Archives for posts with tag: nostalgia

A theological reflection on saving a Christian college campus.

I am home now. As in, abandoned prairie dreams to come back to the Pacific Northwest with its layers of mountains and hills, moody shifts in grey hues, waterlogged air, and the smell of low tide. It is fortunate that I can complete my research away from school at this point, and even tailor it to this region. The thought of learning Chicago watersheds for my studies in baptism felt daunting.

Coming home has its share of mixed feelings, particularly when my memory is taxed with recalling what ‘used to be’ on that corner instead of the shiny tall thing that looms overhead. So, when I saw the article in the local news about an old Bible school coming due for demolition, I started reading closely. Sure enough, I remembered the place–vaguely, but well enough.

I can’t remember if it was a vacation Bible school, or simply a weekend retreat that took me to the Lutheran Bible Institute in Issaquah, but I remember her. Her name was similar to mine, Kirstin, she had straight, blonde hair, and she sang in the a cappella music group at the Bible school. I remember feeling so enamored with her, like she could be my big sister. We may have even exchanged a few letters as pen pals. I remember, too, the buildings that felt a little old, but in that vertical NW, mod quirky kind of way. At that time, about the only difference I knew existed between the Lutherans and Presbyterians (such as I was), had to do with the color robes their clergy wore on Sundays. Yet I would have signed up to go to LBI in a heartbeat; especially if it meant singing alongside my new friend such lyric hits as, “It’s about as useful as a screen door on a submarine. / Faith without works…”

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that one of the local megachurches owns the property now, and that they have an interest in selling it. But in a region with few religious landmarks, the thought of losing a 1960s chapel and school with a unique history (the Lutherans bought it from the Catholics) is dispiriting. Surely another religious organization would think so, too? Or is a generic evangelical church focused on being young and relevant simply deaf to any cries of history or tradition? I wonder, then, if this isn’t a case of good old North American pragmatism. The church is not a building, it is wherever two or more are gathered in the name of Jesus Christ–so goes the logic.

Shouldn’t a place where the broken, risen body of Christ has been shared, given and communed across time and denominations mean something?

For nearly ten years I worshiped in a space that was built by the Methodists, then occupied by a brewery, a disco, the Baptists, and some other commercial interests during its 100+ year history (not to mention squirrels and other critters in the attic). Houses of worship that have been around for a while feel different. There is a kind of spatial patina that can rub off on unsuspecting visitors, enriching the music, the prayers, the communion of saints. At times in church, I could sense the hopes and desires of past parishioners. My great-grandparents never worshiped there, but someone’s did.

The Providence Heights space is unique as a theological school, first for nuns, then for Lutheran women and men. Let me repeat that: the school was built to educate women first. It may be tempting to be dismissive of a training school for Catholic nuns, but considering how difficult it still is–globally speaking–for women to receive any kind of dedicated theological education, let’s just say this is significant. While the chapel was not a community church per se, it served as a basin for the missio Dei, and a nest from which hopeful young Christians followed the call of the Spirit to the world.

Surely, a fellow religious organization such as City Church, with its focus on developing relevant leaders for the world, would understand such a history?

At a time when property values are soaring out of reach, churches are shrinking, and decisions for survival must be made on a purely economic basis, does City Church (or any church) have a responsibility to history or tradition? What does it look like to honor the people who have gone before in particular places; who have celebrated the Lord’s supper, and proclaimed his death and resurrection in these walls? This week of Pentecost, I pray for a creative solution for the people of Issaquah, for City Church, and the Providence Heights campus. Come, Holy Spirit, and breathe new life.

It’s time for the holiday editions of those awkward family photos. You know, the portrait with the family bedecked in matching, hand crafted reindeer sweaters and awesome 80s hair. Or the Polaroid of the two sisters dressed in their Christmas best dukeing it out over the doll’s corvette. Every year more awkward photos surface, each batch more cringe-inducing and guffaw-producing than the last. And we’re all invited to dig up our own awkward family photos because, of course, everyone has them. Except, perhaps, not everyone does. 

For many, there is the question of which family, and when? Was that the year when having a happy, blended Christmas with the new step-family ended in devastation? Dad stormed off to the tavern, Cindy ran away with her boyfriend, and we were left with a woman we barely knew wielding her eggnog mug like a machine gun. Or maybe that’s the year just before the custody battle, and the last time we were all in the same room together, without legal representatives–it was just the photographer, and us in our cheerful sweaters. Or maybe those pictures are from that year when Mom’s friend was with us, which seemed weird. I mean, not even Dad knew that she had a girlfriend in college. 

For some of us, we simply have no photos. No evidence of an awkward family remains. Perhaps that is a blessing, of sorts. That awful kitten sweatshirt that you wore to rags and insisted on wearing in the picture with Santa Claus, neither remains to taunt / both have passed through the transfer station. And no one can dredge up memories of that tantrum you threw at age five simply because they weren’t there. There may have been a look of untamed joy when the pirate Lego set was revealed, but your grin will never get framed on a magnet. Besides, Polaroids are so clunky compared to today’s digital formats. 

With few simple memories in circulation, perhaps that’s why the awkward family photos are so popular. A single snapshot may stand for 1,000 words, but all that really matters is the goofy hair, the oversized glasses, the unpracticed smiles.

Revisiting glory days past, and catching up on the achievements of the present, many of my classmates were at the 20 year reunion recently. I thought about going. There are some very intelligent people I went to school with, and I’m sure they’re doing some pretty amazing stuff. Most of my classmates went to Ivy League schools, or at least private liberal arts colleges. I couldn’t quite make the cut, NHS pin and all.

Nostalgia and facebook are a dangerous combination.

While I am drawn to people’s now, what deterred me was the thought of conversation focused on then. Those sentences beginning with “Remember when you…” Or “Remember that time….?” No. No, I don’t, actually. Much of that time has been conveniently deleted. I enjoyed school, the classroom was a safe place for me. But outside the classroom I watched society life from the outside. I had my few friends, and we generally kept to ourselves–a moderately easy task in a school of 800 students. I learned to navigate three spheres: classroom, church youth group, and my friends. Three different sets of expectations. Three different performance scripts to learn. Apparently that kind of identity-shifting has become the norm.

My home life was not terribly picturesque. The lack of photo evidence from that period is telling in that regard. My family was not in the habit of documenting choir competitions, theatre after parties, or sleepovers. And I have since let go of old journals from that time as well. Moving every few years will naturally slim the shelves.

8thGradeMe

yes, those frames are back in style

One person wrote when attempting to scrounge up images, “We are from one of the last years where we actually had to go down and spend a fortune on developing pictures, there was no instant gratification or tablet editing for our photos, …we took our pictures much more serious…”
Thinking about that, I was suddenly transported back to a time when the year book was a big deal. We would sit and comb through the pages to see if we made the cut. For me the feeling was a mix of desire and dread. I wanted desperately to be seen…but not like that. Not through the eyes of peers who didn’t know me and only saw the baggy clothes and larger than my face eyewear. Of course my friends knew me. But somehow that wasn’t enough. I wanted smart people to recognize me as a smart person. I wanted class comedians to see me as funny. I wanted attractive people to help me become more attractive. I lived in an overwhelming yearning for affirmation.

And then it was over. We graduated. I headed off to a state school while others went on to work or travel or big brick institutions in the east. The years roll by. Life continues on.

I thought about going. But I just didn’t want to go back there. Maybe the next one.