I have been having a hard time trying to figure out what to write for these blogs for a while. I never really know what to say, and part of that is because I never kept a journal or a diary. There is almost like a road block in my head.
Things have been difficult economically back home, and there was a moment recently where I didn’t know if it was going to be possible for me to continue with the LEVN program. Fortunately, my family and I could make some things happen and I could stay in the program.
Just this last week we had two successful days of the Listening Post, a service that the Belfry hosts. Essentially any person can just come up to our table and vent about what it is that they are feeling. We have students that man this station as volunteers and they do an excellent job; I think it is an experience that will better prepare them for careers ahead in their future. Because being able to listen and really hear what others are trying to say is a difficult thing, and the more practice we can get at that is wonderful.
I have been doing some more writing this year. In 2017 so far I have written three poems, which is pretty good considering last year I just was having a massive road block.
Where can I go now?
The joys of summer have gone;
fog has tumbled in—
even as I lay buried
the snow and dirt become one.
That is a poem in progress, I have been writing some Tankas lately and this one seems to have some potential. I also wrote my first Pantoum. Which was a lot more difficult that I thought it would be. It is a different animal than a Villanelle. Although both have repeating lines and rhyme schemes I found that the Pantoum was a little more difficult to write, there is just a lot more repeating, where a Villanelle is more of a chorus tool, because there is this leap-frogging affect in Pantoums with their repetition, so I think that really contributes to its complexity. Also I kept having a hard time trying to find a good subject matter to talk with in Pantoums, Villanelles are really good for talking about people, almost like odes or an elegy.
Tankas, like Haikus, are really good with weather subject matter/metaphors, and taking a twist towards the end.
This is the Pantoum I wrote, it really doesn’t have even a working title right now. It is still a work in progress though.
worn out and chipped up rubber and wooden heels
dash and drive about in turbulence—
Men with arms raised and yelling and an Oldsmobile
parked in the crux—of the meek and orgulous.
dash and drive about in the turbulence;
scenes from outside the window unfold distantly.
parked in the crux—the meek and orgulous
pedestrians cross back-and-forth effortlessly.
scenes from just outside the window unfold distantly,
but they’re not so far removed they can’t reach into us.
the pedestrians cross back and forth effortlessly.
each step a silent march of individualism and trust.
but they’re not so far removed they can’t reach into us
Men with arms raised yelling and an Oldsmobile
revving to our silent march. The recoil of individualism and trust
worn out and chipped up rubber and wooden heels.
So that is a little bit about what I have been writing. But something that I have been thinking about lately is how to move the church away from what I call Sunday Culture.
Several months ago Bishop Beisner visited the Belfry to talk about really whatever we wanted, which I thought was really cool considering he is a Bishop and I am not even Episcopalian, along with a few of my other roommates.
I brought up the idea that—and it was just a rough image at the time—that we need to move the church away from Sunday Culture.
These are some of the ideas I think Sunday Culture is:
- Trying to turn everything into a bible study or devotional
- Having a large church grounds, but keeping it closed most of the week
- Physically present in a community but spiritually, emotionally, and supportively detached
- Focusing on baptism, but failing to create an authentic community
As a young person in Church I am often confused by the actions of some of my peers and higher-ups. I was at a meeting once where the conversation turned towards budget-related topics. One of the pastors started talking about a building fund that had been accumulating over the last ten years, and the conversation quickly turned to ideas on how to improve the current facility and/or add on to it. Now none of the ideas were bad, nobody advocated for building a giant pool or spending the money on a private jet. But what surprised me was the response I got when I asked, “Has anyone sent a survey into the larger physical community to see what the needs are?” and I looked around the room and no one had even thought to think about that.
Speaking from my own background and someone who has many friends both in the church and out of the church, I often hear a familiar rhetoric: “the church is corrupt”, or “what are they even good for?” They see on the news that some mega-church millionaire just bought his fourth condo, or private jet, and they feel angry, which is completely understandable. “Where in the bible does it suggest that ministers should exploit their followers for finical gain?” they ask. And then they look to me, someone they know is active in the church for a long time like I am supposed to have all the answers. And then I think about situations that I just discussed, where people are putting the cart in front of the wagon. I mean, how can you start the process of a multi-million-dollar construction project without taking stock of community needs? And I realize they are right to an extent.
For me Sunday Culture is about flashy, ankle-deep evangelicalism. It’s about worrying how to spend money, about just the pure numbers of people “being saved”, and then lacks on making deep lasting connections.
I hear time and time again from my generation that we just want a relationship. We want to go somewhere where we are not going to get bombarded with the saving, but asked about our day, asked about what is going on in our lives, and most importantly go somewhere we feel like a family.
And I can hear my critics saying right now, “But what are you doing Jon to stop this then!” Which is a valid critique, it is something that I felt in my gut as a problem but haven’t fully thought of, and I am sure that I am not creating any kind of wisdom or sudden realization by writing these thoughts out on blog, but I feel compelled to write about them nonetheless.
But how do we move away from Sunday Culture? I think the first step is to change how we define success for a congregation or even a mission. Like I have mentioned before I notice that churches are often too focused on the number of people in the pews than living alongside them. I think changing what success looks like is moving it away from a numbers game to an evaluation of how we meeting and exceeding the needs of our different communities. The emotional, spiritual, familial, physical needs. And not ever community needs the same thing. I can think back to each of the different faith communities that I have lived in or been a part of, and I can see their differences.
One way I think I have seen at least my own church the ELCA move in the right direction has been their increased acceptance of LGBTAQIA+ members. I think that took a serious reflection on part of every congregation and the Church and we saw the needs, and even as important (if not more) we saw the destructive nature of our past views. And in this way I am proud of my church, and it does give me hope that there is definitely an eagerness to adapt and connect with the world around ourselves.
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral