Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I gave up church for Lent.

Well, that is an overstatement. I am trying to decide what my future will be in relationship to an individual congregation. I have actually, mostly, given up attending the congregation that I have been worshipping with for the past nearly ten years.

Why did I decide to attend there in the first place? It was the best that I could find. It was also a long drive, one that took a gallon of gas and a half-an-hour of time each way. What attracted me included the thoughtful, creative sermons, the fantastic, creative, jazz-driven music, and the social conscience of the congregation that was most immediately obvious by seeing that at least half of the worship space was being used by a child care facility during the week.

At that point I was very tired of attending churches where the worship was either plastic or worshipped for itself. “Plastic” congregations to me were those where it looked nice and shiny, but where there was little or no substance. Some years earlier I had realized that every Sunday we were saying the identical words. I did not need to read them in the prayer book because I had them memorized. One may experience this with the Lord’s Prayer. Can you recite it so easily that you don’t need to actually think about what the words of the prayer mean? I was tired of attending worship services where the service words were mostly memorized such that one could attend the service and be little or not at all affected by it. It is kind of like saying the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag without thinking about what the words mean, what you are actually pledging to do. Worship is not simply a pledge to a flag, it is worshipping in a community to our loving and ever-present God. It therefore requires of me much more than reciting the memorized words.

Likewise, I found the sermons in most of those congregations to be that form of baby formula cereal that we call pabulum. My criteria for whether a sermon is good or not? If I can remember some thread of the substance of the sermon on Monday or Tuesday then I deem it good. In most congregations that I tried, back there ten or so years ago, I couldn’t remember the ideas in the sermon while on my way home from church, let alone the next day!

The other kind of congregation was the kind that worshipped the worship service. They spent huge amounts of time, energy, and money making the worship service unique and special. The emphasis was so much about the worship service that to my mind, they missed the reason for the service, which involves praying to God corporately as a body, listening to God, all-in-all, the community being in communion with God. In those congregations, in my humble opinion, the worshipping experience appeared to become their God.

Over the years, attending “my “ congregation I did continue to enjoy the creative music, but there were negative aspects to it. The location is so far away from my home that I can not drive my electric vehicle to it and home again without recharging the batteries, so I drove the “global warmer.” The preacher’s sermons had become more pabulum and less thought provoking. The childcare center moved out of the sanctuary and into its own portion of the building, which was added on specifically for it. As a result the child care center became less immediate to the life of the congregation, in my humble opinion. And, more and more, the distance, time, and gasoline that it took to travel to and from church weighed upon my mind and soul, and my environmental ethics.

So, I am taking this Lenten season to review and contemplate what I could do differently about worshipping on Sunday mornings.

For two Sundays of this Lenten season I have tried to stay home and not attend a worship service. That experience reminded me that ever since my teenage years I have been attending Sunday morning worship services. When I was in high school and did not have transportation, and while my parents and siblings remained home, I would walk about a mile to attend the worship services at the cathedral. Sunday morning worship services have always been an important part of my spiritual life. It is somewhat like eating lunch. Yes, I could skip lunch and not die before dinner. I have skipped lunch on occasion, for very important reasons at the time, but I am not comfortable missing lunch. I get really hungry before dinnertime. Oh, even when I do eat lunch I am usually pretty hungry before we get to dinner. For me, Sunday morning worship is the same way. I can skip it, but I feel…uh, hungry later. Perhaps it is my soul that feels hungry when I skip church. I’m not certain what it is but I know that it is definitely something lacking inside me when I have not been in a worship service on a Sunday.

The first decision that has resulted from me “giving up church for Lent” is that I realize that I can not continue to give up church. I really need to attend someplace.

The second realization concerns the music. I am now a member of a local community choir. We meet weekly, Tuesday evenings, for two hours. The director is the best choral director I have ever sung with. His musical knowledge and directing skills, combined with his sense of humor and philosophy of choral singing are amazing and fun to be with. I enjoy singing with that choir much more than I enjoy singing in the church choir, which really is not a choir but a small group of us who get together on Sunday mornings to sing back up to the instrumentalists.

The third realization is that in the past ten years other congregations in the Seattle area have changed clergy and some have changed attitudes about the emphasis and directions of the worshipping experience. I need to check them out again. One way that I have found to observe and sense the spirit and directions of local congregations is by studying their websites. A poorly maintained or sketchy website does not tell me to avoid a congregation, but well maintained and complete websites can inform me about a congregations mission, direction, activities, commitments to the community, and even some sermons. From reading and viewing local congregations’ websites I have formed opinions about several of them.

I intend to continue this thread with further developments later.

Monday, March 22, 2010

What makes us conservative or liberal?

I read part of a FaceBook page from a friend from high school. On it she describes her political views as “conservative with constitutionist and libertarian leanings.” My views are more liberal/progressive. And I wonder, how did this happen to both of us?

In high school, as I remember it through the fog of a half-century, we came from somewhat similar families. Our fathers were blue collar workers. It was at a time when our mothers did not work outside of the home. We both lived in modest homes. The parents on both sides, as I remember it, were not involved in politics.

My parents were Republicans. When my siblings and I “came of age” each of us became more liberal and Democratic than our parents. Obviously my friend’s views went the other way, to more conservative.

How did this happen? I can certainly support and defend my views on the role of government in society, as I am confident that my friend also could. It appears that I have become more progressive in my thinking about what is best for society and she has become more conservative in what she thinks is best for all. Have these changes occurred due to family influence, or whom we married? Did our church affiliations influence us similarly and in opposite directions? Has it been other societal or life experiences that have taught us to view the world differently? Or has been a complex mixture of these influences and more?

This is one of those questions without an answer for me at this time. Thinking about it keeps me wondering about one more of the amazing aspects of living, and living for so many years.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I just taught a kid to lie

A young boy, hard to determine his age, middle school age, entered our store a few minutes ago. He asked to do work so that he could earn five dollars. He was willing to rake leaves, but there are no leaves this time of year. He was willing to wash windows, but they are clean now, and not really needed.

I engaged him in conversation,
So, why do you need five dollars?
To buy a skate board deck.
That’s pretty cheap for a skate board deck.
They said that it was free. I rode the bus from the suburbs for over an hour to get here and get the free deck, but when I got there they said it was five bucks.
A deck? What would you do for wheels for the deck?
Oh, I have the wheels in my back pack. I need the deck.
Here’s a dollar. Now all you need is to go to other stores and work for four dollars.
I’ve been to all the other stores. They say that they do the work themselves. I can’t do any work for them for money.
Okay. Here is what you do. I’m giving you five one dollar bills. Put four of them in one pocket and one in another pocket. Go back to the skate board place and tell them you have only four dollars. Maybe they will sell it to you for four.
If they refuse, then walk away from them and go around the corner. Wait a couple of minutes. Then put the one dollar with the four and go back in and say that you found a fifth dollar bill. Buy it for five.
But, there is one more thing that you need to do to earn this five dollars.
What’s that?
Come back here and give me a report on how you did.
You want me to come back here and tell you if I bought it for four or five dollars?
Okay. I will.

As he walked toward the door he was talking to himself, “I put one dollar in this pocket and the other four in this pocket…”

He just came back to the store. He is carrying an old beat up green skate board deck. He seemed pretty happy. Me too, even if I taught him to lie, or negotiate.

How much? Oh. Five. The kid said, “They were hard nosed.”

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Jim Wallis and The Great Recession paradigm shift

Have I given up blogging for Lent? No.

This has been a time of introspection. The radio has been silent. I get to think. I replied to my granddaughter on her FaceBook “wall,” and was self-conscious about it. She will read it, but who else will read it? Do I want to share my thoughts with others that I don’t know? Blogging, too. You all are very smart and thoughtful. What can I contribute? Being quiet and listening is good.

But, alas, here is something for us. Jim Wallis (The Great Awakening, and God’s Politics among others) writes a thoughtful article in the latest AARP Bulletin (Yes, I’m old enough to receive it and read. You may not be, but the article talks to all of us, in my humble opinion.) The article is about the good side of the economic troubles that we have been experiencing during The Great Recession.

Wallis reminds us that it is during challenging times that we re-think our daily patterns and outlook on life. Let’s face it, the past decade or two we have had the mindset of greed. It’s all about Me and what I want now. This past year or two has encouraged us to take a new look at our paradigm. Perhaps we will return to the mindset the builds community and well-being for others instead of focusing so much on ourselves. Jim Wallis’ article rings true to me today and I see it in the actions and comments of our customers. Maybe it will remind you of a different paradigm.