April 2018

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Big Questions Series

I’m atypical. I have lots of proof: 1) When I first took the Stanford-Binet personality test, I scored in a group that’s only 1% of the population. 2) When I took the test after my brain tumors, I was a different personality: the other one that’s only 1% of the population. 3) Once at a staff meeting in a high school where I was teaching, we took a test that was supposed to illustrate our meeting style: there was North (the people who like to plunge in and get things done), the West  (the people interested in the process and getting things done, the who what when where group), the South (the people who like to know that everyone’s feelings have been taken into consideration and that their voices have been heard before acting—this was the only category in which I scored zero—that might be different now). And then there’s the East, which is what I was. These are the people who like to speculate, to look at all options before deciding, who like to think about the big picture. Yep. That’s me. When the principal had us move into corners in accordance with our direction, I was the only faculty member in the East. (Though another teacher joined me, he was actually a South who felt bad for me that I was the only faculty member in my group.) 4) At a church retreat a couple of years ago, in a survey intended to indicate what kind of Christian we were, I was the only one at the retreat who was “mystical.” 5) And as a teenager in my North Carolina American History class, I shocked the class and myself when a survey of beliefs concluded that I was liberal. 6) I’ve had brain tumors.

The evidence is ample and consistent, and it doesn’t end there. I’m just not normal. I don’t see this as negative. Just true. And maybe even positive.

So recently, when a group from my church gathered to discuss spirituality in the church, I was surprised by how consistent this group’s thoughts and experiences were with my own.

We all love our church: our inclusive community and our activism. And we are all looking for more spiritual grounding in our church.

Before and after the group’s discussion, I imagined what structure might encourage spiritual exploration and devised the bare outlines of a possible plan. I wonder if the “normies” will find this focus on unanswerable questionsinteresting. (A friend of mine who’s a recovering alcoholic introduced me to this term that his AA friends use for people who do drink alcohol but not at a dangerous clip. “Normies” for example, may leave a table with a bit of wine left in their glass. According to my friend, an alcoholic would never do that.)

When I was facilitating trainings with teachers, I once posed an unanswerable question to a group of teachers, and they dutifully explored. When I didn't provide the right answer at the end (this has not occurred to me, as there clearly was not a right answer), a high school social studies teacher asked me, "Wait. What's the right answer?)

"There is no right answer," I told him."Don't you think the unanswerable questions are the most interesting ones?"

I intended the question to be rhetorical, but he answered: "No."

I suspect we were on opposite ends of the bell curve of questioners. I don’t know where on the bell curve of questioners you reside, but I’d love to know if you think this sounds interesting:

Big Questions Series:

Where Do We Come From?
·      How do I understand creation of the earth and of me. Why and how did the earth and I come to be?

What Are We?
·      What is my purpose in this life?
·      What is our social/communal purpose?
·      What is my individual purpose?
·      What is my relationship to the past, present and future?
·      What is my understanding of good and evil?
·      What is the soul? (Nikki, from my church, proposed this question. I think it’s a good one.)

Where Are We Going?
·      What do I believe and feel about death?
·      What do I believe and feel about loss (from life’s circumstances; physical, mental or emotional health; death or loss of those I love?)
·      What do I believe and feel about those who have died?

Directions for the Compass points exercise are at

Italicized questions in the Big Questions series come from

Possible Adult Education Structure:
Week one
Opening prayer (2 min)
Question with time to write/reflect (10 min)
Short Biblical reading (2 min)
Closing prayer

Structure: Week two
Opening prayer (2 min)
Question with time to write/reflect (10 min)
Short poem or prose from spiritual writers
Closing prayer

When Ann came home for lunch today and asked what I’d been up to this morning, I said, “Thinking.” Ann nodded. This is normal for me.

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