Thursday, October 30, 2008

Church buildings

From the pages of my journal 10/29/08

When I was a young child, about five or six, my mom allowed my neighbors fro across the street to take me to church with them. It wasn't too far, maybe two or three blocks. It was a big, old Methodist church, at least that's how I remember it. For all I know it could have been small and quaint. I have fond memories that almost feel like dreams now, of playing hide and seek after service - usually opting to hid under the choir pews, or up in the raised lectern thing. This church I've decided, was also where my love for coffee came about. Without fail, coffee and tea were available in the back of the sanctuary after service. As I wasn't accompanied by an adult I could have my fill of either beverage. Since tea was regularly available with my babysitter, Audrey, I drank coffee at church. Though it could hardly be called coffee after all the sugar and cream I poured in.
From what I can remember, I was greatly loved at that church, and I'm sure they made every attempt at seeking out my mother. She came once, when I received a Precious Moments Bible, and a copy of Lucy Atwells' first book of prayers - keepsakes I have long since lost track of. My last memories of that church are captured in photos I have somewhere at my mom's house. A few weeks before I turned eight I had a combined Birthday and going away party in the basement, that was used as a multipurpose room, just a week or so before I moved to America. I've never been back since. That was a little over 16 years ago. 2/3 of my life.

I am reminded of those memories as I lay on the ground of the chapel in my house. It might be the smell that brought them, but I think it has more to do with the dark wood pews and ornate furniture that you would typically find in Catholic, or old traditional churches.
Funnily enough, my first thought as I took in the view from my low vantage point (laying on the ground of slightly raised but carpeted "stage"... is it called a stage in a church?), was where I could hide easter eggs in this room.
It's strange that I don't feel the same way towards the ornateness of old chapels, churches and cathedrals as I do about the more modern ornateness of newer, "high tech" churches. In the beauty of old churches, I see the attempt of humans trying to create an alter o the Lord. The painted tiles, stained glass windows, decorative wall hangings, and carefully carved wood fittings. Each an attempt to please the Lord. However, I am not disillusioned enough to believe that this was the soul purpose, or was it? Were these beautiful things added to draw more people to the church, to attract the purses of the wealthy. To make them more marketable?
What was the original purpose of the church? Was it to be a place that people came to list? When I wa about the church I suppose I mean the church as a building. Was it the result of Christians regularly gathering in the same location for the purpse of corporately worshiping God, praying for each other, and having the opportunity to catch up with the neighbor that lived a little too far away to see on a regular basis? Was it meant to represent the Jewish temple? Did it become a place where those who sought out shelter, food, or an ear, could find what they were looking for?

When did churches slowly start drifting away from that? When did they start closing their doors at night? Was it because they we're being vandalized, or did the vandalism occur because they closed their doors? When did we forget what Jesus said and did for the poor, the meek, the downtrodden? Yet as a body, most of us quickly become uncomfortable when an unbathed man walks into the sanctuary. We grow frustrated that our pastor spends more time helping people that come to his door from the "outside" seeking help, than the time he spends preparing for his/her Sunday morning sermon. Maybe, just maybe, his/her service to others is one of the ways he prepares his heart for Sunday.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The love experiement

This week I joined the love-daily experiment facebook group that fellow blogger Missio Dei is conducting with his emergent cohort (sort of like a Christian small group, or for those InterVarsity readers, an intense GIG) over in Sac-town. The task is simple in words, but in practice can be hard to execute. The idea is to "commit to not going to bed for the day until we intentionally loved our neighbor."

It is day two, and I'm already struggling. However as I was discussing with a friend last night, I don't think struggling is always negative. I'm struggling because I recognize the difficulty in the task. Even in the small things, like when I go to mental curse the drivers that keep parking their cars partially in front of our driveway when I'm trying to back out the minivan. Is that love? I quickly lose patience with the teens after they've hurt my feelings and continue to push boundaries. Out of my frustration with them I didn't cook a warm breakfast for them this morning, instead I put milk and cereal out. Is that the best way to love them?

Often times it is easier for me to show kindness and love to a complete stranger than it is to a friend that's getting on my nerves, or a person that has hurt me in the past. I don't think I'm alone in this sentiment. It's acknowledge by Jesus that it's an easy task to love the ones who love you back. My thought is that strangers haven't given you a reason not to love you, so it makes it easier in a way. Even if it's uncomfortable because they may not be as clean or as socially accepted I can grasp onto my understanding of Jesus and his love for people. People who have hurt me, however, it takes some serious effort.

It's a familiar passage, "The Good Samaritan," in Luke, along with the concept of Loving your enemies, from Matthew 5. I wish I could say I do an excellent job, but I don't. If nothing else participating in intentionally loving others, will continually remind me to think before I speak, or at least reflect after.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

a quick thought on pain

Life hurts sometimes. It just does. We have found so many ways to try and escape the pain, to avoid the inevitable sting it brings. We wreathe beneath its weight, wishing to be numb. Yet when numbness comes we long to feel again. A part of our soul breaks, I think, when we pull away, and avoid our pain. So often we long to feel only the goodness of life, the joy, the hope, the love, the kindness. We rebuke anything that could pull or tear at those moments. Rightly so! Yet, it is important to acknowledge that so much of our pain is caused by those who we deeply love, those that we put hope in, those that kindness should be given and received in abundance. Our pain comes from missed steps, forgotten hope, and unspoken words. Pain is part of human being. Avoid it and we slowly lose who we are, live in it and the same occurs.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A confession

Sometimes I forget that Jesus actually lived.

I know that's a pretty basic concept in all that is Christianity, but honestly to slips my mind. I'm not sure it has more to do with always acknowledging that Jesus was much more than just a man, or if it was the plain old miraculousness of his life, or just the sad reality that there is this underlying perception in my surrounding culture that maybe Jesus didn't even exist. Blasphemous, I know, but who hasn't run into somebody who simply refuses to believe that Jesus even walked on this earth? With those three ideas swirling around in my atmosphere, I tend to get caught in perceiving Jesus as a very intangible magical person - a bit like Peter Pan or Frodo Baggins. Sometime Jesus becomes merely an archetype.

These past four weeks I've spent looking at the Gospels with a group of people who basically want to relearn who and what Jesus was in a historical context, without over spiritualizing it and trying our best to put aside our preconceived notions and beliefs. Each Sunday night we get together and discuss what we saw, and what it could have meant (again, in a historical context). I confess that though my intention was always to read the whole gospel before Sunday night, it never happened. Needless to say, that meant I usually missed a big chunk of the death, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Granted, we usually discussed this in the group, but I never personally read through it.

It wasn't until I sat down in my usual spot at Starbucks this morning, and read through a few of the last chapters in a few of the gospels that I remembered, rather I again acknowledged, that Jesus was real in the flesh and blood sort of way. While he was more than that, he was human.

My moment of realizing that Jesus did live was as I read John 19. The conflict between the "Jewish officials," and Pilate, for some reason, made it real. The back and forth conversation as to whose responsibility it was to kill Jesus and the position that Pilate was caught in, being a roman official juggling an angry mob, Roman authority, and the claims of Jesus' identity. helped me see Jesus as a man. For me, Jesus came to life through Pilate's eyes. A very stressed out Pilate.

My Sunday experience part 1

Honestly, I've dreading going to church lately. In fact this past Sunday, after a two week hiatus (it might have been three), I finally forced myself to go to church. I went to a church I used to attend a couple years ago, and found a seat up in the balcony. I'm not sure how other churches with balconies operate, but the only reasons I find to sit in the balcony is because your: a) running late and all the seats in the main sanctuary are taken, or b) you don't really want to "engage" with people. I fell into the second category this week. I didn't want to smile and shake people's hands with the knowledge that neither of us knew each others name two years ago and neither of us will remember the other's name tomorrow.

In part that was one of the reasons I ended up leaving that church. It was too big, and I couldn't come to terms that I wasn't part of the community of people that I would sit next to on Sunday morning. I loved the sermons, they were relevant, and usually challenged me personally. I enjoyed the group of people that I got to know through smaller ministries that they had, but I found myself sitting next to different people every week. Shaking hands, smiling, sitting down, listening, and leaving every week.

I feel awful feeling this way towards a church. A church that is so good at drawing people in and connecting them with other people in the community - a church that really manages to be inviting to outsiders and personally challenging for "the regulars." Yet for some reason, I never truly felt comfortable amidst the high tech lighting and sound. This week I found myself looking at a flat screen monitor just above my head wondering how many meals that could make. Then, looking at the spiffy new card stock bulletins with the perforated edge that attached to the "guest card," and thinking about how many fall into the trash can on the way out.

It would be easy for me to say I have no choice in feeling the way I do. These are my personal feelings, that have been birthed out of many other experiences that have shaped my faith and understanding of the church. I wish that, on Sundays like last Sunday, I could simply walk into a church and enjoy it for what it is - that I didn't look up at flat screens or hold the bulletin and think about the money they spend on it. Perhaps these are reasons why I've pulled away from a more traditional idea of church, and why I haven't found a church to commit to since my sad departure from my previous church (not the one I attended on Sunday). Perhaps it is the reason why I find myself sitting on the floor of an apartment on Sunday evenings discussing Jesus' life through the gospels in a historical context, instead of over spiritualizing it and creating a Jesus that didn't even exist.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Still alive and thinking

... Just having a difficult time getting those thoughts onto paper.