The Real Purpose

  The Church has been in the news a great deal this past week.  The local and even national outlets have covered much of it, from the Pope’s glum looking greeting of President Trump, to the Roman Catholic’s redistribution of priests and the creation of “pioneer” clusters, to thieves making off with pot-pies in Ingersoll.  Other just as newsworthy items include many churches preparing to close their doors for the final time at the end of June, and locally to me, there is still much talk about what is to happen to the original log cabin structure know as The Madill Church.   On one hand it is great to see the church making the news, while on the other hand very little is ever mentioned about the role of the church in the world today.

Without many women’s groups working to make pot-pies or a myriad of other fundraisers, many congregations would not have the funds to keep operating.  Of course, it is not a recent phenomenon that congregations seem to struggle “financially”.  For as long as I can remember (and that dates back to the 50’s when mainline churches were thriving), raising money was always an issue.  It almost seems that finances were something separate from the real work of the church.  I know that in my own denomination (The United Church of Canada) there has always been a distinction drawn between “spiritual” matters (read: worship, calling a minister, remits) and “temporal” matters (money and building issues).  Sadly, because of this separation between spiritual and temporal, the church has and will continue to have “financial” problems.

Until we are able to realize that everything we do is a spiritual matter, very little will change.  This fact not only applies to churches and whether or not they can pay their expenses, but includes all elements of our society.  And before, any of my “atheist” or “agnostic” friends remind me of the necessity of the separation of the church and the state, let me say that when I talk about spirituality, I don’t necessarily refer to the institutional church or so-called organized religion.  Spirituality is about life itself which even includes politics and sex.

Many good folks support the idea of protecting a church heritage but may not feel moved to fund any of its work because they don’t necessarily agree with all of the church’s teachings.  (Who does?) There is no argument that organized religion is in decline.  (I think I have mentioned in this blog before that the largest growing group is one the referred to as SNBR (Spiritual but not religious).  In an article written recently the writer observed:

Fewer and fewer people have any affiliation with a community of faith, and mainline denominations are shrinking at a rate that calls the future of these churches into question, all of them accounting for less than 20% of the population. Worse yet, these gurus tell us no one is getting it right. Evangelicals bring people in the doors in record numbers only to watch them leave in record numbers, faster than their mainline counterparts. The stats are hard to hear. The picture they paint is not affirming.(Sarah Irving-Stonebraker)

So it would seem to me to wonder just what it means to be spiritual.

To answer my own reflecting, I believe it means that many are not sure about what they believe. At one time many organized religious groups could (some still don’t) accept the idea that “the unknown god” referred to in Acts 17:23 is never fully knowable.  God is mystery and even though we should never stop seeking a strong relationship with the sacred/the divine/the unknown, we must also be prepared to live without full knowledge.  The church should be helping us learn to seek God, not telling us what we should or shouldn’t believe about this mystery.

Change is Inevitable

Sunday Morning Musings: A long time ago now, when I first started talking about changing careers from being an elementary school teacher to becoming an ordained minister in the United Church of Canada someone said to me, “I hope you don’t think this is going to change me.” At the time, I said that I hoped not. I didn’t believe that such a career change was even going to change me. And at my core I am still the same, yet I have also changed tremendously. For the most part, I hope the change that has happened was for the good.
Change is inevitable. When I was a child I was full of enthusiasm, in my teens I worked each summer in the “tobacco fields of Tillsonburg”, which was a gruelling job described well by Stompin’ Tom in his song. In my twenties I started to lose my hair and my low side part has become a very wide one! I have also put on weight. My 24 inch waistline has expanded. Physically I have changed a great deal. Mentally/ cognitively I have also developed. I usually try to “measure twice and cut one” in more than just carpentry work. Emotionally I think I have also changed. I allow myself to cry more and trust me when I say I had to learn how to cry as an adult because growing up “big boys don’t cry”. Vulnerability was a sign of weakness not strength which I now know it is.
My spiritually has also changed. I grew up worshipping God (in the Anglican Church), baptized and confirmed in Trinity Anglican Church in Port Burwell. There I attended Sunday School and learned the necessities of becoming an Altar boy (not for girls at that time) and so also went to worship each week. For a while I got away from going to worship until I married. It was then that stirrings inside of me started or I started noticing them.
Whether I knew it or not I was changing, just as everything and hopefully everyone around me was changing. My spirituality began changing even as a young boy. I would go to Scout Camp each year and on Sunday we had worship at the camp. Granted the Roman Catholic boys went out of camp to Mass. But the rest of us all worshipped together. I suppose it was Christian oriented worship but it was inclusive. In today’s language worship itself was more about belonging than believing. We were a community.
Now, here in the 21st century, change continues for me and without change the Christian Church will become nothing more than a tradition governed by rules and out-dated concepts. We sing about a God who is “unchanging and eternal”, but that doesn’t mean our understanding of “God” is static. Cognitively, at one time the church used to function with the world-view that the earth was the centre of the universe around which the sun traversed. Even as late as the 1500’s many felt the earth itself was flat and if one went too far they could fall off the edge. Our thinking has changed, we have changed physically and emotionally, but our spirituality has fallen behind.
My God does not sit on a golden throne in “heaven” passing judgement on the good and the bad; those who are baptized and those who aren’t; those who go to worship each and those who don’t. Even though I may still use the Trinitarian formula (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), I don’t believe God is a being like us. For me, to be made in the image of God is to say that I am called to reveal the divine in the way I live and talk and think and that involves the very nature of God which is loving compassion.

The Ark of Respect

Sunday Morning Musings:  Raining a great deal this past week.  The normal areas around here have flooded, receded and are now flooding again.  In other places across Canada more serious flooding is causing a lot of damage and getting much attention.  The news is filled with pics of people filling sand bags in an attempt to keep out the water.  I heard mentioned that some community was considering banding together to build a big boat.

The boat idea is in jest, I think, but on the other hand, will it be big enough for everyone and at least two of each animal?  More importantly who determines who gets in?  For many cultures there is a flood story very similar to the Noah’s Ark story of the Bible.  In this story it was God who decided “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight” (Genesis 6:12) and decided to “bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life” (Gen 6:17).

To me that sounds pretty harsh – harsh punishment for a people who were wicked.  Surely not everyone but Noah’s family were bad.  But that is the literal story and one could ask and many have asked if it is truly historical.  The scientific mind asks about “all” including polar bears and penguins –if there were any of these critters in the middle-east.  The progressive Christian might simply say the story is metaphorical which still doesn’t say too many nice things about God. My mind simply wonders about God who is creator of all things and allows for evil to happen and can only resort to such drastic measures to clean up that which ‘He’ created.

Another element that causes me to pause is the whole idea that even after the flood, evil continues even to this day.  Of course, when we fail to remind ourselves about history, we are bound to repeat it; so what should we do, or think, or believe?

There is no doubt that when the biblical flood story was finally penned, the idea existed of a single God who continued to intervene into the day to day lives of creation.  We are also told that God really just gave “dominion” over all of the other parts of creation to man (let’s be more inclusive and say “humans” and left us to our own resources.  Such an idea means that people should multiply (and we keep doing just that – over 7 billion now).  We have also increased pollution, destroyed much needed forests, continue our demand for fossil fuels, to name a few which some would call evil.

Is God ever going to intervene again?  That would depend firstly, on your understanding of God. Just because I don’t believe that is even the nature of God and I am not an atheist; the one I call Creator is in essence “love”.  If we are truly loving (made in the image of God) then it is no longer about destruction but compassion for all of creation.  That is why we help sand bag.  It is not to fight against God but to be more god-like in our caring for one another and the environment.  Floods will continue to happen, just like a year ago many were concerned with “The Beast” that engulfed Fort Mac in Alberta.  It is not a matter of whether the people are evil or not (most of us aren’t); rather it is a call to be more caring towards all.