SP 2527 Spiritual Life and Leadership


Integrating Spirituality and Social Structures:  Social Discernment
San Francisco Theological Seminary
Professor Elizabeth Liebert

Spring, 2007

Description
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Social Discernment is a process of prayerful reflection and small group sharing that helps individuals (and, by extension, groups) to become more clear about how God is at work in systems and structures and might be calling them to respond. This process can lead to action on behalf of more just systems and to a clearer understanding of the relationship between one’s spirituality and action on behalf of justice. Learning strategies include: reflection and weekly written response to a series of questions, small group sharing, reading, two brief reflection papers. Participants must commit themselves to the weekly class and to the whole discernment process in order to receive credit.

Staff:Elizabeth Liebert, Elizabeth Ford, Taeck Dong Lim
Place: Geneva 100 and five break-out rooms
Time: Wednesday, 8:30-10:10

Course Requirements
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  1. Circle Attend regularly. The process is the content, and small groups’ depth depends upon the regularity of the participants’sharing and presence. Since most weeks the small groups will begin almost immediately, on-time attendance will be required for the smooth functioning of the small groups.
  2. Prepare, prayerfully, the questions for each step of the Social Discernment process prior to the session in which it will be discussed. This preparation can take an hour or more per session.
  3. Actively participate in the small group debriefing of the questions, sharing briefly the relevant aspects of your discernment and commenting helpfully (with Contemplative Listening skills, if you know them) on the processes of others.
  4. Read the required readings. These will be clustered at the beginning of the class. Your internalizing of the readings should be demonstrated explicitly in the first integration paper.
  5. At the beginning of the semester, all students will be asked to identify a moment of personal moral and/or spiritual freedom taken from their own personal history and share it with the members of their small group. This experience will serve as a touchstone for the process of social discernment.
  6. Write two brief reflection/integration papers. The first covers the relationship between the course reading and the process of Social Discernment as you have so far experienced it. Due February 23. Length: 3pp. double-spaced. Please provide 2 copies of this paper. The second paper will discuss your experience of the Social Discernment Cycle.  Include a reflection on the confluence between the way God is working with you in the personal, interpersonal and structural arenas of your life (the issue of “simultaneity”). Due April 27. Length 3-4 pp. double spaced.  Please provide 2 copies of this paper.

Learning Objectives
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  1. To wrestle with the connection between contemplation and action. Demonstrated by:
  • working through the entire process contemplatively to an action at the conclusion
  • sharing one’s process in the weekly small groups, particularly Phase IV and Phase V
  • reporting on the impact of the whole process in the final reflection paper
  1. To learn a particular process for discernment with/in a system or structure called “The Social Discernment Cycle.” Demonstrated by:
  • reading the Liebert, Henriot and Wink essays and responding to them in the first reflection paper
  • doing the process, stage by in stage, as provided in the worksheets
  • sharing one’s process in the weekly small group
  • reporting on it in the final reflection paper
  1. To learn some basic skills in social analysis. Demonstrated by
  • reading Holland and Henriot chapter and reflecting on it in the first paper.
  • doing social analysis on the system chosen
  • reporting on the analysis in small group discussion of Phase III and the final reflection paper
  1. To gain a general understanding of the communal nature of spiritual formation in the Christian tradition. Demonstrated by:
  • Reading the Bedford article and reflecting on it in the first paper
  • experiencing, observing and discussing small group dynamics within the small group,
  • reflecting on one’s observations of the group in the final paper
  • completing the course evaluation
  • maintaining the small group covenant of confidentiality.
  1. To transfer this spiritual practice to other pastoral and academic settings. Demonstrated by:
  • reading the Bodewes chapter and reflecting on it in the first paper
  • participating in the process of generating and critiquing applications for present and future ministries

Note: How effective the process will be depends on what you put into it. We will not attempt to measure this kind of effectiveness by the grade. Grading is Pass/Fail. A pass indicates attendance, completion of the process (individual and small group) and two reflection papers.

Required Reading
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Bedford, Nancy. “Little Moves Against Destructiveness: Theology and the Practice of Discernment.” In Practicing Theology: Beliefs and Practices in Christian Life, ed. Miroslav Volf and Dorothy Bass, pp 157-181. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

Bodewes, Christine. “Can the Pastoral Circle Transform a Parish?” In The Pastoral Circle Revisited: A Critical Quest for Truth and Transformation, ed. Frans Wijsen, Peter Henriot, Rodrigo Mejía, eds, pp. 56-72. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Press, 2005.

Center for Spirituality and Justice, “The Experience Cycle.” 1978: Appendix, pp. 78-79.

Henriot, Peter. “The Public Dimension of the Spiritual Life of the Christian: The Problem of Simultaneity.” Soundings, Washington, DC: Center of Concern: 1976, 13-14.

Holland, Joe and Henriot, Peter. Social Analysis: Linking Faith and Justice. Washington D.C:  Orbis/Dove/Center of Concern, 1988, Introduction, Chapter 1.

Liebert, Elizabeth. “Linking Faith and Justice: Working with Systems and Structures as a Spiritual Discipline.” Christian Spirituality Bulletin 5 (Spring 1997): 19-21.

Wink: Walter: “The Spirits of Institutions,” In The Hidden Spirit: Discovering the Spirituality of Institutions, ed. James F. Cobble, Jr. and Charles M. Elliott, pp. 16-24. Matthews, NC: Christian Ministry Resources, 1999.

The articles will be posted in Blackboard (directions for accessing Blackboard will be given at the first class) and will also be posted in a looseleaf notebook on the reserve shelf of the library. You may make your own copies if you choose not to read them online or in the library.

Tentative Course Outline
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NB: Reading Assignments to be completed by class time on the day assigned.

January 31:  Introduction of participants, introduction of this semester’s topic and process, syllabus and readings; comments on service/leadership component, directions for accessing Blackboard. Introduction to Discernment (ppt. III)

February 7:  Plenary: Overview of the Social Discernment Process (ppt IV) and how to participate to greatest effect. The Experience of Freedom. Small group: forming group covenant.

Assignment: Liebert, Henriot (“The Public Dimension”); Holland and Henriot (“Intro” and “Social Analysis”)

February 14: Plenary: Theological dimensions of social discernment (ppt VI). Explanation of Phase I: Selecting the Structure. Small group: sharing personal moments of freedom.

Assignment:  Wink, Bodewes and Bedford

February 21: Plenary: Thinking Structurally (ppt V) Explanation of Phase II: The Current Situation. Small group process: sharing of Phase I.

Assignment: (to be done prior to class): Select the structure you will work with for the remainder of the semester, using the sheet provided to create a record of your reflections.

First reflection paper due today, in duplicate, on all the readings.

February 28:  Small group: sharing of Phase II

Assignment:  reflecting on and writing of Phase II questions.

March 7: Plenary: Explanation of Phase III: Social Analysis. Small group process: sharing of Phase II, completed.

Assignment: compete reflecting on and writing of  Phase II questions.

March 14:  Small group: sharing of Phase III questions.

March 21: Plenary: Social Discernment and the Work of Justice (ppt. VII); Explanation of Phase IV:
Social Discernment. Small group: sharing of Phase III, completed.

Assignment:  complete reflecting on and writing of Phase III questions.

March 28: Reading week. Class does not meet this week.

April 4:  Small group: sharing of Phase IV.

Assignment: reflecting on and writing of Phase IV questions.

April 11: Plenary: Using Social Discernment With a Church: Case  (ppt.VIII),Explanation of Phase V: Pastoral Action. Small group: complete sharing of Phase IV

Assignment: complete reflecting on and writing of Phase IV questions.

April 18:  Small group: sharing of Phase V.

Assignment: reflecting on and writing of Phase V questions.

April 25: Plenary: Record-keeping for Spirituality Concentration. Small group: complete sharing of Phase V questions; Small group closure today.

Assignment:  Second reflection paper due today, in duplicate.  In this paper, share the results of the process to date for you personally, and address how and where you see a confluence between the way God is working with you in the personal, interpersonal and structural arenas of your life.  

May 2: Plenary discussion: what have we noticed about this process? What implications can it have for personal and corporate spiritual guidance? How can it be adapted to various pastoral situations?  Course evaluation.  Closure ritual for plenary.

Assignment: Second reflection paper due today, in duplicate. In this paper, share the results of the process for you personally, and address how and where you see a confluence between the way God is working with you in your personal, interpersonal and structural arenas of your life.