I'm writing the Cultural Analysis section of my Theology of Ministry paper and I've been looking through things I've written in the past (primarily blog posts, papers and journal entries for online classes). I'm trying to find different comments and studies of culture and suburban life since I don't have my books here...
Anyway, I came across this assignment from a class I took while we were in Mandeville. The class, Engaging Contemporary Culture, was meant to help students learn to...never mind, you can figure that out. This particular paper was a part of a series of assignments meant to help us become aware of the things we encounter regularly but uncritically.
Its interesting to read this because it chronicled an important time in my development - it was during this season that I was becoming aware that God had called me to connect with people outside of the church where I served!
Anyway, I thought it was interesting and worth posting. If you disagree, then go re-read the May quotes on the Wellsbrothers blog...maybe you should do that regardless...
Starbucks in Particular
Mandeville, LA - Fall 2007
A year ago things were very different. Life here was incredibly hectic, harried, stressful, and unpredictable – it was the most insane environment I’d ever witnessed. It is still quite stressful here, but most everything else is different.
We were a church of over 150 and recovering (down from 230 pre-Katrina) – we now run around 100. The lower numbers are due to what can only be described as a church split, but in reality one large, power-driven family led a failed coup attempt, took their toys and left…about 40 of them (we also had several families move out of state this fall).
When that family left, they took a lot of the “ick” with them – there were literally folks whispering in corners on Sunday mornings, secret meetings that led to ultimatums being sent to the elders demanding the resignation of the whole leadership and the installment of their family members…very ugly. Now, things are pretty quiet.
There were 3 ministers on staff including myself (I was just a temporary associate minister brought in to help following the storm). The youth minister resigned because things were so ugly and he was tired of getting caught in the middle (among other things of course). Then the preacher left too. Now I’m here alone in a building we can barely pay for, with a congregation full of people who work on the other side of the lake…
So I spend most of my time at Starbucks.
I go to Starbucks for several reasons. First, I don’t care what some “anti” folks say, I think the coffee is really good – it’s considerably better than CC’s – the Louisiana version of Starbucks. Second, I enjoy the atmosphere – the people who work here are pleasant, the music isn’t too loud, the place smells good, they know my name and what I like to drink…it’s enjoyable. But the biggest reason: there are always people here.
Our church building is empty (when I moved here we were housing disaster relief volunteers – there were between 20 and 200 volunteers in the building 7 days a week) and the phone doesn’t ring often. We’ve got around 10 families in pretty serious crisis right now, so I check in on them. But most everyone else is busy with their lives and I see them on Sunday and Wednesday.
I like studying and preparing lessons around other people. There have been countless conversations overheard that have inspired or helped me with a class or sermon. There have been numerous conversations entered into that provide me with encouragement to continue. And so I go (not everyday, but often), I watch, I listen and sometimes I even talk.
As I find at seat in one of the hard back chairs at the community table (which is what I call the large table with a power strip in the middle…it’s the only table where people feel comfortable sitting down when another person is already there) I usually set up my computer before ordering (grande medium roast, grande non-fat latte or triple-grande non-fat latte…depending on the severity of the need for caffeine). After I get my drink I let the computer “warm up” for about 5 minutes before trying to do anything – it seems to operate more efficiently when I do that…its probably in my head.
During that time I love to see who is there. There is the old guy from Church of the King (the very big charismatic church in town) who will want to engage you in redundant conversations about the Bible if you aren’t careful. I know it seems weird, but I don’t like talking to him – its very difficult to have a meaningful conversation with someone who seems to always either be speaking in clichés or trying to get a fix for how well you line up theologically.
Then there are usually 5 or 6 business folks either having actual meetings or holding meetings over the phone while scanning the internet. Steve has really good stories, but hates his job as a pharmaceutical rep. I like Steve. He always asks me lots of questions about church (usually more logistical and practical rather than theological) and then seems interested enough in my answers to have a conversation.
There’s also Melissa, who is one of the managers, but I’ve seen her more often this week just coming in for coffee and to talk to the other manager and the employees. They like Melissa. I think they like her because her kindness seems genuine rather than the required politeness of management at an image conscious coffee shop. I saw her in Wal-Mart with her two kids on Saturday – she was nice to me, which is interesting because moms with kids at Wal-Mart are rarely in the mood to be nice.
I really noticed the ceilings and walls for the first time this week. They’re really layered – nothing is flat. There are multiple sections of drop-ceiling which are all at different heights and each with lights. Then there are hanging lights which are also suspended at different heights. The walls have sections that stick out or are recessed and are several different colors. All of this serves to create a very “lived in” feel – not sterile like our office…I guess that’s another reason I like being there.
I had never spent any real amount of time considering the architecture of Starbucks – I’d noticed before that they were decorated to feel inviting, like a living room at a really cool person’s house…I don’t know very many really cool people, so I haven’t been in many cool people’s houses, but if I did, I bet their living rooms would look like that.
But the layered effect is really effective. It is interesting what architects and designers can accomplish with space. I wish we took that more seriously in our church buildings – not that we should spend incredible amounts of money on “contemporary” architectural design…but maybe we could at least give “space” a little more consideration.
I felt a little silly, but at one point in this whole ordeal I found myself affected emotionally and spiritually by the stinking ceiling in Starbucks. But I guess that’s the point of this little “exercise” in normalcy...
As I read that post written around the end of a dark, difficult but important time in my life, I am struck by the way that community was beginning to become a controlling theme. Today the understanding of God as the Community of Love is one of the primary lenses through which I view most of what happens in life and ministry.