Monday
Nov062006

« No Prophet Is Welcome In His Hometown »

Yeah, I know, it has been a month and more since I wrote last. It isn't for lack of things to write; it is for too much to write. And it isn't even that I am not writing. It is that I just can't really do all I've been writing AND blog too. It has been a busy month.

Each of my Bible classes at Mesa have me writing journals each week, so there has been a good ten or more of those between both classes since the last blog entry here. The New Testament class keeps to more academic pursuits—was Jesus this or that, and how would our image of Jesus look if we had only these books to work with, et cetera. The Old Testament class journals are more free association, and the teacher really gets a kick out of journals that take it up a notch past the assignment. One that I wrote was ostensibly a journal, but in typical TAPKAE blog form, was really a six page essay. It was on the matter of picking a law from Leviticus and evaluating its relevance today. I chose to write on the law that says we should not oppress the strangers in our midst, because we were once slaves in the land of Egypt. I used that as an entry into our disastrous and inhumane approach to the immigration "problem", and reminded the reader that Sodom and Gommorah were not destroyed for sexual licentiousness as much as for their harsh treatment of the strangers who entered their midst, and the fact that to neglect a stranger in that time and place was to break one of the most widely recognized social rules—to provide generous hospitality at all times to all comers. The correllary was that in doing so, one might entertain God's angels. So then I ask, what does it mean to our nation that we have turned our immigrants and strangers into scapegoats and the invisible working class that holds up layer upon layer of injustice?

That was one such journal.

But really, the real project going on here is far deeper for me. I've been making appeals to members of my church to think carefully about the likely prospect of a parking lot repave job and what it would mean for our church life. There is an old guard contingent there who are firm in their belief that the parking lot needs to be repaved so that we could have more members attracted to the place. I contend otherwise. I contend that we need to take the money and use it for more meaningful educational and ministerial things first and foremost. The money comes from a second cell phone tower transmitter contract we will be committing to this coming year. It is in the tens of thousands just in its initial payment. The parking lot would take about 2/3 of that in one fell swoop. Other capital improvements would take even more. Money for programs, scholarships, charity, and so forth would be culled from the scraps. I think this is a big mistake. So I've been e-vocal with various emails and stuff to paint another picture than the predominating one that assumes that capital improvements is the leading and best use of this money. I make this appeal at a time when it is becoming clearer and clearer that there is a huge demographic shift upon us. Many of the key players are older, many 65 and more, and some large share of leading players are about 80. There is a small group of us who are younger than about say, 50, and between 30 and 50 there are just a few of us. Needless to say, most of the trend is toward what works for the older set, and not so much that appeals to us young'uns. There has been a decline in activities over the last few years, and hardly anything to replace them, and it is getting lamentable for me and some others who have the same concerns.

Complicating that further is my quasi-staff position that I do make time for and wouldn't mind doing if I didn't feel the ever-present conflict between doing that out of real loyalty and rejecting "real" work that pays, but that I often don't want to do because most of it is degrading to me. My capacities at church have expanded to being the soundman, webmaster, and audio archivist. One of them I've had going for four years (audio recording and archiving). The web site was something that took two years to get started, and then two years or so I have had a creative involvement in it and ultimately most of this year I've had the full thing to myself after the other party who did it before couldn't hang. Then the sound business now is the newest. Basically, I work a part time job there with just those tasks. That doesn't even include the seat on the board of trustees, or other volunteer things that I do, and other activities that are just of interest. I proposed the idea of a paid position for my web and audio work, but that so far has gone down like pork chops at a bar mitzvah. Ironically, you see, the parking lot is more important than a guy who does all their electronic media work and has some ideas for church life renewal.

But going a bit deeper, it isn't just what it would seem. I have this other layer that not everyone can see or that not everyone else in my position would face.

It goes back to the family for me. My grandmother died in 2001 and within the year to follow, I found I wanted to go back to church. I suppose a certain amount of it was to be in an environment that was familiar even as that whole year had been tumultuous for a number of reasons. She was a founder of this congregation, I was born into it with my folks getting married there, and my baptism, and over the years, various levels of involvement for me, peaking in high school, then ten years away, then in 2002, I started back when Kelli and I began dating. She too was about that deeply rooted to the place. It was fulfilling in more ways than one. I had familiarity there. But that was before I started developing my world view in recent years, and slowly letting it show more and more. I have a relationship to that church that is that of a kid; most everyone there are not just older, but they will always perceive of me as Virginia's grandson. And, I'm finding it hard to forge an identity that does not stem from that. It isn't that I think it is bad. It is just restricting. My grandmother has a great name there for all the best reasons. In my way, I am echoing her level of involvement, but my ideas are not what they recognize as something that would spring from her. Everyone knows I do the web and audio stuff, and they might be appreciative, but I've been vocal for a while that I do that with reservations, and that I'd rather see programs develop and have more interaction and fellowship, and with that as a base, more outward reaching ministry that we can do together.

The real nut for me to crack though is that the general idea of what constitutes a future plan for the church is quite similar to the sorts of things that my father has repeatedly said would make my old house more valuable. In both cases, the leading voice is that the church or the house is more valuable if the building is somehow improved. By contrast, my sense of value is floating more and more toward the intangible. To me, the value in the house or church is not the building, but in the people and relations within. And, after the most tortuous year of being kicked out of my house last year and being subjected to the tyranny of a man who thinks that the house is more important than the home, I am now having an echo of that in the church, where certain opinions are expressed that lead me to realize the same thing is at work. Never mind the programs, we have to make the building right, then people will flood to the place! I consider it a matter that is essentially reducible to "house" versus "home." In the case of my house and my father's ideas, I ask, why try to make the house more valuable by a garage addition or patio/jail cell if it infuriates the resident who happens to be your son? And, why does one need to raise the value if one has no plans to raise the rent or sell the place? In the case of church, there is one figure who is racing against the clock to do all these improvements to the facility with the idea that people will flood to the place if there is just a fresh parking lot, or new paint, or whatever. He is working like mad to leave his legacy before he is unable, but it places me in a weird place of having to stare the gift horse in the mouth. On one hand, he does do appreciable work like no one else does. But not all of it has to be done, and a lot of it is like polishing the brass on a sinking ship if we don't do the real work of renewing our membership and invigorating church life so that it is relevant to people who otherwise could do without it. The price of my father's determination was that our family fell apart for the last time it seems. His vision of value is to build property, and mine is to build relationship. At the church, the mission is to build value in property, but what of the interior life? This is what has me scared. The realization came to me recently that the church is the other home of my grandmother's and the last living tie to her that I stand to lose, if you discount that I have furniture and possessions of hers. In fact, this church I think was her home more than the house where I lived. So it is no surprise that I've made it mine, particularly in the days after my house being taken from me. The threat of a repeat of that whole loss is in my mind.

Being stuck as I am as a young person with admittedly radical ideas compared to the usual fare, I am grasping for something that I hope won't be as disappointing and hurtful as the episode surrounding my house last year. It doesn't need to get that far. But right now, despite some thanks and congratulations that come from audio and web work well done, for the most part, people don't really get me. I apparently am not doing something deemed worth paying for, but am also a little too much in my role as rabble rouser. I'm being drawn into the business end of things, and that has been valuable as a lesson, but drawn away from being as participatory as I'd like in what I think would really matter there. I'm being subsumed by the older set's values, while not really being one of them. I have been allowing myself to think that maybe it is time to move on. Kelli is at another church as an intern, and the offer has been extended to take part in things there, but I am pretty tied up at my church. She is there doing her thing as an intern to essentially escape the snares that I am facing here, namely, how does one grow up in their home church and break the old identity down and build a new one? Not easily. That's why she is at another church as a seminarian-intern. They do that intentionally so that the intern can start with a clean slate, no burdens of old relationships and familiarity issues. They don't just let her do work at our church as an intern. She has to start new relationships, establish new trust with people, and she gets a better deal; she comes in as an adult to serve them, not as a child who stumbles and falls before the congregation, who must now be seen as an equal-to-superior. But for me, I'm seeing it's hard to change that impression, even if people like me and express some appreciation for what I do.

Add to all that that my biblical classes at school have had a mostly deconstructive thing about them, and it has been quite a mixed experience being a person struggling to find a place in the greater world of the Church (large form, not just my congregation). While struggling with an identity issue at my church, I am also exposed to a lot of evidence that most of the Bible is not what I thought it was, for better or worse. I wouldn't say I am at a faith crisis; I knew it would be like this, but it is interesting being immersed in a range of relationships to this Judeo-Christian life. This has been a year of trying to learn about that and a host of other deeply felt issues. It's all a search. One thing that I take a mixed solace in is that my dilemma is not new. Jesus was never lauded in his hometown as much as he was outside and among other people. Maybe it isn't my place to convert my family, in both senses. It could very well be time to move on, painful as it is to entertain. Things I've learned and experienced are not for naught, but they might be of limited use here. Better to walk into another place with a more fully formed personality that is not with the inherent conflict of being the boy who grew up there but now wants to tell us how it's gonna be. All this talk though runs contrary to something I began to take seriously about 8 years ago, and that was to not just cave when the going gets rough. I don't want to think of this too as one of the disposable things chew up and leave behind. I hung on to my house as long as possible because I wanted the thread to go more than one generation. Ditto for trying to make a name at this church, even in the shadow of my grandmother. I know it doesn't equate to failure if I can't convince people to forgo the parking lot, any more than it equates to failure that my father schemes and manipulates to get a house he doesn't need and has it out for anyone who would challenge him. But I would sincerely like to hope that I'd be able to move on from church with less confusion than I have now.

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