by Stacy Keogh
I’m not much of a shopper. Mother worked in retail for most of my childhood and insisted I keep an eye out for trends and fashion, but I never really cared about wearing what was “in”. Okay I admit: I probably couldn’t pull off wearing the latest fashions anyway, but my disdain for shopping goes beyond the standard I-don’t-want-to-fight-mall-crowds rant. If I go into a mall in search of a black shirt, for example, I know what I’m in for.
It’s not the mall crowds I fear, it’s the variety of options. Am I looking for short sleeve or long sleeve? Cotton or polyester? Crew neck or V-neck? Then I have to find the right price. I can’t buy anything too expensive, because that would go against my personal principles of living simply and being mindful of more socially conscious ways of spending my money. But then, I can’t buy anything too cheap because I’d be back the next week buying a replacement due to a torn seam. Not to mention that a cheap shirt would probably have been made in a sweatshop somewhere in southeast Asia, so buying that shirt would go against everything I stand for as a sociologist.
For me, shopping is not about buying a shirt. Shopping becomes an introspective, existential crisis. So imagine my views about having to shop for something so much more meaningful, personal, something more eternal: Church shopping.
As much as I oppose assigning economic adjectives to all things spiritual, church shopping is essentially just that. It requires constant calculation and rational-choice thinking. What am I really looking for on Sunday morning? Or maybe Sunday night? Big congregation, or small congregation? Worship with a praise band, or through hymns and liturgy? Sermons focused on the interpretation of scripture, or topical studies? The list goes on.
At this point in my spiritual life, I can say I’m fairly sure I know what I’m looking for in a church, but that doesn’t make the decision to commit to a particular congregation less stressful. I have learned not to require life-giving, soul-quenching, earth-shattering services every Sunday morning. Rather, I have learned that church is more about being with a group of people who equally affirm and reaffirm our faith. It is the ultimate sense of belonging, belonging to something Sacred.
Indeed, the feeling of belonging in a church community is a sentiment that cannot be replicated in any other social institution that exists. (Believe me, I’ve looked). That is why making the plunge to commit to a community can be so stressful, so crucial to our spiritual lives. Belonging to a community is an identity. As opposed to making a commitment to buy a shirt, committing to a church is a two way street. Church becomes what we make of it. We find a way to serve the community, and are therefore served in return. Once we let ourselves experience the collective energy of others in the room as we worship our God together, it changes us, just as we change the church. And until we commit fully to giving ourselves to a community, we will not feel connected.
As I settle in to my new life in Spokane, I have realized that it doesn’t matter how many churches I try on or visit. If I am not feeling connected to a particular congregation, it may well be my own issue. I’ve made the mistake in the past of moving too soon from a church that’s a good fit. Community takes time, and learning to accept a congregation requires patience and grace. Grace to those preaching, ministering, and worshipping with us. As an educator, I know full well that it is difficult to have a flawless, awe-inspiriting lecture every class. I also know that despite my great efforts, I will not deeply impact each student at the conclusion of every course. But I do know that the students that put the most effort into the class tend to get the most out of it.
All this to say: Church shopping is, at the very least, a way to experience the variety of options for a spiritual-seeker. The good news is, if you keep searching for what you are looking for, there are enough options to prove that you likely will find a place that fits you. And God meets us there.
Stacy Keogh is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Whitworth University. Dr. Keogh is active in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and has been a member of a variety of religious communities including the Church of the Nazarene, Society of Friends, and Roman Catholicism. Her sociological training in religion inspired this post.
Church sign is from here.
by Ryan (Flyn) Stevens
I was little, very little, when Naked Boy came into being. He had no alter ego, because I was too young to understand what that was. He was by all means super, and his powers were unmatched. As Naked Boy, I would fly across the house, cheeks gleaming like the moon, pudgy thighs and belly borne for the world to see, and a cape made from a blue towel drawn around my neck.
My parents perpetuated this excuse to stall before entering the bathtub, chanting my theme song before each sprint down the hallway: “Duhduhduh naaaah nanaaaaaah! Naked Boy!”
Years down the road, Naked Boy would be abandoned, in favor of Captain Ryan and his gang of galactic crewmembers. Captain Ryan and his trusted sisterly comrades would brave each and every playground, leaping from monkey bars to benches to pick up fuel cell pinecones and radioactive sticks. There was never a task too difficult for Captain Ryan, and though he wore no cape, his deeds saved countless invisible interplanetary lives from the dangers of jungle-gym-space travel, much to dad’s approval.
Even through junior high, Jedi duels in the yard with plastic hand-shattering light sabers and games of augmented war-hockey in the cul-de-sac became slightly abnormal versions of caped crusaders. Sometimes I would vanquish a tennis ball. Other times it was an untrained neighbor kid. This was all in the name of truth and justice, symbolized by a foam shield I had acquired at LEGOLAND. This brand of superhero was silenced only by the need to become more socially acceptable, or as some call it, “mature.”
Eventually it was no longer cool to favor Green Lantern over football, or Hulk over Chemistry. My expertise, which had come from a lifetime of living out the battles of various heroes, had to take on a new role. I couldn’t be the heroes, but I could certainly know them (in the privacy of my own home of course). My walls became littered with pictures, hand colored and carefully researched, of every hero I had grown up to enjoy. Superman’s underwear-like supersuit, Ironman’s repulsor chest, Green Arrow’s unlimited arsenal of archery, Flash’s Speed Force, even Martian Manhunter’s eerie laser-eyed stare consumed the plain white walls of my room.
I knew everything about them. I could tell you that Hulk had come from a failed version of Captain America’s super serum. I could recite the seven founding members of the Justice League without hesitation. I knew that Hawkman technically came from a different planet, and that Batman’s belt could only be accessed by his own DNA. A wealth of knowledge had accumulated, all of which had to be stifled to maintain friendships.
A few more years, and college would hit, along with movies like Ironman, The Dark Knight, Man of Steel, and of course, The Avengers. These films would bridge the gap between the comic-book readers and the summer-blockbuster-lovers, and most importantly, my superhero know-how became not only valuable, but appreciated. Each time someone turns to ask “What’s his power again?” or “Who’s bad guy is that?” or “Why didn’t that guy die right there?” I think back to my bedroom wall, Captain Ryan, and even sometimes Naked Boy (though usually I try not to dwell there).
True knowledge of a subject is not simply knowing lots about it, but why it is important. While I can explain that Captain America’s shield is composed of a fictional compound known as Vibranium, I can also tell that he was first invented in 1941, in the middle of World War II. Clad in the colors of the US flag, Cap was as a superhero who could fly over to Nazi-infested Germany, defeat the bad guys without killing a single man, and always stay true to the morals which guided him there. He was a symbol of morality that reminded Americans that good always triumphs over evil.
The crux of superheroes is summed up brilliantly in the movie version of the Star-Spangled Captain, when his mentor says that “A strong man, who has known power all his life, will lose respect for that power. But a weak man knows the value of strength, and knows compassion.”
Superheroes embody the ideals that humanity, at its core, strives toward. Superheroes are more than nerdy stories about scientists in robotic armor. They’re about what it means to be ordinary, to be human.
My all-time favorite movie, The Avengers, made the most money opening week of any movie, of all time, ever. I can tell you without a doubt, that it’s not just the special effects or Robert Downey Jr.’s goatee that drew in fans from countries around the world. It’s that despite the fears of war, poverty, economic downfall, suffering, defeat, and loss, the ideals that make us human still, and will always, exist. That deep down, whether we’re running naked down a hallway, or fighting in a war, that we all have the ability to be super.
Ryan (Flyn) Stevens, though born in 1991, still retains the mind of a five year old. He aspires to teach high school English and ultimately inspire a passion for writing in his future students. This, as well as a deeply rooted love for Christ, the ultimate superhero.
The Avengers poster is from here.
Although it’s pretty darned wintry here at R&S HQ, we thought we’d share a poem that anticipates a greener season.
Enjoy “Gardens” by R&S subscriber Casey Crosby.
My grandparents still remember my name
but they forgot about their gardens. I think
of how years ago they would harvest peas
and rhubarb and tomatoes and sometimes squash,
paid me a quarter if I picked enough blueberries.
I’d wrap seeds in paper napkins, cradle each
I still don’t really understand photosynthesis, but
they showed me to care for both the green things
and the brown things, that these families, fabaceae,
umbelliferae, solanaceae, they’re ours too,
that my veins are also vines and I am breathing
in both dust and glory.
Their land has been uncultivated for some time
now, but I remember blossoms, rhizomes, yes.
I think it’s true that we come from dirt.
Casey Crosby is a sophomore English major at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. She’s a proud Oregon native and lover of mountains and trees. If she’s not reading or writing, you can probably find her in a coffee shop, a thrift store, or settling in for another Netflix marathon.
by the Rev. Liv Larson Andrews
Advent is here. For most, however, these weeks of December are not a separate season but are already Christmas. Trees are up. Parties are thrown. Carols are sung. While none of that is bad, it does signal a loss of another thing: the ancient practice of Advent. Thinking about our home and our church sanctuary, lyrics of that old James Taylor song came to me, “Deep greens and blues are the colors I choose.” Deep blue is the color of Advent in Protestant churches, and so it hangs over the ambo and across the altar. I try to drape it over our living room table, too. Thanks, but you can keep your jolly red until the 24th.
It is not only the loss of the beautiful blue fabric I mourn when we start calling all of December “Christmas.” We lose a pattern of keeping time. In preparation for the two great feasts of Christianity, Christmas and Easter, the church keeps a simpler, quieter time. Lent precedes Easter, and Advent leads to Christmas. The feasting is more meaningful, more lovely, when we take time to prepare.
That James Taylor song is both a cowboy ballad and a lullaby, written in ¾ time. Advent is both a lullaby and an alarm bell. Advent is about quiet and stillness, but also full of apocalyptic imagery and readings that call us to wake up (Romans 13, Matthew 24). The voice of John the Baptist is piercing and strong: “Prepare the way of the Lord.” The end is near, which will be a new beginning.
You can waltz in ¾ time as well as fall asleep. Maybe Advent is the beginning of a dance. “Time marches on,” we hear. But the way the church approaches time is more like a waltz than a march. We spin, we sidestep, we bend and rest. Time dances us along.
Let us keep the ancient dance between fast and feast. Let us hang our blues and light our candles, learning to waltz with a God who is both our end and our beginning.
The Rev. Liv Larson Andrews pastors Salem Lutheran Church in Spokane, Washington. She also blogs for Spokane FAVS (Faith & Values).
Photo is from here.
by Patty Bruininks
Hope. Peace. Joy. These words are ubiquitous this time of year. Their meaning is fundamental to the story of Christ’s birth, and they constitute three of the four candles lit during advent.
They are also painted on ornaments and picture frames, written across shopping bags, embroidered onto pillows and dish towels, stamped onto mugs and cookie platters, etched into glasses, and even incorporated into advertisements. As the song in the film Love Actually goes, “Christmas is all around us.” Are you feeling it?
Maybe, but maybe not. Perhaps the plethora of projects and exams is dampening our Christmas “spirit.” Or maybe it’s something else that’s leaving us feeling a little meh about the season. Maybe it’s the fact that it is all around us. We’ve been here and done this, and it never quite seems to live up to its promise. Visions of illuminated trees surrounded by brown paper packages tied up in string inevitably transform into untidy heaps of Styrofoam popcorn, crumpled bows, and wayward pine needles.
Perhaps the problem lies with jumping into this spirit of Christmas without spending enough time in the spirit of Thanksgiving. After all, the feast that falls on the fourth Thursday of November has become a gateway holiday; the hardcore celebrating starts at 3:00 AM in the parking lot outside a big box store. Some of those stores even let people in while they’re still inhaling their turkey dinner. 50% off! Buy one get one free! Free shipping with purchase of $75 or more! We’re lured in with bargain basement prices but eventually want the good stuff at retail. We consume until we’re high on stuff; once the thrill wears off we’re hung over with debt and left with a sense of wonder about what it was all for.
There is growing psychological evidence that wanting more – especially when we don’t want what we already have – predicts a diminished sense of well-being. This phenomenon is captured by a psychological construct called the hedonic treadmill, which is the tendency to remain at a relatively stable level of happiness despite a change in fortune or a fulfilled ambition. No matter how fast or long you run toward that utopian destination, you are inevitably brought right back where you started. The tree that goes up must come down.
Most of my research as a psychologist has been on the emotion of hope – that positive anticipatory state we experience toward a not-yet-realized desired outcome. In the past I have described joy as what happens to hope after the outcome is obtained. The phrase “hope is the journey; joy is the destination” comes to mind. But until God’s promise is fulfilled – the “reason for the season” as some say – our joy will not last. So how can we escape the disappointment of this endless earthly journey?
Fortunately, we have another emotion at our disposal: gratitude. And it is an emotion not dependent on current circumstance, but can be willed into existence through reflection. Psychological research has shown that practices such as keeping a gratitude journal or regularly writing thank you notes can lead to improved psychological and physical health. Taking time to appreciate what we have instead of focusing on what we do not replaces disappointment and despair with joy and peace.
So maybe we need to take this word of Thanksgiving and keep it in play during Christmas. Instead of working ourselves into a frenzy to create a perfect day filled with anticipation, maybe we should focus on the anticipation that has already been created for us. Gratitude for what we have been given in the midst of futile consumerism might just be the gateway emotion to truly experiencing hope in God’s promise this season.
Patty Bruininks grew up in northeast Tennessee. She left the South to attend Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, eventually graduating from nearby Hope College, where she took a philosophy course from a Dr. Carol Simon. She pursued her doctoral work in Social Psychology at the University of Oregon, becoming a lifelong Ducks fan. Before coming to Whitworth, she taught for 5 years at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas. Dr. B is married to Mr. B (Jim) and has two grown sons, one daughter-in-law, and two rescue pets (one cat and one dog). Her hobbies include crossing national parks off her bucket list (20 down, 39 to go), reading for fun (mostly in the summer months), and watching edifying TV shows like The Walking Dead (for the psychology, of course). She is Associate Professor and Department Chair of the Psychology Department, and is currently in her seventh year at Whitworth.
Photo above is from here.
by Judith Shadford
My response to running water is instinctive, right up there with my response to Wagner, Rachmaninoff, Charles Villiers Stanford, Harry Potter, David Tennant. You get the idea. But since water is one of the four elements, I’m thinking about water. Water and time.
A couple years ago during a road trip to Santa Barbara, I detoured off the I-5, up into the mountains to see Crater Lake for the first time. I was encased in a gorgeous cloudless day as I twisted up through the foothills, through little towns with a couple garages, a café, maybe, one stop light. Not much traffic. Farther into the forests, I found a little turnoff and ate my lunch on the bank of the Umpqua River.
What a broad immensity of running melt water. It seemed like the river itself broke the law of seeking its own level. No white water. Pale celadon green, more than its banks could contain, arching midstream without flooding.
The Umpqua is eventually controlled by dams and dwindles off to the northeast, its companionship to the road replaced by the Clearwater. Visible mountains now at the 8,000 foot level. Instead of June, time had turned back to early April. Snow everywhere. Then Route 138 stopped winding and arrowed due east across an uninterrupted snow-bordered landscape. I zoomed past the road into the park and added another 10 miles before I gave into knowing I’d gone too far. U-turn. And the reason for my seeming inattentiveness was clear. The North Entrance to Crater Lake was an expanse of unplowed snow. Tantalizingly close and utterly inaccessible.
The alternative was to angle off toward the South Entrance, full of what-ifs and thrust back into the first week in June. Looping down and up again, winding into the park I arrived at the parking lot next to the Lodge (open) and the iconic lake. I nosed into a dirty ten-foot snowdrift with melt water desultorily running across the macadam, seeking something lower, maybe something warmer.
People milled around, many carrying little plastic bags with toys from the gift shop, wondering if this was the Crater Lake Experience. I scrambled up a snow bank and looked at The Lake. Just like all the pictures, as if there should be a rectangular frame around the view. Then clouds turned the sky gray, and I needed to get to the hotel down the road.
Which was disappointing, because the hotel was certain it was Upscale, though ignorant that a guest bumping luggage up two flights of steps to a tiny room didn’t quite fit their image. The dining room was laden with sentimental (pink) tchkotchkes and the food was highly mediocre. But there was a moment the next morning.
The lady behind the desk handed me a much-duplicated, hand-drawn local map. She said I had to “Follow Mill Creek Road south to a little parking lot on the left. Walk down a quarter-mile trail to the Rogue River.”
On the basis of Why Not?, I did.
Softly padded down the mossy trail. The fragrance of pines, of the earth itself permitted my trespass. Shadows and brilliant sunlight filtered through the forest. Tiny white flowers clustered under huge ferns. A massive horizontal ancient pine supported a row of foot-high balsam seedlings. Over and through all was the sound of water pouring relentlessly over rocks and downed trees. The taste of the mist-laden air turned the earth back to creation—fresh, new.
Here was the true destination of my trip to Crater Lake. Off to the side, without signs, without souvenir shops.
There’s a wonderful Robert Frost poem—“West Running Brook”—that describes the unchanging flow of mountain water. The water dances and rushes, pours over rocks in great foam pillows until it hits a rock just so and leaps into the air, catches the light, and then it’s all wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey because, like our lives, the linear progress of “what comes next” has been broken.
Our life runs down in sending up the clock
The brook runs down in sending up our life.
The sun runs down in sending up the brook
And there is something sending up the sun.
It is this backward motion toward the source,
Against the stream, that most we see ourselves in,
The tribute of the current to the source.
It is from this in nature we are from.
It is most us.
Where we are from. The Question of the Millennia. Because we know we are from Somewhere Else.
Flowing water surely expresses linear motion, doesn’t it? Source to sea. Seeking its own level. Yet we know that’s not true because its downward rush to the sea is interrupted by the bouncing backward, glancing to its source.
Do we think that life flows falling over the edge of a cliff, pounding, relentless, ruthless, sweeping us toward some inevitable relentless, ruthless destination? Unknowing, uncaring?
Because that’s not enough. And it’s not true. As much as we consciously monitor our lives—last week, ten years ago; as much as we monitor time, nanoseconds, light years, we still haven’t hit the mark. The ticking gets us to work on time, yes. Marks occasions, certainly. But you don’t have to be a Whovian to know that time travel happens, well, all the time.
I sit at my computer, typing, while my imagination takes me back to that rush of water from 2011. And a tiny portion of my mind—neither looking straight ahead or back to the source, is pondering whether or not I want a vodka tonic at Happy Hour.
Frost is right. Life is much more like our backward motion against the stream. Our lives aren’t even a wiggly line. We never get entirely comfortable in the here and now, because we dwell inside the great sphere of our past that also contains our future because, when we get there, we recognize it—it’s familiar.
And over our shoulder, even as we dash ourselves against rocks, we glance back to the Source, take fresh compass readings, and hurtle ourselves toward the familiarly new.
Judith Shadford has lived in Spokane since 2008, after a career in marketing in New York City and Santa Barbara, California. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the Rainier Writing Workshop of Pacific Lutheran University of Tacoma, Washington in August 2009. She has had short stories published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Shark Reef Journal, Spok-Write, Armchair Aesthete and several now-defunct literary magazines.