The entries below will provide information for upcoming discussion groups. When possible, the entry will be updated after the event with summaries of what was presented and discussed.
Discussion Group Past and Present
Jared Wyma-Bradley serves as Grace's Minister of Youth Formation, Children & Youth. During the summer of 2015, while a second-year candidate for a Master of Divinity degree at Boston University, Jared traveled to the city of Ephesus in the first century Roman province of Asia Minor (in today’s Turkey, about 100 km. from Izmir, the former Greek Smyrna). His presentation dealt with life for citizens of the time.
At the time of the Apostle Paul’s visit to Ephesus as recounted in the Book of Acts, religious practice in the city centered around worship of the goddess Artemis (of long standing there ), accompanied by worship of the Roman emperor. However, this did not preclude worship of others. There is evidence that there was a synagogue – which may well have included early followers of Jesus.
The city’s identity and status among the Greek-Roman city states in the region was primarily based on the worship of Artemis. There were frequent processions from the Artemis temple (slightly outside the city) into the main part of the city, often financed by and led by elite citizens, some of whom even became priests in her cult. Status in the city became very connected with support of the cult of Artemis, and civic cohesion and order became dependent on it. Thus, when Paul and his companions spoke of abandoning Artemis to follow Jesus (which also would have a negative economic impact on the makers of Artemis idols) there was an uproar. Unlike the later persecution of Christians, the domestic practice of Christian worship does not appear to have been treated any differently than the domestic worship of other “household gods” and was not secret. Freedom of worship was fine, as long as Artemis was central to public identity and the emperor was at least given status “as a god.” (submitted by Wellington Scott)
May 22: "Civic Religion in Roman Ephesus: Identity, Cohesion, and Status," presenter, Jared Wyma-Bradley | May 29: “Saving Nature: Fasting and Feasting,” presenter, John Heywood | June 5: “Quo Vadis? Where Do We Go from Here?,” facilitator Mary Malagodi
Sunday, May 15: Grace Discussion Group Committee Meeting to plan for 2016 fall/winter programming following the 10:30 service (there will be no discussion group at 9:30).
Courtney Fallon shared highlights of her trip to India made through the Teach India Course at Cambridge College. An art teacher in Burlington, MA, Courtney has a number of students whose families come from India, and she wanted to know more about the culture and art of their native country. In August 2015, she traveled to India with another teacher and a professor for two weeks visiting schools and historic sites in southern India. In India, they stayed with host families and visited non-governmental, non-traditional schools.
Everywhere they went people were friendly and anxious to know all about them. In the area where they traveled more than twenty languages were spoken as well as Hindi, an academic language, and English. There was great diversity in the cities from paved roads and impressive buildings to dirt roads and shanties. Cars, mopeds, cows and oxen shared the roads.
They also visited the temples of Mahabalipuram, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. As a heritage site, the deities are not painted, and you can keep your shoes on in the temple. There are over 40 sanctuaries at Mahabalipuram. World Heritage sites are places of cultural or natural heritage significance as described in the UNESCO World Heritage Convention.
Courtney also visited several schools. The teaching style is very different from that in America: teachers teach and there is a right answer and a wrong answer; problem-solving and student questions are not encouraged. Children all do yoga every morning, and most classes have more than 35 students.
The first school they visited was in a rural area and run by a man whose father saw the need for a school there and built a one-room schoolhouse. The son enlarged the school, which now serves more than 300 children who are in kindergarten through 8th grade - still in one room. There the students performed for them and they spoke with the teachers. The next school they visited was a boarding school on 11 acres, which had many more resources than the rural school. Courtney taught a class there, reading The Day the Crayons Quit and leading a discussion.
They visited the Isha Foundation (www.ishafoundation.org), which is a yoga retreat and a sacred space. The Foundation funds nine schools in rural locations and provides safe homes and jobs for women, many of whom have had to leave an abusive home. They visited an Isha Vidya School which was less rigid and more like an American school. Some of the rules there were: respect the teacher; speak English; keep the class clean; wear your id; and be positive.
Other highlights of the trip included Rangoli, an art form where patterns are created on the ground using rice or sand or flower petals, and the sari shops where you could see hundreds of beautiful fabrics and have a sari made. The store made a sari for Courtney in four hours.
Courtney and her companions left on Indian Independence Day, August 15: India achieved independence from the British Empire on this day in 1947.
More information and a slideshow of Courtney’s trip is online at http://www.teachindiaproject.org/India_Immersion.htm.
This past Sunday, members of the Communications Task Force led GDG members in an exercise to brainstorm what will be a few short “key messages” that describe Grace Church, and which will help in the redesign of our website. In an exercise adapted from Jim Naughton and Rebecca Wilson’s book Speaking Faithfully: Communications as Evangelism in a Noisy World (Morehouse, 2012), participants were asked three questions:
Did you know that we at Grace Church are part of an ever-widening "Circle of Care" that is transforming communities in Boston one young person at a time? Through our continued participation in the B-SAFE summer youth program, we are helping to provide a program that keeps young people safe while enjoying summer learning with enrichment and recreation activities. Ellen Sheehy introduced our speakers: Steve Armandt, Site Director at Saint Mary 's, and Betsy Walsh, B-SAFE Partner Organizer ,who gave us the program's big and small pictures.
Betsy Walsh described her work organizing 55+ church volunteer groups for St. Stephen's Youth Programs, which have been providing year-round, out-of-school programming for youth K-12+ since 2000. Many come from new immigrant households, public housing, and all are impacted by poverty and the surrounding violence. Between B-READY, the after-school component of the program, B-SAFE, the summer enrichment program, S2POT, the part- time work program and programming for teens, along with the Intergenerational Community Organizing Program, St. Stephen's has successfully developed a partnership with families, schools and neighborhood service providers to create its Circle of Care.
Steve Armandt, is the new Site Director at Saint Mary's in Dorchester, our B-SAFE partner. Steve grew up near St. Stephen's, aware of the poverty, drugs and violence in the neighborhood, and he knows firsthand the importance of a program like B-SAFE. On a typical day at St. Mary's, the doors open for breakfast at 8:30 a.m.; from 9 a.m. to noon, there is a combination of academic and creative arts; and after lunch, park and recreational offerings (like steel pan drumming) until closing at 4:30.
Grace's week this summer is from July 18 to July 21. We'll be making and serving lunches, and on Friday of that week, helping to provide activities for the all-day program at Larz Anderson Park. There's a sign-up list on the bulletin board and you can help by donating books or money as well.
Updated 4/21: The Grace Discussion Group was treated on Sunday to a delightful tour, led by Bob Sprich, of musings on the Star Wars saga, specifically addressing the question: “Is the Force Still with Us?” Bob answers with a resounding “yes.” Using a Zen-like definition, Bob asserts that The Force is “not a person, but a force field that surrounds the universe.” Although reflecting an Eastern philosophy, the “engulfing force” concept is not absent from Western thought, as illustrated in the works of Emerson and Thoreau. The Force is still with us in a general sense of well-being. And, according to Bob, that sense of well-being can be accessed with a practice of meditation which clears the mind and provides new insights. Bob says that two fifteen-minute a day meditation sessions will not only provide enlightenment, but will add significantly to your life expectancy!
George Lucas, the producer/director of the Star Wars series, was a devotee of the power of mythology. Lucas sought to tell the story of the superhero, Luke Skywalker, who saves the galaxy in a childlike (not childish) way. His series has “one story and only one story … the story of the hero’s journey.” The characters – Luke Skywalker, Hans Solo, Obi-Wan Kenobi, R2D2, et al – represent archetypes of persons in mythic situations where there are “whole bunches of things going on.” Basically, there are two themes throughout: (1) it’s possible to grow up to adulthood and (2) man will win out over machines no matter how complex the machinery. The lesson to be communicated is that one must use one’s intuition -- that’s the force, your inner spirit. Much of the popularity of the series can be attributed to identification with the archetypical characters, although there is one demographic (college-educated women) who have been historically less enthusiastic about the series than the rest of the population. Bob attributes that to the lack of fullness, clarity and definition in the character of Princess Leia, as opposed to the presentation of the male characters.
Bob called the original Star Wars movie “a stand-alone piece – the best of the bunch.” When asked for his take on the 2015 release, The Force Awakens, Bob’s comment was “If this is the Force awakening, somebody pressed the snooze button.” Heavy on special effects, it is a retelling of the elements of the original story from the first Star Wars, but seems not to succeed as well.
Calling on his vast knowledge of literature and poetry, with an infusion of personal history and amusing anecdotes, Bob’s discourse was truly enriching and enjoyable. Thank you, Bob.
[Preview post] Robert Sprich (known to us within the Grace family as Bob), Professor Emeritus of Media Studies at Bentley University, has followed the STAR WARS saga since the release of the original film in 1977. He will discuss its amazing appeal to both adults and children and its complex relationship with the 2015 mega-hit THE FORCE AWAKENS. He will give his views on "The Force" as a religious concept and speculate on whether the Force is still with us.
Our discussion of US immigration history on April 10 was facilitated by Tim Groves, Debby Howland, and Faith Perry of the Church of the Covenant in Boston. They led us through three questions:
In discussing our own family ancestries, and placing their immigration years on the Immigration Timeline, we were reminded that our own ancestors’ reasons for coming to this country are the same as for current immigrants, which is to either escape hardship or persecution and/or to pursue opportunities. All who participated in this discussion appeared to recognize that our faith inspires us to welcome new Americans as fellow sojourners on this planet.
Boston College School of Social Work, spoke about the Syrian Refugee crisis at the April 3rd Grace Discussion Group. Westy focuses on global issues, and is the director of the BC School of Social Work Immigrant Integration Lab. Through research and training, the lab seeks to increase integration of newcomers, social cohesion and to identify barriers to integration. Their goal is to build human capital and mutual acceptance by immigrants and the receiving community.
He said that the plight of Syrian refugees was the biggest human crisis since WW II. Four million people have left Syria fleeing from their government since the civil war in Syria started in 2011. This is the equivalent of 60 million Americans fleeing our country into Canada or Mexico.
In 1951, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees formed to cope with the crisis following WW II. Article 13 of the Declaration of Human Rights states that all people have the right to seek refuge but does not state that other nations have to accept them. In addition most of the Persian Gulf states did not sign the declaration. Saudi Arabia abuts Syria, but they have accepted very few refugees. Muslims have been at the forefront of helping refugees. Several years ago Turkey prepared to take in 200,000 people - now two million refugees are there. Lebanon also has been welcoming and now has 600,000 Syrian refugees Both of these countries are overwhelmed with the large numbers coming from Syria.
Angela Merkel of Germany opened their borders, and one million refugees entered. With a growing economy and an aging population, Germany needed more workers. With the huge numbers entering, however, there has now been push back to stop immigration from Syria. Westy felt that the refugees who had entered would be integrated into German society but it would take about three years. France has accepted 20,000 refugees, and Sweden 200,000. Most other European countries are not accepting them.
There are two ways for people to escape from Syria: the land crossing into the Balkans and the water crossing to Greece. The Balkan countries have weak economies and are fearful that if refugees enter their countries, they will not be allowed into Europe and the Balkan nations will be responsible for them. One million Syrian refugees have entered Greece since last year. Most refugees fleeing Syria are middle class people who had homes and jobs. They pay about $10,000 to leave Syria and enter Turkey, and this often exhausts their resources.
On April 4, Greece will start returning recent refugees to Turkey. For every refugee returned, a European Union nation will accept a refugee. The EU signed the deal with Turkey in an effort to alleviate the crisis, but many human rights groups have criticized it.
We discussed how we can help the refugees. The political entities are not reliable to help. Many nations are resistant or hostile to accepting them and the UN High Commission on Refugees does not have the infrastructure or funding to provide enough help. Religious entities are providing the most assistance to displaced Syrians. Westy felt that donations to Church World Service (CWS), the Jesuit Refugee Services or Catholic Relief Services would be the best way for our parish to help. Find more information about CWS's work for Syrian refugees here.
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