It’s time to make time for civil discourse and community building


I wound my way up the roads that web themselves around Mount Helix, resisting the urge to push down on the gas. I know these bends well enough to know you can never know what will come whipping around them, and all the more so on a foggy evening in November.

I was definitely going to be late.

It took a little convincing for several of the women I see at church on Sunday or at debate practice where I coach their kids to persuade me to return to our bi-weekly Bible study. I had been a frequent attendee in college, but life got busy and so did I.

The idea of Bible studies and book clubs is always nice in theory – a group of friends (and at least one outspoken frenemy to add tension and drama) nestled over cups of hot tea or coffee (or wine or beer – your imagination, your choice), discussing the finer details of a shared reading experience. What bonding! What growth of mind and heart!

Sure, sure, but did I tell you that I’m busy?

Like many other East County residents, I’m sure – and certainly all the other women at this particular Bible study – all the hours in my day are well accounted for. I work a full-time job and I attend school (where I am six units away from finally getting my fingers on this degree that has been ten years in the making). I have family commitments and, for reasons I still can’t fully explain, I now play on a recreational kickball team and if I’m not there every Thursday evening they will have no one to blame for our inevitable loss.

To top things off, this week I have been under the weather as well as under the wire. So when I parked in my friend’s pine tree-lined driveway, stars blinking condescendingly above, and walked up to her front door, I thought to myself, “I’d really rather be in bed right now.”

Letting myself in through her front door, I felt a warmth reach out and pull me in. It might have been that her home really was a higher temperature than the chilly outdoors. It might also have been the Thanksgiving decorations – some fancy and others homemade – that created a sense of home and familiarity. The four smiling faces in the parlor may have been key factors in the general spirit of the home I was walking into as well.

But I think the warmth I felt was a nostalgia, a feeling of returning somewhere I knew I was welcomed and safe.

How many times had this friend opened her doors to me – in the late hours of the evening for dinner or coffee or social gathers, like Christmas parties and book clubs, or in the wee hours of the morning when I needed a friend and I knew she would be awake, getting the day started for her own family with whole grain blueberry muffins baking in the oven and a tea pot whistling on the stove as her sleepy-eyed tots stumbled into the kitchen like little kittens.

For the purposes of what I hope to convey to my readers, this is important. It is important that this study and discussion group was taking place in a place where I felt comfortable. It literally took place on common ground.

Having joined the Bible study later than the rest of the ladies, most of whom I had met before, I was not caught up on either the reading or the questionnaire. The ladies went verse by verse and question by question, diving into the finer points of the New Testament epistle.

Not all of us come from the same doctrinal background. I knew that already. But as we discussed the questions in our study guide, it became clearer that our differing backgrounds directly impacted how we responded to some of these questions. Even our personal make-up, struggles and experiences created distinct perceptions on the passages we read.

It felt so good to deep-dive with these women and listen to how they reacted to a book we all consider to be the Truth. We debated the finer points of definitions (what is a trial and what is a temptation) and applied them to our own lives, trying to decipher what commands and promises God is really making to his people through this passage of Scripture.

When I left for the evening, I was fuller by two cups of tea, about eight cookies and 90 minutes of brain-stimulating, heart-stirring conversation. And I thought, “I have time for this.”

I think Americans should revive the practice of live intentional discourse. We should have book clubs, writers groups and coffee houses in our living rooms. We should study and learn and read and talk together. Our brains are aching from lack of exercise. Everything we think comes from a one-dimensional source: media. But learning requires interaction. We have to take what we hear or read or see and make it our own through the meticulous process of discussion.

We need to learn how to listen and discern.

But we need to learn how to do all this in a way that is friendly and productive, which means leaving the impersonal choir boxes of social media and inviting our friends and neighbors into our homes.

Ah, but remember, those homes need to be sanctuaries of common ground, which means those same people should feel welcome to show up at our door early on a Saturday morning because they’re out of milk or they need help with their car or they just need someone to talk to right away. They should feel comfortable and welcome and safe because we have made a practice of extending our hospitality.

I adovocate for two things today: building our minds through the thoughtful discourse of our communities, and building communities through the genuine persuit of good-neighborliness.

If you need a place to start, I know of a good Bible study group.