Well, here's another place you can go
Where everything flows,
Looking through the bent backed tulips
To see how the other half lives . . .
— "Glass Onion" by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
That's what Jeff Koehn wanted to offer — "another place you can go" — when the clinically trained counselor, and now a seminary student, started a group called The Glass Onion in 2004. Reaching out to the dechurched — those who had been raised in a church setting and who still held some spiritual beliefs but were no longer satisfied by organized religion — Koehn responded to their longing for "something beyond themselves and for intellectual discourse on a variety of topics."
Since then, the eclectic mix of people who meet on Monday nights at Lindenwood Christian Church have discussed everything from euthanasia to music. They've assessed each other's personalities and painted a group abstract. And they're not all dechurched. Some are active Christians, others are atheists or agnostics. Although the group began, says Koehn, as 20somethings eager to bounce their ideas off each other and hear differing opinions, the current members are a little older.
"The people are more mature in their world views and their faith has developed to where they don't feel the need to question as much." he says. "They've already questioned and come to their own conclusions."
But they're still eager to bounce ideas around, and each week will find them hashing out what's on their minds. For a while Koehn came up with the topics, but now often lets the conversation flow freely from members. Some, if they're comfortable with it, will lead the discussion. Others prefer to let Koehn take charge.
In the early years, he saw a need for a facilitator, especially when debates would get heated. "Some of the church members weren't used to having dialog with atheists," says Koehn. "Usually the disagreements were respectful, and on the one or two occasions when they weren't, they were dealt with quickly."
They've delved into psychology, ethics, and interpersonal relations. They've discussed the themes of such movies as The Shawshank Redemption , The Last Temptation of Christ , and The Matrix . And they've mulled over lyrics written by Dylan, U2, John Lennon, Pink Floyd, and Dave Matthews. Members also cover such business as who's sick or had a death in the family, where the next party will be, and perhaps what service project or social justice issue they might participate in. "That's something I'd like to see more of," says Koehn.
After the meeting, which starts at 6:30 p.m. and lasts about an hour, the group of eight to 16 goes out to dinner. "Sometimes the discussions become more interesting [in a restaurant]," says Koehn, "after the formal meeting."
While the group may discuss religious topics, Koehn says, "We don't let religion get in the way" of learning more about each other. He recalls a "very powerful" series when each individual told of his or her own private spiritual journey. "They shared their experience with a church or with something else spiritual — perhaps divine — and that brought the members together in a more intimate way than anything we've ever done."
Cindy Hazen is a food industry pro-fessional who joined the Glass Onion two years ago. She appreciates the diversity among the members, who may be physicians or forklift operators, artists or accountants, post office personnel or railroad retirees, and may range in age from 22 to 65. Over the years the group has included Presbyterians and Methodists, Primitive Baptists and Catholics, and those with no religious affiliation at all.
Hazen also enjoys the topics the group covers. "We try to alternate between heavy and lighter subject matter, "she says, whether it's twenty-first-century slavery or the traits of happy people. And she recalls with pleasure the "play" time they had painting a group abstract at D'Edge Gallery.
"It's a good mix," says Hazen, "and I like the sense of community we share."