City of God Study Guide Week 3
Chapters 5 and 6
Prepared by the Rev. Ian Burch
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church | Milwaukee, WI
“Every four-way stop sign was an opportunity to observe, to consider my neighbors, maybe even to pray.” p.62
- Where are places in your life where you are invited to stop, consider, and pray?
“I tried to sound casual, but the line between respectable churchgoer and lunatic evangelist had been rapidly eroding.” P.64
- How would you describe the line between respectable churchgoer and lunatic evangelist? Which are we at St. Mark’s? Which are you?
“‘Ash Wednesday is something the Church does — which makes it easy to keep it inside the walls of the temple.’” p.64
- Have you ever considered that Ash Wednesday is a Church ritual rather than a Jesus ritual? Does that change how you think about the meaningfulness of it? How?
“‘I just had some really distorted ideas about what I can expect from God,’ Vera said carefully, ‘and so I’m adjusting how I relate to church.’” p.65
- Do you think lots of people have distorted ideas about what they can expect from God? Do you? Does the Church? In what ways?
“‘Out on the street, there are still plenty of distractions, but the scars are going to be visible, everyone’s life and death is mixed up. You’re not going to get the ashes and pretend it’s not true.’” p.66
- In this sentence, what do you think Vera means by “true?”
“‘I bring God’s love closer to us when I love Cris: help her heal after surgeries, make a place for her to do what she wants to do in the world. The relationship is my mission field, my vocation.’” p.67
- Where are your intimate mission fields? The ones that are more private, smaller?
“It’s hard to contain the human thirst for worship in boundaried religious rituals run by designated religious professionals taking place in set-apart religious buildings; God so seldom means just one thing to any individual, much less the same one thing at a time to a whole group.” p.67
- Reflect on the human thirst for worship? Do you feel it in your life? How? What about out in the world? In our church?
“[Worship] happens in bedrooms, in hospital waiting rooms, in jails, in cars; not to mention on the dusty roads in the polluted outskirts of town, where Jesus walked and prayed and healed.” p.68
- Has there been a surprising place worship has happened for you outside of church?
“‘There’s no apartment building at that address,’ he said, bemused. ‘I just found an empty lot. It’s not a real place.’” p.69
- How are you relating to the story of Mr. Claws? What feelings came up in you when you realized his address was “not a real place?”
“I didn’t know any church people then — though churches were at the forefront of a great deal of grassroots organizing, especially among immigrants — but I was amazed by the Mission’s landscape of secular activists.” p.77
- Have you had experience with secular activists? Religious activists? What has been the difference if any?
“Committing myself, heart and soul, to collection action with any particular place and people felt risky. How could I know what was the right place, the right people?” p.77
- Can you answer her questions? How do you know the right place and right people for doing ministry?
“But I wasn’t a joiner. I wanted something bigger than myself.” p.77
- Aren’t these two things contradictory? Have you felt either of them?
“But I didn’t know enough to connect the dots between the deep longing to be part of a mystical body and the desires for community expressed in neighborhood political meetings.” p.78
- Can you help her connect those dots? Do you find a disconnect as she does?
“I would discover that hope for the Church, like hope for a movement, can flourish right alongside despair over our sins.” p.78
- What is the relationship she’s observing between hope and despair vis a vis secular and religious movements for change?
“It was hard to trust that anyone who comfortably invoked ‘the people’ had the slightest clue about how annoying real people were — or how intelligent and resourceful.” p.79
- When you hear “the people” used politically, what does it evoke in you?
“In movements, we often want to be right in our assumptions more than we want to receive the truth from others.” p.79
- The author is fairly severe on political movements: do you share her observations and/or pessimism?
“It’s so much easier to offer analysis of the correct path than to see where people are already going themselves.” p.79
- Does this sentence ring true for you? Can you think of an example in your own life or in the headlines?
“But a lot of Christians, liberals as well as conservatives, still easily assume that sex workers, punk rockers, or young parents strolling 24th Street don’t have their own revelations and theologies: they just need to get with the program and come to know God the right way — ours.” p.80
- Have you ever felt the impulse to tell someone that they are living their Christianity the wrong way? How do you balance eternal truths with specific experiences of faith?
“We’re simply witnessing to the reality that Church — not the buildings or tax-exempt legal entities, but the complex, contradictory body of Christ — is already there.” p.80
- In what ways is the body of Christ contradictory? What do you suppose the author is driving at here?
“They’re out there praying, sinning, repenting, blessing, being baptized into the muddy river of new life. They’re not waiting for missionaries with the correct theology to save them. God is saving them, and, God willing, will save me, too, from my own pretensions, and keep on forging us into members of one body, for the common good.” p.81
- In what ways is God doing God’s work right here in our city — outside the walls of St. Mark’s?
“There were fewer union members and more bankers living in San Francisco, fewer churchgoers and more fancy restaurant-goers, fewer beds in the county hospital and more prisoners in the county jail.” p. 84
- Why do you suppose she ends this sentence talking about jail? How is incarceration related to her larger point about gentrification? How do you see this story through your faith lens?
“I was part of the changes sweeping the Mission, as a white lady who had bought a big house from a Guatemalan couple for an unimaginably small sum back in the day. Now my own daughter couldn’t afford to live here. I didn’t know what to do, or what repentance, real change, for all of us might look like.” p.85
- How do you see gentrification playing out in our city? What is a Christian response?
“There’s no way to be a Christian at home by yourself.” p.85