Just when I thought it was not possible for any more sushi shops to pop up in our area a new one appears.
Following the 2nd World War my Dad would not allow rice in our house. In 1948 he came into a little money and announced he would buy a new (I mean brand-new) car. He purchased a Morris Ten – solid, reliable British manufactured with leather upholstery. Shortly after this a neighbour bought a Honda of similar size. My dad was scandalised. “Jap rubbish” he declared. We kept the Morris in our family for almost 20 years. During this time it was frequently in the repair shop for matters great and small. The Honda down the road never needed any repairs. It just went and went.
I remember when the first sushi shop opened in the Goldfields Shopping Centre in Thames. The two Asian women who staffed the shop looked dejected as the locals walked past their sushi display and queued for burgers and chips. “Sushi will never take off in rural New Zealand”, I thought. How wrong I was!!
The growth of sushi shops in recent years is not the only thing that is surprising me.
Have you noticed lately how large young male bi-ceps have grown? Commonly you see young guys in tee-shirts, the arms of which can barely contain their muscle. This look is now standard for males in the spotlight of entertainment and many sports. Out of interest I browsed pics of the super-stars of my youth. The action film tough guy Humphrey Bogart had positively skinny arms and when at last I found a glimpse of John Wayne’s biceps, (he normally wore shirts with long sleeves), they were average, nothing like the bi-ceps of today’s action stars. In Sunday School literature produced in the last few years I note that Jesus is now depicted with impressive biceps.
The desire to achieve bulging biceps is an ‘in’ thing. It motivates droves of young men to join a gym. Females also pursue a body shape which requires regular gym-time. The surprising proliferation of sushi shops in recent years can be matched by the explosion of the number of gyms – many of which are open 24 hours.
And, what about Nail Parlours. A few years ago, they were a tiny specialty market. Now they are everywhere. Recently driving through rural Australia we noticed them in every country town. And for oldies like me, surprising at it seems, Massage Parlours, (shoulder, neck, back, foot etc) are now to be found in most shopping centres.
I have always been interested in adult education and classes for adults. Today there is one subject that is getting the adults out in large numbers. That is yoga – yoga classes in halls, homes, shopfronts, community centres and church premises. Advertisements for yoga classes of one type or another (there are eleven different types of yoga) are to be found in all community advertising spaces, noticeboards, online and print media.
Gyms, nail parlors, yoga classes and sushi shops are here to stay. They are not hiding on the sidelines of our communities – they’re front and centre. When did this happen? How did this happen? How come I (we) didn’t notice them coming? I think many of us have been asleep to what has been trending around us.
I am seeing all this from the vantage point of a minister in a suburban Church. It is now painfully obvious that churches like ours are not part of any new trend. The opposite is true. In our western society churches with traditional roots are seen as irrelevant, dull and boring.
Last week for twenty minutes I was parked adjacent to a large gym. The huge advertisements on the building pictured lithe and lean young people and, of course the guys all had bulging bi-ceps. Young adults leaving the gym hurried past my cars with their backpacks and water bottles. They looked as good as the people in the advertisements. However, I noticed that when they left singly, they left alone.
Around our area crowds of people, mostly women but also a few men, carry yoga mats. From early morning to well into the evening they stream into our centre. Many of them chat as they enter their class space, but most of them leave by themselves.
As a person who believes that life cannot be complete without babies, children and old people, I note that these trending activities are primarily focused on adults. Children and the elderly are not included. In most cases solo adults do them for themselves, by themselves.
So what? Does it matter?
There are other things trending in our neighbourhood, nasty things. We are told that we are surrounded by a plague of loneliness, that despite social media hook-ups our children and young people are increasingly isolated and depressed. Most of us know of someone who is considering ending their lives. Despite being the luckiest country in the world we have one of the highest rates of youth suicide. Behavioural problems with children are on the increase and new and strange sicknesses afflict all ages, to say nothing of the dreaded C – cancer.
What has a suburban church with a reformed heritage can offer in this situation. The answer I come back to again and again is ‘community’. By ‘community’ I mean inclusion in kind of family or tribal setting which includes all ages and, better still all races and cultures. It is a fact that our church and centre works at ways of connecting people of all ages but are we doing enough? And does the populace around us notice it and realise that they can have a part of it? Probably not. But it is a fact that some children whose grandparents are far away find grandparents in the church family and vice versa. Despite living in the ‘Me Too’ era men and women exchange hugs and kisses with persons with whom they have no family connection. Troubled teens who won’t talk to their parents unload their problems on other adults – adults who used to be strangers who they now consider friends.
How is this possible? I think it all happens because of Jesus and the Jesus spirit. I have been wondering if we make too much of our Sunday ‘church services’ and undervalue the meeting and mixing that goes on all through the week. Here is a stream of life that most around us know nothing about. Many are suspicious of us because they think we want to sign them up and brainwash them.
The parents around us will spare no effort and money to give their children the best start in life. This means extra classes, tuition and coaching. Meeting and mixing with an all age community doesn’t seem to rate beside these activities.
In a world where many things good and bad are trending I am convinced we have something of value to contribute. But how we offer this to our community is tricky. Certainly, I don’t think that hard-sell is the answer. But neither is shrinking into a corner and thinking we are of no further value to the people around us. Our church and centre motto is ‘Reaching out and welcoming in’. I still think that contains the answer.