Notes from the chapter:
No one can develope a mature spirituality alone. To be a Christian is to be called into community. It is to become a functioning part of the body of Christ.
And then we excerpt 1 Corinthians 12:4-27 -- followed immediately by reference to Lord of the Rings ("The only way Frodo will succeed in his journey is with the assistance of some very good, and very strange, friends.") and some other references and then Pentecost ("Like God blowing the breath of life into people at creation, God blew a new creative breath and formed a new people." Wow I love that conceptualizing/articulation of it.)
"They learned that by denying themselves, putting God first, and joining together, they found the meaning of life"
Of course, bells go off in my head like whoa at "denying themselves." I know what the author means, but still.
Then the author talks about how a lot of us have had disappointing experiences with church.
Cue Tony Campolo story. Which is awesome and which I will attempt to do justice to.
He had traveled from the east coast to Honolulu, so due to the time zone change he couldn't sleep. So at 3:30 in the morning he's wandering around looking for a place to eat. He ends up in a greasy spoon diner, so grossed out. Then a whole bunch of prostitutes come in and he feels even more uncomfortable (and no, not in a "gee I have a hard-on" way; get your minds out of the gutter, people) and is ready to leave when he hears one of them talking about how she will be 39 tomorrow and has never had a birthday party. He waits until they've left and then asks the guy behind the counter if they come in here every night. Yes they do. He suggests throwing her a birthday party the next night. The guy thinks this is a great idea. So 2:30 the next morning he comes back and helps decorate. "By 3:15 every prostitute in Honolulu was in the place. It was wall-to-wall prostitutes . . . and me!" [Note: "Agnes" is the prostitute, and "Harry" is the guy behind the counter.]
Agnes lookd down at the cake. Then without taking her eyes off it, she slowly and softly said, "Look Harry, is it all right with you if I . . . I mean is it O.K. . . . is it O.K. if I keep the cake a little while? I mean is it all right if we don't eat it right away?"
Harry shrugged and answered, "Sure! It's O.K. If you want to keep the cake, keep the cake." . . .
Agnes got off the stool, picked up the cake, and, carrying it like it was the Holy Grail, walked slowly toward the door. As we all just stood there motionless, she left.
When the door closed there was a stunned silence in the place. Not knowing what else to do, I broke the silence by saying, "What do you say we pray?"
Looking back on it now it seems more than strange for a sociologist to be leading a prayer meeting with a bunch of prostitutes in a diner in Honolulu at 3:30 in the morning. But then it just felt like the right thing to do. I prayed for Agnes. I prayed for her salvation. I prayed her life would be changed and that God would be good to her.
When I finished, Harry leaned over the counter and with a trace of hostility in his voice, he said, "Hey! You never told me you were a preacher. What kind of Church do you belong to?"
In one of those moments when just the right words came, I answered, "I belong to a Church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3:30 in the morning."
Harry waited a moment and then almost sneered as he answered, "No, you don't. There's no church like that. If there was, I'd join it. I'd join a Church like that!"
Wouldn't we all? Wouldn't we all love to join a Church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3:30 in the morning?
Leaving aside the fact that I absolutely adore that he said "whores," I love a story where people don't just talk about how yes Jesus hung out with the whores and other "trash" but actually enact it.
Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.
This got me thinking about my willingness to take people in, one of those introspective rounds in which I actually come out looking good :) ['Cause dude, I have a low opinion of people as a whole, and people individually a lot of times, but I also tend to fall hard, so a lot of times I am willing to go way above and beyond for people.]
Spirituality is a community enterprise. It is the passage of a people through the solitude and dangers of the desert, as it carves out its own way in the following of Jesus Christ.
"In addition to being a new community of people, even more so, the Church is Christ's body. This new body is not a fixed institution; as Paul described it, the Church is a growing and moving organism."
No mention of the idea I so love of us being the body of Christ in the world to do Christ's work in the world.
"Throughout this chapter, we have capitalized Church to indicate the Church universal as opposed to any single congregation or any one particular denomination."
Saint Simon of the Pillar . . . "Today, some Christians still isolate themselves from the world by living in remote places or cocooning themselves from the world. Fundamentally, however, Christians cannot live isolated lives."
"Fundamentally"? Hey now. You can't have it both ways. And he's a saint, so either his way was okay (though perhaps not for everyone -- and what human really is to be emulated by every single other person, really?) or it wasn't.
"A Christian without a congregational family is a contradiction."
"once you were not a people, / but now you are God's people" (1 Peter 2:9-10)
"The Church provides the relationships, structures, and practices to help an individual grow in a relationship with Jesus Christ."
"As a living organism of disciples committed to Jesus Christ, the Church possess three unique ways of sharing the good news about Jesus Christ: being a faithful body of people, preaching the Bible, and celebrating the sacraments."
"In Christianity, people hold one another accountable to put God first in their lives."
[after talk of how Christians are of course flawed] "All of these people, however, share a common passion: to love God and other people passionately.* Like Tony Campolo in Hawaii, each congregation at its best throws parties for the outcasts around us instead of excluding them."
*me: "Love God and your neighbor"!
"When we travel to a strange town or even to another part of the world, we can always find sisters and brothers in local congregations.* The Church does not operate on the basis of rules but on the basis of relationships in which we uphold one another and accomplish more together than anyone could accomplish alone."
*me: Jehovah's Witnesses! [Their theology wigs me out, but they are time and again some of the most caring, giving people. Example: When my grandfather was dying, my uncle and his wife flew up to Alaska to see him and they couldn't stay at their house but the JW organization found them a family to stay with. Opening your house up to total strangers; who does that?]
"While people may hear about some of the teachings of Jesus through television, magazines, the Internet, and from friends, only the Church tells you about the work of Jesus Christ day after day, week after week, year after year. By reading the Bible and then preaching and teaching about how Jesus Christ speaks to our contemporary lives, the Church spreads the good news about Jesus Christ."
This is where the book really starts to lose me. (1) I get a lot more out of a lot of Internet etc. than I do out of a lot of church. (2) If Church=people rather than a building, then aren't magazines etc. put out by The Church? By people who want to preach and teach and reach people?
blah blah blah personal growth, also sacraments ["In the Protestant tradition, we affirm two sacraments, two special activites instituted by Jesus Christ that reveal him to us. In baptism and Holy Communion, God's love is made visible through a specific activity by the whole company of Christians."]
"In baptism, through water and the Holy Spirit the Church welcomes children, youth, and adults into the body of Christ. [...] No one is born with membership in the Church. The Church alone adopts us into the living community by washing us clean and giving us new life. In the ritual of baptism, the Church proclaims the grace of God, asks the persons being baptized if they believe in Jesus Christ as Savior, professes the historic beliefs of the Church, gives thanks over water, and washes the persons by pouring or sprinkling water on their head or by immersing them in water. Through baptism, we remember that we do not choose to belong to the Church; rather, God in the Church through baptism incorporates us into the body of Christ. [...] The universal quality of baptism is why every member of every local congregation is a part of the worldwide Church."
1) Way to exclude the infant baptism sects. You see how Universal Church quickly becomes problematic, even when you're trying to stick with basics.
[Interesting sidenote: in the video, the speaker talks about an instance of infant baptism as if it's just what his church normally does.]
2) "Through baptism, we remember that we do not choose to belong to the Church; rather, God in the Church through baptism incorporates us into the body of Christ."
This part actually did make me think of infant baptism.
Also, it seems somewhat tautological to me.
blah blah blah Communion
The service of worship builds upon our acceptance of God and moves toward forms through which we open ourselves to God's presence. From the music that plays as the service begins, to the times of quiet within the service, a significant function of worship is that of creating space in which people may experience what it means to make space for God.
And yet the text never gets into this.
blah blah blah not just about personal growth; "Despite the Church's many past and current social failures, the Church has been a leader . . . . If you want to make a difference in your own life and in the lives of people around you, there is no better place to start than the Church."
Cue concern [from me, not in the text] about church/state divide with federal funding of religious non-profits. Etcetera.
blah blah blah leadership and lay involvement
"If you are considering belonging, we want to be honest about the Church's expectations. There is a difference betwen an 'attender' and a 'member.' An 'attender' is a volunteer who drops by for worship, Bible study, family activities, and support in times of need. An 'attender' is a consumer of the congregation's activities. On the other hand, a 'member' a disciple who" comes for all these things "but is also committed to serve other people" when they come for thos things. "A 'member' is both a consumer and a service provder."
But how do you attend Bible study and not give something? I mean, okay you could, but certainly you can participate not just as leader.
"When people join a local congregation of the Church universal, they are typically asked a series of questions. In addition to questions about their relationship with Jesus Christ, these persons are also asked specifically or in general to be an active member of a local congregation.* These questions related to membership often include the following:"
*me: This sounds like you go before God and he sends you somewhere, like Touched by an Angel or Dead Like Me
1. Will you uphold the Church with prayer?
2. Will you support the Church with your presence?
3. Will you contribute financial gifts to the Church?
4. Will you strengthen the Church with your service?
"Church membership is a serious commitment. Some farm animals were talking about the upcoming breakfast fundraiser for the farmer's local congregation. [...] When the pig arose to speak, she thanked everyone for their donation but mentioned that her gift would require total commitment; the pig was offering bacon and sausage. The Church needs fewer cows and chickens and more pigs."
While I understand what the author is getting at, I worry about burnout.
Also: while in this breakfast example the cow and chicken were donating milk and eggs, respectively, eventually their meat will be taken. I'm sure I'm giving them too much credit if I stretch this example to talk about how we're all gonna die and it's a matter of whether you give up your life voluntarily (i.e. giving over control of your life to God) or not (At the Corner of East and Now: "A life spent turning away from this invitation, choosing sin and self-will, 'hardens the heart.' The heart calcifies, cramped and turned inward, at last satisfied by nothing on this earth or beyond it. The will, daily bent in this way, cannot in the end love light." -p. 196-7).
The evening always opens with a dinner, and people were talking, and I think they were all talking about the same woman. First it was about how she had asked the pastor to help her write her obituary, and I was having real trouble trying to get into that headspace of being so wigged out that everyone else was in. I mean, I understand that it's remarkable for someone to be all, "I can't wait to see what's next" (which somebody quoted her as saying about dying) even if their health really is declining and everything, because death is unknown and scary, but funeral planning? Come on, that's right up there with planning your wedding and your dream house -- stuff you've been doing since you were a kid. And don't you want control over how you're remembered, how your life is summarized? However, other stories were about her being demanding and accusing people of stealing from her and it made me sad that I was fairly certain these stories were all about the same woman.
Tonight's was the final session, so the pastor said a little about that, and he referred to it as "rigorous," and I sneered softly, and since I was sitting next to him he looked over at me like to ask me what I said. So I said that I come from the academic world, so if we don't discuss the texts for 8 hours it doesn't feel rigorous to me. I hadn't orignally meant to broadcast the sneer to everyone 'cause I felt kinda like I was saying everyone was stupid ('cause I was in fact thinking that, but even I know that's mean and inappropriate to actually say).
At the end of the evening, we went in a circle each saying one word to describe our experience of the Beginnings program. I was torn between "underwhelmed" and "disappointed" and since the pastor had said we could pass (he doesn't like putting people on the spot) I ultimately just said "pass." I was about halfway through the circle and people had said words like "deepening," "enlightening," "fellowship," and I was so struck by how powerful this had been for people when it seemed barely scraping the surface to me.
I talked with the pastor some about this afterward and he said people are at all sorts of different levels and I'm coming out of an incredible academic institution and it's like a concert pianist going to play with a community orchestra, which I thought was a terrific analogy. And it's totally true that I need to get better at meeting people where they are and not having such a superiority complex and so on.
I said something about how I read the chapter and have all sorts of thoughts about problematics and broad brushstrokes and simplifications and just pages of notes and he said, "If you're taking notes on Beginnings, you need to stop right there -- just take it for what it is." And that makes me sad, even though it's true. (And honestly, the notes are largely for my own mind and also in the hopes that LJ readers will engage with me. Though yes, at the beginning I totally thought it would be like people discussing their thoughts on the reading at a somewhat intellectual level complete with notes -- or at least, "I highlighted this particular passage.")
There was some talk about what to do for the series in the fall, and the pastor mentioned a series put out by a more UCC type group with stuff from Marcus Borg, Walter Brueggemann, etc. So clearly I have to come just to fight with Brueggemann. Except I'm not sure I can handle another round of group discussions of this caliber. I need to write a letter to Peter and the Edwards Church pastor thanking them for their Lenten book studies. Maybe it's just because I had taken fewer religion classes, read fewer books, and memory has blurred the badnesses...I'd have to go back to my LJ entries...but I remember the Lenten bookstudies being fairly decent, while these sessions just frustrate me.
The video was basically a long story about a parishoner couple who adopted a baby born of a crack-addicted mother, so I wasn't particularly whelmed. [Yes, Virginia, you can be whelmed. P.S. $50thou Millionaire question today: what was that famous Virginia's last name? Walsh, McNichols, Donnelly, O'Hanlon? Answer: O'Hanlon/white-text]
However, he did end with some words of advice for people who are church-shopping, one of which was, "expect imperfection," which is definitely something I need to keep in mind.