110: Sure-Fire Groups You Can Lead 02: God, Superheroes and Deep Questions

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      Last week, we launched our first “Sure-Fire Groups You Can Lead” with Group No. 1: “The Uncensored Bible: How Bible Scholars Wrestle with Even the Naughty Bits of the Good Book.”

    Clearly, you’re intrigued. Many readers seem to be withholding judgment as you look over what else we’re going to propose in coming weeks. That’s just fine! Keep reading.
    In response to our first idea, an email from Mary-T in Memphis, Tenn., said: “What will they think of next? … But we might look at this book, when it comes out this summer. … Keep making us think.”
    An email from Bob Rivers, who says he’s in his 60s and lives near Atlanta with is wife, said: “I laughed when I read that and thought you were crazy … or someone was crazy. But I see you’re serious about this. … I agree that we need to do something to shake up our Bible Study group. … Not sure we’re ready for this sex thing, but I’m listening. We liked Rick Warren’s book very much. That’s our ‘last-best’ mark, but it was several years ago. There must be other good ideas.”

    And, Bob: Yes, there are more great ideas!

Manga_bible_by_siku_2 Here’s our SECOND edition of …
Sure-Fire Groups You Can Lead

    GROUP No. 02: “God and Superheroes: Look, Up in the Sky!”
    When you list this new short-term group in your newsletter (or
post it on your bulletin board), print a little box right under the
title that says: “Admission to this class requires: 1 cartoon or comic you love, 1 dose of spiritual imagination — and lots of laughter while we learn!”

When to Schedule the Group:
     Anytime. All the resources I’m describing here are available.
    (Click on any of the covers or titles in today’s piece to jump to our reviews and order copies through Amazon.)

    Should you wait? Well, if you’re interested in a timely class tied into the next movie in the  “Superman Returns” series — that sequel isn’t scheduled for release in theaters until 2009 and even that general target isn’t set in stone. (The next Batman sequel, “The Dark Knight,” opens in theaters on July 18 this summer, but Batman’s persona is not as central to this class as Superman.)
    The books are hot right now. Greg Garrett’s terrific “Holy Superheroes!” has just gone through a complete revision, so this is a good time to use his book. And, “The Manga Bible” is very popular right now, including recent coverage in the news pages of the New York Times. So, I wouldn’t wait until next year. If the class catches on — you can run a second series, pegged to the release of the new “Superman” movie next year.

And the Point of This Group Is …
    To take a refreshing look at our assumptions about the nature of God and the spiritual heroes of our religious traditions. Most churchgoers have heard so many weekly Bible readings, sermons and liturgies talking about heroes of the faith that we tend to zone out on many of the most important lessons we can learn from these biblical figures. When it comes to our understanding of God and Jesus, most long-time churchgoers don’t stop to rethink what draws us so powerfully toward the divine.
    For non-churchgoers, God, Jesus and biblical heroes are giant question marks. However, it’s obvious that there’s a huge, popular desire for stories about larger-than-life figures. Let’s explore this very compelling swirl of super stories — and the deep spiritual desires we share to find truth in such epics.

    This can be a great group — especially because it can cross generational lines.
    And, if some group members aren’t too excited about exploring the bigger, heavier comic books and graphic novels — then encourage them to bring their favorite comic strips into class as their contributions. They can pull them off their refrigerator doors and share them in class. These comic-strip additions also are likely to add the laughter that’s such an important part of those groups that we just can’t wait to attend.

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Length of This Group Series:
   
Six to eight weeks.
    First Session: Group members get to know each other by sharing their own favorite comic books, graphic novels or comic strips. Why have these choices become a part of their lives? Was it a childhood pastime? Something that lights up the day now? Why do we enjoy these comic characters? Then, ask each person to name a favorite character in the Bible — other than God and Jesus. Why are these favorites? Jot down short answers about the popularity of certain Bible characters. Are there any comparisons or contrasts emerging between the first and second lists?
    Devote 1 or 2 Sessions to viewing “Superman Returns” as a class. The running time is more than two hours, so you may need to divide it between classes — or extend the class to see the whole thing together. After the film, ask for quick reactions to the statements: “Superman is like (and not like) God.” And: “Superman is like (and not like) Jesus.”
    Four to five more sessions: The class moves through “The Manga Bible.” Because “The Manga Bible” is a graphic novel, the 200-page text highlights mainly biblical heroes. One natural division of the book for this class is: 1.) Genesis through Moses. 2.) Job through Ruth. 3.) Samuel, Saul and David. 4.) Jesus. 5.) Paul. The discussion, each week, starts with new impressions these sections give of these well-known figures. Then, we ask whether we agree with Siku’s interpretations. You may find yourself sharply disagreeing with his vision.

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How Can We Spice Up This Group?
    The class will be stronger if at least some group members also read Greg Garrett’s “Holy Superheroes!”
    Greg’s book opens with an overview of the themes the class will explore and the first superhero he explores at length is Superman. You’ll find lots of thoughtful material in his book. The main text is only 120 pages long, so it won’t be a burden for class members to read.

    Another clever contribution to the class can come from at least a couple of class members who will agree to visit local comic or book stores and find additional comics to sprinkle through the class. They might present one example per week. Greg’s book has suggestions of specific comics to read.

    If you want to use more film in your class, another option is to show a portion from Part 2 of the PBS series “The Jewish Americans,” which examines the creation of the Superman character in the 1930s.

    Finally, we’ve already provided some cool resources on comics in our earlier 3-part series on comics and spirituality. For example, there’s a fun quiz about superheroes you can use with your group.


What If I’m Not Christian?

    As we explained last week, more than 4 out of
5 Americans say they’re Christian — so most of the group-study
materials published in the U.S. are aimed at Christian audiences. Over
time, we’re going to offer some interfaith and cross-cultural group
ideas.
    This particular class on comics is ideal for Jewish groups, as well. While a number of new books on spirituality and comics, like Greg’s book, are written primarily for Christian audiences — the themes cut across religious boundaries. In fact, much of the history of American comics was shaped by Jewish writers and artists. Michael Chabon explores this turf in the best-seller, “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.”
    Comics are becoming so popular that there now are comics for Buddhists, Hindus and even Muslims, although Islam discourages imagery as potentially leading to idolatry. The new Muslim comics are called “99 Names.”

IF YOU RUN A GROUP … Please, tell us what you’re
reading, watching and discussing that’s been a success for you! Our
readers love hearing from other readers.
    Click on the “Comment” link at the end of any of our online stories to share your thoughts. Or, you can email me, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm.

COME BACK to this page Tuesday and Wednesday this week — and you’ll meet the spiritual
godfather of all those best-selling “Gospel According To …” books. THEN — Thursday — we’ve got a completely new vision of Asia to share
with you, following up on our popular series on spirituality that we
reported from Asia.

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