Thought Number Two

Then Jeff said,

Thought #2: The retreat-supplemented by some sort of online community-building is a fascinating idea. It strikes me as analogous to the online courses that are popping up everywhere: you meet in the flesh maybe once a month and online interact much more frequently. This seems to like an interesting niche/middle ground between attending a major one time event and a weekly church service. Promise keepers/woman of faith/catalysst type things can be so isolated from our every day experiences. Weekly church services and small groups can be so routine.

He seems to have cottoned onto the fact that there really is an “online course” aspect to the project I’m trying to figure out how to start. This model has, in fact, been suggested to me, but since I haven’t actually taken any such courses (except for the ones I’ve been finishing up from Seminary, which are, in fact, a little different), I’m not entirely sure how to set this up. Maybe that is really the only question I am asking about this hypothetical nonprofit I would like to start, but Jeff is correct that there are other questions and observations to be made in the wake of it.

Less obvious to me than the class aspect was his observation about the middle ground between major conference-type event and weekly church service. I might be as intrigued by this as he is, simply because I hadn’t noticed it before and it is an unusual way to think about practicing and developing the communal relationship with God. I’m not sure that once a month retreats would really be sustainable, though. If my Paul and I were able, at this moment, to pick ourselves up and buy a farm in the Granite State, from which we could host retreats on our own property, that might be more of an option, but in our current pleasant but tiny digs, it really just isn’t. I wonder what the minimum number of retreats would be in order to create this middle ground Jeff describes, and I wonder what the ultimate goal of said middle ground would be. What do you think?

I was thinking this picture I drew as a college student on vacation might illustrate what I mean about hosting retreats, but it looks even tinier than our current house, and there isn't enough granite. So really, it doesn't illustrate much of anything. But I needed a graphic.

I was thinking this picture I drew as a college student on vacation might illustrate what I mean about hosting retreats, but it looks even tinier than our current house, and there isn’t enough granite. So really, it doesn’t illustrate much of anything. But I needed a graphic.

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8 thoughts on “Thought Number Two

  1. What about seasonal retreats?? There is such a seasonal aspect to the spiritual journey anyway……I just came through the toughest winter on record- literally and figuratively. Between the actual, horrible winter and my Mom’s hard adjustment to the nursing home…..Now, Spring is here and the snow is melting, the birds are chirping. I have HOPE. My Mom is improving and adjusting. Graduation is coming. Lots of new adventures- just around the corner. Getting your hypothetical group together 4 times a year would be doable and seems like a natural, built-in theme. Especially if it was in a “natury” type of place. You could incorporate seasonal activities into the program……

    • We continue to be on the same wavelength–I was JUST wondering about that possibility, after I wrote this post. You unpack it in a way that sounds do-able and quite wonderful, actually.

  2. Its kind of flattering to inspire a whole series of blog posts. 🙂 The once-a-month thing I mentioned was more a reference to the online courses I am aware of than my suggestion for your community. Seasonally sounds amazing. If you were to pursue that idea, I would strongly reccomend Brian Mclaren’s ‘Naked Spirituality’… Have you read it? He is of course, a bit divisive as a figure but this book is perhaps his best and certainly his most under-rated… He adresses spirituality, across our lives, as a series of seasons and has a ton of reccomended practices. I was going to try and stay shut up here, as I am sure there are lots of good people with new perspectives to throw out an opinion, here, but I am finding I can’t quite keep from typing on something as interesting as this topic. One thing that has occured to me, as I ponder this, is that there is probably a question to answer about what sort-of community you are trying to create… would you want this community to take on a life of its own? I am thinking of my dad (not a Christian) who participated in this spiritual group. After the leader did his things for a couple of years, when they gathered, the participants would kind-of run the gathering, sharing where they were at, spiritually, what they were doing, etc. This is somewhat related to a recent, great discussion I had with Pastor Marty, around the question of how institutional versus how organic we ought to be. As a left-leaning emergent-progressive hippie drippie type, my knee-jerk reaction is to always go for the organic, rather than the institutional. But I am learning that the organic isn’t easily replicated and defined and so there is this maddening randomness about it.

    • After some time exploring those options, I can say I’m not emergent-progressive, but I AM a hippie-wannabe (as you know) and I also always knee-jerk to the organic, which might be partly in play as I continue to investigate my options. I will say, though, that I think there are some benefits to at least some aspects of institutionalism, and I’m also starting to wonder if it’s better when that element is selective and intentional. It seems to me that ultimately humans in general like order, so if the order isn’t selectively and intentionally added, it will randomly encroach on the organic until the organic is strait-jacketed and not itself anymore.

      As for whether I would want this community to take on a life of its own, I’m fine with that up to a point, although it isn’t my goal. I think some people in the OSF Facebook groups have become Facebook “friends” outside the group because of it, and to me that’s great. Also, you are not (for fairly obvious reasons, I guess) in the Women-Only group, but that group really HAS taken on a life of its own. People aren’t posting like mad, but I would say at least once a week someone checks in or posts something to think about or a prayer request or whatever. It’s kind of cool.

    • So … not the main reason, but A reason I am looking to move into another job is because in my current one, I spend half the summer away from my husband, usually in a sleeping bag on a floor with numerous teenagers. (That sounds way more sketchy than it is, but probably also less exhausting than it is.) Oh–and a couple of weekends during every school year, too.

      I’m really looking forward to spending MORE time at home with my Paul, so I’m not sure I can, at least at this stage, envision leading more than four retreats a year, even if they don’t involve teenagers and do involve actual sleeping on actual beds.

      This does make me wonder, though, what to do about different genders wanting to be involved in these activities. The women’s Facebook group has really bonded quite strongly, probably largely because it’s all women, but I’d love to run something for men AND women if there were men interested. I wonder if there would be some way to do a retreat where there were actually two groups going on at once but having sessions separately or something? Or maybe two retreats a year for one group, and two for the other? I’m not sure.

  3. The gender thing is tough. It is an incredibly complex issue. I totally respect people who have made a decision to be somewhat isolated from people of the other sex for a variety of reasons. But I would also be hard pressed to decide which of the following extremes has been more destructive: A) The innapropriate boundaries, various shades of infidelity, etc that have resulted from not being seperated enough or B) The lost oppurtunities for growth, sharing, and interaction that have resulted from rigidly isolating the sexes. One facet of the complexities is around the growing (and in my opinion, healthy) inclusion of gay people in Christian circles… Increasingly, we won’t even isolate people from the gender they are attracted to as we seperate men and women into different groups.

    • Yes, all that is true. I don’t think I’m currently even suggesting the issue has to do with attraction. I’m trying to figure out how people can best be ministered to. I think the women’s OSF group has done so well, not because the people they might be attracted to aren’t in it (and as you say, that’s not strictly the case–there are one or two lesbian women in it, or at least there were at one time). It might, however, have to do with the older cultural dynamic of traditional gender roles. In any case, there’s something that happens when women are able to band together without the stress and perceived “neediness” of men (sorry, but I think many women, especially in a more conservative milieu, carry around a subconscious sense of needing to be on their toes and at men’s service when men are around), and say what they really mean and not have to worry about being misunderstood solely on the basis of gender, etc.

      I’m a little odd in this respect, probably, in that I really am not a fan of women’s ministries if they are supposed to be ministering to me–I’d much rather have the dynamic of a mixed group. But I will say that when I was in a spiritual formation class for seminary and I was the only woman in it, I felt a lot of anxiety because I knew I’d be talking about my life and I was pretty sure the men in the class would not be able to understand WHY I made certain decisions, where a woman would, even if she didn’t think they were the right ones.

      On the other hand, I also think that men can benefit from a woman’s perspective which, in the past, hasn’t been as readily available to them. And I think women need to learn to respect and honour men in the “new normal” that we seem to be trying to find in our society. So … like you said. The gender thing is tough. 🙂

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