Our first "Summer Faith Fellowship" went very well tonight. Inspired by the Pub Theology/Theology on Tap efforts of other churches, this event was designed to be a loosely structured conversation that reflected on a "real life" issue in light of faith. Sixteen of us met in the living room of a member's house, where we shared drinks and snacks before settling down for some conversation.
Tonight's theme was the price of gas. I opened with two questions:
- What is the lowest gas prices you can remember?
- How has the recent increase in gas prices impacted your lifestyle?
These questions generated some opening conversation about the changes to our nation's economy and their impact. Then I played a report from NPR's Morning Edition about a family from Ohio with five children and two large SUVs (from Wednesday, June 18 – Ohio Family Struggles with Costs of Driving SUVs). Following the report, I asked a simple question:
- What jumped out at you from the report?
I had a few additional follow-up questions also planned, but I didn't need them. The conversation in response to the NPR piece flowed very well.
As response to that piece slowed down, I played another NPR report (also from Wednesday, June 18 – Energy Costs Drive Up Prices of Nearly Everything). Again, I asked a simple question:
- What jumped out at you from the report?
That report and question led to a conversation about economic theory – will consumers really just keep paying more for oil and oil-derived/dependent products? Again, I had detailed follow-up questions, but I did not need them.
In response to these two NPR reports, our conversation touched on a variety of issues – consumption, town planning/suburban sprawl, public transportation, packaging, waste, sanitation/health concerns, a "throw-away" mentality, environmentalism, carbon footprint, poverty, priority-setting, and more. People shared insights from their youth, their friends and families, their travel overseas, their areas of expertise, their daily lives . . . It was really great.
Then I asked the God question:
- Where is God in all of this?
Flowing from this question we talked of living lives of gratitude; stewardship; concern for the poor. We talked about Genesis, and wondered to what extent the issue of environmental stewardship – as a calling of faith – should lead us to political and social activism. We talked about living faith every day instead of only on one hour on Sunday mornings. We talked of the difficult choices that lay before us, and acknowledged the complexity of the issue.
For this part of the session that focused explicitly on the God question, I had planned several talking points based on the premise that the increase in fuel prices represented a hardship. However, these questions really didn't go anywhere, because for most of the people gathered for our discussion the increased expense of fuel was not a significant hardship (either because they do not drive much or because they can absorb in the increased cost without much difficulty). Nonetheless, the preparation I put into these questions helped me even as the conversation moved in unplanned directions.
At about five minutes prior to the agreed upon time – 9pm – I wrapped up the conversation and closed with a prayer and the Lord's Prayer.
Overall, this event went exceedingly well. A few changes I plan to make for next week:
- Ask the God question earlier. We spoke for about 45 minutes about oil prices, and for 25-30 minutes about the God question. I would like to spend a little more time on the explicit God question.
- Start slightly earlier. This was our first night, and after introductions and a later start – to allow for mingling and casual introductions – we didn't get started to about 7:45-7:50.
- Offer more substantive God content. I had two 4 minute NPR reports to initiate conversation about gasoline prices, but no multimedia to inspire the God conversation. Next time I will seek a brief multimedia piece – from Here We Stand's video clips, NPR's Speaking of Faith, Nooma, SermonSpice, or some other resource. At the least I will cite specific Biblical passages or liturgical/historical material. We need something more concrete to inspire a good God conversation.
- We ended with a prayer, following which most of the folks promptly returned to their cars and drove home. It felt too abrupt for me. Next time I will try to wrap up our conversation in a way that allows for folks to continue the conversation even as some leave and we begin cleaning up the space.
Feel free to share your thoughts or insights. As I get ready for next week's event I'll post additional thoughts and plans here. Thanks!
Thursday morning update:
I was asked by someone for a list of future topics. I don't have topics mapped out nor publicized ahead of time, and that
is partially intentional. As much as a topic is the central point of
discussion, the exercise is about having a discussion about an ordinary
"daily life" issue and, part way through, asking the "God Question" –
what does God have to do with this?
I care less about the issue than I do about that turn – the turn from the secular issue to the sacredness of the secular.
hope and intention of these gatherings is to model how to ask the "God
Question" about anything, how to see God in/with/under the stuff of
daily life. I fear that if I publicize the issues ahead of time that
these sessions will become "Hot Topics" debates, and that is not the
intention. The discussion issue is simply a catalyst for talking about
God in daily life.
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Below is posted – as a Word document – the outline I used for last evening's discussion. I meant to hand out copies at the end, but I forgot . . . Oh well. Click on the link and you'll be able to download the document.