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 Post subject: Why Church?
PostPosted: Tue Feb 02, 2010 7:47 pm 
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Lali Beag Bídeach
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Okay, here's the question that's been rattling around my brain the last week or so.

What makes the church unique in a positive way in today's culture?

Historically, the church has been unique in the fact that it was a source for great art, architecture, and music. It also used to be about the only place you could turn to for charity. It used to be the main place for community, too. It was the birthplace of social reforms and civil rights. (Yes, I know there were negatives, too, but that's not really my point here.)

But, now, all of those things are readily found in the secular world. So what is our point? What would make people want to be a part of a church? If the answer is Jesus and faith, then how so exactly?

(I probably have not worded this as well as possible. :( )

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 02, 2010 7:58 pm 
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Lali, I really want to answer this (and I think it was worded just fine...) but I am shattered after today at work and my brain isn't really firing on all cylinders.

I will get back to you, I promise!

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 02, 2010 8:22 pm 
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Lali Beag Bídeach
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Please do when you can. :) I would value your opinion and thoughts.

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 02, 2010 8:25 pm 
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Well, yes, Jesus is an important reason! And as you requested specificity - Jesus in the Eucharist. Praying in a church, and receiving communion, is just different than saying prayers at home.

And I would say that a good deal of charitable work is still done through the churches, though of course there are wonderful secular groups doing that as well.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 02, 2010 8:52 pm 
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I think you will get two sets of answers to this, Lali. :)

The people who are already 'into church' (i.e. Christians :D ) will have a different perception from those who have no investment in church.

What's the point of church? Why church?

-- One answer is that it's because God made us for community, for relationships, to belong to each other.
-- Another is that the church should be serving its local community, somehow. Jesus told us to love our neighbour as ourselves.
-- Another is that I also think the church should be challenging society around it, somehow. I believe in church being 'counter-cultural', somehow, because there is a real level at which church and the society around it are going to clash with each other at some point. Whether that society is very oppressive and actively anti-religion (China), or very nationalist/fascist and exalting the state above God (Germany in the 1930s) or actively upholding a racist system (Nazi Germany, South Africa for decades) or very secular (modern Europe). Church will/should clash with all of those elements: if church is caving into any of these, something has gone wrong.

These answers are merely scraping the surface of what I truly believe church ('ecclesia') to be, but my time tonight is short as I have a sermon to be getting on with. :blackeye:

One good fairly recent example of the church acting as a positive force within society was the way the Catholic Church acted as a protective buffer between a Communist state and the burgeoning 'Solidarity' democratic movement in Poland, thirty years ago.

Also: one of the abiding elements of Judaism is that it is a home-based faith, worship has gone on in the Jewish home for centuries. Christians should remember where they came from. 8)

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 02, 2010 9:20 pm 
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Quote:
one of the abiding elements of Judaism is that it is a home-based faith, worship has gone on in the Jewish home for centuries.


True enough, but it does not substitute for community-based worship.

Which might provide one answer to Lali's question. Church (or synagogue in my case) provide an opportunity for community worship, and a meaningful connection to that spiritual community.

To put it somewhat facetiously, it is the difference between humming to yourself and singing in a choir. And home-based worship provides another, very meaningful option - like singing in harmony with those you love best'.

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‘No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.’
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 02, 2010 10:53 pm 
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Very profound, and very true, Frelga. :)

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 03, 2010 7:34 am 
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Frelga has it right. I think these days a church is a social convention rather than a religious one. Having said that, a church is a great way to understand one's own beliefs.

A fantastic debate on Intelligence Squared about one church in particular:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8XpGyHJZ9b0

Quite enlightening on both sides.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 03, 2010 8:20 am 
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Lidless wrote:
I think these days a church is a social convention rather than a religious one.


It is a social convention, but one that is (or should be) spiritually-based. There is a beauty and a nourishment of the soul that comes from worshiping with others.

More later.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 03, 2010 10:42 am 
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Lidless wrote:
I think these days a church is a social convention rather than a religious one.


Not for me. ;) It's both, sure, but my social life is pretty good and I certainly don't 'need' church for that. ;) What church is to me, partly, is community. Which is a much deeper thing than mere social convention. Church throws a lot of very unlikely people together, who are united by a common thread (not unlike Tolkien fans :D except that Tolkien fans are probably all quite similar ;) ) and who are expected to love each other, nonetheless.

Also, it seems to me that as the UK in particular has got more secular that there is less merely 'cultural' Christianity around. The only people who are going to bother with church are people who really do take church seriously, if you follow me.

Surely church was more of a social convention, say, 200 years ago, when the youngest son of a fairly well off family would be expected to go into the church as his career, whereas his older brother would inherit the house and estate. (I immediately think of the odious Mr Collins from Pride and Prejudice. :D )

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 03, 2010 4:23 pm 
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Pearly Di wrote:
Lidless wrote:
I think these days a church is a social convention rather than a religious one.


Not for me. ;) It's both, sure, but my social life is pretty good and I certainly don't 'need' church for that. ;) What church is to me, partly, is community. Which is a much deeper thing than mere social convention. Church throws a lot of very unlikely people together, who are united by a common thread (not unlike Tolkien fans :D except that Tolkien fans are probably all quite similar ;) ) and who are expected to love each other, nonetheless.

Also, it seems to me that as the UK in particular has got more secular that there is less merely 'cultural' Christianity around. The only people who are going to bother with church are people who really do take church seriously, if you follow me.

Surely church was more of a social convention, say, 200 years ago, when the youngest son of a fairly well off family would be expected to go into the church as his career, whereas his older brother would inherit the house and estate. (I immediately think of the odious Mr Collins from Pride and Prejudice. :D )


IAWD. The spiritual dimension is what distinguishes church from other groups, and to me much of the richness of the church "family" is that it is like a family in terms of bringing all sorts and types and ages and (financial) classes of people together in an association that is meant to be warmly mutually supportive and sometimes requires a lot of work to make so.

A church (or other religious association, I believe) is nothing like a social group whose members have many overlapping similarities and who are together because it brings them pleasure to be together. Those groups dissipate as soon as they stop being fun. Church, like family, hangs in there.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 03, 2010 5:15 pm 
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Quote:
Church, like family, hangs in there.


Churches are just as dependable as families. A lot of non-denominational churches end up being quite ephemeral. Many older churches within denominations have been moved or disbanded within the past few decades as their population base relocated and their existence became economically untenable. Sometimes congregations have fought their hierarchy over such moves in court.

I would say that a true community is the highest (and hardest) expression of the human social order. I also know for a fact that not everyone who goes to church gets anything spiritual out of it, but is there for purely social reasons, or under pressure from family members, or out of sheer habit. That doesn't mean churches aren't spiritual, but it does mean they are not a purely spiritual experience. They can't be, if they don't screen people for their spirituality at the door.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 03, 2010 5:33 pm 
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No, nothing is purely anything, of course. My point is just that without the spiritual dimension to at least pretend or aspire to, the church wouldn't exist in the first place.

Certainly churches are also like families in that not everyone wants to be at the gatherings, or is there for the same reason. :P But that's just where the distinction between church and purely social gatherings matters most, in my view. With social groups, there isn't the cohesion that comes from "we have to make this relationship work." There's no problem with walking away from a social group that's making different choices than you would make, or that has a few annoying members, or that doesn't provide the fun you'd hoped it would.

Not so with the kind of church I know best. When we voted to join a group of churches that actively welcomes LGBT members, one couple who'd been members for at least 20 years left the congregation, and it was not a trivial thing. (They were the only no votes at the meeting, so it was clear that the church had become something that didn't match their interpretation of God's will.)

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― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 03, 2010 6:03 pm 
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Well, it depends, I guess. As the old joke goes, Mr. Goldberg goes to shul to talk to God, and I go to shul to talk to Mr. Goldberg. ;)

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‘It’s a lot more complicated than that -’
‘No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.’
Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 03, 2010 6:17 pm 
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I have very negative feelings about religion and also about church as an institution. But I am not sure that this is the right thread to speak them out, so I wait for permission.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 03, 2010 6:24 pm 
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I see religion as a primarily social phenomenon anyway, so church and religion are nearly synonymous to me. The two cannot be separated. Spirituality, on the other hand, I see as primarily personal in nature, and does require church or religion.


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 03, 2010 6:27 pm 
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Nin, I don't doubt the reality of your negative experiences, and I don't dismiss them or you.

But Lalaith's first post asks "What makes the church unique in a positive way in today's culture?" She acknowledges that negatives exist, but seems (to me) to be asking what does work, and why.

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“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 03, 2010 6:34 pm 
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Interesting point: Quakers call the building itself a "Meeting House" and not a church. The "church" is the people, the community.

It is supposed to be so in other denominations, too...but most people think of going to "church" as going to the building.

You'll never hear a Quaker say "I'm going to church." Always, "I'm going to Meeting for Worship." It's a small difference, but I think an important one.

For me, the spiritual community is the most important thing - as Pearl has already said. The two church communities that I have belonged to in my adult life both functioned as a real family...which included various squabbles and petty grievances and occasional temper tantrums.

But...when push came to shove, they were there for you. No question.

When I went through my divorce, I was a member of a Quaker Meeting - and being part of that Meeting saved my sanity in so many ways. And, later, I was a member of a tiny little Presbyterian church (and also the music minister) in Boston. Congregation of about 75 - all walks of life, all ages, all colors and backgrounds...and personal beliefs ran the gamut from very conservation to very liberal. No matter - we all knew why we were there and we all supported each other. My father was a member of that little church for the four years he lived with me (after my mother's death) and I don't know what he would have done with himself had he not been welcomed into the community (and being a life-long Presbyterian, he was held in very high regard - they made him clerk of Session after just a few months!)

When he died, the entire church was literally at my door - wanting to know how they could help, what they could do. Praying with me, crying with me, holding me up. And the pastor came all the way down to New York with us to do the graveside service.

A church - at it's best - is the human personification of God's loving arms. Much, much more than a "social convention."

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 03, 2010 7:06 pm 
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Two columns on this subject were published in The Charlotte Observer on Aug. 10 and Aug. 21, 2000.

The first, headlined "Come to church and join the dance," gave reasons why attending a church matters, and the second, "Clumsy dancing," was about why churches repel so many people. They seem appropriate to this discussion.

Jane McAlister Pope wrote:
Where are you most likely to find Charlotte's average young adult on Sunday morning? Anywhere but church, according to The Charlotte Observer-WBTV News Carolinas Poll. Only 30 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds polled said they attended a house of worship in the past week.

The results don't surprise me. Like many, I was raised in a church but stopped going during college. Post-graduation, I looked haphazardly for a new church home but my attendance was sparse, my involvement slight. Spirituality was increasingly important to me, but organized religion was not. I was perfectly fine, thank you, seeking God on my own terms.
In my late 20s, though, I found my way back to church - and my only regret is not having done so sooner.

Here, then is advice gleaned from a couple of decades back in the pew. I offer it for those who suspect there's a kernel of truth in all this God talk but see churches as irrelevant, unnecessary or downright abhorrent. I'm necessarily writing from a Christian perspective because that's what I am, but I suspect much of this would also apply to membership in synagogues, mosques or any other religious community.

Come to church and ...

* Find a place to belong. Love isn't an abstract theological concept; it has to be lived out in community. Incredible strength and healing can arise from celebrating one another's joys and mourning one another's losses. When relationships break and friendships slip away, this extended family will endure. Doesn't that outweigh sleeping in on Sunday?

* Prepare to be surprised. There's a church nearby that's better than you think. Don't judge the whole of Christendom by the raving televangelist with bad hair - or, for that matter, by the somber preacher whose dreary sermons put you to sleep. If you were driven away by threats of hellfire or by sappy churchiness, keep looking. The Good News is too real to stay constrained by man-made distortions; it keeps breaking out despite what people do to it.

* Multiply your efforts to serve the world. Many hands can do more than two. Whatever the church's faults, it's done a pretty fair job over the years of feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, caring for the sick and generally carrying out the injunction to help "the least of these." Nowadays, many churches are turning their attention to caring for Earth, as well, seeking to be good stewards of God's creation. Got a cause? There's a church that will bless and further it.

* See the best and worst of human behavior. You are probably certain that the church is a hotbed of hypocrisy, and you're right. It's an excellent place to find greed, pride, lust and any other sin known to man. That's because the church is made up of - surprise! - imperfect human beings. (The next big surprise: You're one, too.) But imperfection is not necessarily a bad thing. When our rough, flawed personalities rub together, the friction makes heat but also polishes. If we tough it out together, we all come out shining.

And you're likely, too, to see demonstrations of human nature at its best, as churchgoers try (again, imperfectly) to imitate the radical love, compassion and sacrifice of Jesus.

* Create a future that's better than the past. Yes, there are events in the history of Christianity that stink to high heaven. But don't use the bloody mistakes of yesterday - or today - as an excuse. No human institution fully lives up to its ideals. If you're on board, you are better able to influence its course.

* Discover your place in the cosmos. Want to explore the meaning of life? Here's your chance to ask questions. You might discover that the teachings you rejected as a teen-ager make more sense when approached as mystery rather than force-fed as dogma.

* Lighten your load. Yes, a church is likely to ask you to part with some of the excess baggage - emotional, behavioral and financial - that you cling to so desperately. Learn the joy of letting go. You'll be happier for it.

* Graft onto the roots of tradition. A tree's roots not only pull water and nutrients from the soil, but keep it from toppling when storms arise. We need roots for the same reasons: nourishment and grounding. The teachings and rituals of the church feed our hearts and minds, while keeping us from blowing aimlessly about.

* Connect to something bigger than yourself. The point of Christianity isn't joining a church, it is encountering Jesus. When a church nourishes that relationship, it connects you to something more immense and yet more intimate than you can imagine.

* Join the dance. Yes, you can believe alone and pray alone and think great thoughts alone. But why miss out on the dance?

I don't pretend to fully understand the doctrine of the Trinity, but here's what it means to me: God is One, but within that One there is relationship, love, mutuality. In short, dancing. Not the erotic exclusiveness of the twosome - the couple whose love shuts out the world - but the circle dance of a trio that beckons onlookers to join.

If God loves best in community, who are we to set up ourselves as spiritual loners?


The follow-up:

Quote:
In my last column, I offered 10 reasons why belonging to a church makes more sense than trying to be a spiritual lone wolf. I did not do so out of naive idealism.

As fond as I am of my current church, - and that is very fond indeed - I am well aware that no church comes close to perfection. Sometimes the dance of spiritual fellowship becomes a clumsy tangle, marked more by toe-stomping than by grace.

Part of the reason for this is, as I noted before, that churches are made up of fallible, imperfect human beings. Every human institution fails to fully live up to its ideals, and the ideals in this case are especially high.
Here are a few surefire ways a church can repel newcomers and long-time members, too:

* Fight for control. Power struggles are particularly unseemly among followers of the man who taught that a true leader must be a servant.

* Muddle the message. A church with nothing to proclaim has no reason to exist. Some churches seem so afraid of offending someone that they might as well speak in whispers. Others claim to be worshipping God when it's obvious they're really devoted to a building, an organization or a charismatic leader.

* Amputate vital organs. Faith involves minds, hearts and hands. No one of these is expendable. A well-balanced church offers ample opportunities to learn, to question, to feel, to be inspired, and to serve.

* Ignore the rest of the world. Churches that resist looking past their stained-glass windows abandon their calling to help the poor and oppressed. If you want the world to come to you, first go to the world.

* Fail to greet a new face. Or a familiar one, for that matter. No one should be able to leave a service without having received a personal welcome. True community takes a lot more than this, of course, but it's the bare minimum.

* Look through grime-colored glasses. If you see only evil and decadence outside your church doors, you're not seeing clearly. Even a broken world has glints of glory. But in too many churches the tut-tuts far outnumber the alleluias.

* Analyze the text without telling the story. Bible scholarship can be fascinating, and there's a place for it in the church's educational mission. But it can't take the place of hearing the stories and absorbing them into your patterns of thinking and living.

* Enshrine the past. However unchanging and universal the message, it must be presented to each culture and each generation in ways that are fresh and comprehensible. Comfort with tradition can blind us to the need for new expressions of faith.

* Stop growing. Not in membership, but in understanding and maturity. Faith that stands still becomes stagnant.

Churches, like individuals, go astray when they substitute their own agenda for God's. Often it's a result of latching onto one aspect of Jesus or his teachings and ignoring the rest.

What Jesus taught and lived contains so many paradoxes that no hard and fast picture of him will stand. There's always more to uncover, always another direction to follow. The only way to be somewhat sure you're still on track is to keep studying scripture, keep praying, and keep questioning your own assumptions. It's that last part that trips up most of us, both churches and individuals.

And tripping makes dancing awfully difficult.



Edited to remove certain personal information because this is not a private forum.


Last edited by WampusCat on Fri Feb 05, 2010 5:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 03, 2010 7:22 pm 
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Lali Beag Bídeach
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:love: :bow: Thank you, all! (Yes, every one of you.)

I will write more later.

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