In Frank Viola’s book, Reimagining Church, he opens telling us he stopped going to institutional church in 1988 because he was bored. Viola went on to start a new movement of what he calls, “Organic Church.” My husband, Wally Schwarz, pastored a small church in northern NJ 30 years that had an attendance of 6. By the time he was there one year, he had a minimum weekly attendance of 100-120 in his little church, committed tithers, and the resources to make significant capital improvements to the building. The original 6-10 people who attended regularly were the decision makers and representatives for the church, resisted the new life in this old building, eventually forcing him out of the church and the people, of course, followed.
This is a tragic example of someone with the calling, passion, and drive to build a successful church, but became so disillusioned that he left. He was not encouraged or supported by his own. Fast forward to thirty five years later. My husband spends a lifetime doing something he is not called to in order to pay the bills, and has chosen to make another attempt at the call of his heart for God. He is back at the Methodist Church, and assigned to a wonderful church with a loyal and dedicated older population.
These are mostly good things, except for one thing. They don’t want to change. Not even the altar. They tolerate the changes we’ve implemented, but our changes are not much of a stretch. Some acoustic music by the pastor, and a video from time to time. The other changes we’ve implemented have mostly been held back because of resistance or negative feedback from one particular person in the church, but it is he who seems to direct all things. Including the pastor. If we let him.
Why was Frank Viola bored in church? Why was I so alienated from church, a place that had always brought me peace and a simultaneous sense of joy, when I became an adult? Why do 70% of Americans not attend church, even when __% of them were raised in church?
Many say church is not relevant, but I propose it’s even simpler than that. Church does not meet people where they are. It does not speak a language they understand, and it makes assumptions about the congregation that are, quite frankly, arrogant and presumptive.
Most worship services, particularly in traditional churches with a specific order of service is dictated by a particular liturgy, demanding you meet them where they are.
This poses a huge problem for the majority of people who have not attended church most of their adult lives, and many of the younger generation - ever. The liturgical practices are completely foreign and not relatable. The creeds, such as the Apostle’s or the Nicene Creed recited collectively is asking people to recite something they have little understanding of, or connection to. This is true even if they attended church as a child.
Imagine it. You are a visitor in a church, with little experience or connection to it, and are first asked to recite a call to worship in which you feel like an extra in a futuristic Apple commercial, or you feel like robotic or like a lemming, then sing some praise songs which isn’t too painful. This is followed by a scripture reading being that has no meaning to you and it doesn’t even make sense - and to top it off, you have to stand while the reader drones on and on. Next an offering plate is passed and they want money, while they place the money on the altar as if it’s being worshipped. The main event hasn’t even happened yet! What about the sermon? Suddenly the sermon is over, and church ends. I can hear you now. “That’s it? I got up early on my one day off to sit here for this?” At least, that’s what I used to say.
Why would anyone want to come on an early Sunday morning to experience this when they don’t even understand what is being done? They’re so distanced from the narrative that it sounds like rubbish and propaganda. People don’t connect or learn this way anymore - and we’re not willing to do anything about it.
What would it look like if we organized a church service around the learning styles of younger people?
In churches that have
Not too long ago, I had an awareness as I was planning and creating worship services for the Lent season. Since this was all new to me, my perspective was open to most ideas and, most of all, I hoped for a brilliant idea that would bring the Easter season alive for people - in ways that would speak to them at their core. I hoped to create a way for people to see the events of Lent as mirroring aspects of their own life. As Good Friday neared, I came across a myriad of ways to present Jesus’ last words from the cross, his seven sayings. I am far from a theology scholar, but rarely missed a day of Sunday School as a child, so nothing was unfamiliar.
As I read the last seven sayings from the cross, they developed new life for me. I delved into the experience in a way I had never done before, and intentionally steered away from taking a scholarly view. I wanted to feel what Jesus felt, and touch his humanity, while exploring what, if anything, held deeper significance to me. Theological scholars had very lofty and spiritual explanations for these seven sayings, and for whatever reason, they did not resonate to me. This is not to say their perspective is not accurate, but rather, that the idea of God is so big, might it have more than one meaning or interpretation. I wondered if there was another lesson on the cross that we had not yet seen, or at least, had not heard yet. At my age, I’m well aware there are no new ideas.
Over the years, my life has been spent working with systems, generally using a holistic decision making framework. Working within this construct, it becomes rapidly clear that paradigms shape so much of our worldview, leaving little room for our ability to see another perspective. In our attempts to be our most theological or scholarly, could it be another message had been missed all together? Maybe a simpler and more obvious one.
We are quick to discuss our desire to ‘follow in the footsteps of Jesus,’ usually accompanied by an image of his feet in sandals walking on bare desert soil. Or to refer to his red letter words, trying to make sense of them, and interpreting his meaning for our lives. But what about the process of his life, could there be something embedded in the process of his human experience he was showing us from the cross that might help us in our day to day life? I thought yes.
I wrote up my amateur perspective and shared it with some friends. Theological scholars, some popular liberal pastor authors, a conservative baptist, and a couple of evangelical Christians. Responses were the same from this pool. I sensed their struggle to identify with an interpretation as unreligious as this, and some chose not to respond at all. Not even a peep. Admittedly, it wasn’t a deep dive that would challenge Paul Tillich, but isn’t it true the most significant lessons sometimes lie right under our nose and we miss them simply because we’re trying too hard?
I think they missed it for the same reason church isn’t attracting any visitors. Churches, generally speaking, are not meeting us where we are. They are not meeting us in our humanity - unless we’re the object of their mission work. The people who need help are met where they are, but is that because they’re being talked down to? This is simply a question for reflection, not an accusation. Granted, not all churches are guilty of this, but could we at least admit that the overall culture is? Is there a wide gap between our desire to be a place of spiritual food and inspiration for the community around us; and wanting to stay in our own comfort zone?
Does church sometimes miss the obvious? Is the desire to evangelize and tell people about Jesus so paramount that we’ve miss learning how to walk next to people? Has the call to evangelize taken precedence over the desire to understand people? Has it become more about the church’s agenda, as opposed to the desire to meet humanity’s needs? What would the Father do?
Jesus’ seven last sayings on the cross demonstrated the process of living fully. A process nobody escapes if they want to grow. If it was his purpose to bring us closer to God, while living the ‘perfect’ example of being human, could he also be showing us what that the journey looks like if we want to become mature and spiritual beings? Ok, it’s not theologically lofty, but could it also be true?
Life’s cyclical and continuing journey carries with it some steep demands if we are to live it fully. There are specific components we all must experience as we grow into becoming our best selves. Most would agree this journey does not reach its fullest potential without learning how to move through struggles we are faced with. Some challenge us more than others, but we’re all put to the test of seeing them through to the other side. Most of us would also agree these experiences brought us the most growth, and at the very least, taught us what we’re capable of - or not.
He demonstrated 1. Love through compassion. 2. Hope and a shared vision that included walking together. 3. The importance of belonging to one another/Community. 4. Living in the questions, admitting our unknowing and the willingness to understand and learn. In Jesus’ case, this included feeling separated from God. 5. Seeing/Realizing our emptiness and need. 6. Acceptance of our reality/Stepping out of denial to see our powerlessness. This kind of acceptance is the only step that will take us to .....7. Surrendering to something greater than ourselves.
These steps take us to:
Group dedicated to unity as individuals, peace - inside and out, holistic growth - through personal, emotional, and spiritual paths, and a better world.
Living our Best Lives, On All Levels.
All are welcome and included, no matter their spiritual path or preference. We are here to support each other on the journey, always respecting each individual’s path of choice.
We are here to grow and reconnect to our spiritual ancestry and beginnings, while growing as human beings without being coerced or pressured into a particular belief system.
The process is designed to support each other in life’s journey, the joys and struggles, while exploring Christianity’s role in our life and in the world.
We acknowledge the importance of living in the questions, allowing ourselves the freedom to be wrong and the ability to discover our lessons as we live them.
We recognize we will never have all the answers, but are committed to traveling together in the right direction.
We are spiritual beings being human, and don’t always understand what that means. We are committed to living in the dynamic unfolding of this mystery, remaining open to God’s movement within us along the way.
We remember the sacred and the holy, and long to re-connect to this lost aspect of our lineage and our ancestors. We choose not to break the chain of the sacred for future generations.
We are not here to convert others. This is a place of allowance, acceptance, and an ongoing development of trust and discovery.
We are not a church, and encourage all members to attend or belong to a church of their choosing for deeper learning in the areas they are led to, for worship, and to be an active part of a community that resonates for them.
We acknowledge that we can’t fully know God, nor can we fully grasp the concept or reality of God. We acknowledge a higher power whom we call God, and the possibilities and experiences of all God provides us and represents.
We admit God is unknown and cannot be proven, and we choose to trust the mysticism that has followed the great saints and mystics throughout history.
We are here to deepen our understanding and our beliefs, without condemning another’s particular worldview.
We are here to receive and provide support to each other. We are committed to applying spiritual principles to our personal lives to the best of our ability; while reaching out with love, kindness, and understanding as we relate to others in our communities and the world.
We welcome literalists, non-literalists, liberals, conservatives, moderates, agnostics, atheists, doubters, loners, lovers...(work on this)
We are committed to discovering how a Christian worldview can bring peace. We strive to eliminate separation and division. We are committed to being one in the Spirit, even when theological details differ. (weeds)
We do not get mired in the weeds, but do our best to stick to the overarching ideas in which we share a common understanding. We share the belief that a power exists that is greater than ourselves whom we choose to call God, that a man who called himself the Son of God, whose birth name is Jesus, lived on earth teaching love, peace, and forgiveness, and performed miracles and healing in the lives of others and; the existence of a Holy Spirit, often described as an energy surpassing the experience of all other spiritual experiences combined.
We acknowledge we are imperfect people seeing the holy in one each other, and learning the ways of Jesus.
We accept that each person understands the Bible narrative differently. Some hold it as literal truth, while some hold it as story or myth. We adhere to the idea that either view is acceptable within the group, and we respect others in their beliefs, without condemnation. We affirm that we are in process, and we are each where we are today.
Our discussions are centered in our own personal growth and spiritual journey, and applying the overarching spiritual principles we agree on (elaborate or refer to*) to our lives. Our faith and experiences are shared with each other freely,
What you hear here, what you see here, let it stay here. Our groups are confidential and anonymous.
We are self supporting through our own contributions.
We are not aligned with any church, denomination, or institution, although our meetings can be held in their buildings..
We do not have leaders or officers, and our facilitators are trusted servants.
Each group operates autonomously, while agreeing to adhere to the group structure and guiding principles.
The characteristics and traits that Jesus taught us by example and by word.
To be in direct relationship with a power (that is vastly greater than our ability to conceptualize) called God; a relationship that can be as intimate as one between parent and child.
Live in community. Love your neighbor.
Go where you’re needed.
Live in the questions. (his parables did not contain answers; they only created more ambiguity because he understood it is through our living the questions that we come to real understanding. Living in the answers and a sense of self-rightness results in the need to defend our position and divisiveness among people. It is our understanding and personal experience, not our truth in being right, that leads us to real awareness or knowing. )
Seek, Ask, Knock. (Our answers, understanding, and experiences come from the unfolding of our own desire, curiosity, and action.)
Prayer and Meditation as a source of guidance and strength.
Transcendence. We have the capacity to harness/receive the power of the Holy Spirit.
Use your gifts. (They were given for a reason, they will lead you into your purpose and destiny)
‘See’ People for who they are in their heart, not who you judge them to be externally.
True intention can manifest desired results. (blind beggar, friends who brought man through roof to be healed)
The polarity of Peter and Jesus on the water - doubt is the other side of faith.
What We Agree On
We are on the journey of life, and exploring the mystery of God.
We are a collection of beggars, givers, wanderers, believers, liars, cheats, mystics, gypsies, addicts, agnostics, thieves, givers, doers, peacemakers,atheists, narcissists, introverts, takers, thinkers, feelers, whiners, and receivers who are doing their best to live their best life as a perfectly imperfect being.
Each of us struggles and have hit bottom, or hurt so badly and don’t know where to turn. It is here we turn to each other and God, regardless of denomination, cultural background, religion, ethnicity or race, personal history, or economic status. We are one.
Our journey into the mystery is in the shared faith tradition of Christianity, which is native and familiar to us. However, we do not exclude other faiths or belief systems from participating. All are welcome with the understanding that our primary narrative is structured within a Christian context.
We agree there are many doors and points of entry to God, and we respect and encourage all to enter the door that most resonates as the one that will draw you nearer to a relationship or understanding of/with God.
We will never arrive. We are in a process towards understanding and growth. We discourage fundamentalism and the attachment to being right, and believe
We encourage lively debate and discussion among our members outside of the context of the group meetings.
We are learners, and open to gaining understanding about the experiences of others.
We believe Jesus Christ’s life revealed a myriad of truths or lessons for the world, and in our diversity, express them in our own ways with a collective agreement that a Creator will appreciate our good intentions, however awkward.
We participate together in the The Lord’s Table as a symbolic ritual to demonstrate our unity and connection with one another, our ancestors, and our lineage back to the time of the disciples. We are one in the spirit as we drink from the cup and eat the bread as the disciples did, and enter into the mystery and revelation in the same spirit and openness as them. The Lord’s Supper is held as often as each group decides is best for them. Alcoholic beverages are not served to respect those who suffer from addictions or allergies.
We strive to always be there for another who reaches out for our hand (within the context of the group’s mission). Needs redefined but basic point is we’re always there when someone reaches out for help - we respond by brining them into the group and giving them the basics to follow....but...something missing from this thought that I don’t have yet.
The purpose of these meetings is to encourage diversity, and prevent an insular community within individual churches. The lack of diversity in the Christian church experience can unintentionally cause an out of balance worldview, sometimes even leading to dogmatic fundamentalism. Finding agreement among one’s peers will often create a self-righteous worldview, and an unrealistic perception of the world around us.
Growing up in Brooklyn, NY taught us that repeatedly, as it probably did for many children of immigrants growing up in urban environments. Immigrants tend to cluster in urban areas, creating community with people from their own country. This allows them to speak their language, help each other, create markets that will carry the foods they enjoy, and give them some semblance of normal in this new foreign land. There are many benefits to creating community this way. The beauty of it is only a couple of blocks away lies another neighborhood of immigrants from another country all together.
These insular communities on one hand also coexist. Their children go to school together and they work together - whether they are each other’s customers or co-workers, they learn to tolerate and accept one another, and learn each other’s customs, traditions, and ways. A collective and mutual healthy respect for each other ensues. When a community doesn’t live in a diverse environment, and goes to a church reflecting their community which lacks in diversity, they will become a mirror of itself without the tools to appropriately listen, respect, or understand those whose views are slightly different than theirs. Self righteousness from within their worldview takes center stage.
Believing that your way of interpreting the Bible, or your style of worship, or even how you experience God or the Holy Spirit is the right or most accurate one is always subjective. There are many people who will not agree with me here, and base their ‘rightness’ on something in scripture, but I will challenge them at every turn. The number of ways we can translate and understand scripture outweigh the number of languages we have on the planet. This is at the core of the mystery of Christianity. Theologians will disagree, as will Tom, Dick, and Harry.
A great example is the long held belief that women should not hold any position of leadership within the church. Paul’s dictate that it is best for men to hold positions as priests and leaders has been repeatedly interpreted as law by those the theologically conservative, ranging from the Catholic church to liberal denominations. It is only in recent years this changed. For reasons that boggle the mind of most people, this stance was held until today. How something so archaic remained the status quo until now is baffling, yet it is a powerful example of how deep the church dug their heels in on positions in which they maintain a self righteous attitude and opinion about, and refused to meet people where they are. This, of course, departs from the perspective on how we relate to others on a personal level, but it most definitely draws a line in the sand for half the population who may disagree or resent this lack of willingness to review their stand, or look at Paul’s directive from another perspective. This ‘other’ perspective may have resulted in a very different outcome.
The only explanation is how we translate or interpret language. Particularly without giving context fair weight in the decision making. Paul was writing a letter to one of his churches who were trying to be taken seriously within a community. Paul’s directive had purpose. He wanted to raise the church’s odds of gaining respect, thereby bringing more people into a relationship with Christ. His concern was the church’s customs were aligned with the community’s customs, which did not allow women in leadership roles of any kind.
Christianity is about one thing. Well, three things in one...or maybe four. God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. And their relationship with You. That’s it. Everything else is in the weeds. Some would argue there is more to agree on or define in order to take on the identity of a Christian - but even that is subjective based on interpretation of scripture. And, quite frankly, who would stop them? If we were to pick the low hanging fruit on the tree of Christian spiritual journeys, that would be it. It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to know that your sincere and honest heart, thoughts, and relationship coupled with the process of growing in your understanding of these would be a good start on the path. Then, one would look for the most reliable and time tested tools to take on the trip. The obvious would probably be a Bible, traveling companions, and a teacher/elder(s) as a guide. The tools are a matter of individual preference and choice. Again, not rocket science.
From this point forward we have entered into the mystery. From leg one of the journey, there are countless scholars, laypeople, denominations, and pastors who will argue about the details, sometimes to the point of stagnation. Historically, we’ve labeled those mired in the weeds with us, the opponent or the wrong one - but are they?
Most institutional churches have historically created an insular environment by keeping beliefs and community-building efforts within their own four walls, guarding their point of view. Parishioners, in return, are safe from expanding their perspectives, or being influenced by outsiders. Those within the walls have a sense of safety while there, but the long term unintended consequences for the church and society as a whole are disastrous. When culture within the confines of a church insulates itself from reflecting diverse aspects of the world around them back into it, a deeper embedding of self righteousness and fixated world views result, causing even more polarized tension and conflict when the two come into contact.
Let’s look at it from another perspective. There is a building with many doors, each door leading to a staircase that goes to the balcony. On the balcony is God. Clearly, if God is sitting on the balcony, God has appeared in some form we can understand for the sake of this exercise. Intentionally oversimplifying it, if each staircase leads to the balcony, and each door leads to the staircase, what’s the problem?
Is it rational to argue about the details of something scholars have not been able to come to agreement on since the hour of resurrection? Isn’t it more advantageous to find what we agree on? Or admit that none of us really have the answers, other than our worldview? No matter how convinced we are that our worldview is right, we can’t know for sure. Period.
The advantage of coming in many different doors that lead to God, and letting that be ok is more people will be find the place they fit. The odds of an over-abundance of square pegs in round holes has immediately lessened.
Imagine it. The doors are labeled:
Black and White, Thinkers, Spiritual Seekers, Free Spirits, Hippies, Tribes, Creatives, Intellectuals, Holy Rollers, Slain in the Spirits, Born Agains, etc...
Each door opens to a Christian journey in the language and learning style of the person entering. For instance, the Born Again door might have a stop at the bottom that asks if you’ve accepted jesus into your heart and are saved; while the Intellectual doors might stop you to inquire what the odds are that God is real, and if you think God is comprised of energy or something beyond your comprehension. Creatives are invited to draw or dance their experience of the Holy Spirit before embarking up the staircase; while Free Spirits are asked a trick question. B&W Thinkers and Born agains are quizzed on the interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount, asking what Blessed are the peacemakers means.
This building with many doors is eerily similar to the Tower of Babel, with different languages inside each entrance.What you find unusual is each language is speaking English words, but the sentences are structured differently, resulting in a cacophony of sounds. While one person, when referring to trusting the outcome of something to God, says, “I’m turning it over to my higher power,” and another says, “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path,” and yet another, “I release this to the universe trusting God will lead me to the highest good.” Some might even say, “Spiritguide, lead me to my higher self.”
In other words, a statement can be colloquial or culturally influenced in nature, but have a shared meaning. Sadly, many people hear a particular grouping of words in a sentence, and immediately conclude the person speaking cannot be a Christian, or like them. This is also true in regards to how Christianity is defined. Those who are baptized in the Holy Spirit and have experienced speaking in tongues, or another anointing of spiritual gifts as described by the disciples, sometimes determine those who have not shared this experience are not real Christians. This is arrogant. While Jesus did say, “I will turn away etc etc,” we do not know who he refers to here. It’s easy to assume it’s not the one with the most passion for Christ or someone alive in the Spirit. But, truth is, we don’t know. It’s understandable when people jump to these conclusions, particularly when they’ve had a deep conviction regarding a particular aspect of Jesus’ message. For example, someone deeply convicted about missions to feed the hungry might think those who don’t help the poor can’t call themselves Christian. This can be applied to all aspects of the Christian life.
The bottom line is what lies inside our heart does not need words. It’s fairly clear that God is not only about words. It’s a thought that’s almost laughable. This issue of words and colloquial language is an important question as it relates to spiritual growth and inclusion. Not unlike the issue of literal and non-literal interpretation of the Bible. These are not that far apart in theory. It begs the question, what is the heart of the matter? Is it words, our stated theology or belief, the heart’s intent, what we believe to be true in the Bible or what we learn from the Bible that helps us grow along spiritual lines and makes the world a better place? What do you think? How do you see this manifested best in the world?
Imagine the depths of understanding we could achieve if we took the time to hear the hearts of each Christian and the story behind what they feel called to, and why. Imagine if each Christian’s calling was validated and held up by others, as equally important. Imagine if doctrines, liturgies, learning styles, paths were celebrated in one another, appreciating the diverse range of thought and beliefs this offered us. Imagine if upon hearing another denomination’s reasoning for using rituals you deemed unnecessary, that you suddenly experienced something on a dimension you’d never even imagined before. What if, suddenly, upon hearing one Catholic man’s story of a boyhood identification with Saint Francis that led him to pray to the Saint all his life, you understood why he embodied such a natural likeness to the spirit of Christ, as you perceive Jesus. Imagine being in the same room with a woman who lights sage, and calls in the directions and thanks mother earth and father sky before she prays the prayer Jesus taught us. Would you make an assumption about her? Why? Do you think you’re right? Are you sure?
What about the divide between Biblical literalists and non-literalists? The bible is the best-selling book of all time, and quite possibly the least read - relatively speaking. Some conclude the Bible - particularly the Old Testament - is a literal account of our journey with God, while others are more comfortable interpreting it as a collection of stories and personal accounts woven together through time in myth and truth. It is filled with contradictions and a plethora of theological voices who contradict themselves. There are even two Noah directives about how many animals to bring on the ark, and two creation stories hidden in Genesis. Why do we argue in the weeds about whether the book is literal, when the real message lies in the lessons we glean from it? It is filled with wisdom and deeply personal writings of people who lived before us, people who struggled with the same questions we struggle with today. To argue about these details takes us down a slippery path of right and wrong, instead of focusing on the spirit this timeless book brings to us and to the future.
For instance, my personal experience and opinion of the Bible has fluctuated over the last thirty years. My relationship with scripture has been akin to traveling in an ongoing circle, not unlike the dynamic process of life itself. My generation in America was customarily taught that Adam and Eve’s story - and all that followed - really happened. I never questioned it as a child, and didn’t pay much attention to it as an adult. Not even as a Bible student. It wasn’t relevant to my spiritual experience and understanding in the larger scheme of things. It’s not all that different from stories your parents told you as a child in order to motivate or guilt you into doing something they wanted.
Did knowing that your father walked twenty miles, in the dark and knee deep snow, through forest and glen to school help you to dress faster and not miss the school bus, or eliminate your resistance to walking to school? Did it instill gratitude, or awareness, or guilt? Did your parents kindly remind there were countless starving children in Biafra, or Africa when you didn’t finish your dinner? Did it inspire you to eat more, or did you answer like me? In the early years I hung my head in shame and tried to do the right thing by shoveling my food in, but when I learned what the postal service and UNICEF did, I offered that we not make so much and mail the extra uncooked food to them. I couldn’t fathom why we hadn’t done that years ago - we were Christians after all! (Realizing my sense of belonging and ambition to succeed was far stronger than my response to motivation through shame and guilt, I was inducted into the Clean Plate Club. This resulted in an ongoing struggle of being overweight, of which I am deeply grateful for.)
The stories we hear as children are a collection of truths and myths. This is not uncommon. I’ve taken the Bible in that context, and not worried about it. It says it is inspired by God, and I believe that - because it is written by people who share a spiritual path and search. Does that mean I am required to trust each word is literal? I don’t think so. Truth is I don’t want to spend my time microscopically determining what is and isn’t. Life is too short. However, I trust the Holy Spirit lives behind each word, and in each heart that shared their experience, struggle, and revelation with us on those pages. If God is in us and around us, timeless and infinite, past and present - what are we worrying about? If we are alive in the Spirit that unites us, what does it really matter? We are one and infinite in it either way. It is a door to our own ancestry and enlightenment.
If you’re a parent, do you care if your child believes your tales? Are they excluded from the dinner table or family vacation if they smirk when you remind them you were the star of your high school football team and overslept on yearbook picture day? Of course not. So why is this important? Isn’t the spirit and the teaching it provides what matters? It is a book chock-full of drama, violence, sex, love, compassion, history, contradictions, and more violence and more sex. It is not something we’re supposed to worship, it’s something we are given to read. Even if just to understand the history and culture that has been shaped from it. I’ve often wondered whether the relationship many have to the Bible is idolatrous - it appears to be worshipped similarly to God himself. A theologian recently, frustrated with this black and white view to the Bible, suggested it be considered a fourth member of the Trinity.
I think it compromises our spiritual experience to limit themselves to the Bible as the only source of truth, above all other truths. That said, I also agree it is a vehicle for spiritual growth, particularly in the words of those who we devote ourselves to, or have been influenced for good by. It’s greatest assets in my life have been the Spirit which I glean from behind it’s words, albeit metaphysical; and the red letters. These inspire me, lift me up, and take me through the door that leads me to God and my higher self.
I recently read somewhere, “If DNA evidence suddenly appeared proving Mary was not a virgin, would it influence your faith or your belief in Christ?” A powerful question. It took some serious and honest contemplation, but I concluded with a sincere heart, that it would not affect my faith one bit. I’ve since asked others this question, and some of the most devout followers, after thoughtful consideration, say it would rock their world apart. This fascinates me, but perhaps my experience and understanding is built on a different kind of foundation than theirs. For me, my experience and relationship is real - and not based on the facts in a book, but on the underlying and overarching message throughout time of goodness, love, and being Christ-like - and the journey to the transcendent, mystical, and metaphysical. There are some issues in scripture that are important to moving towards God, and some that are rather irrelevant even if good reading.
Being open to listening to how others experience Christ and define God can be a fascinating aspect of defining your own faith and spiritual walk. Allowing yourself a process of discovery, recognizing it is an unending road towards an unknown God, and your only real task is to pay attention along the way and learn what you can. This is the challenge for Christians today.
There is another aspect that demands growth. The need for tolerance and genuine acceptance.
Those who see the problem in others only sees a reflection of themselves in the other. If you are accusing and blaming other Christians for being intolerant, you will have to look into their eye for your reflection. Your accusation makes you the same as them.
No bible study or worship.
Workshops and other creative expressions are permitted as special events, curated by a diverse group of members to ensure adherence to our principles.
Close with the Lord’s Prayer.
Open with __________
What we say here, what we hear here, We all agree, we let it stay here.
This is a program of anonymity at the level of press, radio, and television.
We are not self promoting, but encourage others to share their experience, growth, and love.
We do not share names or information of what occurs in these rooms.
We are self supporting through our own contributions.
We are not affiliated with any church or denomination, however encourage those who wish to explore further, to attend a church of their choosing.
John Wesley, the founder of the United Methodist Church, was a preacher who wasn’t all that good at preaching. His passion was being a circuit rider, traveling from town to town horseback and sharing the gospel. Clearly, he felt this message would improve the life of those whose lives he touched. But Wesley didn’t just bring a message and move on. He was a community developer. He brought communities together and taught them a way to grow together, while living authentically and being accountable. This was unheard at this time.
Many years later, a group of businessmen in England attempted a similar strategy and coined their movement, The Oxford Group. This movement grew to all corners of the globe, including the US. One of the most striking observations of The Oxford Group was it’s authentic, down to earth style as it’s been described in various accounts. (footnote).
When people attended a meeting of the Oxford Group, they never felt those in attendance behaved like they were better than them, or holier, or any other distasteful and shame inducing feelings often experienced at a gathering of people who shared a religious belief system. This group was akin to a meeting, not church, and met people where they were.
As the population grew to be more Christianized, the need for these meetings probably lessened, but not before it’s existence inspired another movement that was about to change the face of self help and addictions for generations to come. The basic structure, spirit, and principles of The Oxford Group were used to start the 12 step program, Alcoholics Anonymous.
The last decade has given rise to a new movement, described best by Frank Viola in his book, Reimagining Church. Viola proposes that institutional churches are stuck, and driven by the organizational system which does not mimic the original church as it was first depicted to us in Acts, or when Jesus walked the earth. While I agree with his line of thought, I disagree with his solution to take church out of institutions. There are many reasons institutions serve. (elaborate on missions, accessibility, community, diversity, etc.) What is defensible, however, is that church needs to be more relational. This does not suggest that people should be expected to converse more, or confess more, or be required to be more transparent - characteristics that would improve the experience of church, btw. Instead, it needs to be willing to transform itself by learning how to be in process and meet people where they are. Currently, institutional church is on the church’s terms, and it needs to be on people’s terms. This does not mean it needs to work harder in teams, or start more committees. It suggests, rather, that church is about the process and the journey - not the ritual. It needs to be more personal, supporting people as they struggle through life or sail through life. It should allow individuals to be fearless in revealing who they are, and accept them in that place, rather than recite scripture and tell them how they should be.
It is likely most pastors and laypeople don’t think this is how they behave - because it’s more than likely not how they feel towards their congregation and friends. That said, I challenge them to take a closer look. If they resonate with this behavior, I’d venture to guess people are not engaged in an honest dialogue about their lives and their spiritual journey at all. Does this mean they are spiritually dead? Not necessarily. They are too comfortable. Not unlike a marriage that has nestled into a predictable routine, and no longer needs to manage expectations.
Losing the need to manage expectations - other than financial ones, that is - is a red flag. Expectations are predicated on what we believe will happen. It’s our idea of what is in store, whether it be at church, in our relationships, or at our workplace. When our reality doesn’t meet our expectations, we generally react in a myriad of ways depending on whether or not the experience exceeds our expectations, or causes us to struggle or be uncomfortable. The inability for a pastor or a congregation to manage these reactions is an important aspect to maintaining or creating a vital church. But if people have no expectations to manage, because nothing is different, problems are sure to follow. Or another scenario might be that the lack of expectations as they relate to change and growth will almost certainly guarantee that rumors, personal drama, gossip, and triangulation will follow. People will often get their drama fix one way or another.
July 11, 2013 NOTES
We have been separated from ourselves - and from one another. This division has occurred within the church, and outside of it. The dividers are not of malicious intent, nor of conscious desire. It is separation from Spirit. Spirit is the one with the ability to bind us together as one - the way we should be. However, we have allowed ourselves to get mired in the weeds of interpretation, language, and yes, even politics.
We have been commanded by Jesus to love one another. I can hear you now saying, “but I do love them (them being liberal Christians...or Tea Party Christians...oh, come on. No you don’t.) Lip service to an ideal is not the same as love. Wanting to believe it’s true is also not the same as love. And that’s ok. I’m not the judge of you.
Love is understanding, patient, kind...you remember what he said. Is that how you feel about that socialist Obama lover neighbor of yours? I know that’s not how he feels about you when he hears Limbaugh or Beck blaring through your kitchen window in the morning. Let’s get real.
The truth is I think we don’t feel love, but we do love. It’s different. See, I surprised you. What I mean is, I believe we simply misunderstand each other because we’re looking at different focal points. This isn’t rocket science, but that’s even more the reason why it’s hard to believe we still let it get to us. Is it the drama we crave? We represent different priorities, or prefer different ideas of things. In the end, the outcome is the same. You get that, right?
There are exceptions of course - like abortion. That’s a game changer for obvious reasons. Personally, I see the abortion and gun control issue as the same issue at it’s core. Both are about individual freedoms, so why are they opposed politically? Ideology. But the rest of it - it will happen whether we want it to or not. Montana is a good example. They are no rules kind of folks. They lifted the speed limit on their interstates because adults should be able to drive responsibly - that’s what their citizens kept telling them. What do you think happened? They acted like a bunch of teenagers with their first hot rod. People died. Lots of people. Speed limits were reinstated.
Same thing will happen with guns. Sure, the constitution will be honored and we’ll maintain the right to bear arms. Even though we don’t really have the right to bear arms now. Not in NYC, or any other urban area in a coastal state. To suggest that we have that right is spin. So, what are you all up in arms about? No pun intended there. We’ve already crossed the line. And you still want machine guns available for mentally ill people to use on school kids. Sure. Why not?
Or you could outlaw violent video games. Seriously. Do you think that’s ok? Really. Get rid of them. Make them illegal. Become a police state when it comes to violent games on the internet and in the store. So they’ll bootleg them...whatever. They’ll be less available to just anyone. Get rid of them. They are influencing people who are sick, lonely, and angry.
back to topic.
Language. Why are we speaking in a language nobody understands in church? Do we really think sounding holier is more important than spiritual growth or the ability for people to connect with it? Do we really care that we enjoy it more than we care that people come back to church, or that they are inspired and touched by God in the experience? Have we really become that self centered? We have some pretty hard lessons to learn if you ask me.
Language is the great unifier if we allow it. it is also the great divider. Just ask the people at Babel.
Christianese has become a language all it’s own and I can’t find it on Google Translate. It’s ok for others, but it’s not my cup of tea. I almost slap myself in public if I catch myself saying “I feel so blessed, or “grace is a beautiful thing..”, etc. It alienates people and makes them uncomfortable. They get the distinct impression that we think we’re better than them, or favored by God more, etc. Chances are you don’t think that, but it’s true. They wonder if you think they are less than. They know they’re not, but they don’t know if you know that. And guess what the result it? A ten foot pole between you. And no chance of a real friendship.
So, what do we do about this?
We can start by learning another language.
Here’s how to start:
God has blessed me so much today.
I am so grateful!.
Are you saved?
(really? would you really ask someone that in 2013?)
What is your spiritual path? Do you consider yourself a spiritual person? What does that look like for you?
I walk in the Spirit.
I am filled with a peace unlike anything I’ve ever known.
Thank God. or even... “Yay God!”
You are not giving it to God.
Release it. Let it go.
AA MEETING CONCEPT
Notes for church or letter or Strategic Plan
People keep saying, “I never even knew this place was open. I thought it was just a historical site. Had no idea there were actually services here!” A good reason for the banner stand, etc. Our signs are not noticeable.