A pastor emailed me this week to inquire about the recruiting process for the Deep in the Burbs Action Research Team. Two lines jumped out and haunted me. The pastor writes:
As I enter into the fabric of this congregation I encounter stressed frenetic lives who are in survival mode. I asked a couple today about commiting to Monday nights and they described a near breakdown trying to keep up with all the demands of family.
Stressed. Frenetic. Survival. Breakdown. Demands. These are key words to the suburban existence.
I attended a workshop yesterday presented by David Lose at the Winter Convocation at Luther Seminary. His workshop was titled “Why Don’t My Kids Go to Church?” Lose’s presentation was full of excellent information. Two things stuck out at me that reflect the pastor’s words.
First, Lose said that there is no longer the notion of a Sabbath woven into our culture. People are busy all the time, and there is no let down. Youth sports are scheduled throughout the weekend, forcing families to choose between sports and church.
This leads to the second piece. Lose said that the culture has shifted from being one of duty and obligation to be one of discretion. The fact that there are so many choices available to the consumer, in every aspect of life, creates a sense of overload. The individual must use discretion to choose the activities that will best serve her most valued goals. Attending a local worship service rarely factors into the top ten list of “getting the biggest bang for the buck” criteria in which our society functions.1 Lose showed a comic-book picture of a woman screaming, with a word balloon saying, “So many choices, so little time!”
That is the scream of our culture. Social media and the individual’s ability to present herself through edited text and visuals via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, etc. at any moment and in a constantly flowing stream, has made it nearly impossible for the average person to unplug and regroup herself. We are being disseminated and disolved into the stream of mass society, presenting the buffered and edited self, while losing touch with our own sense of true identity that should come from the deep rooting in our baptismal, communal identity and the perpetual walking in the Spirit.
These reflections have practical impact on my research methodology. What if I am not able to recruit 8-12 people from each congregation? I currently have 3 from one congregation, 1 from another, and none from the third. It is still early, but I know how quickly the next three weeks will slip away. It is difficult to get people whom you know well and with whom you have built a trusted relationship to commit to a project like this. The chances of getting total strangers to commit is seemingly impossible. It will take an act of God to assemble this team, and on that I am hoping and humbly requesting.
These thoughts have also prompted some new ideas about how to inquire after my question. What if I created the Social Trinity material in an online independent study format and interacted with people on an individual basis. Here is my initial sketch of how it would work:
- I would ask the individual to fill out a questionnaire regarding spiritual formation, the Trinity, and suburban issues. I may or may not hold an individual interview with that person to ask the same questions. I need to think about the best way to do this.
- The individual would commit to work through the Social Trinity issues on their own time, but by a certain deadline. The material would be comprised of watching short videos and responding to certain questions/thought prompts.
- I would interview the individual in person after they have completed the lessons, to see how the idea of the Social Trinity may or may not have impacted their ideas about Spiritual Formation.
The obvious shortcoming of this methodology is that it completely bypasses the communicative action piece and further endorses the radical individualism that I believe is part of the problem in suburban living. However, by demonstrating that this was the only way that I could actually gain access to suburban people may drive home the point that this is the suburban reality as it relates to spiritual formation.
No matter what modifications I make to the methodology, I am committed to engaging whomever I can in the six-week cohort scenario. Perhaps holding the group learning experience in contrast with the individualized process might make for some rich data and reflection.Footnotes
- these are my thoughts, not from Lose’s lecture [↩]