Latest course: animate: Practices 1 with Brian McLaren and Sara Miles

Another fabulous course from Augsburg Fortress and Sparkhouse’s animate series launches animatetoday, called animate: Practices 1. We’re proud to partner with Augsburg Fortress in presenting some of the animate series as ChurchNext courses. The  series is unique in that it not only tackles some of the big questions of our faith, like “Is God real?” and “Is there such a thing as too much Bible?” but it does so not in order to teach a certain lesson or to impart fixed wisdom, but to challenge assumptions, spark conversation and dialogue, and encourage wrestling with the deep questions of our souls.

In this course, Practices 1, Brian McLaren explores the idea of prayer, admitting that he used to think of prayer as something onerous, a duty he was bound to perform and to perform “correctly” — and yet he has come to see the Lord’s Prayer as something simple, something active, something that reanimates our faith and our ability to live faithfully in this broken world. He breaks it down into four “moves” that can help us re-see the prayer given to us by Jesus himself.

Sara Miles tackles the idea of food and eating, noting that it’s (literally) a weighty topic in our society: poor people must think constantly about their next meal, and those with plenty find themselves also obsessed with food — how “pure” it is, whether it can save or kill, where it came from, who’s eating it. Sara challenges us to rethink our relationship with food, doing so with Jesus’ messy, unorthodox, and life-giving lens on the gift and blessing of sharing a meal. After all, she says, the Lord’s supper is for everyone, cannot be bought, and is never eaten alone.

We’re excited to share these talks with you and pray that they may help reanimate your faith and spark conversation in your small groups. Click here for more information or to register.

Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian. A former college English teacher and pastor, he is an ecumenical global networker among innovative Christian leaders.

Sara Miles is the founder and director of The Food Pantry , and serves as Director of Ministry at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. Her books include Jesus Freak: Feeding Healing Raising the Dead and Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion. She speaks, preaches and leads workshops around the country, and her writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker, and on National Public Radio.

New course: Talking About Same Gender Unions with Bishop Jeffrey Lee

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You may think the church talks about same gender unions too much; you may think not enough. You may be excited about the latest Supreme Court decision or you may be upset. You may be thrilled at the chance to discuss the issue of same gender unions or you may wish we could talk about something else for once.

Whatever your feelings, our latest course offers new and insightful consideration of this topic. In Talking About Same Gender Unions, Bishop Lee gently reminds us that, as Christians, we must remember that this is a pastoral issue and that it involves people’s hleeearts, relationships, and identities. For that reason, engaging in real listening and respectful conversation is vital. Bishop Lee helps us think about how we might have these conversations, offers hope for hearts, and promises that, in Christ, all things are made well.

We pray that this course, whether you take it on your own or in a Small Group format, will bring wisdom, insight, healing, and hope on a divisive issue that means a lot to many. Click here to register or for more information.

Jeffrey Lee is the twelfth Episcopal bishop of Chicago where he oversees 127 congregations across Northern Illinois. You can find out more about him here.

Violence, Myth, and Scripture launches today

Today we launch our latest course, Violence, Myth, and Scripture with Suzanne Ross, and it’s seems a timely class to be offering, in the midst of the troubled events of recent weeks. Using rossRene Girard’s Mimetic Theory, Suzanne corrects some common misconceptions about violence in our faith tradition, and explains the difference between myths (where violence is naturalized) and scripture (where violence is highlighted, for a purpose). In this course, she reminds us that violence is not sacred or of God; rather, it is a symptom of our fallen state, and an illness that grieves God. It’s an affliction that we Christians are called both to understand and to begin to remedy.

We invite you to take this course as a way to begin effecting change in our troubled nation. It’s also available in For Groups format for small-group use. Click here for more information or to register.

Suzanne Ross is an expert in mimetic theory. She is an author, respected lecturer, and co-founder of The Raven Institute.

Violence and Faith

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You may sigh inwardly when you see the word “Charleston” now, tired of all the news and posts and commentaries and analyses of the past week. And yet we cannot turn away from this event — we should not turn away, nor feel cynical and discouraged when things like this happen. Because we are the very people — we believers — who are called upon to remind people of the hope of the Gospel, of God’s charge to us to be instruments of peace, vehicles for transformation, messengers of love. Even in the midst of — or perhaps because of — such terrible news happening seemingly all around us.

This Sunday we’ll be launching our latest course whose timing and message now seem even more appropriate than ever. Suzanne Ross is co-founder of The Raven Foundation, which is “committed to making religion reasonable, violence unthinkable and peace a possibility by spreading awareness of the transformative power of mimetic theory. Our goal is to foster peaceful individuals and harmonious communities that will reject scapegoating and violence as ways to form identity and achieve real and lasting peace.” Suzanne’s course for ChurchNext is called “Violence, Myth, and Scripture,” and it helps us understand how Scripture, unlike myth, draws our attention to systems of violence, shows God’s concern for the vulnerable and the victim, and how violence is not of God, but of human failing. We offer this course up as a way of perhaps thinking about the (misunderstood) violence in our cultural traditions as well as how God grieves with us. (The course goes “live” on Sunday.)

If the violence in Charleston is weighing heavily on you, causing you to wrestle with those big questions about evil and the nature of God, we also commend to you any of the following courses already in our library. Why not arrange a small group discussion within your faith community, as a way not only of remembering the martyrs in Charleston, but of actively seeking to effect change by fostering discussion, dialogue, and time for prayer? Make us instruments of your peace, Lord.

How to Forgive

When We Get Angry with God

Why Does God Get Angry?

Three Prayers You’ll Want to Pray

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen. 

~ Prayer for the Human Family (Book of Common Prayer p. 814)

New course: Radical Welcoming with Stephanie Spellers

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We’re excited to launch Radical Welcoming today, led by the Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers. What is “radical welcoming”? Well, it’s more than just friendly greeters at the church doors, and easy-to-follow service bulletins. It’s more than serving the hungry from one side of a soup kitchen line. It’s more than “tolerance” of those we see as different.

It’s nothing less than the kind of love that Jesus offered to those on the margins of society: the unclean, the sick, the poor, the prostitute. It’s acknowledging that life has been different for those not in the traditional center of power and privilege, and that there is wisdom to be gained from listening to those we have so often pushed aside. It’s humble acceptance that those of us on “the inside” have a lot to learn from those on the outside. spellers

God’s church cannot be all it is called to be if it only welcomes people who abide by our conventions, restrictions, caveats, and customs. We cannot be fully Christian without acknowledging the rights, the dignity, the gifts of everyone. 

Radical welcome can be scary; it can induce feelings of guilt, when we finally acknowledge what we’ve so long pretended not to see. But Stephanie reminds us in this course that radical welcoming can be life-changing — that God is there waiting on the other side of our fear. God is calling us to reach out across the divides we’ve created, and work toward reconciliation and wholeness. It’s what Jesus lived and what Jesus commands. Church shouldn’t be always about comfort and safety — for growth and healing often require courage and daring.

Are you ready to embrace Radical Welcoming? Click here for more information or to register. (Click here for the course in For Groups format.)

The Reverend Canon Stephanie Spellers is a popular speaker and consultant on reimagining the mainline church and embracing new mission contexts. The author of numerous books — including Radical Welcome: Embracing God, The Other and the Transforming Power of the Spirit and Ancient Faith, Future Mission: Fresh Expressions in the Sacramental Traditions –Stephanie is an Episcopal priest and serves as Director of Mission and Reconciliation at General Theological Seminary in New York City and as Canon for Missional Vitality in the Diocese of Long Island. She is one of two Chaplains to the Episcopal House of Bishops and recently chaired the Episcopal Commission on Mission and Evangelism. 

Hail Thee, Festival Day

1456726_855222091216516_4378694426733185725_nWhat a blessing it has been to join with the Rev. Becca Stevens of Thistle Farms as we cultivate deeper spiritual paths. Thank you to Becca, the folks at Thistle Farms, and sponsors Church Publishing, Forward Movement, Trinity Wall Street, and the Episcopal Church for allowing us to offer The Big Class free for two weeks to over 850 people worldwide. What richness of thought and wisdom came from the discussions in this course.

A Simple Path to a Deeper Spiritual Life is now available to congregations to add to your ChurchNext online course offerings. Perhaps you could take the course during the great 50 days of Easter as a way to celebrate the glorious Good News of this season!

Be sure to watch for Becca’s latest book, Letters from the Farm: A Simple Path for a Deeper Spiritual Life, which becomes available in June. We wish you all great joy in this Eastertide.

The Big Class is now live!

A Simple Path to a Deeper Spiritual Life with Becca Stevens

free worldwide from today through Easter Sunday

Join us for a wonderfully inspiring and thought-provoking course on deepening our spiritual lives. Becca newbeccaStevens shares insight and wisdom from her years of ministry and service as an Episcopal priest and as founder of Thistle Farms, the social enterprise for women who have survived lives of prostitution, trafficking, addiction and life on the streets.  Because, as Becca shares, a deeper spirituality comes from the daily practice of loving and serving the world.

The Big Class also offers a sneak peek at Becca’s new book, Letters from the Farm, which releases in June. Take this course at your own pace with people from around the world over the next couple of weeks. We pray that it spurs you to reflection, conversation, and action as you deepen your own spiritual journey. Click here for more information or to get started.

Thank you to our sponsors, Church Publishing, Forward Movement, the Episcopal Church, and Trinity Wall Street.