Contributed by Sylvia Alloway
Granada Hills, CA
Warm-up Question: What is your idea of a perfect society? Where would it be located? What would people do there? How would they be governed?
If the San Francisco-based Seasteading Institute has its way, the City by the Bay may become the City out in Ocean. Seasteading, a variation on the word “homesteading,” is the process of building human dwellings on the high seas.
The Institute is currently researching ways to put habitable buildings on supports similar to oil platforms. These structures would be modular, that is, the parts would be interchangeable. They can be taken apart and put back together in different forms, so that change and movement will come easily and the physical environment can be altered to fit the ideas of the people.
Why do the sponsors of this endeavor want to form communities on the ocean? Unlike homesteading, where the idea was simply to gain more space for people to live, seasteading has deeper purpose: to try out new ways of governing and arranging society. Ideas presented by the 600-member organization include legalizing marijuana and owning all artistic works in common. Some group other than the family may be the basic unit of socialization, or alternatively, families may live as separate units and float together for “festivals.”
What does not work will be discarded, and what does work will be recombined into a new system of government. They believe that no specific ideology is necessary and constant change is good.
An engineer working on the project said that a prototype may be ready in as few as three years.
- Many attempts have been made to create a utopian, or perfect society (artistic and religious communities, the hippies of the 60s, etc.). Most have failed to form anything close to a perfect, lasting society. Why do they fail? Why do people keep trying?
- How can you tell if a form of government is working or not? What are some signs of a good or a bad system? A just or unjust system?
- Think about a society in which nothing is fixed. Behavior that was acceptable yesterday is not so today and vice versa. Can human beings really live this way? Why or why not?
- Young people often want to get away from old rules and ways of doing things. What are some rules and behavior in your world (school, church, family, friends, job, etc.) that you would like to change? Why? With what would you replace the old ways?
- What are some rules and behavior you would like to change about the world in general?
Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, May 31, 2009.
(Text links are to oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.)
- Acts 2:1-21 or Ezekiel 37:1-14
- Psalm 104:24-34, 35b (30)
- Psalm 104:24-35b (30) or Acts 2:1-21
- John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
Jesus’ disciples were all strongly grounded in the traditions of Judaism. The Ten Commandments, the sacrificial system for forgiveness of sins, the required feasts and fasts had been the foundation of their lives since birth. But in today’s Gospel, Jesus informs them that a change is coming. Jesus himself is going to return to the Father and in his place he will send the Advocate (also translated as “Comforter” or “Helper”), the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit will lead them into a new way. The NRSV says that he will “prove the world wrong” in its view of sin, righteousness, and judgment. What he teaches will be not a truth, but the truth; the permanent, unchanging plan of God for the salvation of the world. Their Lord will not let them drift around unguided.
At the time, the disciples did not know what Jesus meant. Even after his resurrection, as they obeyed his command to “wait for power from on high,” they still did not know what form the power would take. And then… Flames! Wind! Beautiful flowing speech! There could be no doubt that this was the power Jesus promised, the Advocate who would teach them all things.
The world tells us to depend on ourselves for moral and spiritual guidance. Truth is relative. Absolutes spoil all the fun and feel oppressive. But Jesus says to depend on his Spirit to guide us into truth. In him we will be gloriously empowered, free to live in God’s purpose and love in the world with the promise of eternal life. We are free to give witness to a different truth that is God’s truth… a truth that calls for compassion, justice, humility, change, service, faith, and obedience.
- What are some common (not necessarily Christian or religious) views of sin, righteousness, judgment, and the world? In what way does the truth of Christ prove these ideas wrong?
- We know that God has given us his Spirit, but we don’t always “feel” his presence. In what ways can we encourage each other in “dry” or difficult times when we feel alone or abandoned by God?
- Create a list of what you consider to be rules or values that are consistent with your faith in Christ. Do this quickly as individuals and then compare your lists. How are your lists alike and how are they different? Make up situations in which somebody breaks what you as a Christian consider to be “a rule.” How might a community striving to follow Christ (a church, family, youth ministry group, or school) handle the situation? How might those who believe in a fluid and changing morality deal with it?
- How can we work with and live with each other compassionately and with a desire to respect each others differences and opinions while at the same time being concerned about God’s will and desire for us?
Expand on question 3.
In groups or as a class, make up a story about a seasteading community. It might be fun to frame it as science fiction or based on existing and developing technologies. They have decided on a way to rule themselves, for instance, having all things in common. A problem comes up that their system doesn’t cover, for example, is there any such thing as stealing or trespassing in this kind of community? They try to work it out among themselves. Resolve the story in a way that demonstrates the need for the guidance of the Spirit.
Extension Ideas: Have the class cooperate in writing out and illustrating the story by hand; write out and illustrate the story in a computer publishing program; dramatize the story and perform and/or film it.
Whose rules and why?
Talk about what “rules” there are in your congregation or that you believe are rules or values of being a Lutheran Christian. List them. Some jumping off points for discussion:
- Where did the rule or value come from? Who decided that it was important?
- What is the purpose of the rule? (To honor God, protect children, safety, to keep a room neat and tidy, to respect and welcome visitors, to save money, to guide your behavior, etc.) Is it changeable or permanent? Why? How do congregations decide?
- What practices and rules may have come about through history or through decisions made by a congregation based on their neighborhood, community, or cultural context? (e.g., use of religious art in the sanctuary, providing worship and other things in more than one language, allowing coffee in the sanctuary during worship, worship times and styles, etc.)
- What changes would you propose for your congregation? What existing practices, values, or rules you would like to affirm?
- What’s the best way for the congregation, or a group within the congregation, to reflect on whether or not a rule, value, or policy is consistent with what God encourages or expects us to do?
For help in facilitating group discussions that may stir up diverse reactions, opinions, and emotions, check out the ELCA resource “Talking Together as Christians about Tough Social Issues” (PDF).
- “Lord of All Hopefulness,” Evangelical Lutheran Worship, #765
- “Praise to the Father (for his loving-kindness),” Lutheran Book of Worship, #517
Gracious Father forgive us for seeking our own way when we should be turning to your truth; for believing the inventions of world, instead of finding our way in your Word; for chasing after the changeable and temporary, instead of resting in your eternal Spirit. We thank and praise you for the forgiveness we have received through your beloved son, Jesus. Through the power of the Comforter, remake us in Jesus’ likeness and manner. We pray this is his blessed name, Jesus Christ. Amen.