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Campfires For Conviviality

I’m working on starting an initiative on campus at USC to create the conditions for more conviviality, friendship, and compassion on campus.  The symbol and the focus of this effort is the campfire.  I hope it is something that catches on in churches and other settings as well!

A campfire gives people a focus while they hang out together.  There’s something elemental about it, no?  – going back to human pre-history.  A campfire encourages intimacy, but allows for quiet.  It allows for the back-and-forth flow of intensity and “air” in relationships.  The sight and sound of it are soothing, encouraging reflection – an ideal environment for making and keeping friends.

Nothing beats a real campfire, of course!  But here’s a way to create one virtually.  Get a group together in a circle.  Put your all your laptops and/or smart phones (with phones in airplane mode) in the center, all playing this campfire video (no need to synch devices – the sights and sounds blends together).  Having all phones, etc, in the center, playing the campfire video, has the wonderful side-benefit of unplugging everyone for a while.  It gives the message that smart phones, etc, should facilitate face-to-face relationships rather than replace them.  You don’t need a special reason for campfires – any excuse is good!  The principle behind them all:  creating a convivial environment in which acquaintances can move toward real friendship.  

Here are some special reasons and ways to hold them.  Send me your experiences with convening campfires:

Questions Campfires:  circle around campfire video, and randomly ask a person to start.  Each person in the circle asks that person one genuine, non-leading question.  If the person doesn’t want to answer a particular question, they can pass.  Keep going around the circle until everyone has both asked and answered at least two questions.  Look here for a list of the questions Jesus asked in the gospels, for conversation and contemplation.  See lists of other great questions to ask here.

Drum Campfires:  Drumming around the campfire.  A way to connect deeply – without words.  

Worship Campfires:  Play the campfire video on the screen in the sanctuary, and preach from a camp chair – or better yet, do a dialogue sermon in a semi-circle of camp chairs.

Dream Campfires:  Our nighttime dreams are portals into the realms of the unconscious mind. Paying attention to them brings us to a higher level of consciousness, and can give profound guidance for our lives.  This suggested format is based on the work of psychotherapist Jeremy Taylor .  (I have led such groups for years, and the level of intimacy that results is remarkable.)  Participants are asked to keep a dream journal and to maintain confidentiality about what is shared in the group.  Circle around the virtual campfire.  First person shares a dream.  Questions (not comments) for dreamer – from anyone.  Questions should be “honest” – open-ended, not round-about ways of giving opinions or making judgments.  Then 3 min of silent mindful meditation on the dream.  Then, going clockwise around the campfire circle, each person answers:  “If it were my dream, this is the significance it would have for me….” – then others ask that person questions.  When circle is complete, first dreamer reflects on responses of the others.  Next dreamer shares a dream….

Clearness Campfires:  Ideal also for churches.  It’s based on the old Quaker practice of convening Clearness Committees for discernment.  Ever feel bewildered in the face of a tough choice or confusing personal situation?  You are in great company.  And having some of that great company can make your decision-making process a lot easier.  That’s what Clearness Campfires are all about.  You write down the problem you’re facing – as succinctly as you can.  (You may be unclear about how to describe the situation that is before you – but do the best you can.)  You invite a group of people whom you respect to gather together as a temporary Clearness Campfire.  You text/email them your problem.  You send them this page and ask them if they are willing to follow these guidelines.  Those who agree gather and sit in a circle for between 1.5 and 2 hours with you around a laptop computer with the campfire video playing.  They choose one of them to be the “clerk” and take simple notes, which the “clerk” emails to you afterward.  They start asking you questions.  Only questions.  Honest questions for which they do not yet know your answers.  Questions that invite your reflection.  Questions that aren’t “leading” – questions that are not round-about ways of giving advice or opinions.  Questions that invite answers that will lead to yet more questions that will invite answers that lead to yet more questions.  There are times of silence, when only the campfire is crackling.  Times for reflection, for letting questions and answers sink in deeper.  When you are ready, 15 or so minutes before the agreed-upon ending time, you ask your circle to “mirror” what they heard and saw in your responses to their questions.  Again: no opinions, no advice – just feedback about what they noticed in you as the Clearness Campfire burned.  Then you shake hands with each of them and depart in soulful silence.  What happens at the campfire stays at the campfire – complete confidentiality.


Website: MINDFULCHRISTIANITY.ORG   Weblog: MUSINGS    Follow me on twitter: @jtburklo
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Senior Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California

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