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Discussion Groups


Participating in a Genesis discussion group can be a wonderful way to discover--or rediscover--the timeless stories of Genesis. For many of us, these are old and familiar stories--family stories, stories about the lives of our ancestors. Others of us barely know them; some of us don't know them at all. No matter what your background, we encourage you to think about participating in a Genesis discussion group in your community. These practical suggestions will help you to begin a meaningful encounter.



HOW TO START/JOIN A GENESIS GROUP

1. Starting a Genesis group is easy: just ask some friends and/or colleagues to join you at your home to watch and talk about the GENESIS: A LIVING CONVERSATION TV series.

If you don't want to organize your own group, join a group already formed. Check to see whether there is a Genesis group in your community by calling your local library, bookstore, place of worship, community center, or public television station; or you can check via the Web, by providing your email address below and automatically receiving in your email box a list of contacts and organizations in your state that are involved in Genesis Discussion Groups. Or you can go directly to the List of Organizations.



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2. There is no ideal size for a Genesis group, but many study group veterans say that six to ten people is an optimum number--large enough to ensure a lively interchange and diversity of opinion, but small enough so that each person has the chance to participate fully.

3. The starting point of a Genesis group must be an openness to different points of view. Keep in mind that learning about other traditions (or hearing new ideas about your own tradition) can do more than expand your world view; it can also serve to deepen both your knowledge and your belief in your own faith.

4. A group can be made up of old friends or new; it can include people from many different religious backgrounds or people of the same faith; it can have a leader or it can rotate leadership; it can meet for one or three hours. Although many people feel that Genesis groups are most exciting and valuable when they include people from different backgrounds and religious traditions, others have found sharing the experience with members of their own faith just as rewarding. You don't need an expert to lead your group. All you need is a group of people committed to re-examining the stories of Genesis, learning more about their own and other faiths' interpretations of these stories, and exploring their contemporary relevance.

5. If you want to coordinate with the series, your group should plan to meet weekly for ten weeks. Some groups will want to watch the show together and then discuss it immediately; others might prefer to meet a few days after the broadcast. You also might consider meeting every other week or even once a month.


BEFORE THE GROUP MEETS

1. Usually, one group member acts as the initial group leader. Once the group begins to meet regularly, it works well to rotate leadership.

2. When you act as group leader, it's your responsibility to take care of logistical details and to select key issues for group discussion. Choose a few questions from this guide and/or the program that you think will spark lively discussion.

3. If possible, have the ten-part GENESIS: A LIVING CONVERSATION TV series on videotape (or watch it on public television); the Doubleday book GENESIS: A LIVING CONVERSATION; and one or more translations of the Bible on hand for reference. And if your group plans to do any of the suggested activities, check to make sure you have any materials that might be needed (e.g., recent magazines and newspapers, etc.).

4. Each person who joins the group should read the section on "How to Be a Good Genesis Group Member." From the beginning, it's important for everyone to understand that the key to a successful and rewarding Genesis group is as simple as following the Golden Rule: just treat others as you yourself want to be treated.


WHEN THE GROUP MEETS

1. Have the group sit in a circle or around a table. You might begin with brief introductions and then ask one person to read the selected story aloud. Your group might want to listen to several versions. Try, for example, the King James Version; the Revised Standard Version; and The Five Books of Moses, also known as the Schocken Bible, translated by Everett Fox. You will be amazed by the differences in language.

2. As you begin to talk, try to keep the group focused on the story itself before going off in other directions.

3. Avoid "expertism." No matter how knowledgeable you are, if you present yourself as "the expert," you will change the tone of the meeting and chill discussion. Remember that this Genesis experience is meant to be different from other Bible study experiences you may have had. The focus here is meant to be on what the members of your group--not the experts--think about Genesis.

4. Lead by example. Listen actively when others speak and urge all group members to do the same. When you speak, try to build on comments made by others. One longtime Genesis group participant recommends asking each speaker to begin by acknowledging the comments of the previous speaker. Whether you agree or disagree with the earlier comment is not the only consideration; what matters is that the prior speaker feel that s/he has been heard by the group.

5. Be sure not to monopolize the conversation--and don't let anyone else dominate, either. Be polite but firm. Don't let people cut others off or "talk over" people who are speaking. Make sure that everyone has a chance to speak. Some of those who've been in Genesis groups recommend choosing an object--a paperweight, a tennis ball--that can be passed from person to person to indicate who "has the floor." While a person is holding the object, s/he has a right to speak without being interrupted. When s/he is done, s/he recognizes the next person by passing along the object. Others say that they've found it helps to use a chess timer. Each speaker is given a set amount of speaking time for the session.

6. Discussion of and reflection about the Bible can sometimes lead to very personal comments or highly charged responses. While it is important to avoid having a session turn into "group therapy," it is just as important to honor people's feelings and personal testimony. Remind group members to respect confidentiality.

7. If questions arise that cannot be answered or disagreements develop, put them aside for further discussion at your next meeting. Ask someone in the group to assume responsibility for doing some research during the week. Alternatively (or additionally), if the Genesis Bulletin Board is in operation, post your questions on-line (at http://www.pbs.org or http://www.wnet.org) and one or more of the people involved in this project may reply to your submission.


HOW TO BE A GOOD GENESIS GROUP MEMBER

You don't have to be an expert to participate in a Genesis group. Remember that the whole point of this series is to encourage everyone--including those with little or no background or expertise in the Bible--to (re)examine the stories of Genesis.

1. Listen--really listen. If you can really hear what others are saying, the group's discussion will be far more interesting, and you will learn much more.

2. Be honest. People in the group want to hear what you really think, not what you think you should say.

3. Be open to new viewpoints and new ideas. Each of us comes to the Bible with a different perspective. Try to give all interpretations a hearing.

4. Reaching consensus on the meaning of the text is not the goal of a Genesis group. Learning, sharing, and interreligious understanding are. Even when you disagree, respect others--their views, their opinions, and, most important, their beliefs. How you say things may be as important as what you say. Try to say "I don't agree with you" instead of "You're wrong."

5. Don't rush to smooth over differences. Try to understand your differences and honor them. There should be no proselytizing--hidden or overt--in this setting.

6. Don't monopolize the conversation. Remember that you will learn more from hearing others talk than you will from hearing yourself talk.

7. Come prepared. Watch the programs; read the materials; reflect on your own experience. A good discussion depends on every group member bringing his or her best thinking to the discussion--as well as his or her feelings and beliefs.


LIST OF ORGANIZATIONS

This is a list of organizations that can help you form a GENESIS Discussion Group or find an already existing group in your area.

Al-Hewar Center
124 Southeast Park Street
Vienna, Virginia 22180
Contact: Sobi Ghandour
T: 703-281-6277
F: 703-281-0528


Alliance of Baptists
1328 16th Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20036
Contact: John E. Roberts, President
T: 202-745-7609
F: 202-745-0023


American Bible Society
1865 Broadway
New York, New York 10023
Contact: The Reverend Fred Allen
T: 212-408-1200
F: 212-408-1512


American Jewish Committee
165 East 56th Street
New York, New York 10022
Contact: David Harris, President
T: 212-751-4000 ext. 202
F: 212-838-2120


Coalition for Advancement for Jewish Education
261 West 35th Steet, #12A
New York, New York 10001
Contact: Eliot Spack
T: 212-268-4210
F: 212-650-4169


Council for Initiatives on Jewish Education
15 East 26th Street
New York, New York 10010
Contact: Gail Dorph
T: 212-532-2360
F: 212-532-2646


Council of Jewish Federations
730 Broadway
New York, New York 10003
Contact: Don Kent, Director/ Dalia Pollack, Consultant on Jewish Identity
T: 212-475-5000 ext. 535
F: 212-529-5842


Episcopal Church Center
815 2nd Avenue
New York, New York 10017
Contact: Diane Porter, Director of Programs
T: 212-922-5385
F: 212-490-6684


Friars of the Atonement
138 Waverly Place
New York, New York 10014-3845
Contact: The Reverend James J. Gardiner, SA
T: 212-255-6731
F: 212-675-6160


Girls, Inc.
30 East 33rd Street
New York, New York 10016
Contact: Jennifer Young, Program Director
T: 212-689-3700
F: 212-683-1253


Hadassah, WZOA
50 West 58th Street
New York, New York 10019
Contact: Susan Marks, National Public Affairs Chairman
T: 212-355-7900
F: 212-303-4525


Institute of Christian and Jewish Studies
1316 Park Avenue
Baltimore, Maryland 21217
Contact: The Reverend Dr. Chris Layton
T: 410-323-6854
F: 410-323-3554


Institute of Jewish Religion
1 West Fourth Street
New York, New York 10012 Contact: Rabbi Norman Cohen/Ms. Jean Rosensaft, Director of Public Relations
T: 212-674-5300 ext. 215
F: 212-388-1720


Jewish Chautauqua
838 Fifth Avenue, 4th Floor
New York, New York 10021-7064
Contact: Doug Bardan, Executive Director
T: 212-570-0707
F: 212-570-0960


Jewish Outreach Institute
33 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Contact: Egon Meyer, Director
T: 212-642-2688
F: 212-642-1988


Laymen's National Bible Association
1865 Broadway
New York, New York 10023
Contact: The Reverend Robert Saul
T: 212-408-1228
F: 212-408-1448


Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies
380 Broadway
New York, New York 10027
Contact: Rabbi Burton Visotzky/ Adina Kalish
T: 212-678-8020
F: 212-678-8947


National Association of Campus Activities
13 Harbison Way
Columbia, South Carolina 29212-3401
Contact: Nancy Walbron, Director of the Educational Foundation
T: 803-732-NACA
F: 803-749-1047


National Association of Diocesan Ecumenical Officers
462 North Taylor
St. Louis, Missouri 63108
Contact: The Reverend Vincent Heier
T: 314-531-9700
F: 314-531-2269


The National Conference
71 Fifth Avenue, Suite #1100
New York, New York 10011
Contact: Wayne Winborne
T: 212-206-0006 ext. 234
F: 212-645-7546


National Congress for Black Churches
1225 I Street, NW, Suite #750
Washington, D.C. 20036
Contact: The Reverend Michael Lemmons, Executive Director
T: 202-371-1091
F: 202-371-0908


National Council of Churches in the USA
475 Riverside Drive, Suite #850
New York, New York 10115
Contact: Betty Thompson, Associate General Secretary
T: 212-870-2511
F: 212-870-2030


National Council on Islamic Affairs
230 East 44th Street, Suite 3F
New York, New York 10017
Contact: Dr. Mohammed T. Mehdi, Secretary-General
T: 212-972-0460
F: 212-682-1405


National Council of La Raza
1111 19th Street NW, Ste. #2000
Washington, D.C. 20036
Contact: Raul Yzaguirre, President
T: 202-785-1670


National Federation of Temple Brotherhoods
838 Fifth Avenue, Suite #1502
New York, New York 10021-7064
Contact: Doug Bardan, Executive Director
F: 212-570-0707
T: 212-570-0960


National Jewish Center for Learning
99 Park Avenue, Suite C-300
New York, New York 10016-1599
Contact: Irwin Kula
T: 212-867-8888
F: 212-867-8853


Neighborhood Bible Studies
34 Main Street
Dobbs Ferry, New York 10522
Contact: Shirley Jacobs, Executive Director
T: 914-693-3273
F: 914-693-4345


Outreach Judaism
P.O. Box 789
Monsey, New York 10952
Contact: Ilene Dorfman, National Program Director
T: 914-356-1915


Presbyterian Church, USA
100 Witherspoon Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
Contact: Gary Luhr, Associate Director of Communications
T: 502-569-5000/5515
F: 502-569-5018


Rabbinical Assembly
3080 Broadway
New York, New York 10027
Contact: Rabbi Joel Meyers
T: 212-678-8060
F: 212-749-9166


Religious Public Relations Council, Inc.
475 Riverside Drive, Suite #1948A
New York, New York 10115-0050
Contact: Shirley Whipple Struchen, Vice President
T: 212-870-3802
F: 212-870-2171


Shepherd's Centers of America
6700 Troost Avenue, Suite 616
Kansas City, Missouri 64131
Contact: Elbert C. Cole, Th.D.
T: 816-523-1080
F: 816-523-5790


Study Circles Resource Center
Route 169, P.O. Box 203
Pomfret, Connecticut 06258
Contact: Martha McCoy, Executive Director
T: 203-928-2616
F: 203-928-3713


Union of American Hebrew Congregations
838 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York 10021-7064
Contact: Rabbi Eric Yoffe, President
T: 212-650-4000
F: 212-650-4169


United Methodist Women
475 Riverside Drive, Suite #1504
New York, New York 10115
Contact: Ann Craig, Executive for Spiritual and Theological Development
T: 212-870-3725
F: 212-870-3948


Women of Reform Judaism
838 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York 10021-7064
Contact: Ellen Rosenberg, Executive Director
T: 212-650-4050
F: 212-650-4059


YWCA, USA
726 Broadway
New York, New York 10003
Contact: Dr. Prema Matthai-Davis, Executive Director
T: 212-614-2700
F: 212-677-9716


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