Popping Bubbles and The Taste of Place

Indianapolis First Friends Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

September 16, 2018

Again this morning as we center down, I am going to ask Eric to read the scripture text at the beginning and have us ponder these three centering queries: 1) What word or phrase touched my heart? 2) Where does that word or phrase touch my life today? And 3) What is the text calling me to do or become?  Eric will read the text and then we will take time to center down.

Isaiah 58:9-12 (MSG)

9-12 “If you get rid of unfair practices,
    quit blaming victims,
    quit gossiping about other people’s sins,
If you are generous with the hungry
    and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
    your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go.
    I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
    firm muscles, strong bones.
You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
    a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
    rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
    restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
    make the community livable again.


Several years before I was introduced to the Slow Movements or Slow Church, I found myself traveling for a conference and in a Borders bookstore (remember them?). It was in the concourse of the airport in which I had been laid over.  I was hoping to find an engaging book that would keep me preoccupied on the four-hour flight across the country.  I began my search, as I always do, looking at the binding of the books. Colors, fonts, even patterns or artwork always draw me in.  And in just a few moments of looking my eye caught a book that had been smashed between two larger books and pushed to the back of the shelf.  I believe it was the yellow lettering (almost glowing) between the two much larger books that caught my eye. 

As I pulled it out I read the title: The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture. I had never heard of the author Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, but the forward was by Kathleen Norris who had written one of my favorite books, “The Cloister Walk”.  I was familiar with the New Monastic Movement that people like Shane Claiborne had made famous and Jonathan was part of, yet, what specifically attracted me to Jonathan, was how he spoke to my condition. 

See, at the time, our family had been moving a lot and we were feeling a bit displaced. We had just ended a year living with my parents as we awaited our house to sell in Michigan. Because we needed a place to live, Huntington University offered us a home on the campus. This had us in a very different environment for a young family of five. We were surrounded by the bustle of students and academic life for about 10 months out of the year. Our boys were young and Lewis (our youngest) was just starting Kindergarten. Sue commuted 30 minutes into Fort Wayne from Huntington with our boys to teach and for them to attend school each day.  And we were isolated from really knowing our neighbors, even the neighborhood around us – mainly because it was all transient students. 

We realized pretty quickly, we were part of what many people wrestle with on college campuses – what is labeled the “college bubble.”

A bubble made up of academic banter, idealism, little sleep, questioning and debating everything, seeking acceptance and grades, quickly producing output of all types, finding partners and spouses, experimenting, while always knowing this great experience would come to an end (after about four years – some more and some less).

Now, please understand, college is only one example.  We all find ourselves in bubbles:

Work Bubbles, Family Bubbles, Church Bubbles, Sports Bubbles, Race and Sexuality Bubbles, Political Bubbles, Socio-Economic Bubbles, and the list could go on.

These “bubbles” often take on a culture of their own. They have their own unique rules and regulations, and they definitely can cause us to think that everyone around us thinks similar thoughts, views things in similar ways, and even have similar likes and dislikes.  The bubble can be a shelter at times and a prison if the person acknowledges or figures out what they are within.  

I taught a capstone class at Huntington University for outgoing seniors. In our very first class, I would say, “My job over the coming weeks is to ‘pop’ the Huntington University Bubble you have lived in for the last four years, to remind you of the real world you are entering, and prepare you for seeing what the world around you really looks like.” 

Maybe we could see this sermon series asking First Friends to begin popping the bubbles we find ourselves in – so that we are able to see the world around us.

In reading about the Slow Church movement, I was introduced to a more business-like term for this “bubble” concept that has invaded our life and churches.  It is what George Ritzer labeled the McDonaldization of our World. Ritzer characterizes this in four ways:

·        Efficiency

·        Calculability

·        Predictability

·        Control

In explaining the Slow Church Movement John Pattison and Chris Smith have taken these four characteristics and shown how they have influenced what I will call our church “bubble” or what they simply refer to as the McDonaldization of the Church.  Chris says in the church…

Effeciency becomes a euphemism for predetermined. We see this in fast food joints, where employees are discouraged from finding new ways to do things, even if they might be more successful than the accepted methods.  But it’s just as evident in many books aimed at evangelical Christians – books that promise success, happiness, a deeper prayer life, intimacy with God, all in just “five easy steps.”

Or how about Calculability. The church is often obsessed with numerical results.  Actually, I know pastors who’s performance and salary evaluations are based on the number of people who come through the door. Even today, at the top of my pastor’s report for business meeting, I am expected to provide attendance numbers for our meeting (I am not completely sure what the reason for this is, but I have a feeling it is a throwback to some of this thinking).

To have Calculability is a way to measure “success” but often leads to churches implementing “One-size-fits-all” models – Willow Creek Model, Saddle Back Model, Seeker Friendly Model – even denominational models.  Just take a drive in my neighborhood up in Hamilton County and you will find church after church being built – almost all of them with the same model – satellite church – because many don’t have a pastor, but rather they “beam in” via-satellite a pastor on the big screen. It is consumer-based, franchised ministry.

I love what Chris Smith says is the opposite of this:

“Slow church is about taking the time with God, with one another, and with yourself – and not only taking the time, but taking time over time. That makes a big difference.”

And then there is Predictability – this is very much a “bubble” mentality.  Predictability is what keeps people coming back to franchises.  It creates an expectation of predictable results. 

Let’s be honest. You all came here this morning with expectations.  You expected some type of order, routine, consistency, but that too can leave us in our own “Quaker Bubble.”  When we don’t embrace our uniqueness, acknowledge our diversity, take time to get to know our neighborhood, understand the diversity of people and thought,  then we simply copy what others are doing, we “bubble” ourselves and begin not being able to see outside ourselves.

You have heard some say, “We need to get out of these four walls.” That is very similar, but the “bubble” is a bit more fluid and covers a lot more areas.  

And lastly, there is control. From the Crusades, to guilt-ridden alter calls, to ministries that target specific populations, to non-human technology…

If you were listening to or reading online this week, you may have heard a story about McDonalds (Yes McDonalds – go figure).  They have a new non-human ordering interface. I have been seeing these pop up in many locales.  Instead of ordering your meal from a human being.  Now, you enter and interact with a screen that controls you at every step of the process.  The interaction with a human, the relational aspect, has been replaced to provide McDonalds, and you, with supposedly more control.  So they can be more efficient, calculable, predictable, and well, in full control. 

Folks, this is what smart phones are doing to our world, this is what Social Media is doing, this is what soon your car will be doing (some already do but soon they will control where you go and drive themselves)…these are all bubbles that we are trapped in – being controlled within.  

It makes me think of the Pixar movie Wall-e.  And that first time you see all the people in their little electronic “bubbles” sustaining their lives on the space ship Axiom built by the Big & Large Corporation, being moved, entertained, and fed by technology. And what happened when Wall-e interrupted their “bubble” life? 

·        They began to experience new things and their surroundings.

·        They saw each other again and they even showed emotions and fell in love.

·        They remembered what they had been missing and to get back to truly living again.

·        They came together and built a new community.     

What I (and what I believe many others are struggling with in our American culture) is getting out of our “bubbles” and beginning to see the impact, that we (and even our meeting) has in the place where we are found. 


Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove gives some ways to begin popping the “Bubbles.”

He sees it happening…


·        By rooting ourselves more deliberately in the place where we live and worship.

·        By engaging the people we are with and among.

·        By slowing down and participating in simpler rhythms of life. And… 

·        By living in a way that speaks to the deeper meanings of the human heart.


This is the wisdom of stability.  This is what I would call the  “bubble free” adventure.  This is being willing to “taste and see” and experience things outside the bubbles we find ourselves.    


Take a moment to think about your neighborhood for a moment…


·        How committed to your neighborhood are you?

·        Do you know your neighbors? 

·        Do you know the history of your neighborhood?  

·        Why is it important that you live in the neighborhood you do?

·        What draws and detracts people to your neighborhood?

·        What are the “bubbles” in your neighborhood?


And then think about where First Friends is located.


·        How committed to the surrounding neighborhoods are we?

·        Do we know our neighbors? Businesses? Fellow faith communities? 

·        Do we know the history of our neighborhood?

·        Why is it important for us to be located in this neighborhood?

·        What draws and detracts people to our location/neighborhood? 

·        What are the “bubbles” in our meeting’s neighborhood?


I love our scripture for this morning, I sense it’s about being called to “Taste and See” outside of our bubbles and in the places we are found. It is a call to the “Taste of Place.” It is about, as it said, “glowing in the darkness,” “being generous,” “finding a full life,” and “making the community alive again!”  To not continue to buy into the McDonaldization and “bubbles” of our world, but as the Slow Church Movement and Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove encourage,


“to begin to identify the people, the places, the rhythms and shared beliefs that give our community its unique taste and texture.”  


Chris and John put it this way in their book Slow Church:

We are bound one to another, but a culture built on speed wants to fling us out from the center like a centrifuge.  Thus, to commit ourselves to cultivating goodness through practices of nearness and stability, and to conversationally develop shared traditions, is to take a stand against alienation. It is a way of crafting a new shared story for the community, while connecting us to the cosmic church across time and prefiguring the kingdom of God. It is also an acknowledgement that our fates are wrapped up with the fates of our neighbors. As the prophet Jeremiah wrote in his letter to the exiles, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jer. 29:7)(43-44)  

This week I challenge us to take a closer look at who we are and where we find ourselves. Take an afternoon drive around your neighborhood and really note what you see.  Ask yourself the queries on the back of the bulletin as your drive around. 


And then I challenge you to take one more step - open a conversation with someone else outside your “bubble” but in your neighborhood. Think about that – who might that be? 


Remember, conversations with other people are a great way to pop the bubbles that we find ourselves in.  Right now, in our world, with the political climate and current social climate, we need more than ever to stop creating more bubbles and create better lines of communication in the places we live.  We need to find the flavor of our place and actually see and get to know the people that we abide with. By slowing down, listening together, tasting/eating together, being willing to see and engage, we will cultivate a place where we can make a difference and change the world not simply feed the machine that drives us into isolation, alienation, and fear.  


Eric is going to come up now and help us enter into our time of waiting worship with a special song.