jouets dans le grenier
 l'ameublement idéologique pour l'esprit sans foyer

 daurril:  christian triumphalism:  john reese:




St. Andrew's Episcopal Church




Downtown Tampa, Florida ~ August 2006


Reverendly Speaking


'And all the believers met together constantly and shared everything with each other... They war-shipped together regularly at the Temple each day, met in small groups in homes for Communion, and shared their meals with great joy and than~lness, praising God.

Acts of the Apostles 2:44-47


Dear People of St. Andrew's,


I recently had the opportunity to attend a week of continuing education at The Chautauqua Institution, a place where people, in the words of President Tom Becker, gather outside the noise and demands of the central current of our days to restore, refresh, reflect, and revere.' I always relish the chance to spend time at this venerable place beside Chautauqua Lake in western New York, which physically seems fro­zen in a Victorian setting worthy of Currier and Ives. No car is needed and I use just my feet for a week. I enjoy walking (and running) along the idyllic lake, listening to the water. Serendipity permeates the at­mosphere. There is no television, no radio, no com­puter. Instead, each day consists of uplifting wor­ship services, stimulating lectures, fabulous concerts, and time for reading and reflection.


The theme of my week happened to be Ethics and Citizenship.  Several of the lecturers mentioned Robert Putnam and his book, Bowling Alone. I was quite fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend Putnam's lecture at Chautauqua during my visit there in 2004. Putnam is a political science profes­sor at Harvard and onetime dean of the Kennedy School of Government at that same university. I was a bit leery at first, wondering if this Harvard prof would be speaking in Ivy League gibberish intelligi­ble only to the other cognoscenti present. But Put­nam instead spoke in English. He was not only in­telligent, but warm, humorous and understandable. His premise was this: During the past forty years or so, America has lost its sense of community. Now he did not simply announce this as some sort of sub­jective observation. No, he produced reams of statis­tics supporting his assertion. Countless studies and polls conducted over the years reveal a rather fright­ening trend: Americans are no longer joiners, as they once were. Club membership is down. The critter clubs (Elks, Moose, Beaver, Lions, etc.) are endan­gered species. Just about all-fraternal organizations are sputtering. Church attendance is down. Even little social things, such as going on a picnic or hav­ing a dinner party or just inviting a friend over, are on the decline. The individual is triumphing over the community. And Putnam, rightfully, sees this as a serious problem for the spiritual health of America.


Why is this happening? There are a number of rea­sons, with the boob tube ranking right up there at the top. Many of us have become downright catatonic from overexposure to television. What to do about it all? Putnam suggests that we need to reverse the trend and strive to regain a sense of community. Here in Tampa, summer is coming to an end for most of us.  Our vacations and travels are over. What better time than this to make St. Andrew's a part of your community - and to make you a part of the St. Andrew's family? Our community-building starts on Sundays at 8:00 and 10:00. See you then!


Yours in Christ,


The Rev. John Reese



Response: Jjd 18-Aug-06


I really must mitigate my enthusiasm for the preceding with a least a few reservations pertaining to the development of Father Reese’s message as well as his interpretation of Putnam’s book. To start with, while John’s first paragraph makes much of an environment suitable for retreat, he seems to invoke particular prejedice as to which elements of our ordinary lives require this extravagant relief.  Of the many feature of both our domestic and occumational lives that work to compimise God’s plan for us, “television” to him is a singular offender.  Left to our own devices to fill in the blanks, we are really being told nothing.  


Returning to his attendance at the Institute itself, Father Reese will not tell us what he learned about E-and-C in 2006, but recalls for us a Putnam discussion of Bowling Alone that he attended there in 2004.  Grateful that he did not have to hear Putnam’s remarks in “Ivy League gibberish (intelligi­ble only to the other cognoscenti present),” he therefore found the delivery “warm, humorous and understandable,” or, just how he would have done it. Anticipating my later remarks, I will characterize John’s analysis of Bowling Alone, as “that the United States has undergone an unprecedented collapse in civic, social, associational, and political life (social capital) since the 1960s, with serious negative consequences.” Using only that much of the book, John runs it to a variety of conclusions, including that “the individual is triumphing over the community,” and riding that out to conclude that one useful step toward recovery may be to bury ourselves in the company of our religious communities.  Particularly on Sundays at 8 and 10, at St Andrew’s in downtown Tampa.


Despite having found a direction in his revelation that was both natural to him and pastorally productive, I think his congregation is at greater loss for not having heard more of what Putnam actually said. According to Wikipedia,



Putnam makes a distinction between two kinds of social capital: bonding capital and bridging capital. Bonding occurs when you are socializing with people who are like you: same age, same race, same religion, and so on. But in order to create peaceful societies in a diverse multi-etnic country, one needs to have a second kind of social capital: bridging. Bridging is what you do when you make friends with people who are not like you, like supporters from another football team. Putman argues that those two kinds of social capital, bonding and bridging, do strengthen each other.


Thoughts of “bridging” do not seem to have surfaced in Father Reese’s report: presumably Harvard cognoscenti also do not get to be “in our car.”  Not only are folk scandalously perfecting their game alone, but also as they are not on teams themselves, there is no opposing team.  Having famously abandoned the Catholic practice of the “private said Mass” (side altars), what is more on the order of “perfecting their game alone” than for ministers to not accurately share conference insights?



    Last update on 28 July-2006 at 3:30 PM.