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PostPosted: Wed Feb 03, 2010 7:59 pm 
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Living in hope
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Wampus, those essays are absolutely wonderful. Thank you for sharing them.

That Jane McAlister Pope person is one smart cookie, all right.

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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 8:03 pm 
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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.


Well, it might, but we wouldn't call it a church then. ;)

JS--

One might say that of any group of caring, connected people. Some fraternal organizations come to mind, along with some other communities we're all familiar with...what I'm saying is that for me the answer to Lali's question is as ineffable as faith itself. If one is a believer, a church offers something more than the above. If one is not, it doesn't, because there's nothing more to offer.


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 03, 2010 8:15 pm 
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The spiritual/religious aspect of a church is definitive. Churches are institutions based around religious belief. My friend Philbert might attend my church without any religious motive, because he's friends with some other members and likes the yummy pot lucks, but that doesn't mean it's not a church. Without any core beliefs, my congregation would never have formed and the church wouldn't be there for Philbert to enjoy. He would have to go all the way over to the Sons of Norway lodge to find his macaroni in white sauce.

I don't think anyone's saying the nonspiritual benefits of churches exist nowhere else. But they do exist in (healthy) churches.

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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 9:23 pm 
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If an organization did everything a church did, but was secular, would its equally secular participants be conscious of missing anything? This isn't simply a rhetorical question. I'm thinking of places like the local Ethical Society, which has all the physical and emotional trappings of church-ness, but without religion at the center. What they're getting out of it, they wouldn't call spiritual. But how different is it?


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 03, 2010 9:26 pm 
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Primula Baggins wrote:
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.


That's why I waited... and asked. (And I enjoy reading, although with great detachement.)

This said, I have not mentionned negative experiences, as I have no such experience with church, in the sens of a rejection. It's more a of a complete bewilderment. But no personal negative experiences. (nor positive, either)

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 03, 2010 9:33 pm 
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Thank you, Nin. I really didn't want you to think I was dismissing your views.

axordil wrote:
If an organization did everything a church did, but was secular, would its equally secular participants be conscious of missing anything? This isn't simply a rhetorical question. I'm thinking of places like the local Ethical Society, which has all the physical and emotional trappings of church-ness, but without religion at the center. What they're getting out of it, they wouldn't call spiritual. But how different is it?


I'm not sure whether this is a useful distinction, Ax. Certainly organizations other than churches provide community, support, and social fellowship for their members. That's "spiritual" in the sense that it nurtures the spirit of community members.

But I wouldn't call it religious, so to me it's different from church. Being "religious" goes beyond giving church members nice, warm "religious feelings"; it's about actually living out the tenets of your faith. Which is easier to do with community support, and undertaking the work as a community of faith. In other words, it's specialized community, like a sports team: it's got a purpose beyond being a social gathering place and making people feel good.

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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: Thu Feb 04, 2010 3:27 pm 
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Must the tenets of a faith be supernatural in nature? Obviously if one goes by the definition in Hebrews, sure, but could one not have a spiritually fulfilling faith in, say, the essential propriety of doing right by one's fellow human beings? Goodness knows that's an assurance of something hoped for, and a conviction in something seen too infrequently...but it works, if it works, with or without an extranatural agency. Or I'd like to think it should, at any rate.


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 04, 2010 3:38 pm 
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Wampus, those essays were wonderful. Thank you for sharing them.

We all need that sense of community. Reading this thread, I realized: I get it here.

:grouphug:

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 04, 2010 3:55 pm 
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axordil wrote:
Must the tenets of a faith be supernatural in nature?


No, they don't have to be, but I would say that the tenets of the Christian faith include the supernatural.

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but could one not have a spiritually fulfilling faith in, say, the essential propriety of doing right by one's fellow human beings?


Any professing Christian worthy of the name should find 'the essential propriety of doing right by one's fellow human beings' to be an essential part of their faith.

I think that a lot of Christians don't actually separate that from the 'supernatural' element. The thing is to love God and one's neighbour.

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 04, 2010 4:00 pm 
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I would turn that around and say that someone who didn't believe in God wouldn't be seeking out a church. So, it's not that they cannot find/join a group that acts on that premise....but that the group wouldn't want to call itself a church. It would call itself something else - whether social, charitable, intellectual...whatever it is. Church means religion, almost by definition.

Church is about the cross...it reaches out infinitely in two dimensions. The vertical is understood as our relationship with God, which is very transcendental and hard to talk about or share with others in anything beyond "you know what I mean?" The horizontal is our relationship with one another - recognizing our fellow human beings as brothers and sisters, and forming bonds of love between them. You have to start very small with that - love your own family, your own community - but ultimately this plane stretches out to include the whole world. I don't mean in a 'love of humanity' way, but in actually loving particular people.

So, in that sense, church is about relationship - relationship with God and with others. Certainly, many other things in life are also about relationship, particularly family. So, church isn't unique for being about relationship, but it is unique in the type of relationship it is building. Does that make sense?

Church is also a way of keeping embers burning, keeping weeds from choking out new growth, and helping people to run the race. It is tough going to live out spirituality on your own; church gives you a framework and community in which to do so. People to keep you accountable, lend you a hand, and encourage you through the difficult times. In other words, a source of grace. I don't know how often this passage has been used to describe "church", but it came to mind just now for me:

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Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, "My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me."

And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will." And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? "Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."

He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, "My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done." Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. Then He came to the disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. "Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!" Matthew 26:36-46


It's more grim than what I usually think of when I think of church. But it is also...more indicative of what church is like outside of the happy, feel-good times. When your soul is sick to death of what life has thrown at you, it is people to pray with you. And it's a wake up call for when we're all asleep. I have seen the "Could you not keep watch for one hour with me?" verse used on posters for Eucharistic Adoration, and I think it is appropriate in that context. I haven't heard the 'one hour' applied to weekly services, though I suppose it could be. Not that all church services are that short ;).

One other thing church can be is a sanctuary and a refuge. Depends on the person, the circumstance...and the church. But I'd be silly to deny it.


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 04, 2010 4:08 pm 
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I would turn that around and say that someone who didn't believe in God wouldn't be seeking out a church.


Lots of people seek...some of them already believe and some of them don't. Not all people who attend or participate in church are believers.

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So, it's not that they cannot find/join a group that acts on that premise....but that the group wouldn't want to call itself a church. It would call itself something else - whether social, charitable, intellectual...whatever it is. Church means religion, almost by definition.


You should try attending a Unitarian church sometime...or even a Quaker Meeting.

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 05, 2010 7:08 am 
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I stand corrected. :oops:

I know some people go to church just out of social habit / convention without requiring the spiritual side, but the majority go for the reasons eloquently stated above by several posters.

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 05, 2010 8:37 am 
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Wonderful essays, Wampus (I finally got 'round to reading them!)

And I still have more to say...but it will have to wait.

Excellent idea for a thread, Lali. I love this place! :D

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 05, 2010 2:48 pm 
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axordil wrote:
If an organization did everything a church did, but was secular, would its equally secular participants be conscious of missing anything? This isn't simply a rhetorical question. I'm thinking of places like the local Ethical Society, which has all the physical and emotional trappings of church-ness, but without religion at the center. What they're getting out of it, they wouldn't call spiritual. But how different is it?


I’ve often wondered this myself. I think that a secular ‘church’ would be a great thing.

Lidless wrote:
I stand corrected. :oops:

I know some people go to church just out of social habit / convention without requiring the spiritual side, but the majority go for the reasons eloquently stated above by several posters.


I have no doubt that a great many church-goers, particularly in places with an established church like England, attend more for social than religious reasons. This would also apply I imagine in places with extremely high rates of religious service attendance, like the American Bible Belt. Take many churchgoers out of Mississippi and put them in Manchester, and I’d expect their rates of attendance to decline sharply. Ditto for the reverse.

As to the thread's topic, isn't there actually a passage in the NT stating that all Christians should be part of a church?


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 05, 2010 2:54 pm 
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On the other hand, places with low rates of church membership, and little or no social expectation that people attend, tend to have great churches. Most of the members are there because they want to be, and they're more likely to choose to be involved beyond Sunday morning. At least, that's been my experience for 23 years in my current church, which is located in the least churched city in the least churched state in the country. Yet we continue to thrive.

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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: Fri Feb 05, 2010 5:00 pm 
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Lord_Morningstar wrote:
I’ve often wondered this myself. I think that a secular ‘church’ would be a great thing.


The British Humanist Association is sort of like a secular church. They have Humanist celebrants, services for marriage, baby-naming and funerals and other very church-like attributes.

http://www.humanism.org.uk/home

There are similar organizations in the US and elsewhere. The "Ethical Culture Society" is one that comes to mind. My mother attended one of their schools when she was little.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethical_Culture

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 05, 2010 6:10 pm 
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First, thank you to everyone who has replied. I really do appreciate it. As Jewel said, this place is awesome! :love:

Nin, if you feel like contributing your thoughts, you should.

Yes, LordM, there is a verse that tells believers not to "forsake" gathering together. I think the particular tangent I was trying to get to (which has been answered by some despite my lack of ability to communicate it well) was: Why would a non-believer want to join a church? He can find social outlets elsewhere; he can give to charity through a number of secular organizations. He can enjoy great art and architecture anywhere, and he can participate in social reform groups outside of the church.

I think the answer to that is a non-believer won't want to join a church--unless he is interested in matters of faith or unless he sees the loving community of a church and wants to be a part of it. (As a Christian, I guess the correct answer would be that a non-believer would be drawn to the church or faith through the Holy Spirit.)

I do think there are some interesting implications for modern churches. I'm just not quite sure what those are yet exactly. :blackeye:

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 05, 2010 8:03 pm 
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Our church has a member who is not a Christian, but a practicing Jew and a member of a local synagogue. Her husband is a member (and a Christian), and she attends with him and is on the membership rolls. She's active in the church. She doesn't participate in communion or the recitation of the creed or anything incompatible with her own faith. Yet she definitely is part of the congregation—because it lets her participate in an important part of her husband's life, not as an expression of her personal beliefs.

I know that some people (Christian and Jewish) would find this problematic or even offensive, but it works for her and her husband (and her rabbi; he's come to talk to our adult Sunday School class a couple of times), and for us.

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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: Fri Feb 05, 2010 9:07 pm 
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Thank you, Lali.

Maybe in the end, the answer is that I am not attracted to any form of social group behaviour and as soon as I got involved with groups which met in some way regularly, I feel often uncomfortable, I think of my theater group in university, for instance.

And I also wonder about some personal experiences...

Well, anyway, I love to visit churches, beautiful churches, if I visit a city, I'll go see the cathedrale and some of my most poignant travelling memories are about churches. (St. Karl in Vienna.... :love: ).

But this is about architecture and culture.

Besides this, the institution leaves me bewildered. A service, I find usually boring: a pastor speaking about a biblical passage which would be often better interpretated by a historian or a litterature professor, an improvised choir, singing hymns which sound massacred... nothing to look forward to.. but then in difficult situations, like especially my father's funeral, I find no solace in church. On the contrary, it disturbs what I need most for grief or reflection: quiet and reflexion and a reasonable amount of doubt. Maybe it's because I feel like I already know what I will hear before even getting there and as if I'm in church, it's protestant, there is no musical lithurgy which is beautiful enough to make me stay for that reason. It's... intellectually mediocre and lithurgally boring.

Obviously I am not active in a community and I would not want it, but that may be part of a reason why I don't get engaged first. For instance, in Geneva, we have a German church. I'd like to know more Germans to play some typical German games, to talk German to people of my age, that even more when I was still in my marriage. But nothing that the fact that it would be within a religious community holds me back. And it's a very open religious community where noone would expect you to accept religious contraints.

So, maybe the fact is that for me church is empty: as I don't see any spiritual side, the social side is shallow and if you want to take part in it without believing, it means a lie. And I think that the social side is in better hand with secular organisations which will not make differences.

Unlike what some other people expressed, I feel no need either for any atheist or ethic spiritual gathering in any form. I love discussion about the world and all, but not in an organised, regular way.

Also, although it may have nothing to do with the congregation I could be part of now, if I wanted to, I can't look aside and forgot every of those other aspects which represent church throughout the centuries. Maybe too much historian after all...

So in fact, I often wonder too: "Why church??? WHat the heck drives people to this organisation? Why do they spend regularly so much time in this place which I find boring and ennoying?" I read the answers with intellectual interest, but nothing in all this rings an emotional or even less spiritual bell in me. It's interesting like a math theorem - totally beyond my world.

I hope not have offended any persons here, I am often not sure where the line is drawn in this forum.

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 05, 2010 10:11 pm 
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Nin, that was exactly the kind of post that's welcome in this forum: an honest expression of your own experience and feelings that does not judge anyone else's.

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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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