Tag Archives: church

Sunday Share

So, our pastor had an interesting line today in church, and not sure if he got it from someone else (so if he did, apologies if credit needs to go elsewhere). In the final of a four-week series on “Why Church?” he noted, of the value of attending church, that in doing so…

The synergy of collectivity overcomes the entropy of individualism.

Now, there are a lot of non-Christians who read my blog here who are cringing right now. Really, I can feel your shuddering through the Internet. You’re saying, “See! This is the problem with churches. They preach conformity and groupthink.”

Get your knickers out of your ass crack for a moment though, and reflect. First off, even the non-churchgoing types belong to plenty of clubs, groups, political parties, community groups and more where unity of action and thought is often encouraged. So get off the high horse.

But more importantly, let’s examine what the pastor of my church is really talking about (because, for one thing, it’s a highly open and inclusive church, and doesn’t promote lock-step thinking at all).

Having a community that is together in a single purpose, or a set of purposes, can be a very good thing. My church, in fact, is very involved in community helping and in helping abroad. Helping primarily, with proselytizing really far down the list of priorities. That is the synergy of collectivity. Not a collective “turn off your brain” mindset but the pooling of talents, wills and resources.

Together, we can achieve things that as individuals we could not do, or not do as effectively. The offerings we give, the time we might volunteer, the smiles we might offer to fellow church members who need a smile…all these things come together to make the church community powerful when there is love and compassion at the heart of things, and not judgment or recrimination.

And that’s where we get to the “entropy of individualism.”

Not, mind you, “individuality.” Our pastor said individualism.

I think there is a distinction. The first is natural. We are all unique and should be. We all have lives outside the church as well. And we should. These are good things.

But the latter thing, individualism, is trickier, and more dangerous. It speaks to me of the desire to put individual desires above all else. We’re all guilty of doing this, regularly. But we must be careful to remember the importance of community (spiritual or otherwise) and not lift up the individual so much that we end up preaching the dangerous nonsense of someone like Ayn Rand and that dangerous school of thought known as Objectivism, which encourages people not to help their fellow humans.

There are pastors and churches where the collectivity is taken to the extreme of collectivism, which is where we end up with “sheeple” and large groups of people mobilizing behind issues that I’m sure make Jesus cringe.

I agree that such a state is not good. But I like the “synergy of collectivity,” idea and I agree that it should be one of the primary reasons for finding a good church and being a member of it, even if you don’t attend every week and even if you can’t give much or your money or time.

Big “S” vs. Little “S”

So, if the naysayers can leave out answers like “superstition” or “because they’re mindless followers” or “a 2,000 year old fairy tale tells them so,” why do people go to church?

There are a multitude of spiritual and/or religious (the two do not always overlap but of course often do) reasons why people attend Sunday services, of Mass, or Saturday night musical services or whatever else. It can be habit, it can be fear of damnation, it can be validation for their beliefs, a desire to be with like-minded people in a communal setting, or a lot of other things.

For me, it is about lifting my Spirit. Note the big “S.” It will be important later.

There once was a time I went to church to be edified and to learn more about faith and service in God’s name. Not so much anymore. I still get bits of new information here and there, particularly when the reverend knows ancient Greek and/or Hebrew and can actually put the passages into their real meaning and context instead of what they’ve been twisted into via a multitude of translations (and dulled meanings often lead leaders of congregations astray or allow them to lead congregants astray, but I’m getting off track).

Anyway, education isn’t my primary reason for church and hasn’t been for a long time. I’ve moved on to spiritual exploration and contemplation of the divine nature more than worrying about Bible specifics.

And so the reason I go to church, and I know many faithful have the same goal, is to lift up my Spirit.

There are many ways I can lift my spirits, but there are very few ways I can lift up and nourish my Spirit.

My Spirit, that divinely attuned part of me (or any of us, if we choose to nourish and listen to it) needs stimulation. Church services are the best way to do that in a community setting, so that I can connect with people, have group companionship and celebration, and lift my Spirit.

Certainly, other things can lift my Spirit (or my little “S” spirits for that matter): being out in nature, listening to good music, meditation/prayer, or viewing art.

(And I can’t help but note that such things are those that most closely align to unique human characteristics like abstract creativity and/or things that put one closer to the treasures of the Earth.)

These things don’t always move me to the point where they will lift my Spirit. Frankly, going to church doesn’t always do the job either. But it’s the best place to do so among other people in an atmosphere of celebration.

And yes, I know that many churches are more interested in pointing fingers, or finding scapegoats, or preaching the damnation of heathen, or fleecing people to get their money. But many churches are interested in lifting the Spirit, and I go to one of them.

It is, I think, one of the best reasons to go to church, and it would be my hope that fewer of the faithful will deal in legalisms of the Bible, or judgments of others, and find that path that leads toward encouraging people’s nourishment of their Spirit.

An Itinerant Deacon?

So, I find myself wondering: Am I am itinerant deacon in some strange sense?

What I mean is that nearly a decade ago now, I was ordained a deacon by my father-in-law, who at the time was also my pastor. The church was small. Very small. Which I actually think was a plus, as we could have discussions and Bible teaching/debate as often as sermons—and sometimes both in the same hour to hour-and-a-half sermon.

So, I didn’t have a lot of duties, really. It wasn’t like doing the Lord’s Supper (communion) was all that taxing, even though I had to serve the entire congregation myself. I said it was small, right? I didn’t have a lot of greeting to do at the door. But I helped. And when I wasn’t helping during services, I was a sounding board for my father-in-law, and I did other support duties for him, like trying to set up a rudimentary online ministry, editing religious writings he was doing, and things like that. Even after I moved hundred upon hundreds of miles away to relocate in New England, I have done things like transcribe tapes of a book he was writing about the role and nature of Satan.

Since coming out here more than seven years ago, I haven’t really served much as a deacon. Part of that has been the lack of a church home for much of that time. We would find a church to attend, and find it reasonably tolerable or even promising, and then after some weeks or months, we would find some fatal flaw in regard to staying there (crazy heretical things cropping up, people treating our multicultural family with the cold shoulder, sexism or homophobia, etc.). Wisely, I haven’t made a point of mentioning my deacon work in the past when I have entered a church, not wanting to be put to work and getting sucked in when I’m not even sure it’s a church I want to join.

At one church, I did make my deacon past known, and it was a small church of size similar to my father-in-law’s, and I helped with communion there a couple times and some other stuff, but then the pastor started getting a prophet complex, started preaching a lot of prosperity/name-it-and-claim-it stuff, and started preaching about how if you weren’t speaking in tongues, you weren’t born again. I clammed up about being a former deacon at the next several churches we tried after that.

For almost a year now, we’ve been members of a church. It’s a fairly big church (for this area, that is), and it’s involved in the community a lot and people are pretty nice. The sermons can be a bit light sometimes, but the liberal bent is more in line with the views of myself and my wife, since the more conservative churches seem to like to campaign against legalizing same sex marriage, stomping on women’s right, and wonderful things like that. I’d rather have a church that errs on the side of equality and human rights and kindness, rather than one that preaches nasty attitudes.

The pastor hasn’t really called on me to serve, and it doesn’t look like there’s much need for me anyway.

So, what is my role? Am I really a deacon?

I like to think that I am, and that is where the whole itinerant deacon concept cropped up in my mind. Itinerant preachers are those who travel, and don’t really set up shop in a particular town or church. I think that’s what I am, because of the Internet presence I’ve created for myself. I talk about spiritual and religious matters (among other things), and having a blog that can be read by anyone in the world, I “travel” in a way. But am I serving as a deacon? I think so. I am lifting up Jesus and serving church needs, in the global sense of the church of Christ. I sometimes find inspiration in posts from sermons that my current pastor gives, and so at times I am helping him get his words out there, however indirectly.

So, I am a helper, and a representative. I guide people where I can to examine scripture and to look for answers and spiritual growth, and those seems to me to be very deacon-like things.

So, I’m ordained, but not called to a specific place. I am no Bible scholar, but I believe I have deep enough spiritual discernment to be of help in presenting Christianity, the Bible and Christ in a good light.

I am, in the end, a servant. Albeit a servant who sometimes cusses and sometimes is irreverent. But you know, Jesus had a sense of humor and sometimes a short temper, too. So I’m in good company there.

And so, for now, I remain your humble itinerant deacon.

Gone Again by Miz Pink

So…

Last Sunday, church is packed to the gills (of course) for Easter. I s’pose if we’d gotten there 20 or 30 minutes early we MIGHT have gotten decent seats. And not had to park way down the block in the public  library’s lot.

This past Sunday, the fam and I could toss our coats and sweaters at both ends of the pew and still have plenty of room for all of us to cross our legs if we wanted.

I don’t get it.

It aint like I think people have to go to church every week. I sure don’t. I miss at least one week each month, sometimes two. If there’s a lot of stuff going on, even three Sundays every once in a while.

It’s not even like I think people oughta go every dang month. Heck everyone’s different.

But I don’t understand people who show up on Christmas and Easter and never any other time. I mean 2 Sundays out of 52? Why bother? Church is a few minute’s walk or drive from your house and you can’t be bothered to do a little worship and getting some biblical education and some Christian fellowship more often than twice a year?

Yeah that’s showing God and Jesus some love. If you don’t like church that’s fine. Don’t go. But don’t show up twice a year because you think God will send you to hell for missing those two days too. Do good. Read your bible. Get some religion from somewhere whetehr books or radio or TV.

But dontcha all come out in your Sunday best twice a year just to crowd a place you clearly don’t care to be.

Cuz it just makes me want to skip Easter and Christmas to avoid y’all.

A New Home

cross02So, after more than six years in a state I had never planned to move to and knew nothing about, I finally have a church home. We’ve gone through periods of no church attendence and getting fed from radio and television broadcasts by pastors we respect and we’ve gone through buffet-style sampling of various churches on a weekly basis to see what’s out there.

A few times, we thought we had good hits and then found out something that made us bolt, from rules in the membership guidelines that were extra-biblical and thus shouldn’t be part of church “requirements” to vague sensations were weren’t welcome to downright cultish behavior in one case where the church seemed OK at first and then began to change, like some zombie-bite victim or werewolf-bite victim in a horror movie.

This church is a bit on the liberal side, but not unduly so. They seem on track with the Bible, though it’s a little on the “light” side in terms of approach, choices and sermon topics. Then again, who always wants a heavy meal, right? There are plenty of television shows, radio stations and Web sites I can still go to for that.

The important thing to us is that the church seems genuinely Christ-led and they are warm, open and accepting of a mixed-raced couple. We’ve never felt anything other than welcome there and after a while of off-and-on attendance, we finally became members today.

So, even if it isn’t the “perfect” home, it’s a good one to be at.

Anyone have stories of their own current or past troubles finding a church home?

Looks Like a Fish…

So, look at the picture for today’s post. Is it a fish? Or is it a bunch of fishes?

Yeah, sure, the easy answer would be to say, “Both.” But is isn’t a single fish, now is it? The individual fishes in formation present the image of a fish, but image isn’t always reality.

Looking like a fish doesn’t make it a fish. Certainly, it would smell like a fish and feel like a fish, too, with all those individual fishes—but that still doesn’t make it a fish.

So, too, a bunch of people who are Christians together in one place doesn’t make a church. A congregation, perhaps, but not a church. Doesn’t matter how much it looks like a church, smells like a church, sounds like a church or feels like a church. Because the things that make a church a church are not the people nor appearances, but something altogether of another realm.

Faith. Spirituality. Devotion.

Jesus told us:

Wherever two or more gather in my name there I am in their midst.

Christianity contains “Christ” but it is not Jesus’ name. Jesus’ name was not “Christianity” and it wasn’t even “Christ.” Christ is a title, not a name. People who gather in buildings because of Christianity aren’t necessarily making up a church. Because unless Jesus is at the heart of it, it’s just a get-together.

Faith Gone Bad – by Mrs. Blue

Hi, there. A conversation with Mrs. Eager has once again brought my thoughts here to my husband’s blog, combined with an incident on Sunday in which a guy shot up a Unitarian-Universalist church in Knoxville, Tennessee, killing two people and injuring seven last I heard.

First, Mrs. Eager. We’re talking on the phone and I’m even more convinced that we have virtually nothing in common except both being born again. And she reveals to me that her and Mr. Eager are, well…eager…to move them and their two girls out of the Northeastern U.S and into the Bible Belt. They have their eyes in particular on Tennessee (yeah, you can connect my mental dots already, I’m sure) because they want to be in a place where “traditional values” are held more dearly.

Mrs. Eager expressed her concern that things are too “liberal” out here in many of the churches. Now, there are many liberally minded churches in our part of the world. I agree. But having done some church-hopping with darling hubby as we tried to find a church home, I have been to a great many places where not only was the doctrine quite conservative but people looked at my black ass quite strangely. Many a church out here has been nixed for our family based on people not receiving our mixed race family warmly and, in some cases, with a distinct “why are you here and could you please leave” mentality.

So, I don’t really get why you would pick up and move hundreds and hundreds of miles simply for religious reasons, with the end goal being to be around a lot of other people just like you. There is no job or better career options waiting out in the Bible Belt. Mr. Eager is a plumber, and pretty much anywhere in this country, that’s a job that will keep you busy and money coming in at a comfortable level. They have family out here. Yet they are seriously considering moving simply so that it will be easier for them to find plenty of conservative Christian churches to choose from.

That scares me a little. It seems like the decision of someone who’s caught up in religion, but not very caught up in being Christ-like.

And when you add the Tennessee shooting to spice this up, I think: A man went and tried to murder a bunch of people in a U.U. church because he hated the liberal movement in general (especially inclusiveness of gays) and, I suppose, hating even more so those pesky liberal Christians or liberal semi-Christians (since U.U. churches seem more like spiritual social clubs to me than actual churches, since they are religiously inclusive as well, trying to be one-stop spiritual shopping it seems). So, doesn’t that show that the Bible Belt also produces very unsavory people, despite all those traditional values?

I know this is just one person. I know that Mrs. Eager and Mr. Eager are not seeking to hook up with people who kill other people over liberal vs. conservative views.

But why do they want to surround themselves with people they assume will be like-thinking? Jesus didn’t do that. So many churches, particularly those with a more conservative slant, want to go out all over the world and convert people; lead them to Christ. Yet how many of them put that same effort closer to home? Instead, people hole up in churches where everyone is like them and they hear what makes them feel comfortable. They socialize with those people. They avoid those who would say things they don’t want to hear.

Yet Jesus socialized with the active sinners. He hung out with—and preached to—gamblers, prostitutes, thieves, adulterers and more. He went where people needed to hear the good news of God’s grace and coming kingdom on Earth.

If Mrs. Eager and her family head out to the Bible Belt, I wonder: Will they be reaching anyone? Will they be effective Christians? I doubt it. They will be comfortably ensconced in a warm cocoon of “Churchianity.”

If things are too liberal here—if people are getting away from the Word of God because they are trying to make it fit the world or edit it to be more palatable—doesn’t it make more sense to stay and let people see the light of Christ shining through you when you hold to the Word?

She would say, I am sure, that this is a move for the children’s sakes. But we cannot protect our children from the world; we can only teach them how to overcome it. And leaving for the Bible Belt? Well, that feels to me like they are just running away.

(If you want to read any of Mrs. Blue’s other infrequent posts around these parts, go here)

Shiny plastic people by Miz Pink

So I was thinking about the 4th of July holiday weekend. And I got to thinking: How many people really celebrate us breaking away from the British more than 200 years ago? Not many. It’s more about BBQs and beer and setting off explosive devices. And I thought about the Memorial Day and Veterans Day holiday weekends and realized that despite flags and parades and stuff, no one really is paying much attention to military folk who lost their lives or simply served (whether in combat or not).

Then I thought about the word holiday and how it derives originally from holy-day. And I thought: How many people really think about Jesus’s crucifixion and rising from the dead when they celebrate Easter? No. It’s about baskets and bunnies and colored eggs and candy. Christmas? Not about the birth of Jesus, that’s for sure. It’s about the gifts and Santa and stocking and mulled cider and all that jazz. Most people even when they go to services at church for easter or Christmas they really don’t think about Jesus much past the point they exit the church.

That got me to thinking about how people don’t really take church seriously either. Not that I think church is the be all and end all mind ya…I don’t…and people put too much stock in whether God really cares that we sit our butts in the pews. I don’t think he does. Church is supposed to be about more than going to a building. But I thought about the people who do go every week or nearly so, and how many of them fall into two camps. One is the “its a habit and/or I better go or God might hate me” crowd…which means their attendance is either wholly empty or just about fear. The other major camp is the “I need to be seen as being holy crowd” who are obviously there for the sake of their image or station in life or something else and not for the glory of God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit.

In other words, we’re a bunch of shiny plastic people. I’ve been guilty of it too sometimes but not anymore. I don’t care whether people see me in church or waht they think when I don’t show up. Not any more. And I’m not going to go there because I think God is keepign attendance. We aren’t told in the Bible to show up weekly to services. We are told to spread the good news. Jesus would rather have us out there on Sunday sharing his message to the world than he would for us to show up at a church. Yeah, there is value to going to church…but not when it’s just because ya feel ya have to do it.

No smiling and shucking and jiving when it comes to church. That’s wrong. I mean, if we aren’t there to have true spiritual fellowship and be fed spiritually through the word of God why the heck are we there? you think God cares to see a bunch of phonies clogging up the pews? He’d rather see them 3/4 empty and know that all the people there want to be and are getting something out of it.

Barbie and Ken dolls. What happens when you take off their clothes? No nipples, no private parts. Just smooth and shiny plastic. That’s what most of us have become emotionally and spiritually. We look forward to our long holiday weekends without remembering the reason why the day is celebrated. We celebrate religious holidays but serve up greed and superficial nonesense (I’m still guilty of that myself). We go to church but make it a surface-y thing with no depth and no detail…just like Barbie and Kens parts. Is that what we want to be? Is that what you want to be?

Put yer dang hand down by Miz Pink

So, what’s a pregnant woman gotta do to get some play around here? LOL. I mean, along comes Big Man last week, and then Mrs. Blue yesterday…all these guests and I get shoved out of my weekly spot.

 😉

Okay, it didn’t reaaaaallly play out that way. I mean, the first trimester or so of pregnancy ain’t too bad, particularly having been through it before, but there’s all that shopping to do and baby name books to buy and making Sir Pink re-learn how to rub my feet. Frankly, I was happy to take last week off and let some other people do the work of writing. But I’m back even if it is just a quick comment. And here it is:

Hey, you there in church! Put your arm down! Pleeeeze!

Seriously, folks, some churches have this bad. People all swaying back and forth during prayers and choir singing with their right hand held high and sometimes even forgoing the traditional head-down style by lifting their faces up to heaven while they’re waving their arm back and forth (even though most of them have their eyes closed…what the heck are they looking to heaven with?). And some people go all full monty with both arms out like God is gonna throw down a huge beach ball or something for them to catch.

It’s not that I’m against this arm-raising any more than I’m against anything else, like shouting out an occasional “amen” or “hallelujah“. But can we have some moderation? You don’t need to put your arm up all the time. If the mood really strikes you, go for it, but don’t make it a habit. Think of it the same way you would dancing in public when you’re not actually in a dance club. I mean sure some catchy tune at a restaurant or even in an elevator might get you to dance a few steps every one in a while but you don’t do it all the time.

I mean, what? Do you think sticking up an antenna is going to make your prayers get to God faster?

Kid-unfriendly by Miz Pink

So, I mentioned a couple posts back that I’d explain why I kinda left Deke in a lurch a couple weeks ago and didn’t have my “weekly” post in for once. Well, the hubby and I were kinda excited about something and had a lot of calls and stuff to make. And now that I’ve told everyone else (starting with my son and daughter, working through the core relatives, out to the relatives I only see every few years for reunions, and then to my friends and then co-workers and then, finally, the mail carrier), I can tell you: The hubby and I are preggers. Well, okay, only I’m pregnant but I’m dragging hubby into whole new territory with this third (and final! I mean it! I want one more and only one more! Please God no surprises when I hit 40 or 50!) child, so I figure he might as well be tied to me in this and get pregger status too.

So, what is different with this kid, why should you care, and what does it have to do with this post?

Well, I’m kinda concerned about what this is gonna mean for my churchgoing experience once the baby pops out. We flit between three or four different churches, with one in a pre-eminent position for us most of the time, and I think all of them are going to pose challenges for me with child #3.

Oh, sure, the folks will oooooh and aaaaah over the growing belly and all that. But this child isn’t going to be like the rest, and no church I go to…heck, no church I’ve ever been to, seems to be equipped to deal with the neo-hippy way I plan to do boy-or-girl three.

You see I’ve been workin’ hard to be a healthier person. A less polluting person. A better mommy. Etcetera etcetera. I didn’t feed kids #1 and #2 a ton of junk and I didn’t slap their behinds red very often or nothing like that. But I do recognize that kid #1 got the short end of the stick because I was young and foolish and didn’t have a great marriage going, and he got a lot more junk food than he should’ve. Kid #2 was born into a happier household and I had begun to discover the wonders of organic and (more important) locally grown food and such and I was a bit more mellow on discipline, although butt-whoopings did occur at times.

But this time, I want to raise my child in a way that makes me feel really good about my choices and that will (I hope) allow him or her (still don’t want to know gender. must resist temptation to have ultrasound tech or midwife tell me…) to grow up in a very positive way. Breastfeeding all the way until at least 1.5 years old, maybe 2 years old. Cloth diapers. Toys that are mostly natural products. Gentle discipline. No TV or videos (I hope) during year one and maybe not until he/she is two. Maybe that sounds hippy dippy to you, but it’s important to me.

But I’m not sure my main church or backup churches are going to be so down with me on this. Particularly the breastfeeding. Now, despite laws protecting the right of mothers to breastfeed in public and give their babies what God (and nature) intended them to consume, a lot people still get freaked out when a mother puts child to breast, no matter how discreetly she does it and even if no one ever sees that damn nipple. Now I’m not into to rubbing the breastfeeding into other people’s faces (get your dirty minds off that track right now) and I did a mix of breast and bottle with kid #2…but people shouldn’t get so bent about what is a very natural thing. Somewhere along the line, corporate America convinced us babies were supposed to drink formula, and that’s wrong and cheats the baby of a lot of stuff it needs to grow healthy. It’s also expensive and wasteful and environmentally unsound.

Nowhere do I expect to get a bigger cold shoulder with breastfeeding than at church. And I can tell you already what’s gonna happen at most of ’em. I’m gonna have to go into some little room or into the basement to do it, and I’ve gonna miss a lot of the service, and I’m gonna wonder why the hell I bothered to come to church at all. Because God forbid I be in the back of the church with a blanket over my kid’s head letting him/her get a nice healthy dose of God’s brand of baby food. Why men and women in this country cannot ever think of the breast as something non-sexual at times is beyond me.

And that got me to thinking about what the future will bring when it’s time to put my kid in the nursery…or if I even want kid #3 in the nursery. Are they going to really listen when I tell them my rules for how the baby/toddler needs to be fed? When they should come and get me out of sthe service? Whether they should let him/her cry for an extended period or not? I know that I’m going to tell them what they are supposed to do for my kid, and I know they mostly won’t care. And I know this because I dipped my toe into some neo-hippy stuff with kid #2 and got a lot of thinly veiled shock and passive-aggressive resistance any time my rules differed from what everyone was force-fed as the “only way” when they grew up. And I’ve seen a handful of other breastfeeding and alternative parenting mothers get the same stank eye treatment. And if a baby is in the sanctuary and starts to make any noises, boy, do some people give you looks for not having gagged junior before entering the church and for not being able to get out of the pew 2.5 seconds after noises begin.

And it’s sad because I’d like my “church family” to be supportive of my desire to raise a healthy and happy God-fearing kid in the way that (most) of my biological family is. Instead, I’m going to be pushed out of the camp like a menstruating woman in Old Testament times and left lonely at church for much of my child’s early development most likely. And that’s going to make me wonder how much my church folks love me, really.

(I wonder if I’ll look as good as Salma Hayek in that photo when I’m that big this time around? Nah, I’ll look better…and if I don’t, dear hubby better say I do anyway.)