RR Book Group: Slow Church

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  • Pete Peterson
    Hutchmaster Prime
    @pete

    Here are week one’s discussion questions.

     

    Slow Church Discussion: Week 1

    ---Hutchmaster Prime, wielder of great and terrible cheeses


    Julie Silander
    Hutchmate
    @juliesilander

    Hey friends! I’m dialing in from out of town. It feels awfully quiet in this great big virtual room. How’s reading going? Has anyone started yet? Initial thoughts?

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    Suzanne Tietjen
    Hutchmate
    @suzishepherd

    I was lost in a book hangover and didn’t come to the Rabbit Room last night. Where is the discussion? I read the info stuff and feel I could wade in. Loving the book and the heart/thrust of it.

    Of course, I’m not good at discussion questions per se, but I am enjoying the book immensely.

    This quote — “Slow Church is a journey in the direction of ethics, of preferring quality over quantity, of seeking the well-being of our congregations as well as our neighborhood. … Alex Roxburgh writes that the way to know God is to “[enter] into the ordinary, everyday life of the neighborhoods and communities where we live.” (page 43) really spoke to me as I was in Atlanta last week.

    I attended a church right in downtown Atlanta, and the Pastor spoke about a man in their congregation who watched over the church, knowing the name of every drug addict, prostitute, and homeless person within a certain radius of the church. I had passed homeless men sleeping on benches on my way to church, and I thought that the man the Pastor spoke of was a beautiful example of doing Slow Church. (see https://eavesdroppingonconversations.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/first-atlanta-umc/)

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    Pete Peterson
    Hutchmaster Prime
    @pete

    Copying this over here for clarity. Julie wrote:

    Slow Church Week 1 – First Course: Ethics

    Given the last few weeks’ headlines, I can think of no better place to start than this:

    “…The most important factor we should consider in making the choices that give shape to our lives is not ‘Will it cause pain and suffering?’ but rather ‘Will it move us in the direction of the common good?’” (p.90)

    Question 1: Why is the question relevant? How have you seen the desire to avoid pain and suffering trump the desire make choices on behalf of the common good? In your community? In your own life? Give a practical example.

    “Slow Church takes the long view, examining all action and reaction by the messianic light of the last day. Paradoxically, taking the long view allows us to be truly attentive to the details of the here and now. It all matters.” (p.24)

    Question 2: How does “taking the long view” impact how we live today? Give a (non-church-related) example from your own life.

    “We learn patience by immersion, journeying faithfully alongside those who are suffering.” (p. 87)

    Question 3: When have you witnessed patience and community borne out of journeying alongside one (or many) during their suffering?

    *Note of interest (at least to me). As I was reading the story of the fire across from the church on Christmas Eve, I realized the church referenced was the church in which I grew up. I was in college at the time, but the incident has indeed marked the community twenty-five years later.

    ---Hutchmaster Prime, wielder of great and terrible cheeses

    The first part of this book has impacted me deeply. My work is with a small group of volunteers (amatuers) that have sought to build relationships with the street community of our city. We have made many mistakes along the way. But we have been continually challenged toward the long view…the common good.

    We have done our best to reject the “we, from the better part of town, have come to you, the wrong side of town, to help you the way we see fit.” But any urban effort at outreach usually begins trying to give people food and used clothing. We did this at first until we realized that the people on the street were becoming our friends, not projects. This only happened when we started to stick around for a while. When we began to enter into conversations.

    We used to run a bread line in a couple of parks, taking day old donated bread from the groceries out and managing a line of folks that could use it. But soon this became a thing far from the heart of what we felt to do together. These handouts were counter productive to building community, they kept a wall firmly in place.

    A homeless friend of ours suggested we bring some coffee and tables and chairs and set up a street coffee time. He even bought our first bit of coffee for us to start with. This was the start of our street cafe that we have been running for 10 years now. Every week, rain or shine, we set up tables, chairs, games, coloring books, etc and have coffee with the street community. Sometimes people share live music. Sometimes we just play the oldies station and sing along together.

    It’s not perfect but we’re committed to the long view…to relationships. One of the hardest things to contend with is the way people have been treated by churches in the past. There is a bit of de-evangelism that has to take place before folks realize that this is something different than a handout of free food and clothes. That we are offering a way to build something together. Patience…oh, how that word through this book has been a refreshing to me.

    People come with their very broken lives. I had begun to see the cafe times as a sort of triage. That people and their problems are something to “deal with.” That is not hospitality. And I know people can feel when they are being “dealt with.” With this reading fresh in my mind, I helped open the cafe yesterday committed to patience and conversation. To see these folks as people, friends.

    I had the best conversation with a newly homeless man (3 days). We shared, he talked about his sadness then he told some funny stories then we prayed together. He is not a project. He is a person.

    Thanks for pointing me to this book. I’m also on the board for my small congregation. We are headed out tomorrow for a bit of a vision retreat. Reading this has come at just the right time for me.

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    @cwhitler I love that street cafe idea. What a beautiful thing to do.

    Just finished this week’s reading! It’s funny, but I keep noticing recurring themes of rootedness and slowness coming up in everything I read lately. And since we are putting down roots in a new church, this is an especially timely read for me.

    Last summer, Chris and I found ourselves “church shopping” after our small community folded. We visited a few places, but ultimately landed at a church in Providence, RI that values beauty, community, and participating in God’s redemptive work. So it made me happy to recognize some of the Slow Church ideology in their vision. (centered set vs. bounded set thinking and parish models are things they’ve talked about)

    I’m going to sit with Question #2 for a little while… even though I am slow to change, sometimes I struggle with taking the long view, or thoughtfully and completely rooting in a place. (Says the person who has only moved once in her life… stability on the outside, keeping possibilities open on the inside, I guess. :))

    Still pondering the last chapter on patience too. These questions were especially thought provoking concerning technology…

    To what end are we saving labor? What kind of space are we creating in our lives by eliminating labor? What will we do with that space?

    Earlier today, I read an article praising the ability to watch TV shows at double speed. The author talked about how this was the wave of the future and made a case for saving time, retraining your mind to comprehend motion and speech at higher speeds. The side effect though is watching a film at the theater was “suffocating,” and live TV so painfully slow and boring. And I couldn’t help but think… when your brain is trained for that kind of speed in media, what does that do to your perception of real life?

    So this is the cult of speed. What an opportunity for “slow church” to become the counterculture.

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    Linda Rogers
    Participant
    @misslinda

    I don’t have the book, so I can’t comment directly about it. But I think there is room in the discussion questions for some of my thoughts, even without reading the book.

    Question 3, especially, I found very relevant.

    “We learn patience by immersion, journeying faithfully alongside those who are suffering.” (p. 87)

    Question 3: When have you witnessed patience and community borne out of journeying alongside one (or many) during their suffering?

    I have witnessed this patience toward me and toward others, and it surprised me. To preface this, I have been part of a rather wide range of churches at various times in my life. Within those churches there have been a wide range of responses to how to deal with suffering. In each of these churches, there were some people who responded well and some who did not, so I am not criticizing any particular church, but different groups are prone to different types of weaknesses. In dealing with physical illness, some prayed for healing but expected nothing to happen and were shocked and frightened if something did change unexpectedly. Some prayed and expected a miracle that moment and if it didn’t happen, they would possibly blame the sick person for lack of faith or hidden sin in their life that MUST be blocking the miracle. Some prayed and looked for ways to practically help at the same time, but then often became disillusioned and burned out if the person’s condition didn’t improve, and sometimes this “love” seemed to have strings attached- expectations that the person would pay back the care at a later time somehow.

    I hadn’t realized how much I had noticed and been impacted by these things until I was the one with a chronic, life altering health problem. I found it hard to even admit that something was wrong, because I expected one of the responses above (and often I do get them) and they do not help. But this particular issue, a sleep disorder, is not something I can keep hidden for very long.

    Then I found the church I am currently a part of. After being there for a short time, maybe a couple months at the most, someone from the church wanted to have a month of prayer and fasting for myself and another church member who was also having serious health issues. Different people from the group signed up to pray and fast different days. Honestly, I was TERRIFIED. I was trying to take that in the way it was intended, as love and support for me, but I’ve seen enough to know that if people invest a lot and don’t get the results they want, things can go terribly wrong. They did it, and I spent a lot of time begging God to listen to them so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the problems that would come up if they prayed this much and I didn’t improve. But the answer was no. My condition didn’t change. I still have it. What I found so shocking was that NONE of the people who participated in this blamed me or questioned if I were doing something wrong, and none of them acted like I owed them something. Those prayers were really given as a GIFT, no strings attached and no expectations of me. This is not coming from a lack of expectation or the assumption that God wouldn’t act either. These are people who are still praying for me to be healed, even after 9 years. Perhaps this shouldn’t be something unusual, but in my experience, it is.

    From the other side, I learned something about the willingness to suffer with someone when a friend of mine was diagnosed with leukemia. The kind she had progresses quickly, so as soon as she was diagnosed, she went to the hospital and started chemo the next day. This is a very long story and probably not one that would interest everyone, so I’m going to get to the point. I ended up living with her in the hospital as her caregiver through several rounds of chemo and eventually through a bone marrow transplant. I was certainly not the only one helping, but I was heavily involved. I wanted to be there and to help, but there was an internal struggle at first with the fear of pain. I knew if I was her caregiver and she died, it would hurt a LOT more than if I were just a friend from church. I hadn’t realized that I had that motivation in me so strongly until a situation like this brought it to the surface. I wanted to help, but I didn’t want to get in so deep that I would have to really share the suffering. I wanted some distance, some insulation, to protect me. But that is not what we are called to. Once the decision was made, it turned out to be much easier than I expected. The practical parts were not as difficult as I thought they would be, although there were some hard times. But my friend did very well and made a full recovery. I have no idea how hard it would have been if she had not, but I hope I would have been willing to walk with her through that too.

    (Incidentally, it is because of my health problems that I could do this. If I were healthy myself, I would have a normal job and commitments that would have prevented it. My sleep disorder, which is a liability everywhere else, was a superpower in the hospital. Other people found it exhausting to try to sleep in a recliner and have nurses coming in several times each night, but the ability to sleep comes easily for me. Staying awake is NOT so easy.)

    I hope I’m not rambling too much. I know I might not REALLY be on the right topic, since I don’t have the book. But this faithfulness and willingness to suffer with each other has been one of the really amazing things that I have found in my current church. I did not realize it existed at a church level until I saw it happening. I’d only seen that type of commitment between people in a marriage or a really close friendship, but never in a group.

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    Pete Peterson
    Hutchmaster Prime
    @pete

    I get the feeling folks are still reading through part 1. Am I right?

    ---Hutchmaster Prime, wielder of great and terrible cheeses

    @pete, I am.

    Also @pete, I had a discussion facilitation idea. Do you think it would be possible to set up some kind of real-time chat a few times during the book discussion?

    Not sure about the best system for setting that up (Google Hangouts, Skype or something else?), but that would be super cool.

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    Pete Peterson
    Hutchmaster Prime
    @pete

    That’s a fun idea, but I have no clue how to make it happen. Do you mean audio chat? If you just mean text chat, isn’t that about the same as using the forum?

    ---Hutchmaster Prime, wielder of great and terrible cheeses

    Actually, @pete, I mean video! Google+ didn’t really take off as a social network, but I think it’s pretty easy to set up a Google Hangout. Not sure if it would work to host something via Skype, but I have group Skype meetings for work sometimes. Or maybe there’s another option? I don’t want to overburden you guys with tech stuff, but it would be great to be able to talk for a little in real time in a non-typing way.

    I’m still reading. The past two weeks got busy! I should be able to catch up in the next couple of days and come back for some conversation. I’ve been highlighting good stuff that is sticking out to me.

    A quick note/comment: In chapter 1, talking about the disciples’ community, the authors say, “Centered as they were on Jesus, these seemingly mundane activities [they ate together, traveled together, and shared all facets of life] took on religious significance.”

    This has been one of the things I’ve longed for most in a church community: the space to live life together. I know there is a lot of condescension thrown on the term “do life together,” but this is the context where it fits. I want people who can come over and hang out. I want people who will call me up when they’re taking a walk and invite me along. I want invitations to meals inside a home and to invite others to meals inside my own. Last night I had one of the most refreshing evenings I’ve had in a while–dinner with friends from church, including their children who range in age form 9-14, and then a game of Clue afterward. As I left, the mom half-apologized for a daughter’s overexcitement throughout the evening, and I told her to stop–“Thank you for inviting me into your real life,” I said. I live alone, and I don’t get to do real life with families very often. In the context of being fellow believers, and particularly fellow believers who attend the same local body, last night was a sacred time.

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    @emmaj that is a fun idea! Skype would probably get complicated, but Hangouts is the greatest thing Google+ gave us. 😀

    I’m doing a little research, and I think there’s a limit of 25 people in a hangout at once. There is a thing called Hangouts On Air where a group can do a hangout broadcast it to an unlimited number of viewers, but that’s probably not as fun…

    Anyways, here’s the info if this is something we’d seriously like to orchestrate: https://apps.google.com/products/hangouts/

    Another thought… conference call? I’ve used FreeConferenceCall.com to interview a group of people spread in different states, and that seemed to work well. And up to 1000 people can call in, so we wouldn’t have to worry about limits. 🙂 I think they have other video options too, but I’ve never explored it.


    Janna Barber
    Hutchmate
    @jannabarber

    I’m only at the beginning of chapter 3, but here are a couple of thoughts so far:

    1. In some ways, this is like reading Wendell Berry, because it makes me feel like changing regular churches into these ideal “slow” churches is a monumental task (in the same way I’ll never be able to become Hannah Coulter).

    2. I agree with most everything they’re saying, and I suspect most of us feel that way. So where are the folks that don’t agree, and how can we get them to read the book?

    3. It’s been awhile since I’ve read a didactic book, and that makes me read even slower. Live discussion with real life examples would be wonderful.

    @carrieg – I love your story. I wish more of us made time like this for each other, and saw it as a priority rather than something we try to cram in at the end of a busy week every once in awhile.

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    “So where are the folks that don’t agree, and how can we get them to read the book?”

    @jannabarber I’m glad you brought this up. I wonder too. I feel like in theory, most of us would want this for our churches… Like, is anyone really for McDonaldization? Then again, if chutch/ministry leaders have even subconsciously bought into the “numbers = blessing and success” mindset, maybe this is a message they need to hear.

    Mixing business and ministry can be awfully gross. Sometimes people begin with good motives (numbers = more people being reached!) but can lose sight of that after a little success. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this happen.

    “… Changing regular churches into these ideal “slow” churches is a monumental task…”

    Yep. I am guilty if wanting this kind of experience in theory but denying it in practice. I long for community, but most days I’d rather stay home. I struggle to make the space and take the initiative in welcoming others in. (Like the family in @carrieg‘s story… That’s so lovely!)

    This book has the dual effect of making me nod in agreement then pricking my conscience. 🙂

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     Like, is anyone really for McDonaldization? Then again, if church/ministry leaders have even subconsciously bought into the “numbers = blessing and success” mindset, maybe this is a message they need to hear. Mixing business and ministry can be awfully gross. Sometimes people begin with good motives (numbers = more people being reached!) but can lose sight of that after a little success. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this happen.

    One of the largest churches in Charlotte has the McDonald’s mindset. Charlotte churches are working hard to work together for the good of our neighbors, but it’s hard to even think about working with this church. One, I don’t know that they’d join in; two, we are all pretty cynical about them. And yet, I meet people regularly who attend one of their campuses and call that church “home.” I haven’t had the opportunity yet to dig in with some of those folks to find out what the appeal is. On the other hand, I see passion for community and relationships in their lives. So how does attending that church jive with the desire to go deep? I can’t quite figure it out.

    I think some of it comes down to ease. Say what you will about fast food, but on a busy day when I’m running errands, I usually end up with some form of it–yes to save time, but also because it’s easy. I may in theory want slow food, but even at home I’m just as likely at the end of the day to pull out a frozen Trader Joe’s Tikka Masala as I am to make the effort to prepare and cook something.

    “… Changing regular churches into these ideal “slow” churches is a monumental task…”

    Yep. I am guilty if wanting this kind of experience in theory but denying it in practice. I long for community, but most days I’d rather stay home. I struggle to make the space and take the initiative in welcoming others in. (Like the family in @carrieg‘s story… That’s so lovely!) This book has the dual effect of making me nod in agreement then pricking my conscience. 🙂

    I like to think I’mm better at doing the relationships thing than I am fast food v. Preparation, but then I think of the people I haven’t invited because my house isn’t preschooler proof.

    @jroseyokel, I think one key element is that willingness to take initiative. I desparately want to be invited, but I often don’t take the initiative to invite others. I was in a study this spring where we dug into building relationships with women across generations to live life side by side. Across the board, we all desired connection and relationship, and across the board we all thought no one else felt the same way. We all learned that we needed to be brave and take that initiative.

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    Julie Silander
    Hutchmate
    @juliesilander

    Hey friends – I’m back in town (literally and virtually). Thanks for all the input. I’m excited to be reading with you.

     

    @cwhitler – I love everything about this. We have several refugee friends, and I’ve learned so much from them through the years. We’re all human beings occupying the same planet. That should be an obvious starting point – but sometimes I still need to be reminded that we are far more alike than we are different. Thank you.

    @jroseyokel – “To what end are we saving labor” was one of the more unexpected (and therefore, impactful) quotes that I highlighted. As someone who values efficiency (although I struggle with it personally), I hand’t considered that saving labor could actually result in laziness/slothfulness.

    @misslinda – Yay! I’m so glad you chimed in. Your words ring true. I’m honored that you’d share your story – what a good reminder. I read The Problem of Pain by CSL a few months ago, and he addresses just what you’ve talked about. Sometimes, our need is actually a gift to the Body. Seeing someone in need/pain draws out compassion and dependance on the Father. It grows faith and community. I’ve seen that play out recently in my life as well.

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