Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Culture and Programs

While talking with other leaders of Messianic Jewish congregations a nifty issues has been clarified in my mind.

In Eugene, programs are seen as bad. Programs are impersonal. Programs are "stiff religion" instead of life and spirituality. And culture is seen as good. Culture values people. Culture is about life and spirituality.

Yet culture, subtly, works like many programs.

At P'nei Adonai we've been doing this without realizing it. We don't have a Membership Program, we have B'nei Mitzvah preparation. We don't have a Dance Program, we do a picnic and dancing in the park to help celebrate Shabbat. We don't have elaborate holiday programs, but a simple service and the scriptural freedom for households to use tithes to eat together throughout the holiday.

There's more we could do along these lines.

We would not want an Alef Club. But we should develop ways to make a group Erev Shabbat dinner into an evening where the focus stays on God to promote worthwhile discussion and spiritual growth.

We would not want an out-of-context prayer weekly or monthly service, but we should have one at Rosh Chodesh to pray that God provide guidance, protection, blessing, and growth in the upcoming month.

We would not want a kid's program for the kids old enough to sit through a Shabbat service. But we should have sermons with more props and stories now, for the sake of those elementary school age kids that are occasional visitors.

The issue is not that culture secretly contains programs. It is that when a program is done in ways that value people and has life and genuine spiritual health, and done this way long enough, it becomes habitual and no longer seems like a program. Culture can raise programs to a higher level. And Jewish culture is full of examples.