Snow Day

Growing up, I think everyone covets the promise of a snow day.  Any way we got them was good news: when school would be called off the night before and you knew you didn’t have to do the next day’s homework, and stay up late with the promise of sleeping in; when you hoped for a snow day, but went to bed without knowing, and then waking up in the dark, watching “Jefferson County Public Schools: Closed” (if you happened to grow up in Louisville at least) scroll across the screen and scramble back to bed, dreams of afternoon sledding lulling you back to sleep.

The anticipation of snow days and the exhilaration when granted doesn’t quite go away, I’ve found.

(First a disclaimer: while I’ve been in the northeast this winter, and we’ve seen plenty of snow, Bloomsburg must be in a weird spot that hasn’t seen near-the-worst of any of these storms.)

On Friday the University cancelled classes for the second time this semester.  I hope it’s the last time, because we really will be behind in my classes if we miss any more days, but really I just don’t want to see any more snow.  Over it.

The first snow day was a Wednesday and when I woke up at 5:30 to get to the gym by 6:00 still no cancellations.  Everything else from Pennsylvania down to DC was Shut. Down.  Stubborn University administration, I thought.  So I worked out, frustrated that I would have to trudge through the snow to teach to half-empty classes.  When I got home, the words “Classes Cancelled” greeted me on the t.v., email, and website.

Instead of taking advantage of the day off to read, write, plan ahead, and be all-around a productive individual (much like a ‘real’ professional or ‘true’ academic) I reverted back to childhood, starting the day literally jumping up and down at the news.  Then I watched t.v., made bread, read for fun, took a nap, and cooked.

Okay so maybe I didn’t make bread in high school, but still.

Yesterday’s snow day went pretty much the same way–from gym, to bread, to nap, to cooking.

Now that I have fully enjoyed a snow northeastern winter once again, March is two days away and I would like the snow to leave.  I’m ready to run outside and not fear ice patched.

Thanks.

dear jesus, meet my needs

Today in my Religion and Popular Culture class the topic was Megachurches.  However critical I may be of things in my own personal perspective, I remain (or like to think so) sensitive to religious traditions, when presenting them for discussion in class (especially at a public university, where the makeup of my students is less predictable than, oh, say, Baylor.  Here I’ve had students write on their info sheet in answer to the question: “What would make this class ‘fun’ for you?”, “making fun of religion”).  So, how to talk about churches with memberships (or at least attendance) in the thousands that would rival small towns, and house their own skate parks, gyms, paintball parks, coffee shops, credit unions and even McDonalds, without jumping straight to the “wtf” comments.

It’s really tempting to talk about megachurches as this brand new phenomenon—and in a way, of course they are—but not necessarily as a religious phenomenon.  The more-or-less standard measure sociologically speaking of a megachurch is a weekly worship attendance of 2,000 or more.  In the grand scheme of things, churches with at least 2,000 people in worship in a given week isn’t something that emerged in the 1970s amidst all our quaint community, family churches of the good-old-days.  We can go back (on these shores) to at least the First Great Awakening in the decades before the nation’s founding to see people flock in great numbers to hear charismatic preachers and sing exciting new hymns.  Big churches centered around compelling personalities and musical styles persists throughout the history of American Christianity, particularly its Evangelical iteration.

Likewise, observers of the megachurch ‘trend’ point to the ready-and-willingness to utilize, adapt to and co-opt modern technology for religious use. Of course this is nothing new either.  The printing press was developed; Bibles were published in large quantities for mass consumption. And so on.  The usage of technology for religious purposes is not in itself innovative, but there certainly is a link between the widespread broadcasting over radio and television of worship and evangelism that grew in the 1960s and 70s and the megachurches that developed about this time as well.  Perhaps this represented not just an adaptation to ‘secular technology,’ but an attempt to co-opt the mass media.  Media, technology; okay, there’s something there, yes.

But, the book from which we were reading, identified several elements of these churches that they seem to draw from “secular” culture (anything not of the “sacred,” and here used as ‘value-free’ description), he calls evidence of “internal secularization.  The characteristics he uses would likely not arouse much controversy among megachurch leaders, as they do adopt the same vocabulary (with little exception).  The characteristics are overlapping and really seem to sum up what distinguishes these megachurches as a unique phenomenon in the scope of American religion.  These churches follow a unique model of Packaging, Organization and Programming that reflect the business and consumer focused “secular” culture.  The churches see themselves as marketing a product for a target audience; their consumers are the ‘unchurched’ or the ‘seekers’, and they are selling Christianity, but in a way that is entertaining, and that serves the needs of the consumer.  The churches describe their task (including in worship) as staving off boredom.  Responding to our media saturated culture, services look and sound like a “secular” performace—lights, video, music, and a charismatic preacher.  These churches also serve as a one-stop shop for all their consumers’ needs: childcare, food, exercise, self-help, financial needs, education, etc.  In essence, in addition to weekly (or bi-weekly) worship services, megachurches offer a baptized version of everything available in the secular culture.   Members are safe within the walls and infrequently need to look elsewhere for any of their “needs” to be fulfilled.

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music go music

These days I’ve felt a little schizophrenic, musically speaking.  I’ve gotten some new music, but then don’t feel like I have the new music.  Or I download a bunch at once and forget to listen to it all.  Pretty much indicative of how my life feels–more than a little scatter, more than a little harried, more than a little up-in-the-air.

Anyway, below are the “liner notes” for my end-of-the-year mix for 2009.  I was pretty pleased with it, though I always feel a little disappointed because it feels so limiting, and so much of my year gets left off at the 80-minute mark.  None of that really matters though because I get to share music I love with people I love.

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a proposal for the IOC

With the advent of the Winter Olympics beginning, I suppose my subconscious was working overtime.  I tend to have vivid dreams that reflect some form of reality.  Rather frequently I wake up thinking “did that really happen?”, “am I really in a fight with _____?”, etc.  Last week right before the Olympics began I dreamt that they had added a new ‘event’: theology.   Yeah, I know.  Not exactly an athletic event.  And what marks it as a “winter” sport rather than a “summer” sport?  I don’t remember too many details except that the “theology arena” resembled something like the UN Security council room: people seated (judges? spectators?) in stadium seating in an almost-circle.  The other bit I remember was some confusion over who would actually be eligible to ‘compete,’ given that ‘athletes’ had to be amateurs.  Wonder which country would take the gold in this one?

ashes to ashes

The beginning of Lent.  Here we are again.  I had already made the decision to get rid of my cable television, mostly for financial reasons, but also because I just don’t want an overwhelming majority of the channels I pay for, and I assumed I could get by with a digital antenna.  The first available slot for the cable guy (and yes, it was a guy) to come an uninstall the cable was February 16.  Fat Tuesday.  I hadn’t really thought about Lent, and this is certainly an easy way to say I’m “giving something up,” though my reasons were far from spiritual or holy.  Turns out, relying on an antenna, when you live in the mountains of rural Pennsylvania isn’t so easy.  As of right now my television is picking up 3 stations.  Last night as I was actually enjoying the quiet, I thought I should attempt to bring back the blog–to write.  Use the lack of mindless flipping through the guide, to serve as a source of discipline.  To enjoy the quiet, and to actually write again.

So.  Ahem.  Here I am.

I’ve already posted what follows on this blog–but two years ago.  And it’s something I wrote four years ago on Ash Wednesday.  It’s about fasting.  I thought about fasting again this year, but Wednesdays are my longest days, and I’m already incoherent enough by my 3:00 class, and without food, well, call me full of excuses, but I’ll succumb this time around.  Anyway.  Here goes:

(I wrote this two years ago for Ash Wednesday, which, by the way, fell on March 1.  So early this year.)

I decided to fast today.  I’ve fasted on Ash Wednesday before.  I know it’s a traditional ritual associated with the start of the forty day period before Easter.  I know all that.  But I still rarely ‘get’ Ash Wednesday.  But I fasted anyway.

Skipping breakfast was easy.  I had class at 8:00 and 9:00 and then work.  We celebrated a birthday in the office.  I politely declined the fruit tart and homemade coconut cake.  The whole time still wondering what this whole Ash Wednesday thing is about.  Especially after hearing people talk about Lent and putting down people’s decisions to give up food-related things.  I’m giving up sweets.  Yes, I’ve done it before, so yes I know it can be done.  But it’s not about dieting-for-Jesus.  It truly is about discipline.  And that’s where I need it.  And, besides, I think that is a good deal of the ‘point’ of Lent–discipline, self-denial.  Even if it is in the silly things like soda or cookies.  A privileged person’s suffering, I suppose.

But then there’s this whole question of Ash Wednesday.  Why am I denying myself of all food today?  Is it wrong that I made the decision to do so without a truly full articulation of why?  I don’t think so.  I think sometimes we learn–extract meaning–through the doing.

As I was talking with someone about the whole thing, we’re talking about sacrifice, self-denial, temporality–my stomach was growling.  And I begin to understand my choice for this day.  I am hungry.  I haven’t eaten in a long time–a long time for me, that is, being measured not in days or weeks, but in hours.  And I noticed my thoughts changing.  I was not as pleasant at work–more frustrated with little things as lunchtime approached, which really only meant for me another meal I would not be eating.  Throughout the day I found myself already fixated on tomorrow’s breakfast.  It will taste quite good.

Today I am reminded of my own humanity.  Reminded of my temporal needs.  And that they come so easily for me (at any time today I could have munched away the hunger).  I realized even more how much everything is connected. Especially for us as people–and especially through food.  I haven’t seen many people today because food is enjoyed (should be enjoyed) in community, and relationships are sustained as our bodies are sustained.  And my brain is slow–my body is tired.  It’s 8:30 p.m. and I’m ready to sleep so I can wake up for breakfast.  I wonder what this process would feel like–what my experience would amount to were I to attempt multiple days of this.  And this isn’t come kind of 30 Hour Famine attempt at solidarity.  It’s not about ‘hungry’ or ‘poor’ people (though I admit, I have thought of ‘them’ more than a few times today.  The irony that it is still about them and me, who has the luxury of fasting on purpose.)

I read T. S. Eliot’s poem Ash Wednesday, in hopes of clarification.  As I began the poem I laughed at myself–clarification? really? from Eliot?  Then I finished the poem.  It’s good.  No, I don’t totally ‘get’ it, but it’s about being content in the knowing and not knowing.  It’s about Just Being.  Being still and letting God be God.  We are human. We are temporary.  let the world whirl around the World and let God show mercy.