City of God Study Guide Week 2
Chapters 3 and 4
Prepared by the Rev. Ian Burch
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church | Milwaukee, WI
“Mark listened patiently and actually gave Mr. Claws raises. But if it was my turn to be approached I’d often quickly hand Mr. Claws a few bills, trying to cut off the rambling, deceitful stories — sometimes he said he had a job in a hotel restaurant, sometimes out in the East Bay.” p. 27
- How did you react to the story of Mr. Claws, the man of great need who visited St. Gregory’s every morning? Did you find yourself relating more with Mark or the author?
“…just because I was a Christian, it didn’t mean I was an idiot.” p. 29
- Have you ever experienced faith being conflated with naivete? Or childishness? If so, how did it make you feel?
- Can a person be sensible and educated while still being a member of an ancient and pre-Enlightenment faith tradition? If so, how? What possible complications might arise from professing and ancient faith in a modern world?
“I wondered why, if you worked at the General, you’d want to participate in this particular ritual: how could you possibly need another reminder of mortality?” p. 34
- Why do you suppose so many doctors and nurses found meaning in the ritual of Ash Wednesday?
- The chaplains seemed to believe they needed to be reminded that they too would die. Is that the only reason a person might want ashes? What other reasons can you imagine?
“Will who had lain near death himself from complications of AIDS, knew the difference between heavenly comfort and comfort, and he always leaned into the former. ‘The truth is the truth,’ he said with a shrug.” p. 35
- Do you agree that the hard truth of a difficult diagnosis is better than the soothing lies of well-meaning medical staff?
- Have you heard a hard truth in your life that you wish you could unhear? Have you delivered a hard truth in your life that you wish you could unsay?
- Do you experience Ash Wednesday and Lent as hard truths?
‘“I think they sort of realized it was an invitation to acknowledge limits. To bow down in public and say, I’m not in charge; I’m not going to live forever. And they were really, really, interested in that.’” pp. 35-36
- When was the last time you were invited by life to acknowledge one of your own limits? How did it go?
“‘All this effort goes into looking good, and working hard, and pretending you’re in charge of life and death. What a relief to have a day when you’re just another person with a smudge of dirt on your head.’” p. 37
- How much effort do you believe we expend in our culture tending to the look or the shape of things? How can we in the church say things that are true in a world that seems to value appearance?
“Some people meet God in a hospital bed. Some meet God in the wilderness, in the majesty of mountains, or under night skies; some feel God in the intimacy of trees shading a garden or in small, old villages. Paul makes regular retreats to a remote monastery in the desert, where the sand and silence scrub off the layers of cynicism that accumulate on his soul as he goes about the business of being a priest in San Francisco.” p. 38
- Where do you meet God these days?
- Have you ever had “layers of cynicism” scrubbed off you? How did it happen? Could you use a scrub now?
“Certainly the torrents of Scripture I heard there — Psalms and parables, prophecies and Gospel stories — opened my ears.” p. 38
- Have “torrents of Scripture” ever come to you at St. Mark’s? What do you remember, and how did the message change your life?
“In the haphazard sprawl on a city, only the astronomically rich and walled-off can pretend that human ideas of order–like the geometric grid of country roads laid over the Great Plains, or the forced sameness and cleanliness of suburban shopping centers — are stable.” p. 39
- What is the connection she is trying to draw between great wealth and perceived stability? And what does that have to do with God or the church?
“Jesus keeps dredging up odd fish in his net and dumping us all out, wriggling and shining, to reveal his Church.” p. 39
- Reflect on the author’s observation that, in her neighborhood, God keeps finding “odd fish.”
“Three steps forward, one step back: Mark and I joked this was the dance of the Christian life. But it felt endless.” p. 41
- This is a tongue-in-cheek characterization of the Christian life. Is it one that resonates with you? How?
“Kids heading to high school up the block, workers in boots and overalls from the brewery across the street, commuters waiting for the bus, homeless guys offering to lend a hand with the food pantry, women with babies, coders on lunch break from one of the nearby software companies — it seemed they wanted something from the church.” p. 42
- What do people want from church?
- Are they getting that at St. Marks?
“There’s no temple in the holy city, because God is the temple, and God dwells among his people, wiping their tears and making an end to death.” p. 48
- Why do you suppose the author of Revelation imagines a city with no temple? Have you ever imagined such a thing?
- How does the image of God who wipes away tears sit with you? How does it make you feel? How might that be related to Lent?
“What anyone sees at twenty-five is limited. Entire chunks of the Mission…remained invisible to me. And it would be decades before I noticed the wildly varied spiritual life and religious faith of the Mission. p. 55
- Are you seeing something now in the world that you didn’t see at twenty-five? (with all respect to twenty-five-year-olds, is there something you saw at twenty-five that you have a hard time seeing now?
- What does the “wildly varied spiritual life” of Milwaukee look like?
“In other words, poor people believe in God; working-class people mostly believe in God; wealthier, more educated and ‘modern’ people don’t bother.” p. 56
“With the name of God on their lips, the Spaniards began to enslave and forcibly convert the Ohlone Indians they found there, and the Church was in business.” p. 57
- How does this characterization of colonial Christianity sit with you? How does this story relate to how we practice Christianity now?
- Reflect on the double meaning of “the Church was in business.”
“In a lonely and commercial world, sanctuaries still matter….” p. 58
- Is this true? How so?
“Inside the wooden ribs of St. Gregory’s, I felt held as safely as the infant Jesus in his mother’s arms.” p. 59
- Have you ever felt this way about a worship space? About St. Mark’s?
- Have you ever felt incredibly UNSAFE in a worship space?
“God is the temple and dwells among his people.” p. 59
- Where do you see this out in the world?