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

I am Type Four

During the week of LEVN orientation, each volunteer is asked to take a sample Enneagram Test to find out their Enneagram Type. According to the Enneagram, everyone can be sorted into one of nine interconnected personality types. On both occasions in which my type has been assessed, the test indicated that I am type four, and based on my readings, I would have to agree.

Depending to your source material, type four may often be referred to as the Romantic type or the Individualist type. I prefer the term Romantic to Individualist just because it doesn’t exactly paint a great picture of yourself if you go around telling others you’re an individualist as it makes you sound selfish and egotistical. However, I must agree that to refer to type four as an Individualist is an apt description, at least in my case. I find that I tend to lose sight of the plights of those around me because I am so wrapped up in my own problems and so consumed by my own emotions, which directly leads into another dominant trait associated with type fours. Type fours are known to be deeply feeling. In fact, many mistakenly say that type fours are dominated by their emotions to the point that they can’t be relied on. Just to set things straight, I am a very deeply feeling person and do get overly emotional on occasion, but when put up to a task, I am generally very reliable, or so I’ve been told, and am actually a bit of a perfectionist. That’s just me though.

Let’s consider the following. As a LEVN volunteer, I live in an intentional community with six other individuals. Each of us are from different parts of the country and come from different backgrounds. To live in an intentional community means that we are more than just roommates i.e. people who reside in the same space. To live in an intentional community means that we are expected to openly discuss topics with each other that would not normally be brought up in everyday conversation e.g. religion, money, and social justice. Due to the very nature of these topics, some of the conversations we are asked to have can be difficult. However, that combined with the fact that each of us comes from such a different upbringing and each of us has a different relationship to these topics makes it even more challenging to have such conversations. Any one of these topics may be a source of pain for one person while another person may be encountering the topic for the first time. What’s more is you don’t know what topics will affect certain people and in what ways they will be affected until you are fully submerged in a conversation about that very topic. In conclusion, to live in an intentional community is hard work.

Now, let’s look at how the fact that I am a type four influences how I engage with my LEVN community members.  I am type four i.e. I am an individualist i.e. I tend to be self-absorbed. Hence, I struggle to relate to the problems of my housemates. This is partially because I am so caught up in my own personal problems but also because the problems they face are so outside of anything I have ever had to deal with in my entire life. For me to even begin to relate to the struggles of some of my housemates, I find that I literally have to envision myself as them and put myself into the situations they face. However, as the issues they face are so foreign to me, I can’t even begin to imagine what they are going through. Plus, I usually need people to name their problems for me to even be aware of them unless it is inherently obvious. This is not always the case, but it is a frequent occurrence for sure.

I have come to greatly appreciate the Enneagram due to just how closely the description of my type describes my own feelings and tendencies; however, that does not mean that I am bound by those labels. In fact, by naming my tendencies, I have found that I have a greater self-awareness and can consciously make decisions to help me better deal with situations that would otherwise be difficult. For instance, a few weeks ago, I found myself in a situation in which I was asked to make a decision that could potentially impact how I lived out the rest of my tenure with LEVN. However, at that moment, my emotions were running at an all-time high due to the sensitive nature of the matter, and I realized I wasn’t in the right state of mind to make such a decision. Instead of giving a definitive answer, I made it known that I needed time and space to better access the situation and my feelings on the matter at hand. In the days that followed, I wrestled with myself about the issue incessantly. As the days passed, my emotions on the matter eventually leveled out, and I found that I was able to consider the matter with a new sense of clarity. Finally, after about a week of deep contemplation, I had made my decision and have since acted on it. And I feel better about it knowing that I made that decision not based solely on my emotions, which so often tend to dominate my outlook on life.

Due to my new sense of self-awareness, I have also been able to look back on my life and see where I have grown beyond the natural tendencies of my type. For instance, I recall where I was one year ago, versus where I am now, and I see that I have a new sense of confidence about me and about who I am and how I react to situations. Last year, when drama broke out amongst my housemates, I was a nervous wreck. However, when drama struck the LEVN house last weekend, I was unfazed. I was no longer affected by the issues that once triggered great anxiety within me.

In truth, I have barely touched on the many attributes and tendencies of the Enneagram type four and how they apply to me, but to fully discuss such a matter would take a great many more words than I am permitted for this blog. In the end, to be a type four is not easy. No type is. But I am a type four, and I am proud.

Time for 2017

After the ball drops, the streamers fly, the kisses exchange, and the champagne wears out does the realization that it is truly a New Year sinks in. For those who spent the past month talking about all of the amazing resolutions they will make after the clock strikes 12, this means that effort, not words, are required. I never seriously keep to New Year’s resolutions, but I figure that if I make a post on the internet about it, I will have a better chance of actually committing to them so I won’t be shamelessly called out about my laziness.

Gym Membership!

The stereotypical resolution, basically the joke of all New Year’s resolutions. We all know someone who at the beginning of the year says that will go to the gym a few times a week, only to neglect the gym clothes and overpriced water bottle. As of this morning I actually paid for my membership, so you can bet I will use it. The problem is how much. As of now, I want to commit myself to going at least two days a week, preferably three. My goal is not to lose weight, but to become overall more healthy, build stronger heart/muscles/lungs and what not. Exercising is not only therapeutic, but the idea of dedicating time and effort to physically improve oneself appeals to me.

Journaling!

This is an activity I did daily during my YAGM year in England.. Documenting a year abroad is more glamorous than a year back in Davis, which is why after I came back I fell out of the routine. I recently met with my Spiritual Director for the first time, and she encouraged me to do restart. While my journal will not feature crazy cultural differences or exciting new places like last year, documenting what a second year of service looks like in a familiar area is just as important. This activity will also be helpful to me, as it will keep me aware of my life as it is currently.

Smarter  Eating!

This resolution ties in to the gym one, because you cannot expect to get healthier just by running on an elliptical. Now this is vague, but it is a resolution I have already been working on since I moved into the LEVN house. I drink a lot more water, and rarely drink soda (actually the soda is a work in progress, but I am drinking less). In the morning I begin my day with multi-vitamins, and a glass of warm lemon juice. During the day I eat energy bars and fruit. Lunch usually is a Lean Cuisine or leftover food, as I am hoping to eat out less. I am also trying to eat less easy food for dinner (Like delicious boxed mac n cheese or easy pizza roll slop) and cook more. I have not been as dedicated to cooking for dinner as I would like so far. But thanks to some cook books at the Belfry, I have found some recipes that I am excited to try. They are healthy, affordable, and encourage saving for leftovers.

Love!

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I experienced a loss this year. And for the remainder of my life, I will not be able to hug my Grandmother and tell her I love her. This year, I want to be more intentional about love. I am going to try to tell someone different everyday that I appreciate them. This could be actually calling a family member instead of texting them. Facebook messaging a friend from college who I have not talked to for a while and see what they are up to. Physically mailing a birthday card to a friend. Feeling love for someone is all well and good, but if you do not tell the person that they have value in their life, then that love is stagnant. Love needs to be passed along.

Appreciate the Now!

I have become aware that I spend too much time focusing on the past and worrying about the future. I need to stop this, because not only can it harm my relationships with others, but it is detrimental to my own happiness.  I cling on to memories of my own past, and to an extension, others. While it is important to keep our past in mind as it guides us today, there is a point where one can live in the past and neglect the now and future.

My mind then skips over the now, and worries about the future. Honestly, coming back from the United Kingdom, joining the LEVN program felt almost like a buffer in-between that experience and my life once the program ends in July. I am planning out what I would like my life to look like once July comes, as well as fearing what that life will be. Finances, jobs, relationships, can be scary. Because of this, I am neglecting the now.

The LEVN program offers a lot, as does year of service in Sacramento. I do not want to look back on this year and realize I missed out. So I am committing myself to taking full advantage of the program instead of just passing through hoops. The day before I wrote this blog, I had my first meeting with my Spiritual Director, and plan to continue seeing her until the program ends. I want to continue building relationships with my housemates, and take the time to get to know them. Besides the mandatory LEVN nights, I also plan to attend Wednesday worship at the Belfry. And at Belfry and LEVN nights, I plan to be attentive and focus on taking the lessons and relationships from there to better myself. I hope to grow and learn from our LEVN retreats.

Basically I need to start focusing on this year, and not the one that came before or the one that will come next. Because I will never have another opportunity like the one I am living now.

– Mackenzie

Lutheran Social Services

 

Thankful for 2016 and Optimistic about 2017

 

2017 is here! A lot of us agree that last year was rough for many reasons and we couldn’t wait for the year to end.  I most certainly felt that way. I just wanted 2016 to be over but also felt a bit of anxiety for what 2017 would look like. I had mentally checked out by the end of November 2016 and I noticed how it had become easier for me to list all the “not so good” things that occurred throughout the year than to acknowledge the many times I had been blessed. That way of thinking started to change during the first week of December. I can’t describe the experience but it was something like an alarm clock that went off in my head. That alarm clock helped me realize that I was heading down the wrong path. I was making choices that were negatively affecting my relationships and personal growth. This feeling of “waking up” helped me seek ways to start taking steps in the right direction. Last month I may have only taken one step in the right direction but I’m happy because the first step can be the most difficult and I’ve already accomplished that. I spent the first day of 2017 at Point Reyes National Shoreline with a great friend. It was a little cold but that didn’t stop me from getting my feet in the water. Waves are very calming for me and being at the beach helped me clear my mind so that I could reflect on last year. The self-improvement work I started in December has been helping me become more appreciative of everything that happened last year. 2016 was rough but it was also very beautiful.

Things about 2016 that I’m grateful for: Graduating from Cal, my parents becoming Legal Permanent Residents (LPR), new addition to the family, friendships & new brothers, LEVN and spiritual growth.

  1. Graduating has been a huge achievement for me and my family but I haven’t been good about seeing it as an accomplishment or giving myself credit for the hard work. Back in May, as I was preparing for the graduation ceremonies, I was upset with myself because I was leaving Cal with a 3.0 GPA. I felt embarrassed and was constantly beating myself down for not working hard enough to earn a GPA that would qualify for me a top law school. I’m learning to have more patience and self-love. Now, instead of solely focusing on the grades that I didn’t achieve, I am reminding myself that I did the best work that I could at the time. Cal was not an easy journey. I’ve been recalling the multiple obstacles I faced during the first two years of undergrad when I was undocumented. At the time, AB540 was the only law that made it possible for me to go to college because I wasn’t required to pay out of state tuition. The in-state tuition fees were significantly less but they still presented financial difficulties because there was no financial assistance and I couldn’t legally work in the US. I was working hard to succeed in my classes despite the legal and financial barriers I was facing. I remember the pain I felt after completing my first year of college when my parents and I thought that I wouldn’t be able to return to Cal. Somehow, we made it work. Thankfully I became an LPR by my third year of college and that’s when things were a lot easier. I still know that 3.0 GPA is not going to get me into a top law school but instead of focusing on the bad, I’m now working on getting enough work experience and studying hard so that I can score high on the LSAT.
  2. After 24 years of living in the shadows, my parents went from being undocumented to legal permanent residents. Even though I have experienced what it means and feels to be undocumented in the US, I cannot speak on their behalf because their experience is unique from mine and from each other.  All I know is that they’ve been incredibly hardworking and honest people since we arrived to the US in 1992. Despite the obstacles they faced, my parents did everything they could to provide for me and my sisters. My parents were so excited to show me their LPR cards when I visited them during the Christmas weekend. They couldn’t stop smiling and said that they still couldn’t believe it. I remember how I too couldn’t believe it when I became an LPR, so I can understand that it can take time to adjust and eventually feel like they are no longer in the shadows. This Christmas I could see how they were a little more at peace.
  3. I’m thankful for Lyla who joined our family on August 12, 2016. She’s my sister’s first baby, my parents’ first grandchild and my first niece. She’s been a blessing and has brought a lot of joy to our family. I’m thankful that she’s a very healthy and happy little girl and I cannot wait for her to move to Modesto so that I can bond more with her.
  4. I’m thankful for the new brothers and friends that I made this year. I’m also thankful for the obstacles that I faced because it showed how much I’m loved and supported by others. I was blessed in Spring 2016 with so many brothers that have guided me and made me a stronger person. I’m blessed to have been able to go on a study tour trip to Mexico City over the summer where I also created strong bonds with other individuals. I’m blessed with old friendships and mentors who supported me when I hit a roadblock this summer. I’m still learning on how to strengthen my relationships and how to support others in the way that I’ve been supported. My friendships from last year showed me that true friends don’t criticize our shortcomings, instead they help us get back up and motivate us to grow.
  5. I’m thankful for the “not so good” experiences from 2016 because it pushed me to communicate more with God. I know that I shouldn’t have waited for the negative experiences to motivate me to seek God but I’m glad that I have been able to create a positive and healthy experience with Him. I recently went through most of my journal entries from 2016 and I noticed how in most of them I was writing to God and asking for guidance. God has been there for me and heard me this summer when I was in a dark place. God helped me find LEVN, a place that I desperately needed. LEVN has been helping me develop professional skills while encouraging me to continue my spiritual growth. I didn’t have the best relationship with God when I was younger but I’m thankful that that’s no longer the case.

The end of 2016 was scary but there were many great things throughout. Going to Point Reyes helped me remember how much I was blessed last year and set goals for 2017. My main goal for this year is to continue making healthy decisions and be more helpful to others. I’m learning to adopt a healthy lifestyle because by doing that then everything else will hopefully fall into place. I am shocked to see how this year of service is flying by and it does get me a little sad to think that it’ll end in July. I will make the best of the time that I have left in the program while preparing myself for post-LEVN life and career plans. 2017 will present challenges but I will not lose hope. It’ll be a great year I just need to take it one day at a time.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13)

 

Pouquinho

Doubts can be helpful in discerning beliefs as true or false. I often go through doubts about whether or not I should be Christian. I feel like people like me don’t belong in the Church. I feel like an outsider at times. It is a religion that I can find easy to criticize, but keep going back to. It’s part of my culture.

If an organization spent hundreds of years persecuting a specific group of people and converted that people to that religion, should they keep the religion of the oppressor? I’ve spend this Advent season wondering what my beliefs were, waiting for some miraculous validation that will never occur. It’s normal to question the labels one uses, but for me, it’s very tiring. I despise questioning my identity over and over again. It makes one question their ethics, morality, and culture. A good thing to do from time to time, but not constantly.

It’s okay to acknowledge doubt and lack of knowledge. It’s okay to say there may not have been a virgin birth, or that apostolic succession may not be real. It’s okay to think that the Eucharist really is just a wafer and wine. It’s okay to be disgusted by crucifixes and the idea that martyrdom should be sought out.

Myth can play an important part in one’s life. It’s okay not to believe the myth as real, but one should accept the moral guidelines of it. I don’t have to believe that Job was real to see that the good often do suffer. It’s also important to point out the flaws of these myths too. It was wrong of God to kill everyone in Sodom and Gomorrah, no matter the reasoning. God can be wrong in the Bible because he’s a human construct in the Bible. God in the Bible is a personification of one’s own thoughts.

Everything around us is a manifestation. Nothing can be real without interbeing. For the good to exist, evil must exist. To say that God is all good then is to acknowledge that there must be something without God, a hell. Perhaps a better answer is that God can be both good and evil. Maybe both parts can play into God’s nature. Maybe God is a trickster as well as a savior. Perhaps, more logically, there’s a force out there that we call God and give human characteristics to. People acknowledge that it is illogical to give human beliefs and actions to animals, yet they still do it to a divine, omnipotent being that transcends the universe. Irony at its best. Perhaps we need a God whisperer to teach us what we need to know about the divine.

My frustration isn’t with any supernatural being, God, angels, anything. It’s with the people who give labels to the being. People give a God attitudes that they agree with. If there’s wrong doing in the world, he’s all good. If people are judging them falsely, he will judge them in the afterlife. God has become a magical sky daddy.

– Chris

NextMove