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Faith Lens

May 18-24, 2011–Taking Notice

Contributed by Jocelyn Breeland, Fairfax, VA

Warm-up Question

Would you make a good eyewitness?  Why?

Taking Notice

How perceptive are you?  In their book, The Invisible Gorilla, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons relate an experiment that sheds an interesting light on our ability to perceive events around us.

In the experiment, a man on a sidewalk in the middle of a college campus asks a pedestrian for directions to the library. While the pedestrian is giving directions, two other men approach carrying a door on their shoulders and, instead of walking around the first two men, they walk right between them, temporarily blocking the pedestrian’s view of the man to whom he was giving directions. At that moment, one of the men with the door switches places with the man who asked for directions, and resumes the conversation.

The pedestrian continues his directions, seemingly unaware of the change. In fact, although the original direction seeker and his replacement are wearing different clothes, differ in height by three inches, have different builds and noticeably different voices, nearly half of the subjects in the experiment failed to notice the switch.

This experiment highlights the phenomena of “change blindness.” We can miss even some pretty obvious changes in our environments when we aren’t expecting them.  This is just one of many ways in which our perception of the world around us can differ from reality. At any moment, our expectations, our previous experiences, our focus or lack thereof can have a dramatic effect on how we experience the world around us.

See this short video of the Door Study in action.

[Note to Leaders: More videos from the research can be found here: The Monkey Business Illusion (under two minutes’ duration) could be especially interesting when paired with this week’s Gospel message. Consider presenting it to the group.]

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think the pedestrian in the experiment didn’t notice the change in questioners?
  • Being able to focus completely on a task has its advantages. Are there disadvantages?
  • Have you had an experience where your memory of an event is different from that of someone else who was also there? Why do you think this happens?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, May 22, 2011 (Fifth Sunday of Easter)

Acts 7:55-60
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

Today’s Gospel message brings to mind the words of the Cheshire Cat of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. He told Alice if she didn’t know where she was going, it didn’t matter which way she went.

Jesus wants to make sure his followers understand where they’re going. The promise was not just new life after death, but rich, satisfying life with Jesus right now. Knowing Jesus had made this promise must have been a comfort to the disciples in the difficult times during their lives and ministry, and it is a comfort to us as well.

Like the disciples, we know our ultimate destination – a place in heaven with Jesus, where we know and are known perfectly. We even understand, in a general way, that the road which leads us there is the path of trusting God’s love and reflecting that love in a godly life. But the road takes us through some difficult territory, strewn with obstacles and distractions. It’s hard to be certain that each step we take is leading in the right direction.  That’s why Jesus calls us to focus on him, on the example of his life and the assurance of his love. If we focus on Jesus, it’s easy to follow the plan that God has for our lives. Jesus really is the way, the truth and the life. He is all we need.

Discussion Questions

  • How might your understanding of Jesus’ words be different from that of the disciples?
  • In your own experience, how has Jesus been the way, the truth and the life?
  • In verse 12, Jesus says “…and greater works than these he will do.” What does he mean?
  • Is it possible to focus too much on Jesus in your life?

Activity Suggestion

One of the great works of Christian spirituality is John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. In Bunyan’s allegorical novel, Christian, an everyman character, makes his way from his home town, City of Destruction, to the Celestial City.  Along the way he deals with various dangers, characters,  and distractions such as Mr. Worldly Wiseman, the Slough of Despond, and Giant Despair.  Draw your own map of the Christian journey, labeling the challenges which you see as most significant for someone in your context as a young adult.  For example you might put in an encounter with “Miss Babbling Twitter”, representing the temptation to spend all your time on superficial things.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your son Jesus to show us the way. Help us to keep our eyes on him and to follow the path you have laid out for each of us according to your will. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

July 14-20, 2010–Driven to Distraction

Contributed by Bill King, Lutheran Campus Ministry at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA

Warm-up Question

When you have an important school assignment to finish, what distractions are hardest for you to resist?  Why?

Driven to Distraction

If you have watched a basketball game on television you have seen rabid fans seated behind the goal trying to distract an opposing team’s free throw shooter.  “Shirtless” Bill Sproat, a student at Utah State has taken distraction to a new level, making it an art form. Sproat says that he actually hates basketball, calling it a “worthless” sport, but he loves finding new ways to get in the heads of opposing players.  At Aggies’ home games you can find him behind the goal dressed as a  snorkeler, Chippendale, or cupid.  He tries to match his character to the opponent; for example, he showed for a game against the University of Hawaii dressed as a hula dancer.  But his signature move comes in the second half of the game; he strips off his top and lets his ample torso undulate behind the backboard. 

There is some debate in basketball circles over whether the antics of fans like Shirtless Bill actually make any difference.  Top players say that if you are properly focused on the rim you do not even see the fans.  But Bill has his own focus, “If I can get them to laugh then I can get them to miss. If I get them to look at me, they’re in big trouble.”

Discussion Questions

  • How do you react to “Shirtless” Bill Sproat?  Do you find him admirable for his passion or a bit desperate in his desire for attention?
  • What do you think motivates someone like Bill, who regularly shows up to watch a game he hates?
  • Fans’ efforts to distract players are perfectly acceptable at a basketball game but are grounds for ejection at a tennis match or on a golf course.  Why?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, July 18, 2010 (Eighth Sunday after Pentecost)

Genesis 18:1-10

Colossians 1:15-28

Luke 10:38-42

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

It’s tempting to choose sides.  In this week’s lesson Jesus visits the home of Mary and Martha and we recognize sibling dynamics of many homes.  There is Martha—dutiful, responsible, eager to follow the rules.  She works hard and expects others to do the same.  You want her in charge of your project.  But she is rather high strung and prone to act like a martyr.  Mary, in contrast, takes life as it comes.  Sensitive and solicitous, she’ll drop everything if you call her up with a problem.  She is light and breezy, often artistic, easy to be with—and absolutely maddening if you need her to act on a tight schedule.  Mary and Martha love each other, but you know they drive each other crazy.

Most of us identify with either Martha or Mary, so it’s hard to avoid choosing sides in their little domestic tiff.  We tend to read this story through the lens of our own experience.  If little brother has just trashed our room—yet again—we weigh in on Martha’s side, “Yeah Lord, why shouldn’t Mary do her part instead of sitting on her duff?”  But if our daily experience is being compared to a “perfect” but rather joyless sibling sister we can see why Mary opts out of the hospitality competition.  Still, if we get too caught up in identifying with one sister or the other, we miss the point of the story.

Jesus gently rebukes Martha, not for being who she is, but for allowing herself to be distracted from what is most important.  The hospitality Martha offers is praiseworthy, but in her worrying about all the little tasks of entertaining, she has ignored her guest.  She has forgotten that the issue is not what she can give Jesus but what he can give her, if she will take time to listen.  The good has become the enemy of the best.

A defining characteristic of modern life is the lack of silence.  From morning to night we envelop ourselves in a blanket of distraction; there is no moment when we are not texting, tweeting, talking, or pumping tunes into our ears.  Before we can follow Jesus we have to discipline ourselves to stop and listen for his voice.  The challenge for good church folk is sometimes distinguishing being busy from being faithful.  Can you slow down and listen today?

Discussion Questions

  • Where do you find yourself in this story of Mary, Martha, and Jesus?
  • Why do you think we tend to fill our day with unceasing sound?
  • What “good” things occupy your time which might be distracting you from hearing Jesus?
  • Jesus tells Martha she is busy with many things, but has lost sight of what is most important.  What IS most important to you, so important that you will sacrifice everything else to have it?

Activity Suggestions

  • Make a list of everything you did in the last 24 hours. Think about how much time you spent in each activity; was it a good use of your time?  Think about how your choices support or undermine your ability to follow Jesus.  Share your list and thoughts with someone in your group.
  • In the next week, do a “cyber-fast” for one whole day.  Turn off your phone and computer—no texting, e-mails, calls, Facebook, Web browsing, etc.  At the end of that time think about how your day was different from normal.  What was uncomfortable?  What was good about being disconnected?  Talk about the experience in your group next week.

Closing Prayer

Lord, the alarm just went off and the race is on.  There are so many things I need to do, so many demands on my time, so many people’s expectations to meet.  Help me to take a deep breath, still my racing heart, and listen for your voice amid the noise of this day.  Give me the wisdom to distinguish the urgent from the important, that I may rest in your love and live only for you.  I pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.