108: What you’re telling us about reading in Lent

Thanks to a number of readers — we’re just about to give you a cool addition to our “other” current landing page here at ReadTheSpirit: www.OurLent.info

    Here’s how this happened. At ReadTheSpirit, we are pioneers in creating online community — especially gathering places online where people can share their reflections in major religious seasons throughout the year.
    To demonstrate our commitment, over time, to welcome people of all faiths into these special experiences, we began these seasons with “Interfaith Heroes Month” in January — a new global observance that we helped to establish. (Although that official month is over and we’ve concluded our series of 31 inspirational stories on that landing page — you STILL can play a major role in the Interfaith Heroes project by visiting that page and nominating some of the heroes we will honor next January.)

    BUT, right now, this is the season of Lent for Western Christians — and Orthodox churches are joining this observance soon. That’s a total of 2 billion people around the world celebrating this major season that leads to Easter. “Our Lent” is a pioneering effort to offer an online home, each day, for people to stop and reflect on that season.
    One major sign that this experiment is working is that many readers already have adopted “Our Lent” as a part of their daily lives. And, now, they’re helping us to make improvements!

    This week, a reader named Sam was talking with a friend about “Our Lent.” They were discussing reactions to the experience. Sam and his friend made a fascinating observation: They both own copies of the paperback book that contains all 40 Lenten chapters. AND, the book has a number of “extras” — mainly several “Questions for Reflection” at the end of each chapter.
    Readers of the online version get “extras” as well — photographs and reflections from several pastors!

    But, Sam wrote the following to me this week: “As we talked, it dawned on us that not everyone who reads the material online has a copy of the book. Without a book, the participant does not have the benefit of the Questions for Reflection printed at the end of each day’s chapter.
    “For me, the Questions for Reflection are a valuable part of each day’s study. They encourage me to personalize the material and apply it to my own Lenten journey. After I have written my personal responses in my book, I read the pastors’ comments online and then decide whether or not to comment.”

    When Sam’s email arrived, we were thrilled!
    Here’s the reason we did not originally add the “Questions for Reflection” to the online version: I knew that as the writer of the 40 chapters in the book I already was shaping the experience in a powerful way. I didn’t want to put too much pressure on our online readers to ask my questions, each day. They might find their own reflections sparked by the online pastors, for example.
    Seeing Sam’s note, though, our original rationale began to make less sense. Sam’s note made a lot of sense. Offering the Questions for Reflection online is a great idea.

    Remember that Western Christians count the 40 days of Lent, excluding Sunday. So, there will be one more Lenten chapter on Saturday, then we will resume on Monday morning.
    Starting with Monday’s chapter, we will begin publishing the Questions for Reflection online.
    Please — check out that addition next week and tell us what you think.
    After all, this is a brand-new online ministry that we’re pioneering. Like Sam and his friend — we’re all important in this community. So, take a look next week — and see whether you like the questions at the end of each chapter.
    Again: That starts Monday at www.OurLent.info

    THEN — ON FRIDAY MORNING around 9 a.m. — after the article you’re reading already had been online for 9 hours — an email from the Rev. Steve Andrews, founding pastor of one of America’s biggest churches (Kensington Community Church) and a partnering voice in “Our Lent,” dropped me a fresh note on Friday’s reflection. The whole issue of those troubling texts we were studying, together, had been working in his mind, heart and spirit — and he had more he needed to add.
    That is precisely the new dynamic of spiritual community (of church, if you’re Christian) that we’re exploring here, together. That’s what’s so exciting about what you’re reading here.

    After quickly posting Steve’s new thoughts for our global readership — I added the following note:

    Steve, Norman and Edgar — I’m thrilled that we’re together during Lent in wrestling with these
texts that shape the core of our lives. I spent a year reflecting on
the 40 chapters you’re reading online, studying the gospel texts,
thinking and praying — but, now, studying these texts in this amazing,
first-ever online Lenten community — everything is becoming so much
richer and the levels of prayerful reflection so much deeper.

    In founding the ReadTheSpirit project, which is the group behind
all of these new online efforts, we held a national conference back in
August — where we literally “nailed our theses on a portal” as a deliberate echo of what happened 500 years ago in Europe.

    One of our founding principles, which we’re all living out each day in Our Lent is this:

Principle 8: The Spirit moves in community.
Scriptures echo this truth, but we don’t act like we believe it.
Religious media currently segments and separates spiritual Voices,
often rejecting promising work for a lack of resources to shape these
voices and frequently boxing voices into preconceived niches, thus
crippling them. … This timeless principle of community
also reflects emerging theories of social networking in this new
century. Almost without realizing it, each of us carries a network of
people wherever we go — and linking our networks into spiritual,
creative community will produce wiser, more creative work that can
reach a far larger audience than any one of us can reach alone.

    ONE OTHER IMPORTANT NOTE: We’re producing these online experiments because we’ve got a passionate belief in the importance of exploring new forms of spiritual media. BUT, what pays the bills at the Home Office are readers buying books or films through our site. That’s true when you buy anything from our bookstore — but it’s especially true when you purchase our ReadTheSpirit books like “Interfaith Heroes” and “Our Lent.”
    We want you to keep coming back to this online home — whether you buy a book or not — but we do thank you sincerely if you place an order. As Sam points out, with your own book you’ve got a handy place to jot down your Lenten reflections, when you’re not online.

    COME BACK next week to this newsy landing page — readthespirit.com/explore/ — for an amazing new vision of Asia that we’ve just uncovered. PLUS, we’re continuing to offer you sure-fire lesson plans that are Great for Groups. We’ve got a clever quiz on Tuesday. AND, we’re going to introduce you to the godfather of this current craze for books with titles that start “The Gospel According to …” Believe it or not, the originator of this concept is back with a brand new book after all these years. And — psst — it involves Dr. Seuss! You’re going to love hearing from him.

    Add your thoughts by clicking on the “Comment” link at the end of the online version of this story. Or, you can Email ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm.

    OR, click on the “Digg” link below and add a very brief “digg” comment — even a phrase — to this story’s listing on Digg-It, which will tell even more folks worldwide that it’s worth reading:

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