Monday, October 13, 2008

The Learning Circle

The Lifeshapes Circle is a tool for choosing to learn from life. However, it differs from other experiential learning models in that its underlying purpose is to enable us to experience God’s kingdom breaking in, as we move from a worldly perspective to a heavenly one. In this sense, it describes for us the process by which Romans 12:2 happens (“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2, NIV).

Mark’s Gospel introduces Jesus’ mission with the summarising statement, “The time has come...The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15, NIV). Here ‘time’ is not chronos (chronological time) but kairos (time as event or moment of opportunity; eternity time that interrupts chronological time from outside); ‘repent’ is metanoia (change of mind); and ‘believe’ is pistis (active response, rather than mere cognitive consent).

The Circle begins with a kairos moment, and breaks down both repentance and belief into practical steps – that is, it de-mystifies these terms for people.

Matthew 6:25ff gives us an example of Jesus taking his disciples through the process of repentance and belief. The context is the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus is teaching his disciples, and a large crowd are listening in. I want to suggest that he isn’t talking about worry about life because he’s compiling a book of Proverbs, but because he has observed that his disciples are worrying; he may even be responding to their articulating their worries.

These young men have good reason to worry about food and clothing. They have given up their source of income to follow Jesus. And it has been a great adventure, but reality is setting in. We know that Peter is married, and culturally it is unlikely that he was the only married disciple. These are young men, with responsibilities – and mother-in-laws! Exodus 21:10-11 sets out the responsibility of husbands to provide for their wives food, clothing and marital (that is, both sexual and emotional) rights – and empowers wives to walk away without having to buy their freedom (that is, the right to divorce) if their husbands persist in failing them in these regards. So we can imagine that the disciples might have reason to worry about food and clothing…

Repentance begins with ‘observe’ and ‘reflect.’ So far, so Kolb. Except that Jesus isn’t interested in getting his disciples to observe and reflect on the situation they face. Indeed, they have been observing and reflecting, and that is part of the problem! Because they’ve been observing the wrong thing, and reflecting with the wrong perspective. Jesus wants them to observe and reflect on birds and flowers (you can imagine how that would go down with their mother-in-laws).

Jesus wants them to observe and reflect on what God is like.

There is another key element to the process of repentance, and that is ‘discuss.’ It doesn’t necessarily come out in Matthew 6 (I’m looking for illustrations of principles, not proof-texts); but in the Gospels we often see Jesus taking a discursive approach. The ‘discuss’ element helps make explicit the point that discipleship works best in community, that repentance that leads to believe that leads to the kingdom breaking in is better when we repent and believe together, as opposed to on our own.

Having arrived at a change of mind, what is required for practical, active believing is a ‘plan.’ In the example we’re looking at, the plan is: we’re going to trust God to provide.

That’s it? Yes. That’s not a plan! Where are the action points? Okay: [1] We’re going to trust God to provide food [2] We’re going to trust God to provide clothes…You see, this is not about arriving at pragmatic solutions – though by that I’m not denying the need to plan in more concrete ways in certain situations. The pragmatic plan in response to the hungry crowd of over 5,000 is: next time, we’ll put “Bring a packed lunch” on the bottom of the flyer, or charge everyone a £5 conference fee and hire in outside caterers. The pragmatic solution to the paralytic lowered through the roof by his friends is: we need better disabled access here. I’m not dismissing caterers or disabled access; just pointing out that they miss the point of what happens in these stories: that the kingdom breaks in because Jesus sees the situations from a heavenly perspective and not an earthly one.

But having a plan is not enough. We need to hold one another to the plan. The next practical element of believing is ‘account,’ or, put in place accountability. Matthew 6:25-34 is followed by Matthew 7:1-6. That is, don’t judge others while not being prepared to be held accountable and helped to live out what we believe ourselves. And don’t throw your pearls to pigs, or, don’t waste your time trying to involve those who aren’t prepared to engage as part of an accountable community.

Once a plan and the means to hold each other to account over it are in place, we need to ‘act’: the Sermon on the Mount concludes with stories of the fruit borne by good and bad trees, and wise and foolish builders. Jesus makes it clear that it is not enough to hear his voice; we need to act on what we have heard…

That is the Circle: presented with a kairos moment, an opportunity to repent and believe and thus experience the kingdom of heaven break into the here-and-now, we ought to respond. That response is not a pragmatic one, but it is practical as opposed to esoteric or mystical. We can learn to cooperate with God’s desire to transform our perspective, and therefore experience more of what he wants to do through us than we could have imagined.

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