Just Launched: Praying with Poetry with Dave Worster

We just launched a new course: Praying with Poetry with Dave Worster For Individuals and For Groups.

In a radio broadcast that he once made, the actor Charles Laughton described a conversation that he once had with the great sculptor Henry Moore, whose work is often characterized by his use of holes or hollows. Laughton asked Moore about this aspect of his sculptures, and Moore, after some contemplation, responded, “I tunneled so deep into the heart of the stone that I found God on the other side.”

Great art can tap into the eternal, connecting both the artists and those who encounter the artists’ work with the divine. In his book The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen describes an encounter that he had with Rembrandt’s painting The Return of the Prodigal Son.  He writes that the painting “brought me into touch with something within me that lies far beyond the ups and downs of a busy life, something that represents the ongoing yearning of the human spirit, the yearning for a final return, an unambiguous sense of safety, a lasting home.”

Dave Worster uses poetry to connect with God in a way similar to that in which that Nouwen used Rembrandt’s painting.  The poems that he uses become vehicles reaching into the eternal, helping the reader reach out toward the eternal in a way that Dave describes as fulfilling a need that God has made inherent to the human soul. Like Henry Moore, we are born with the need to tunnel, to push toward God, he argues, and great poetry can help us establish or recognize a connection between ourselves and the creative and loving power that created us.

In this class, Dave Worster, a writer with a Ph.D in English literature who has written a book on prayer and poetry and who has taught poetry at Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, and several other schools, offers guidance in ways to use poetry as a basis for prayer. He also models praying with different kinds of poetry. The class also offers participants opportunities to pray with poems and to discuss the experience with others.

We hope that poetry lovers and people who are interested in exploring different approaches to prayer use this course to enhance their spiritual practices.For a preview of the course, please click here.


“Family Group” by Henry Moore (1954). Note the hollow beneath the knees of the child, characteristic of Moore’s work. Image has been cropped. Used with permission through Creative Commons. 

“The Return of the Prodigal Son ” by Rembrandt (circa 1668). Used with permission through Creative Commons. 

Online Resource: Harvard Offers a Free Series of Classes on World Religions

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Different approaches to religion throughout the world — and confusion over what these religions teach — have created political and social tensions for millennia. The United States today is more conflicted about religion than ever. Anti-Semitism has (again) proven itself more relevant than most Americans want to believe it is. Bitter political battles are being fought over the current White House’s campaign to refuse many people of the Muslim faith entry to the United States. Recent events have demonstrated the dangerous results of the deep anger, confusion, and miscommunication that often occur between people of differing religious beliefs.

We’ve already discussed free classes on religion from Harvard and Yale on this blog, but here’s something new. Harvard University is attempting to shine light on what different world religions actually teach by offering World Religions Through Their Scriptures, a series of free online classes created by a team of professors in Harvard’s religion department that are available to anyone who wants to take them. The courses focus on teaching about these religions’ core beliefs through a focus on their sacred texts.

The courses originally cost $50, but now they are archived, meaning that students can no longer interact with the professors or take the course for any kind of credit or to earn a certificate, but the materials are freely available to people who simply want to educate themselves. The course materials include short video lectures, reading assignments , discussion opportunities (in which students may still participate, though the professors no longer moderate the discussions), and interactive online materials (maps, etc.).

Before forming strong opinions about other religions, learn from well-respected scholars who spend their lives studying them about what these faiths’ sacred texts actually say and how worship leaders and worshipers interpret these texts.

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Just Launched: Family Faith Formation with John Roberto



We just launched Family Faith Formation with John Roberto For Individuals and For Groups.

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Sunday school has changed a lot over the years. From the quiet discussion of Bible stories and memorizing of Bible verses that it involved decades ago, it has become a dynamic, age-appropriate resource involving crafts, computer technology, illustrated children’s Bibles, skits, children’s devotions, and colorful craft projects.


Yet in its most essential aspect, our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ approach to religious education resembles ours. Although we outsource many elements of children’s education that were once taught at home (preschool education, sports games, swimming, music lessons), families remain the main source of religious education for their children.

In this course, John Roberto discusses the essential role that families take in raising children in the Christian faith. Because families are such important agents of faith formation, he argues, churches need to reach out to the families rather than just expecting them to come to church or to depend on the church to educate children in faith.  In this course, John Roberto identifies ways to use technology to offer Christian parenting resources through websites that curate webinars, podcasts, online learning and other technological advances to help families with faith formation work. He discusses ways to match this material to the needs of families in the community and to encourage those families to utilize these resources.

We hope that you will use this course to re-imagine your church’s approach to family faith formation in exciting ways. For a preview, click below.

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Image : 1946 Sunday School in Lejunior, Kentucky. Public Domain. 
Image: Vacation Bible School at U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys at Humphreys American School in Korea. Used with permission through Creative Commons.

Seeking a Lenten Discipline?

If you are still contemplating ways to enrich your personal Lenten season this year, why not work with the experts? Consider taking one or more thematically related ChurchNext courses at home, working with others or on your own. If fellow parishioners agree to take the courses at home as well, you can respond to one another’s answers to the discussion questions. Or simply take the courses on your own. (If your church has a ChurchNext subscription, just ask the person who administrates ChurchNext courses — your pastor will know who that is, if you don’t — to add the courses and send you the links. It’s easy.)

Here are some suggestions for themed groups of classes that might address issues that are close to your heart this Lent. Make a plan to take course one every week or two at your own pace and your Lent will be that much richer in ideas for living out your Christian ministry.

1. Making Sense of the Cross. David Lose, President of Luther Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and renowned D Lose Newauthor and speaker, has created a three-part series of courses called Making Sense of the Cross. Part one addresses understanding the cross through personal experience. Part two discusses the cross as revealed in the Bible. Part three addresses major theories that theologians have put forth concerning how we interpret the cross. Try taking these three courses over the next few weeks and think about what the cross means in your life.



2. Doing God’s Work. In Matthew 25:40, Jesus says that on the last day, the king will tell those on his right hand, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and spellerssisters of mine, you did for me.” In these classes, learn how to reach out to the brothers and sisters of Jesus whom the world treats the most ruthlessly.  Besides simply being the way that decent people behave — and what we would hope for ourselves in similar circumstances — caring for oppressed  people is an important way that Christians in particular are called to reach out to one another and to Christ. Learn effective ways to reach out into the world with these courses:
Radical Welcoming with Stephanie Spellers
Responding to Refugees with Allison Duvall 
Spirituality and Racial Justice with Michael Curry
Creating Common Good: Educational Inequality with Nicole Baker Fulgham
Creating Common Good: Economic Inequality with Julio Murray

3. Wrestling with God. The ways of the Lord are mysterious — and sometimes frustrating brockfor the faithful. How do we know what God wants from us? Why does God let evil events come to pass? We can come to feel like Jacob, wrestling with the Lord throughout the night in Genesis 32. Don’t shy away from the hard questions — use Lent to engage them and come out spiritually stronger. Try these courses:
When We Get Angry with God with Laurie Brock
Why Does God Get Angry? with Rolf Jacobson
How to Discern God’s Will with Ruth Haley Barton



4. New Ways to Pray. Lent can be a great time to experiment with different methods of gunn-schenckprayer. Try a new way each week. Here are some classes that can help you learn about different approaches to prayer.

Holy Yoga with Allison LaBianca
The Anglican Rosary with Suzanne Edwards-Acton
Praying with Saints with Scott Gunn and Tim Schenck
Praying with Icons with Randall Warren

We hope that these courses help bring each of you a holy and blessed Lent.