.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Here We Go Again: 2014 "Left Behind" Movie Remake Brings Major Misinterpretation of Scripture Back

Well, here we go - as Yogi Berra once said, it's "deja vu all over again."

This time, Hollywood is not stopping at second-string - Nicholas Cage - an "A-lister" headlines the cast of a new production of Left Behind, which is currently filming. Cage replaces Kirk Cameron, who starred in the mediocre 2000 film version of the best-selling book, in a remake that promises to be big-budget and higher quality. You can read a little of the history of the film and its direct-to-video sequels here .

All of this brings up the points I made years ago when the Left Behind book series for adults and the companion series for children were burning up the best-seller list and finding their way into Catholic parishes and schools.  Left Behind, based on a faulty interpretation of Scripture that presumes there will be a "Rapture" of the "good Christians" before the second coming of Christ, is not part of Catholic or mainline Protestant theology, and is both misleading and dangerous. It is also overtly anti-Catholic. Catholics, with a few exceptions, are simply left behind in this fictionalized Rapture scenario, created by conservative anti-Catholic evangelical authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins,  published by Tyndale House, Wheaton, IL.

Now that this film is coming out, we will see a resurgence in the popularity of the "Rapture" - and misunderstanding among the Catholic faithful. Most likely Tyndale House will respond with a new edition of the book and all of this will bring this back into the national conversation. Parish leaders and catechists need to do their homework about what the Church teaches about the end times so when this new movie is discussed, they are prepared to counter it with Catholic teaching.

If you want to know more about why this movie will be a catechetical problem, read the 2003 statement on Left Behind from the Illinois Catholic Conference. I was privileged to work with the CCI on this - and the statement, as far as I am concerned, still stands. Catholics should not see this movie unless parishes provide them with the tools to understand that this is not what Jesus Christ taught.

Why We Need to Start Talking More About Baptism

The Summer, 2013 CARA report shows a disturbing trend:  baptisms are declining. Not surprising, actually, given the culture and the continuing decline in marriage.  Do today's young people, who are less likely to believe in sin and Hell, take seriously the need for baptism? Obviously not.

Certainly, as a church we need much better marketing and press to get our message out there - that the sacraments have an important role in the lives of real people - and that baptism is the gateway to salvation in Jesus Christ.  More importantly, this situation points to weaknesses in sacramental catechesis and in catechesis of the young people and adults who are already in our parishes and programs.

When was the last time you heard baptism mentioned in a homily or presentation?  Original sin?  I can't say that I remember. When was the last time you had an adult conversation about the "baptismal call" of the laity?

And then there are the children and youth.  Take a look in the average religious education text series. Baptism is taught early on, in the primary grades, as a precursor to First Communion. After that, it gets a chapter here and there, or is included in a chapter on the seven sacraments. Good, certainly, but, are our catechists up to this? How prepared are they to help kids understand that baptism helps make us who we are as Christians? Can they talk about this sacrament as the foundation of the Church? As the gateway to the Eucharist? As the very reason we celebrate Confirmation?

In the face of this, it is important to bring sacraments - and baptism in particular - back into the Catholic conversation and as a key component in any evangelization initiative. We need to stop taking for granted that people understand the relationship between baptism and Eucharist, between baptism and Christian life. We need to stop assuming that they pass this on to their children.  Obviously they are not doing a very good job at that.