Looking for a Bible Study?
Detailed Curriculum Review
By Maureen Diffley
Aim: Living a Whole Life Attentively Together in the Real World for the Good of All in Response to God
On Our Way: Christian Practices for Living a Whole Life
Edited by Dorothy C. Bass & Susan R. Briehl
The aim of the On Our Way curricula was sufficient to peak my interest. Plus, it’s free (my favorite price).
While this curriculum was designed for young adults, I doubt that there is an age group for which these practices are irrelevant.
The aim and theme of the study is “living a whole life attentively together in the real world for the good of all in response to God”. The topics are study, discerning God’s call, living as community, friendship and intimacy, singing our lives to God, care for creation, making a good living, honoring the body, knowing and loving our neighbors of other faiths, peacemaking and nonviolence, doing justice, and living in the presence of God.
Immediately, I was drawn to the holistic approach and the topics. Also, I appreciate the way the curricula’s aims honor young adults’ capacity for attentiveness and response.
Unfortunately for me, the way I went about getting acquainted with this material turned out to be pretty backwards. First, I ordered the book On Our Way: Christian Practices for Living a Whole Life edited by Bass and Susan R. Briehl (2009). Then I looked at some of the free online videos of a highly educated (theologically) person reflecting on the topic in a monologue-conversationalish way. Then I read the book – and it seemed thoroughly unnecessary for a good study on the topics. I would probably call it supplemental reading. Finally, I downloaded the FREE Bible study (80 pages) and I realized that was where the gold was.
How to use this curricula:
- A 12-13 week study with young adults
- A once-a-month study with young adults over the course of a year
- With interested participants who commit to the study, regardless of their age, in either a weekly or monthly format
- Parallel study with multiple groups using the same study and a few integrative opportunities, either as a concentrated weekly study or as a yearly journey with monthly gatherings
- Use exercises from the lessons as part of other programs, worship services and events. There are a wide variety of practical activities and Bible studies that can be used meaningfully, even if you don’t use the whole study. There are over 15 exercises per topic from which to choose.
Things to understand about this curricula:
1. The leader of this study must be skilled.
- Leaders must be able to manage a variety of activities: breaking into various interactive small group activities, open dialogue, group interpretation of Biblical texts, leading Lectio Divina and prayer, and providing homework opportunities.
- The study is designed to have more activities than can be reasonably accomplished in a 1.5 hours gathering, so it is expected that the leader will review the lesson plan and choose what portions to do and estimate the amount of time to devote to each activity.
- The lesson plan sometimes weaves homework into the lesson and sometimes puts it clearly at the end, so leaders need to make their own markings about this too. Homework is generally an experiential way of practicing the theme, not an academic-type exercise.
- The study uses Lectio Divina as a main way of hearing and responding to Scripture. It is part of each session. The guide provides an explanation and other resources to learn more about it, so a leader who is new to this method will have the opportunity to study and practice it in advance.
2. This study was created by Christians from different church traditions. As an inter-denominational project, it contains practices, histories and perspectives that may be new to Salvationists. Some ideas are inconsistent with Salvationist teaching and practice. We can trust that wise leaders will make choices about what to use and what to skip.
3. This study is based on reflections, so there is no expectation that anyone will like every single idea presented in the book or study guide. Sometimes it’s good to be challenged in that way. Sometimes we just read it, disregard it and move on. On the whole, there are a lot of interactive ways to engage with Scripture and those topics in a way that helps participants to reflect for themselves and make decisions.
Notes on the Lesson Plans
If the leader does not purchase the book, then the leader will need to consider how to support the claim that “Jesus was not a scholar, but a consummate student of life and that early Christianity was an unfolding program of study” herself.
The study was written in 2009 before a recommended text – Three Cups of Tea, was revealed to be highly fictionalized. Some may find Jon Krakauer’s 2011 book Three Cups of Deceit an interesting reflection on temptation and good intentions gone awry.
There are a ton of time-consuming activities from which to choose. If you are going to “wing” any session of the study, this should not be the one.
A recommended activity regards planning a feast day for a saint relevant to your community. If you choose this activity, then it will be key to emphasize that we are called to be saints. (It’s not about the Order of the Founder, canonization or anti-Orthodoxy/Catholicism/Anglicanism, it’s about holiness.) Use this as a call to holy living and a celebration of great examples that inspire us.
- Friendship and Intimacy
If you are running parallel groups of the same study (including of different ages), then you might show a film about friendship as a separate event. After the film showing, have everyone gather for coffee to discuss the film’s themes – and perhaps the previous topics. Try to ensure that people from different groups mix by seating them at different tables. Place a card on each table with a list of questions to help folks get their discussion started.
- Singing Our Lives to God
There are a lot of lovely, thought-provoking exercises in this lesson. To me, they do seem a bit disjointed. As someone who enjoys music, but isn’t that knowledgeable about it, I would find this session hard to lead by just reading the lesson plan (even though I have read the author’s chapter). I would probably prepare a few exercises and invite a great guest or encourage an appropriate group member to lead this session.
- Care for Creation
This lesson plan is thoughtful from a variety of angles regarding our relationship to creation and caring for God’s creation. There is one option for addressing the sometimes controversial issue of global warming – checking out a website that chronicles and supports grassroots efforts to reduce carbon emissions worldwide and finding a suitable local response, but the other 21 suggested elements do not directly name this issue.
- Making a Good Living
With thought-provoking questions and practical applications, this session will challenge most individuals – particularly those with financial resources. It is also an opportunity to do important teaching on tithing.
- Honoring the Body
This lesson is not about sex! In this lesson, there are various applications of honoring the body with regard to sleep, clothing, caring for a dying relative, Jesus’ healing miracles, the church as the body of Christ, suffering, shame, distance, Jesus’ resurrection, etc. There are multiple options, so choosing a direction and sharing homework options would be important.
This may be another logical time to bring together parallel groups (both timing-wise and thematically, i.e. Body of Christ) at a separate event, a post-worship service gathering or incorporating the theme and participants from different groups in the Sunday worship service.
- Knowing and Loving Our Neighbors of Other Faiths
This lesson is certainly coming from a perspective of explaining one’s faith, but not from the perspective of persuading another – rather from the perspective of hearing and learning from those of another faith. For some, this may be a stretch or a sacrilege. This is an opportunity to look at evangelism in the context of religious plurality and respect, which is not the same as adopting a pluralist world view. However, the leader will have to work with the materials and make adaptations.
Exercises like “on the bus”, “mapping your Jericho”, “Lectio” and “keeping the fast” are likely to be appropriate in your context.
- Peacemaking and Nonviolence
Who gets to use violence? When, if ever, is violence appropriate? What counts as violence? How violent are we? Depending on the divergence of views within your group and/or from the materials, this lesson may be the most likely to cause conflict.
Let us consider our context: the United States has been leading the occupation of Iraq since 2003 and engaging in warfare across the Middle East for over a decade. Can you expect that you have people opposed to this and that you have people who serve/d in the military? Yes. Domestic police violence against civilians, particularly boys and men of color, is increasingly made evident to the whole society through social and “mainstream” media. Can you expect that you have people who feel that most police violence is justified and that you have people who feel that police routinely abuse power? Yes. Violence in neighborhoods and homes is prevalent. Can you expect that you have people who have perpetrated this violence and who have been victimized by it? Yes.
Some violence is widely condemned (child abuse), while other violence is often generally honored or accepted (warfare). Expect that different people in the group will have very different experiences, loyalties and beliefs. Aim to foster an environment in which people can speak openly and honestly while honoring each other.
Mary Emily Briehl Duba’s essay may be among the most challenging of On Our Way. It is also the most referenced in the lesson. See separate pdf for materials to explain those exercises.
- Doing Justice
The exercises are broad and allow participants to engage with the injustice concerns that they identify. The leader can push the group to address relevant issues, instead of safe or seemingly resolved ones, if needed.
The Biblical exercise related to the role of the wilderness as a training ground for God’s people as a contrast to empire is one that I found revelatory and helpful.
- Living in the Presence of God
The concluding lesson is once again full of practical and useful exercises that address each aspect of the goal of the series – to promote the ability of participants to engage in “living a whole life attentively together in the real world for the good of all in response to God”. It would seem important to have an element from each section in the group’s final meeting and to share food.
To bring parallel groups together for a concluding celebration, you might opt for the open mike exercise and/or include a celebration of the completion of the curricula as part of the Sunday worship service. The Army’s agape feast could serve as a way of fulfilling the “become bread” exercise. In so doing, it’s possible to extend the benefit of the group to the larger congregation.