What do I stand for?

For the most recent LEVN night, we were asked to derive a personal mission statement. To get us contemplating about who we were and what we stood for, we were told to jot down a list of twenty of our talents and twenty of our passions (i.e. things that excite us or anger us or that make us want to share whatever it is with others). Right off the bat, I struggled with this.

The truth is I have been asking myself these very same questions for the past three years and have yet to come up with an answer that satisfies me. I managed to write down twelve talents and about the same number of passions.

Looking over my talents, I didn’t really see how any of the things I wrote down were supposed to help me discern my path in life and ultimately find a paying job. The person leading our discussion told us to think of our biggest fan and what that person would say were our talents. The only person I could think of that matched that description for me was my mother. I admit thinking of her led me to write down a few talents I wouldn’t necessarily have thought of, but it still got me nowhere close to twenty. I mean, how is choreographing and performing hand motions to Vacation Bible School songs applicable to my career?

I had even more trouble coming up with my passions after the first few obvious ones like church and mathematics and music. When I considered things that angered me, I found myself writing stuff like dishonesty and unreliability. By the end, I still couldn’t conjure many things I’m passionate about.

After contemplating talents and passions, it was time to start constructing our mission statements. First, we were given a list of action verbs and told to select three of them that best described what we wanted to do in our life. Unlike the previous tasks, I didn’t find this too stressful. My words ended up being accomplish, serve, and discover. Rethinking about it, I feel these words aptly describe what I want to do.

My choice of the word “accomplish” is pretty self-explanatory, although accomplish what exactly I’m not sure, but I want to accomplish something.  As for my decision to include the word “serve,” I feel that that word relates to my desire to just be helpful or to be of use or, another way to put it, to serve a purpose, but also to serve others and God. Lastly, the word “discover” speaks to my constant feeling that there is something out there, something just waiting for me beyond my grasp, something that I need to find. Maybe this feeling is my just wishful thinking that there is something more to life than life as I know it. Maybe there is nothing to find. Either way, I want to discover what life is really about and if there’s nothing more out there, then I want to discover that, too.

Next, we were told to select our core value. Our core value was described to us as that one thing that we would die for or that which is most important to us. I initially wrote down close relationships, but in recent years, I have come to realize more and more that close relationships alone don’t satisfy me. I need something else. And that something else is meaningful work. I need both. In past few years, I’ve experienced periods where I had one but not the other and then it switched. I feel it is a combination of the people in my life and what I do with my life that make life worth living.

Lastly, we were instructed to come up with the group of people or the institution that we most wanted to impact. A few groups stood out to me from the list we were given, but in the end, there was only one answer: churches. The homeless and youth also piqued my interest, but the issue of homelessness makes me sad more than anything and is such a huge problem that I’m not sure I want to make them my life’s work.

Youth actually ranks pretty high up there for me, even above homelessness. I think the reason for this is that I feel that so much or who we are as humans, or at least who I am, is due to my experiences in my youth. I feel especially strongly about church youth groups because my closest friendships were developed at church youth group, and I owe my passion for church due to people who influenced me as a youth growing up in church. Experiences and habits developed in our youth have the power to make us or break us when we reach adulthood, so I feel the youth deserve attention.

However, even with all that said about youth, I still selected churches as the one group I wanted to impact the most.

When all was said and done, my personal mission statement ended up being the following: I want to accomplish, serve, and discover close relationships and meaningful work for churches. Now, I know it doesn’t quite make sense and I intend to reword it a bit, but I feel it is a relatively apt description of who I am. What’s more, the process of coming up with it gave me a lot to think about.

For instance, if the church is the main group I want to influence, then what does that look like? What would I do in the church? Would it be my career? Or would it be something I do just in my free time? How about my interest in youth? Can that have any meaning for me? So may questions and so few answers.

– Megan

St. Francis Episcopal Church

Impact Foundry

Vio Vio Vio

One thing I have discovered about myself in my time in LEVN is my increased amount of time devoted to music. Every day I wake up at 6 AM and prepare all my sheet music. I grab my violin and head off to the Belfry. I am sure to be loud in doing all of this to wake up my roommate, as is tradition. In the Belfry, I get the music stand and adjust it so that it is not set up for someone two feet tall. After I adjust it, I get the lights, look for ghosts, and practice violin for about an hour.

I have taken such an interest in music again that I have even begun to take music lessons once more. I had taken them previously for many years, but decided I wanted to continue to excel in it. I find this as a pastime that I have rediscovered my enjoyment in.

I have also been practicing my Spanish lately. I am attempting to read The Alchemist in Spanish. I am, hopefully, moving to Spain in August or September. I am very excited, but also very flustered by all the paperwork involved. On top of that I am trying to decide if I should go to graduate school after Spain. It’s a little nerve wracking going to a foreign country, but also worrying about finding a place to live there. On top of that, trying to figure out how to send academic documents from across an ocean is pretty tedious.

LEVN is a program that at first seems to go by pretty fast. It slows down tremendously in the middle, but then seems to pick up a little pace towards the end. We were told in orientation that there are people who count down the days till the end of their placement site. Supposedly it’s a tactic to calm individuals down and show them that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I think that is more nerve wracking however. I think instead time should just be devoted into a hobby, like violin or soccer. At least, that was my coping mechanism this year.

In LEVN there will be a lot of things people promise to do. Most people don’t do half of them. I find coming just for the adventure of it all as more rewarding. LEVN has been lonely for some individuals it seems. For me, it’s been the opposite. As an introvert, there’s always people jolting in and out of rooms. Finding any quiet is very rare, and actually is one reason I enjoy leaving for church on Sundays.

In the first week, LEVNs will create a house rule. It will be strict at first. People will think that they will follow every rule to the very dot. The rules become less strict and eventually people realize how silly it is to have such harsh rules. The best rules are probably loose rules. There’s no need to create a jail in Davis right across from the university. The people who will have trouble in LEVN will be those who struggle with forgiveness. Once someone learns that forgiveness is accepting the past can’t be any better, I think it comes to them to just enjoy the current time.

My time here has been enjoyable and I will enjoy seeing what happens to my roommates and myself afterwards. This year has been fairly easy going. I wouldn’t say it’s been too difficult overall. Overwhelming at times, definitely, but very easy going. No one will come out a perfect saint at the end of this program. No one has to, and it wasn’t made for that. If it was, I can only imagine how hard it would be telling people I wasn’t joining some random cult in the middle of California!

My final goal in LEVN will be to memorize a few more pieces by Mozart. Supposedly he said that people cannot shame themselves if they are away from home. Hopefully this is true.

– Alexander

Next Move

Belfry Sermon for May 24

A note from Pastor Casey: At the end of each school year, our campus ministry at UC Davis gives the pulpit to any students who are graduating as well as to our ministry intern. Since Jon has been serving with us, he preached on Wednesday, May 24. Enjoy!

Recently I have had to tackle whether I was going to move back to Minnesota or stay here in California, which is a question a few years ago I would never have thought I would be contemplating. As my time in the LEVN community winds down, my attention moves more and more towards this question.

What am I going to do? Where am I going to move? And who with?

Jesus understood that his time with his friends was coming to a close and that soon he would have to depart the 11. Worried that his friends might struggle significantly or that they may panic we come into today’s gospel reading.

We see time and time again how the disciples are not the brightest bunch, Jesus didn’t go looking for students in the same places that another rabbi would have looked. He didn’t try and find prodigies’ in the typical sense. He wasn’t interested in finding the next high-priest to be. Instead he found a bunch of blue collar workers, and a hated tax collector.

So it should be no surprise that up through today’s reading the disciples continually mess up. They fall asleep when Jesus tells them to stay awake. They miss the entire points of Jesus stories, and they bicker amongst themselves about who is the smartest, who is the wisest, and who Jesus loves most. Jesus finds them at this point to be completely helpless.

This is entirely understandable. Just weeks ago, their best friend and teacher died, and they were left aimless, they drifted apart, all in different directions. Some held up in a single house, some tried high-tailing it out of town. Some went back to fishing like nothing even happened.

Jesus second attempt of finding his disciples during his last few days on earth mirrors the first time he collected them. They are understandably in shock.  In the last few weeks they have witnessed horror and hardship, and they have feared for their own lives, and they were witness to Jesus risen from the dead. So it is again understandable that they now think there are some sort of dream state or shock and they revert back to what they were before they ever met Jesus.

But Jesus obviously as all of you already know has different plans for his chosen 11.

In one of his last moments with his disciples, Jesus looks to reassure them. He tells them that he will send down another comforter. This comforter that Jesus is talking about is the Holy Spirit. And he is speaking prophetically because soon is Pentecost when the holy spirit does descend on the 11+1.

But this story is much more than a foreshadowing. Jesus is seriously trying to comfort his friends. And he does this not only by telling them that he will always be with them. But by bringing them together.

Jesus could have gone to each disciple alone and told him to go out and start churches, blah blah blah. But he took the time to gather them all up, he went travelling to different towns, and lakes, just to bring the group back together.

Humans crave company. We are social creatures by genetics and evolution. You take any intro to child development or psychology class and you learn how just being around adults who visibly show signs of love is not just important to development but it is vital for the baby to live.

We need love in our lives. We need companionship in our lives, and Jesus knew this. Where two-or-three are gathered in his name… the verse goes, so he too will be there. The holy spirit moves us to help each other. It moves us to be friends and support one-another in grim times. So the holy spirit almost has a placebo affect at times. Because just by brining two people together they can be healed. I don’t think it is God’s direct power is going to heal us, but that God calls on some to be doctors and some to be lawyers, some to be cops, and some to be firefighters. Or simply friends and people with an ear to listen.

That is what Jesus is talking about when he says he will be there with us. That he will provide these comforters in our lives.

I am moving back to Minnesota at the end of July. I am a little nervous, which is saying a lot from someone who seldom gets nervous. But I am nervous because I need to payoff my student loans. And I had no place really to move into. And I leaving (for a time anyway) some people I care deeply about.

But I have great friends. God has placed comforters in my life. My friend Jordan is letting me move in with him, and letting me get by without paying rent for the first month or so.

I am saying all of this today because this year academically is coming to an end for most of you UC Davis students. And while none of you are seniors, most of you will still face some obstacles this summer. Or in the coming year. Maybe you are switching majors, moving across the ocean, or simply returning home.

And you might be afraid. Because maybe you are leaving a friend, mentor, or a community that you feel like you finally fit in with.

Well that is what this story and this sermon is really about. Jesus is just talking to the disciples in this story, and he isn’t talking simply about his looming accession that waits just around the corner like a melancholy end to a remarkable story, in the eyes of the disciples.  No, this story is also for you. And for me too.

Because God will put comforters in your lives, you might not see them now, but they are there. And God is waiting.

– Jon

The Belfry

Trinity Episcopal Cathedral

Hometown

Our hometown can be the place where we were born. Or it can be the place where we were raised…or it can also be something completely different. When people ask me about my hometown sometimes I struggle with my answer. There are times when I say Zihuatanejo, which is where I was born. Other times I say Modesto, which is where I was raised. Every now and then I say both. Lately I have been feeling uncomfortable with either answer because I do not feel a genuine connection with either.

I struggle with choosing Zihuatanejo as my hometown because I lived there up until I was one year old and then we moved to the US. I don’t have any memory of Zihuatanejo or of my extended family. I know the stories but I don’t know them or the place. I struggle with choosing Modesto as my hometown because even though I lived there for 18 years, I was not living as my genuine self. I used to think of Modesto as my past hometown because my “past” self lived there.  My “past” self did enjoy living in Modesto, that’s where they grew up. The love for Modesto wasn’t genuine even though they wanted it to be genuine.

Because my present self is finally the genuine me, it is difficult to continue associating my past with me now. Modesto may have been my past but because I’m now living a more truthful life I find it hard to associate Modesto to my childhood. Leo didn’t grow up in Modesto. Leo didn’t go to school there. Leo did spend a summer there but it was a very short period of time.

I have been living as myself mostly in the Bay Area and in Davis. I realize that neither the Bay Area or Davis can be considered a hometown but I’m learning that it’s ok to refer to them as home.  When I was living in Berkeley I really considered it home. When I would visit my family in Modesto it felt as if I was going into an unfamiliar place. I didn’t feel the safety from Berkeley.

In Berkeley, I had the chance to reflect on my true self and on the direction I was choosing to live my life. I had to be honest with myself and build the courage to start living a happy life. When that happened, it felt like a new beginning. It didn’t mean I was letting go of the past, instead it meant that things were going to be different. This new beginning started in Berkeley and even though it’s not my hometown, that place will always be very dear to me that it can feel like my hometown. 

Within the last year I’ve been thinking again about hometown and the bay. I miss the Bay Area and my friends but I am learning that I have learned to really love Davis so much that I didn’t realize it how much I missed it until recently. This new love for Davis is making me think about not caring about what I consider my hometown but instead on enjoying and being present in the current home. This past year in Davis has provided a lot of stability. Of course, there were days that were difficult but overall, it gave me the time and place to really focus on the present and start letting go of the past. 

As I reflect on what home means to me, I realize that I don’t have a definite answer or even a set of characteristics in mind that would label a place as a home. I suppose that not having a set answer shows that “home” changes for me but overall Davis has been a unique home and one of the few places where I’ve experienced a strong sense of peace. So why Davis? Well, one thing that I’ve noticed that I’m doing different is that I’ve been challenging myself to be more present in my life. Because it is easier to dwell on the past and overthink the future, I found myself taking the present for granted.  

During my time at Berkeley, I focused too much energy on completing my degree and mapping out my life after college as oppose to working on myself at that time.  I just wanted to cross off the days from my calendar and meet deadlines. I didn’t realize how I was missing on the present until I moved out of my home in Berkeley and would no longer be an undergraduate student.  I felt like Andy from The Office when he says: “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.”  I know this show is silly but I thought that was a deep quote to follow. Understanding that I chose not to enjoy Berkeley as much as I wanted to motivated me to start making a change in the way I approach life and my relationships with everyone around me. Moving to Davis did not erase my problems, instead it has been teaching me how to confront change without ignoring life now. 

– Leo

Computers 4 Kids 

We Are Church Together

I couldn’t help but grin as I drove my Nissan Maxima on 99 south to Fresno and the Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly that awaited me there. The sights that passed me by were friendly reminders of a different time in my life, a time not so long ago when I was a student at Fresno State and driving on 99 south to Fresno was something I did every six to eight weeks. However, it had been almost exactly two years since I last made the drive and three years since I had been a student myself. My car, Max, seemed to remember every twist and turn in the road as though he had just traveled it yesterday. And yet, not everything was as I remembered. There were signs of change, signs that made me realize that it had, in fact, been two years since I had last traveled to Fresno. Roads that had been under construction two years ago were clear of workers and orange warning signs. New structures suddenly appeared in places that had once been bare. I sighed. It seemed that no place, not even 99 south, was immune from the passing of time and the changes that come with it.

As I navigated the roads of Fresno to get to our destination, I was proud to find that I needed little assistance to find the hotel where we would be staying. The moment I opened my car door and stepped outside into the heat I knew I was no longer in Sacramento. It was as though Fresno decided to get extra hot that day to remind me what real heat feels like as a way to welcome me back. Thanks Fresno!

It didn’t take long before I started recognizing people. In just the first few minutes of waiting around the hotel lobby, I recognized at least two people. In fact, throughout that first day in Fresno, it seemed as if a familiar face awaited me around every corner. Some people I knew as coming from Davis, particularly Lutheran Church of the Incarnation. Many I recognized as being members of Trinity Lutheran of Fresno, where I had worshipped for four years when I was a student. A few of the pastors from the Greater Sacramento Area also stood out to me. Then, there was the delegation from Holy Cross Lutheran in Livermore, the church where I grew up. Not to mention numerous others I recognized from last year’s synod assembly or who I knew through various other means. I was home.

Over the course of the next two days, I soaked in every moment. Even though the speakers occasionally drag on a bit too long and the schedule tends to be oversaturated with little room for so much as a bathroom break, I loved it. Because at the end of the day, synod assembly isn’t just about business and passing resolutions. Synod assembly is about building connections with people who believe the same thing and remembering that we are church together. Because when we remember that we are church together, then we realize that we can achieve remarkable things that will make lasting impacts since together we are stronger than we are apart.

I attended two workshops at synod assembly. The first was called Faith and the Arts. During the workshop, we were asked to draw a timeline of our life and identify moments in which we had a spiritual experience that resulted from an encounter with some form of art. Now, I have dabbled in many forms of art over the course of my life from sketching anime figures with a pencil to playing clarinet in a marching to band to singing in a church choir, just to new a few. However, at the time, I had difficulty pinpointing a singular moment when my spirituality and art coincided.

Thinking about it now, I realize that every time I sing in church is a spiritual experience. Sure, some days I am more aware of it than others but I believe there is always a spiritual aspect to it. However, the moments when I am most aware of it are when a song is played in church that everyone knows and loves and the sound of all the voices together fills up the space creating a sense of unity. This has happened before for me during songs such as “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” or a few years back when on Easter Sunday, Holy Cross used the version of “This is the Feast” that I remember from my childhood (LBW, Setting II), which I hadn’t heard sung in a church in years.

I experienced that connection between spirituality and the music at synod assembly during both opening and closing worship as I sang songs both new and familiar with a couple hundred other Lutherans. However, I experienced it the most when singing “This is My Commandment” just before closing worship. Now, “This is My Commandment” is a simple song for kids with silly hand motions, but as I sang it and performed the hand motions, I felt more alive than I had felt in a while. It was freeing and invigorating to be able to be silly. What’s more, I could be silly around the people I cared most about. For my mother, my former pastor, Berni, and Berni’s wife Linda were all singing right there beside me and it was these very same people who had originally taught me as a child that it was okay to be silly in church. It is moments like these where I feel that we are, in fact, church together, and it is not just something we say.

That is why synod assembly is so important. Because it allows for moments like these in which the past meets the present and spiritual moments take us by surprise. Yes, it can be boring. Yes, it may seem as if we are getting nowhere. But, it is also a holy place, a place where God’s radical love shines through the monotony of our every day lives and the Holy Spirit sets hearts on fire.

– Megan

St. Francis Episcopal Church

Impact Foundry

Continuing at the Belfry

The recent weeks have been somewhat stressful. Many different things all happening very quickly. A few weekends ago we hosted this year’s Province VIII conference, and it was a success, but also very time consuming, having to jump from one place on campus to the next, while prepping for the next activity.

I ended up leading a poetry workshop during the provincial conference, and it was very exciting, it was rewarding, but there were some hiccups that came along, but despite that and it being the first time I had ever led such an event it turned out well. It surprised me how fast the hour that I had went by, and evaluating my performance afterwards I realize there are some areas that I should trim down and others that I need to devote more time to if ever I do something similar again.

Thinking back, I realize I needed more emphasis on how poetry can directly be a spiritual practice. The audience didn’t seem to quite understand that towards the end. I did end it on a high note though; I gave the group a writing prompt I had used in college before, where you write down what your most embarrassing (or other embarrassing story if it is too personal) and then you randomly select from the paper one to write about, so you don’t get your own and you don’t know who’s you have gotten.

 

I am dating one of my housemates, Megan, and it is going well. We have been dating about 3 months now. She is great and I think we make a pretty wonderful team. I think we do an excellent job of supporting each other, and she really does compliment my personality, I tend to be more spontaneous then her, and she is the opposite, and where I tend to think about the larger picture she is much better at seeing the finer details.

Although, she doesn’t see movies like The Goonies and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off for the cinematic masterpieces that they are, I am truly blessed. Lately we often spend our evenings cooking dinner together and watching a cult classic TV show or movie.

We just finished on the last day of March a series called Roswell, which is a little campy, but pretty decent. Megan has the habit of finding fun shows that only have like 3 seasons, and it always amuses me and frustrates me too because sure enough I get super into the story and it is cut short and I am left in agony.

Now we have started watching various episodes of Top Gear/Grand Tour, mainly the specials where they travel 1,000 plus miles in cars you can purchase for $1,000 dollars. Calamity always ensues and in their ingenuity the humor is created.

I have also just been invited the Kuneli household for Easter this year. Which I think is a big step in our relationship due to the fact Megan loves the Holy week and I imagine that this is one of her favorite holidays, and that she is sharing it with me is humbling. From what I understand several members of her family (mother’s side) shall be there, most of whom I have not met, with the exception of her parents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am putting together a literary magazine called Kings Mill Damn and I am excited to get that underway and going. I think it is important for me to do this, it allows my creativity to take a productive stance while not breaking the bank.

The production is still in the very initial stages, currently the website is underway and after that will come the first call to submission.

I am looking at writing science fiction poetry lately. It is a genre/form that I don’t see very much attention in or serious attempts at. So, I am looking forward to exploring it more and putting pencil to paper.

I have also been studying Taoism in my free time. It is an interesting spectrum of many different beliefs and blends. It is also extremely old, and the very nature of the philosophy makes it difficult to narrow down to one school. It isn’t a faith or philosophy that believes in rigidness and classification, so the faith as a whole is wide and varied, which has made studying it that much harder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have a subscription to The Wall Street Journal  ($1 for two months!) and with it came membership to Wall Street Journal+ (WSJ+) which is like this membership club that the company provides. They give special offers and free stuff through it, it was on WSJ+ that I found free VIP tickets to San Francisco’s premier modern art festival.  I was able to obtain 9 tickets, and it looks like our entire LEVN household is going, it occurs during the 27-30th of April, so we will probably just pick one day to go.

Advice that I would give to future LEVNeers would be to find some free subscriptions to various magazines. There are a ton you can do just for filling out surveys, I was able to get a free subscription to Time, Sports Illustrated, and Entertainment Weekly.  You have to be careful because there are obviously a ton of scams out there, but it is an easy way to get some nice free stuff.

Really finding free things to do is the best way to get through LEVN I feel like. Because if you are like me then you have bills and what not, and so that stipend goes away in the blink of an eye. So really take advantage of anything you can, be it free movie screenings in the park, free concerts in the park, and free magazines. But also shopping for deals is the prime directive.

I mean for like $9-15 you can get a single ticket to the Sacramento Kings. The stadium is really nice and the if you get there early enough you can find parking for under $15, which if you split that cost amongst the rest of your housemates or whoever becomes extremely reasonable.

It is difficult to believe that in 3 months that my time in LEVN will come to an end. It has been an interesting experience so far, and I am excited to look towards the future.

I am hoping that finding a job will not be too difficult, and finding a place to live might be challenge because I do not know yet where to go and there are many factors pulling me in many competing directions.

I will write another blog post before that last day of LEVN, and hopefully I will have some excellent news on the job search to share.

 

– Jonathan Heimer

The Belfry

Trinity Episcopal Cathedral

 

 

Love, God, and Relationships

Since I wrote my last blog, my life has changed in an unexpected and yet simultaneously pleasant and scary way. It was a change that was much desired, even longed for at times, but it was still a change no less, and I don’t tend to handle change very well. I never have. In truth, I fear change because, whether or not you see it coming, you never know what to expect. Change pulls you out of your comfort zone. However, change is also an opportunity for growth and renewal of faith in Christ Jesus. Because it is when you are deep in the storms of change and nothing seems certain that you are most in need of something that is certain and unfailing and never changes, and there is only one thing in this world that is guaranteed, that even death cannot destroy. The one thing that I speak of is the steadfast love of God and his promise to be with us always and forever. Oh, and the change that I alluded to previously. I got a boyfriend. Perhaps that doesn’t sound like such a big change. But when you have never been in a relationship and you are already living with the person who you are pursuing a relationship with, it changes everything.

In the weeks since I started my new relationship, I have discovered much about myself. In fact, I would say I have learned just as much if not more about myself as I have learned about him. I have also been reminded of something that I was previously aware of but forgot. Growth hurts. Even good growth. At least, it does for me. And I have been growing. Growing in faith, growing into an independent adult, and growing closer to another person. As I waded into the mist of so much change, I found myself grasping for something familiar. That something familiar turned out to be my faith in God and his love.

I recently gave a sermon at Saint Francis Episcopal Church at their noon day Ash Wednesday service. It was my first ever sermon. And I was nervous. As the gospel was read, I barely listened, not that I needed to since I was quite familiar with the reading in question after having read it multiple times in preparation for my sermon. Just before I made my way to the pulpit, I prayed for God’s peace and I remembered the words of Deacon Sonya who had helped me prepare for my sermon. She had told me that when I gave my sermon I needed to speak as one with authority because God had given me authority to speak on his behalf when he gave me insight into his word through the power of the Holy Spirit. With these prayers on my heart, I stepped up to the pulpit and delivered my sermon.

That day God delivered on his promise to grant me peace for I was at relative peace while giving my sermon and many who complimented me afterwards noted how calm I appeared. I recently came across Ephesians 3:19 in which the love of Christ is described as a “love that surpasses all knowledge” and that struck me. How can I trust God on his promise to grant me the “peace that passes understanding” but I don’t always believe that he loves me with a “love that surpasses all knowledge”? Even though my sermon had been written for the people of Saint Francis, the words I spoke were as much for me as for them. That day, I spoke of how the only treasure worth pursuing is that of God’s steadfast love because it is the only thing that does not fade and does not die. And I needed to hear that message just as much as the next person as I waded into the midst of change seeking something familiar and sure. However, as a forgetful human, I sometimes forget this truth and need to be reminded of it in more than one way. The sermon was one such reminder, my boyfriend is another.

I recently read an excerpt from Gene Robinson’s book “In the Eye of the Storm” in which he says that love between humans – whether that love be platonic or romantic – reflects the love of God. That is, the sensation we feel when we love and are loved is but a small dose of how God feels about us. Based on my experience, I would have to say that I mostly agree. More so now than ever before now that I have had a glimpse into the sensations and emotions that accompany love not that not platonic. However, the difference between God’s love and the love we experience on earth is that God’s love is perfect because God is perfect. God’s love does not waver, and it does not change based on actions. It is unconditional. But that is not always the case when it comes to the love we experience on earth between humans. And that is where grace enters the picture. Grace and patience.

Because humans are not perfect, we make mistakes and we get on each other’s nerves. Moreover, it is the ones we love most that tend to get on our nerves the most. And let me tell you when you are living in an intentional community, there is plenty of opportunity for people to get on each other’s nerves – whether it be because someone left their clothes in the dryer or didn’t wash their dishes or is playing music loudly at night. The list is of possible ways to get on another’s nerves is endless. However, as people of faith, we can choose to show grace and patience and self-control in such situations instead of anger and frustration. Now, that doesn’t mean we should necessarily do nothing about the situation. If someone is constantly not washing their dishes, then call that person out. However, do so in a manner that is appropriate to the situation at hand and not out of hatred. I have come to believe that grace and patience are essential to an intentional community, and due to more recent life developments, I would also say that grace and patience are essential to relationships as well.

In my recent practicing of grace and patience, or I should say, what little success I have had in practicing grace and patience, I have gained a new appreciation for the grace of God because it is hard work. Relationships are hard work. But there is also great reward at times, just as there is great reward in surrendering to the love of God. Moreover, just as relationships are not always easy, having faith is not always easy because it is choosing to believe in something we can’t see. However, God never said life was supposed to be easy. Because where would be the fun in that?

-Megan

St. Francis Episcopal Church

Impact Foundry

A Meatless Lent

Growing up in a Lutheran family, Lent was a significant aspect of the Liturgical year. While we discussed it in church, Sunday School, and Youth Group, my family did not partake in Lenten rituals at home. There was no ‘givings up’ or ‘takings on’. This was not a reflection of our belief in Christianity, just not a tradition kept in daily life. Because we were descendants from German Lutherans, I suspect that it was seen as “too Catholic” for some of my ancestors, and dropped.

It was not until I joined the Belfry: Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry in college that I began the practice of giving up and taking on for Lent. Both years I gave up soda. I enjoyed this, although I did slip up a couple of times (unintentionally!). I did it for health and money reasons. While soda is not completely out of my diet now, I do drink it less. I have come to understand the damage that over-consumption of soft drinks does to my body, as well as the amount of money I save by ordering a water instead of soda with dinner. The discipline of refraining from soda during Lent has contributed to this lifestyle change.

This year I wanted a challenge for Lent. So I have decided to forsake meat for Lent 2017. I grew up with a Midwestern diet. A dinner without meat is no meal at all. Breakfast certainly can be meatless, you can get away with a meatless lunch. But whenever my Grandmother or Dad made dinner, meat had to be present. This Midwestern diet also ties in to the fact that my paternal family were farmers, raising corn, hogs, and cattle. Vegetarianism is looked down upon, and even my siblings and I raised livestock bound for slaughter as Future Farmers of America projects in high school. This background makes my choice non-conventional, as well as those previously mentioned anti-Catholic German Lutheran ancestors would look at me with skepticism.

So then, why meat? It is a challenge. I eat meat all the time, so I want to give up something that will make me consider why I am participating in Lent regularly. And because I have meals every day, meat is a good option. Another reason is for expense. I am participating in a year of simple living, which means a simple living stipend. Cutting out meat will save on my grocery bill. I also like the “traditional” aspect of giving up meat. It has been practiced by Christians for centuries. Father Mike Schmitz explains the reasons on bulldogcatholic.org. According to him, between meat being a luxury to our ancestors, its associations with feasts and parties, and the simple fact that it tastes good, made meat a prime candidate to be forgone during Lenten Fridays, Ash Wednesday, and Good Friday. I am a sucker for tradition, so I am interested in taking on this practice for Lent.

So that is what I am “giving up”, what am I “taking on”? I want to learn how meat production affects our planet. I want to look into books, articles, and films that research this issue. I want to learn the pros and cons to grass fed, local, organic, sustainable, factory farms, genetic modifications. A lot of those terms are thrown around, and I want to gain a nuanced understanding of them, and which would be best for my diet after Lent. If anyone reading this article has any recommendations on books or documentaries I should check out, I appreciate if you let me know in the comment section below!

I also want to learn how meat should best fit into my diet for health reasons. As I mentioned in some previous blogs, I am trying to become more healthy. I have been very good about going to the gym, and I exercise twice a week during my self-defense class. But because I am so tired after my workouts, I usually do not cook my meals. I want to find some really delicious, healthy, and wallet-friendly vegetarian recipes to enjoy for the next forty days.

Being at the Belfry and LEVN will present little temptations to break Lent, as we always have vegan or vegetarian options with our meals, which I appreciate. I wrote this post on the night before Shrove Tuesday. The Belfry hosted its annual Pancake dinner. Having pancakes before Lent was another tradition which I didn’t do growing up, but have since discovered. I never pass up an opportunity for pancakes!

I will give updates on this experience in my next blog post! I hope everyone has a fulfilling and meaningful Lenten season. As I wish you luck on your giving ups and takings on, please keep me in your prayers as well!

– Mackenzie

Lutheran Social Services

Why do we complicate love?

This picture is of my dogs because I love them.

I fell in love last summer. It was a strange event and I was not expecting it. But that’s how these things go, right? The feelings were instant and one-sided. I can’t describe how and why I loved her, I just knew that I did. Some friends said that my feelings were infatuation but I didn’t agree.  It took a couple of heartbreaks, a few kava drinks, and nine months to go by until my romantic feelings towards her (I’ll refer to her as Audrey) were gone. Once I realized that I didn’t “love” her I was a bit happy and felt relieved.

I was excited to call my friend and tell her that I didn’t love Audrey anymore but that I cared for her. Then my friend said “you can still love your friend.” That sentence really stuck to me because I have always been a person that is open about their feelings. However, I would rarely say the word love to friends because I did not understand that I can platonically love people. I’ve always thought that the word “love” or to actually love someone was reserved for family and significant others but that’s not true.  

I thought a lot about this around Valentine’s Day because it’s one of my favorite holidays, but I didn’t have a significant other to do Valentine’s Day things with. Growing up I would always make Valentine’s Day cards for family and friends because I love them and I didn’t even think about it being a couple’s holiday. I probably enjoyed it more as a kid because I didn’t refer to it as Valentine’s Day. At home, we would say “Feliz Día del Amor y la Amistad” which I prefer because it includes amistad (friendship) in the phrase.  

I do think it was just the media that made me think differently as I got older and I subconsciously believed that I couldn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day if I were single. During this week I was going back and forth with my own issues about relationships and what my friend had said about loving everyone. Her words helped because it motivated me to celebrate Valentine’s Day with my roommate. We went to the kava bar and it was so much fun.  Later, my brother sent me a beautiful message saying how much he loves me and that also showed me that there’s nothing wrong with showing affection outside of a romantic relationship.

Frankly, I get really confused when I think of love and loving others but part of me also feels like it does not need to be so complicated. Love is love and I am working on showing it more to those I care about. Lately I’ve been using the word love more frequently and some people get a bit shocked or confused but that’s ok. I’ve also been told to not say that word too much or it’ll lose the meaning, but does it really? With everything going on in this world it’s clear that love can be nonexistent and we can start moving forward by putting more love out there.

– Leo

Computers 4 Kids

Poetry in Progress

WHERE ARE WE GOING


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.

HOW ARE WE LOVING

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.  

– Jon

Trinity Episcopal Cathedral

The Belfry