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PostPosted: Thu Mar 07, 2013 9:13 am 
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You see, for me, on many points, it would be the contrary: I'd rather not celebrate christmas if it meant that I had to go to church or act as if I believed in God and Jesus Christ being his son. And yet, I refuse to be told that a celebration, because it has no religious meaning to me, is meaningless or a contradiction, or even that its meaning in this atheist way is "less" than the religious meaning.

Maybe it depends on what you see in a ceremony, a tradition or a way of life: if you see it as mainly religious, you will feel that without the religious aspect you miss the essential point, whereas when you see it as mainly cultural, you will feel that without the religious aspect, you get the essential point. Both are perceptions.

Anthy, I think I get your point about your feeling about religion in general and christmas in specific; where you describe religion essentially as a personal and spiritual experience, if I understand you right.

Eventually, Id like to ask the question again, I asked before: What is religion, then, if it's not part of culture? If it's only about personal faith, how do you come to so complexe organisations as the Catholic church and its pope- which brings us back to the beginning... in some way (But I do think too, that the thread could be splitted or renamed, as you prefer)

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Last edited by Nin on Thu Mar 07, 2013 10:52 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 07, 2013 10:38 am 
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Nin wrote:
Eventually, Id like to ask the question again, I asked before: What is religion, then, if it's not part of culture? If it's only about personal faith, how do you come to so complexe organisations as the Catholic church and its pope- which brings us back to the beginning... in some way (But I do think too, that the thread could be splitted or renamed, as you prefer)


Your question made me think more deeply. Yes, faith is part of culture. Of course it is. I was confusing 'culture' with 'nationality' ... not the same thing at all.

Religion begins, IMO, begins with a personal faith, a communication/relationship with God. Without that personal connection and experience, religion would become an empty ritual, just going through the motions. But faith is also communal as well as personal. For a Christian, that means the people of God in both Testaments. Worship is both private - you can pray anywhere, including the privacy of your own bedroom - and communal - you are expected to worship with fellow believers.

My church family is a support network for me, both spiritually, in terms of teaching and encouragement which help my faith grow and develop*, and emotionally, in terms of friendship and pastoral support.

* I also think it's very important to get spiritual sustenance from sources outside your local church, IMO, as local churches can also become very insular and think their way of doing things is the only way to do it. And it's important for personal faith to be stretched and challenged, not merely 'spoonfed'.

Talking things over with you guys certainly stretches me. It's good for me.

:wooper:

As to how a personal faith can turn into a complex organisation, religions develop organically. From being a minority sect within Judaism, Christianity became a more organised and cohesive 'church' system within the first 150 years of its existence.

(And my Protestant bias says that the simpler the organisation, the better. ;) )

If a religion is to survive, then it's got to organise itself somehow. One of the great things about Judaism, for example, is what a family-oriented faith it is ... the Passover is a family meal, not dependent on a worship building. :)

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 07, 2013 2:44 pm 
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Okay, I could write like two pages of responses to these four posts. Maybe this is a darned good topic.

I think splitting it off would be a great idea, and I wouldn't mind being the threadstarter, since I think I was the one who pulled us off course, here.

I'm going to go offline and compose a mammoth response. :)

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 07, 2013 3:02 pm 
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Easier said than done, I'm afraid. When I actually went to make the split, I really couldn't find a clean dividing point. The thread morphed from the one topic to the other so gradually that there are a lot of posts that bridge them. So much so that I wasn't able to pull the trigger. Maybe Prim will have better luck if she makes the attempt.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 07, 2013 3:06 pm 
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Thank you, Sir V, for trying. If it does turn out to be fairly impossible to do, I can just start a new thread and we can take off from there.

I have gotten into trouble before for talking in one thread about something that was written in another thread. :( Would it be appropriate to start my new thread with my (coming soon ;)) mammoth post, which will quote many of the words posted here in this thread?

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"A cage," Éowyn said. "To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.”
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 07, 2013 3:08 pm 
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<from under couch> Prim who?

I would be happy to take a look at it, but not until this evening. My parents' medical needs (for quite ordinary checkups, thank God; they're fine) ate half of Monday and Tuesday and most of Wednesday; I didn't get to my desk until 3 yesterday. And I'm behind on three projects and need to catch up today.

In other words, I shouldn't be here now.

:oops:

ETA: (a) Anthy, this is one of the best osgiliations ever. Just sayin'. (b) I'd say start the thread, and if I can find an organic way to move previous posts over, I can merge them into the thread. I'd pick them so as to leave you the threadstarter, and you can edit the new first post (or I'll edit in whatever you ask, as that won't leave an edit mark).

And now I have to go resume spelunking through the circulatory system.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 07, 2013 3:30 pm 
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Hmmm. Did you guys... ? I mean, it was kind of a flitting image, really corner-of-the-eye stuff, but... well... I almost thought I saw Prim posting here. :spin:

Clearly, I need more coffee. :)


However, suddenly and completely out of the blue, the idea of starting a new thread sounds like a good idea.

:horse:

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"A cage," Éowyn said. "To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.”
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 07, 2013 3:45 pm 
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Sorry, but I disagree. I think you should keep posting in this thread, rather than starting a new one and separating your thoughts from the posts that led to them. I'll take another stab at splitting the thread later.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 07, 2013 4:02 pm 
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Okay. I'm still writing my Big Momma post, so I'll just post it here. When it's done. Whenever that might be.

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"A cage," Éowyn said. "To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.”
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 07, 2013 4:23 pm 
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WampusCat wrote:
The Book of Common Prayer that Episcopalians use lists two sacraments, Baptism and the Eucharist, that were given to the church by Jesus.

It also lists 5 sacramental rites that evolved in the church: confirmation, ordination, matrimony, reconciliation of a penitent (confession) and unction of the sick (anointing for healing).

Reconciliation is described as the process of confessing to God in the presence of a priest, who delivers the assurance of pardon and the grace of absolution. Although it is a part of worship services, there is also a specific rite that can be used privately with a priest. A non-priest can hear confession, as well, but he or she gives a declaration of forgiveness rather than absolution. (Personally, I consider that a silly distinction, but I was born into a less hierarchical denomination.)


Thank you, Wampus. I will shamefully admit that I used to know all this, having memorized it for my confirmation in the Espiscopal church. Funny how some things stick, and others don’t.

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So yes, Protestants confess, at least Episcopalians do.


I thought so. :upsidedown:

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As for Christmas ... the most joyful Christmases I have experienced were the ones that were most steeped in the spiritual aspects of the holiday, no matter what the state of the outward traditions. That's just as well, since I often have to work on Christmas and on the days around it as well.


Absolutely. I am personally so unattached to the symbolism of Christmas that I get in trouble, at times. My mother-in-law was to have Christmas at her house, one year, and fell very ill the day before. :( Since I was working (I ALWAYS seem to be working), I couldn’t do step in and host it. Not on the 25th.

So I suggested we do it three days later, when everyone could be there and hopefully my MIL was feeling well enough to celebrate. I got many stares as if I had grown pineapples out of my head, but really, does the day itself matter? Does it have to be on the 25th to be Christmas?

Nope. We had a great Christmas, three days after "Christmas". To me, stuff like that just doesn’t matter.

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It's been difficult for me celebrating with my son and his wife, because they are not attuned to the religious meaning at all. Christmas is about gifts and lights -- both of which I love -- but not really about God. That makes it harder for me to find the quiet, deep moments that feed my soul. Or, for that matter, the outward actions such as church services or helping at shelters.


That truly would be difficult. :hug: Perhaps things will change for them, as they grow a bit older… sometimes it does. Meanwhile, I wish, and not for the first time, that we lived closer together.



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Anthy wrote:
But that is because I live in the USA, I think. Those of us who are the children and grandchildren of immigrants just don't have the time as a coherent group and the history that other people do, and that history... as a PEOPLE... is what is getting tied into religion in other places. I tend to see religion and culture as being more loosely connected, but I have learned in other places it is very tightly associated indeed.

I think it's easier to separate the two (culture and religion) when you are hereditarily more of a "mutt", as many of us here in the USA are. For example, up until about a year ago, I believed I was part Irish (my grandfather always said he was Irish). He was a Catholic, but through the help of people on this board, I found out he was actually probably English. Not a big deal, but my cousins still define themselves as "Irish", because of this man, and attribute everything from their love of alcohol to their temper issues to their Irish roots. Which I know they don't have.


I think that there is a strong distinction between your ancestry and the culture(s) that you were actually bought up in. For example, one of my grandmothers was German, or rather, born in Queensland of Prussian immigrant families. But it would be simply untrue of me to attribute any part of my personality or identity to Germany or Prussia. My cultural identity is entirely Anglo-Australian. Of course, I suppose that I could have taken an interest in German culture, learned to speak German and subsequently started to identify as a German-Australian, but given the fact that we are talking about one grandparent who I hardly knew it would be pretty tenuous.


Which dovetails into my point, which is that when we have a “selection”, as it were, of cultural identities, sometimes we just “select” and self-identify when we really are NOT a product of that culture. Which is why it is so ironic that my cousins are so very “Irish” in their self-identities, when they are actually not Irish by heritage at all.

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As a side note, I also think that there is a tendency of people to ignore or gloss over Anglo-Saxon ancestry, viewing it as being a void that it is filled out by ‘exotic’ ancestors from Ireland or Scotland or Germany or wherever. People with one Scottish grandparent will claim to be Scottish. There is an obvious disconnect between the number of Americans who identify as being of English background in the census and the number with obviously Anglo-Saxon surnames.


Interesting. Is being English less “colorful” than Scottish or Irish? I think when people ask me what my heritage is, they are referring to my coloring, and I tell them Scottish because that is (probably) where my red hair came from. (Plus, my maiden name is Bruce. Fairly Scottish, that.) But you are right, I am English as well. I think. Being an American mutt is a long-running voyage of discovery, heritage-wise.




Nin wrote:
And yet, I refuse to be told that a celebration, because it has no religious meaning to me, is meaningless or a contradiction, or even that its meaning in this atheist way is "less" than the religious meaning.


Ah. And here we have it, I think. I am concerned that my befuddled reaction to your thoughts has something to do with you writing this now. I will still admit that the idea that someone quite firmly against the idea of God can find meaning in a religious holiday just jams up my head. But by admitting that confusion, I might have made you feel like what I was REALLY saying is that you had no right to find meaning in it.

Please accept my honest assertion that that was never my intent. I have written, repeatedly, that I am glad you find such beauty in the secular celebration of Christmas. It actually makes me feel very warm inside that you can find such joy in this season. I HAVE learned from you, Nin. I'm sorry if in my process of learning to accept what you are saying, I have inadvertently seemed to belittle your feelings.

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Maybe it depends on what you see in a ceremony, a tradition or a way of life: if you see it as mainly religious, you will feel that without the religious aspect you miss the essential point, whereas when you see it as mainly cultural, you will feel that without the religious aspect, you get the essential point. Both are perceptions.


Yes. I have learned this, from you.

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Anthy, I think I get your point about your feeling about religion in general and christmas in specific; where you describe religion essentially as a personal and spiritual experience, if I understand you right.


You do understand me right. :) It IS for me a profoundly spiritual experience. The things that come along are great, but they are not why I love Christmas. They are not really "Christmas", at all. For me, of course.

(As an example: a friend of mine travelled to China, many years back, and saw something that still send shivers up my spine; she saw a big presentation of Santa on a cross. <shivers> I'm sure it was innocently done; to some who are not familiar with who is supposed to be on that cross, Santa is enough of a Christmas symbol that, you know, it works. For me? OY. Big Double OY. Santa has nothing to do with that cross. And the man who was on that cross has EVERYTHING to do with Christmas. For me.)

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Eventually, Id like to ask the question again, I asked before: What is religion, then, if it's not part of culture? If it's only about personal faith, how do you come to so complexe organisations as the Catholic church and its pope- which brings us back to the beginning... in some way (But I do think too, that the thread could be splitted or renamed, as you prefer)


Well, that is a good question. I think that the complexity of religious organizations tends to turn off a lot of spiritual people. If religion is defined as only having to do with church structure, then I am rather emphatically not religious. Religions are founded by people, many of them very selflessly trying to help other people. But people's characters tend to fit a bell curve. Some people in religious power are really trying to do the right thing for their followers. Some of them are simply power mongers. A few are... monsters.

I try not to confuse what God has for me with what people do. I think there are a lot of people disappointed in God, because of what people do in his name. Which is unfair, really.

Pearly Di wrote:
Religion begins, IMO, begins with a personal faith, a communication/relationship with God. Without that personal connection and experience, religion would become an empty ritual, just going through the motions.


And I think many times it is exactly that. Another thing I have learned, though, is that people can find comfort in the rituals of religion, quite separate from the faith of it.

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But faith is also communal as well as personal. For a Christian, that means the people of God in both Testaments. Worship is both private - you can pray anywhere, including the privacy of your own bedroom - and communal - you are expected to worship with fellow believers.


I have struggled a bit, with this. The times I hear God the most clearly, I am embarrassed to admit, is when I am with my horses. :help: People distract me, and the jumble of sensory input I experience at church distracts me even further.

But I go to church anyway, because I should.

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Talking things over with you guys certainly stretches me. It's good for me.


Me, too. :love:

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"A cage," Éowyn said. "To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.”
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 08, 2013 9:55 am 
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A short answer (I am busy with preparations for my trip) and a remark on several points:

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Ah. And here we have it, I think. I am concerned that my befuddled reaction to your thoughts has something to do with you writing this now. I will still admit that the idea that someone quite firmly against the idea of God can find meaning in a religious holiday just jams up my head. But by admitting that confusion, I might have made you feel like what I was REALLY saying is that you had no right to find meaning in it.


I think it came from the adjective "befuddled" - and I never meant it feels like someone has no right to find a meaning, but somehow this meaning is not the "real" meaning, the "real", the right, the deep meaning of christmas (and maybe of life in general) has to be religious and anything else is not as deep, as soul-filling, as meaningful... it is quite often implied when people talk about religion. Maybe on the other hand, from me and other atheists is implied that religious thinking is more attached to superstition, less tolerant -I don't know, I hope so not. Sometimes I wish I could believe in God, it must be comforting. But I can't.

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I'm sure it was innocently done; to some who are not familiar with who is supposed to be on that cross, Santa is enough of a Christmas symbol that, you know, it works. For me? OY. Big Double OY. Santa has nothing to do with that cross. And the man who was on that cross has EVERYTHING to do with Christmas. For me.


For me, neither nor are symbols of christmas. Christmas is not about the cross - it's about the baby, the birth, the beginning, the promise, not the end. I see nothing bitter in christmas and the cross is quite bitter. But Santa: I was never raised in the idea of Santa, never told, Santa brings the presents. We have a "Christkind" in Germany, but that was relativly unimportant too. I knew it was my parents, it seems to me forever. And that is precisely the magic: family making gifts, giving to each other, getting something without having to do anything to deserve it, just out of the desire at least once a year to give. The precise day is not important, but the winter is and the dark.

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But I go to church anyway, because I should


Why should you? Why do people go to church? This is something I have often wondered about... especially when people complain about their "church" afterwards. What does it offer you? (My answer would be cultural background and social integration, but that's the cold atheist analysis)

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 08, 2013 3:06 pm 
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Nin wrote:
A short answer (I am busy with preparations for my trip) and a remark on several points:

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Ah. And here we have it, I think. I am concerned that my befuddled reaction to your thoughts has something to do with you writing this now. I will still admit that the idea that someone quite firmly against the idea of God can find meaning in a religious holiday just jams up my head. But by admitting that confusion, I might have made you feel like what I was REALLY saying is that you had no right to find meaning in it.


I think it came from the adjective "befuddled" - and I never meant it feels like someone has no right to find a meaning, but somehow this meaning is not the "real" meaning, the "real", the right, the deep meaning of christmas (and maybe of life in general) has to be religious and anything else is not as deep, as soul-filling, as meaningful... it is quite often implied when people talk about religion. Maybe on the other hand, from me and other atheists is implied that religious thinking is more attached to superstition, less tolerant -I don't know, I hope so not. Sometimes I wish I could believe in God, it must be comforting. But I can't.



Well, all I can say is that perhaps you got caught in the fallout from my learning curve. :( When I say I am "befuddled", I am perhaps being more honest than tactful, and tact is a highly underrated phenomenon. I should, perhaps, investigate the concept a little more fully.

I think what you are saying here is that people should stop judging other people on what sings to their hearts. :) To that, I can only agree.


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Quote:
But I go to church anyway, because I should


Why should you? Why do people go to church? This is something I have often wondered about... especially when people complain about their "church" afterwards. What does it offer you? (My answer would be cultural background and social integration, but that's the cold atheist analysis)


Well, I am perhaps not the best one to ask this question. I go to church because... I should. Because my husband really finds a lot of meaning in it, and I want to be there with him, as his partner, there at church. Because I do often learn things written in the Bible that help me focus on being a better person. I like that my church is so supportive of our community, and I LOVE how a huge chunk of our congregation will volunteer their time to mowing lawns for the elderly and replacing fire alarms in mobile home parks. My church has a big committment in Mexico, and we have funded and built about 50 houses there, so far. We also have a team which makes weekly runs across the border, and delivers food and school supplies and such things. I probably wouldn't be involved in any programs like these, sadly, if I didn't have a church which was so encouraging, so supportive, so human-needs focused.

But mostly I go because I should. :help: I dunno, Nin. I just don't feel it like some people do. As I wrote above, I tend to feel God's presence in the ABSENCE of people. There sure are a lot of people at church. :shock:

So, yeah. For me, I think your "cold" atheist analysis is spot on, with this one.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 08, 2013 4:13 pm 
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On my opinion, a "church" should be about community. An extended family. The best churches function like this. A family....complete with gossip, petty squabbles, disagreements and outright hostility along with the love, support and caring.

I think that corporate worship also plays a part. Whether sitting in silence at a Quaker Meeting or singing hymns in a crowded Protestant church, there is something important about doing it together. I also enjoy the liturgy, especially if I am involved in a choir singing the (Latin) mass because it is something solemn and old.

I don't feel "obliged" to attend a worship service, and right now I don't belong to any congregation. Working in a Catholic school, I get my fill of services and group prayers. But when a church truly functions as a community...when a church acts as a the hands and feet of Christ, it can be a very powerful thing.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 08, 2013 4:26 pm 
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Nin wrote:
Why should you? Why do people go to church? This is something I have often wondered about... especially when people complain about their "church" afterwards. What does it offer you? (My answer would be cultural background and social integration, but that's the cold atheist analysis)


My church family gives me pastoral support. The teaching I receive at my church helps to build me up in my faith. I enjoy singing with our music group: the act of worship is personally fulfilling to me, a joyous act.

I am also a lay minister, so I have preaching duties and often lead worship. But I was a regular worshipper long before I 'had' to do anything. And I wanted to do it. Serving the church is fulfilling, as well as challenging and humbling.

'Cultural background' ... to a certain extent, I suppose, yet Christians often find themselves sharing space with other people who profess the same faith but are very different from them. We wouldn't always naturally be friends were it not for the faith that unites us. Since we all have a natural preference to prefer people who are like us, it does Christians good to make an effort to have fellowship with folk who are different from them.

Also, my little suburban, mostly-white church has some multi-cultural diversity, despite the homogeneity of the area.

There's a lot more to church than 'social integration'. People seek out the numinous, an encounter with the Divine. They might not express it that way, but I'd say there was something missing, if they weren't.

Anthy ... I think you are a contemplative! :)

So am I, or at least I warm to a lot of contemplative spirituality (right up my street) but I do enjoy many aspects of communal worship and fellowship as well.

ETA:

JewelSong wrote:
But when a church truly functions as a community...when a church acts as a the hands and feet of Christ, it can be a very powerful thing.


Yes. :)

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Di's latest post reminds me of being at a Bible study the other day...

At one point while an older lady was speaking, I looked at her and thought something to the effect, "Lord if it weren't for this study, I would never have ado with this lady, nor most of the other people in this room. Yet as I look upon her, and hear her speak, as I sense your divine nature in her, truly I cannot help but be aware of my profound love for her."

From a worldly perspective, it really makes no sense, especially when you know you love people you're not even sure you like all that much. :scratch:

What I've been doing lately is trying to remember that when I attend church, that I am there first to worship God. Loving others is an act of worship.


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 08, 2013 4:40 pm 
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JewelSong wrote:
On my opinion, a "church" should be about community. An extended family. The best churches function like this.


This is a very hard thing to find as an adult outside of a church. When you're young you can get that sense of community in school but when you're out of school there aren't many options. Some lucky few can find it at work but most of us have to make do with a lose circle of friends which doesn't quite provide that "we are all part of this, we are in this together" sense of belonging that church can bring. It's just about the only thing I envy from the life of believers.

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yovargas wrote:
JewelSong wrote:
On my opinion, a "church" should be about community. An extended family. The best churches function like this.


This is a very hard thing to find as an adult outside of a church. When you're young you can get that sense of community in school but when you're out of school there aren't many options. Some lucky few can find it at work but most of us have to make do with a lose circle of friends which doesn't quite provide that "we are all part of this, we are in this together" sense of belonging that church can bring. It's just about the only thing I envy from the life of believers.


You are quite right, yov. My husband has four siblings, and of the 3 in the brood who are married, all of those people met their spouses at church. Just about all of my friends are church buddies, or horse buddies. A fact occurred to me way after the event: when we had our anniversary party here, every single person out of the 35 who were here were conservative Christians. (Well, with the exception of my new neighbor, who is a hard-'n'-fast atheist ex-hippy liberal. :) He had a really good time, strangely. I only hope he never knows how surrounded he was by such weirdos... :P)

SirDennis, how wonderful. :love:

Quote:
Anthy ... I think you are a contemplative! :)


I don't know what this is, Di. :(

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 08, 2013 5:02 pm 
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I had always heard the word used as an adjective, not as a noun, but looking it up quickly reveals this definition:

Quote:
A person whose life is devoted primarily to prayer, esp. in a monastery or convent.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 08, 2013 5:06 pm 
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Voronwë the Faithful wrote:
I had always heard the word used as an adjective, not as a noun, but looking it up quickly reveals this definition:

Quote:
A person whose life is devoted primarily to prayer, esp. in a monastery or convent.




Well, that doesn't sound much like me. :P

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


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 08, 2013 5:21 pm 
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:D

I can't see myself as a nun either. :P

What I meant was, the contemplative tradition in Christianity has far more to do with the soul's relationship with God, the mystical union with God, than the more corporate, communal trappings of Christianity.

If you're able to be more aware of God's presence in the absence of people, then, yep, I would definitely say you're a contemplative, Anthy. :)

It doesn't make church redundant. 8) It just means it is OK to experience God the way you do.

Sir Dennis - that's lovely. :)

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