This post is an experiment in using the raw data from our Deep in the Burbs Research Team. This is a verbatim transcript of a conversation the team had at the end of our seventh team meeting. We spent at least 45 minutes in each session in a group spiritual practice called Dwelling in the Word. We spent three weeks on John 14:15-24, three weeks on John 15:1-17, and one week on John 16:5-15.
The names have been changed to protect the anonymity of the group. Mine is still labeled “Steve” so you can see how I interacted with the group.
Listen in on our conversation…
Steve: How do you think the dwelling in the Word exercise helped or hindered the process, so far?
Paul: I think it helped, just a little bit, again, by putting me in the mindset of being reflective. So that, since we did that early, then as we went on I was a little more…again, coming back to your point, usually it’s, coming again, going: where’s the agenda? Let’s get through this stuff. Now it’s kind of a good exercise, early on, to just step back and say: OK, let’s get in the right mindset…for me.
Sydney: I think it was also very helpful, because it forced us to get to know each other. When we really could have, sort of gone through this project without having to talk…you know, I wouldn’t have had to talk to you. You know what I mean? We could have worked on our things. And it sort of forced us to know each other. And sort of get an insight into where they were coming from. And I think that has been very valuable.
Kyle: I think the Dwelling in the Word, and our reflection on it. Some of the things that stuck out to me, was reflection on the Lover, Beloved, Love. The viewing God in a different way. As opposed to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And how do we communicate, then, in the suburbs, a spirituality that maybe more approachable for people.
Steve: hmmm…that’s good.
Other thoughts about the Dwelling experience?
Scott: I think it gives…well, it gives me, someone else’s point of view of looking at scripture. It’s basically the same, but it’s kind of got a different twist to it. It’s like the way you interpret the Bible is different than the way I interpret the Bible. The way he interprets the Bible. Or, she interprets the Bible. It gives you that view. Instead of always seeing it: Well this is the way I see it. A lot of people are like that.
Ruth: I’ll say something I said early on. To come in amongst a lot of strangers and suddenly start talking about, you know, what’s really heart-felt and emotional for most of us—our inner spirituality—that’s pretty self revealing. That’s pretty frightening and intimidating at first. Until we start to see, well, I guess it’s safe. I can share. These people all think a little bit like me. Because, you can’t just start a conversation like that with someone down the block. You might evolve to that over time, you know. We kind of jumped into the deep end of the pool. Assuming that other people were not going to laugh in our face. [Laughs] As one of my brothers might. Or people that don’t accept the scripture as God inspired word. Don’t think being spiritual is an important part of their life.
Steve: I want to comment on that, if I may. Because, one of the purposes of the Dwelling in the Word exercise is to demonstrate that you can actually have a God conversation with a stranger.
Ruth: how’s that?
Steve: Everyone has an opinion about God.
Steve: right? And if you learn to listen to them. Look at what it did to you, with these strangers, when you were forced to listen. The Dwelling in the Word exercise is designed to show us that we actually meet God in the stranger.
Ruth: But what about the atheist? Because I think God’s word jumps off the page to a Christian, and the idea of the Holy Spirit—everybody here got that. But to someone who’s still got the blinders on, they read it and they go, “Well, this seems pretty ridiculous. I can’t imagine this happened. Jesus said, here’s my blood. How could it be? He’s still living, what are they talking about?” You see what I mean. People would just challenge you.
Steve: You’re right, but, the point I’m making is…like, if you’re on the bus, and you’re talking to somebody, even the atheist has an opinion about God.
Ruth: That’s right.
Steve: What would happen if you actually listened to them, rather than had the mindset that, I’m going to tell you what God is. But, you listened to them. Because, even through an atheist you can meet God.
Ruth: OK, so you’re talking beyond “Let’s read this chapter” Beyond, like “what does it mean to me, what does it mean to you?” It was what Stephanie was saying when I went to the exercise studio and this lady was talking to me. Or when each of us goes to our jobs and we hear people just kind of hearing people where they are at. Are they hurting? Are they needing …
Steve: Like your story about when you talked about the woman after 911 and nobody wanted to …
Ruth: Right, when nobody wanted to go to her line because she had on the Muslim attire.
Steve: Right, those kinds of things. And the idea of…what if, as Christians, we actually went to the world and listened to people? Rather than “took it to them.”
Scott: Meet them on their level.
Steve: Yeah, and even say. You know what? You have something to teach me about God.
Right. Instead of saving them, meeting God in them.
Kyle: That doesn’t mean that you’re never going to say anything to them, but you earn their respect by listening and affirming that what they have it is valuable to say.
Ruth: That goes back to Martin Luther. Anybody can read the Bible themselves. They don’t need the priest. Because I grew up in the Catholic era when my friends didn’t have Bibles in their homes. That has changed, but the idea was: How dare you? You wouldn’t know what this means. So, the Dwelling in the Word is saying that every man, every woman. I understand now.
Steve: yeah. And dwelling in the world. That, one of the…a deep Luther theology…is that God speaks in everything. Luther said, listen to the trees. If we had the imagination—this is social Trinity, now—if we had the imagination that God is actually already present, before we get there, how would that change how you view all of your mundane activities in life?
The walking the dog down the street and you see a neighbor. How does it change that?