Back to beginnings

Perhaps I’ve become distracted by spirit worlds and heavenly realms and future paradises. The colorful plot twists of Christianity’s evolution have captured my imagination. I have to remind myself what this story is really about, and my original question of how it speaks to regular life lived right now.

All of it goes back to a person called Jesus and the core values he expressed during his time on Earth. His was a message of love and sacrifice. Through his example, I am meant to feel loved so that, in turn, I can do my part to love and care for humanity. I am meant to grow comfortable, confident even, walking this planet with the knowledge that my life as I know it will not last long. I have to concentrate to allow this core lesson to resonate in my chest.

Each time I step foot in a church or sing a hymn or read a Bible verse, am I supposed to automatically return to this basic message—triggered like a buried memory?

Not long ago, with my Martin Luther picture book in hand, I had imagined the experience of worship in a Catholic church as one of passive observation: ritual as beautiful, remote spectacle. I have stepped foot in countless Catholic churches as a tourist both here and in Europe and admired the opulent interiors that, even when not in use, are alive with statuary and reflective surfaces.

I may have come a long way on this journey, but it doesn’t compare to the distance the Catholic Church has traveled—first to the Atlantic shores of this continent and then towards the Pacific.

The plain and intimate chapel I walk into is surprising. The walls are stark white, the furniture simple. The one bit of sparkle comes from the flames of two candles atop the modest altar. If I didn’t know better, I’d think this was a Protestant church.

As I take a seat in a basic wood pew, I conjure the image of a pampered and perfumed lady making her way across the American plains in a covered wagon. Each stage of the journey, she sheds a facet of her fancy facade. Illness forces her to trade jewelry for medicine, the wind takes her silk scarf, the sun freckles her porcelain skin. Finally, she arrives at her destination indistinguishable from the other pioneering women who’ve made the same journey: weathered, weary, and windblown.

The only initial indication that this is an outpost of the mighty Catholic Church is a fat book tucked next to the hymnals, which I pull out and flip through. In this volume, every mass of the entire year is spelled out. The “lectionary cycle” insures the Bible is completed on a regular schedule, mandating which parts are read when. The format, authorized by the authorities in Rome, is shared by Catholic churches all over the world: first, a reading from the Old Testament or, at specific times of the year, books of the New Testament; a responsorial Psalm that is, ideally, sung; a second reading from one of the New Testament Letters (only on Sundays); and finally a Gospel reading. Throw in a few hymns and communion. Bada bing, bada boom! You’ve got a service.

Even the communion wafers are mandated. The priest hands each person a tasteless disk of unleavened cracker. No random chunks of misshapen loaves here. Someone, somewhere, is in charge of purchasing Lord’s Supper supplies from a centralized source.

Consistency is key; codes and canons have standardized the practices. It’s a reminder that this denomination has a figure who’s something like a king, a human who speaks on behalf of God. While each church is a finger or toe of this single body, decisions are made by the head. It’s in part what Luther was reacting to when he wrote his manifesto of desired reforms. He wasn’t so much opposed to the consolidated power as what it meant: mandates or traditions he found disagreeable could not be easily changed.

Yet in the 500 or so years since Luther, the Catholic Church has made significant changes, some of which are exactly what Luther was calling for in his day.

As the day’s service unfolds, I imagine what Martin Luther might think if he were sitting next to me…

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34 thoughts on “Back to beginnings

  1. It is fair to say that many of Luther’s primary concerns were eventually reformed at the second Vatican council

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. If I’m counting right, Corinna you’ve been at this now, (at least on this blog), for a little over six months as of this May posting. What’s going on for the “None” in our midst? You write with keen and colorful observations. Occasionally, you pause with one faith tradition to get a little more out of it or to tender its place in history. Where is the “None” whose parents had little interest in religion and who married a Jew with a similar way of parenting? I’m not asking you to choose but simply share a kind of overview of what this search may or may not be doing for you. Maybe we’re all benefiting more than you. We seem to be having a wonderful time talking, reasoning, defending, slapping each other up side the head once in a while but, in the end, enjoying Corinna’s blog. And what of the “None’ ? Just wonderin’.

    • Hi Frank, I’d say, at this point, I’m still a None. However, my appreciation for and understanding of the potential for religion to help and heal us continues to grow. I’d say that to date my most profound discovery is the realization of the importance of gratitude–how it has real transformative power. I see how religion can offer ways to get in touch with and express this gratitude. Honestly, this journey is changing me in some amazing ways. I’m grateful! I will not come out of this the same person I was when I started. I know that for sure. Thank you for being a part of it.

      • I really appreciated Corinna’s answer to my question. Not a day goes by that I don’t express gratitude. Often more than once. Not to a deity or someone’s sacrifice or a particular name but in gratefulness for that “transformative power” that I continually experience in my life when I live in a consciousness of gratitude. Yes, it is reflected in the consciousness of Jesus in prayer and the Buddha in the 5 pillars and in Judaism in special holidays and celebrations and seems to be the cornerstone of all faith traditions as Corinna has shared. I certainly don’t eliminate Atheists as well. The ones I’ve met have a deep sense of gratitude for science and the evolutionary principle of all life. Peace.

      • So you are still a none as in no church? Or no God in these churches, but just good people seeking better way of living? Frankly, I don’t remember if when you started this journey you were agnostic, atheist or unchurched and that was the none aspect.

        • Hi Jeffrey, I’d say I’m still a “None” as in I haven’t selected a particular religion or place of worship to officially join. When I started, I was not atheist or agnostic even…I was just totally ignorant about religion having grown up in a very secular household. I was “nothing in particular” in terms of religion, though I would consider myself spiritually-inclined and very curious. I only have a handful of churhces left (I don’t know the exact count…but it’s not too many). Hope you’ll stick around.

          • Thanks for the clarification on your nun status! I need dig around to see if you’ve yet defined your criteria for selecting a church, sect, cult or just a lively group of spiritual seekers that hang out together. May God Bless You!

  3. Hello Corinna! You nailed it in your very first sentence. With all the various flavors of Christianity out there, it is VERY easy to become distracted. But if we just keep our eyes fixed on JESUS and what He has done for us on the cross, we can begin to comprehend His love, mercy and grace which gives us hope, joy and purpose.
    HEBREWS 12:2
    Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for Him, He thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and He is now seated at the right side of God’s throne.

  4. Your comment on the ‘mandatedness’ (? probably no such word, but what the hey?) of the Catholic service made me think of my own Anglican services (take out the word Pope anywhere it is and you almost have it). They are blessedly, seasonally the same…a rotation of prayers, a rotation of biblical excerpts, the same ritual with seasonal variations. It’s calming and peaceful and deeply, deeply quietly meditative.

    What you are talking about is what C.S. Lewis said religion (ritual, liturgy, etc.) ought to be – like a pair of familiar, wonderfully comfortable old slippers that you KNOW you have on and you can enjoy and feel and not be fixated on. This way, you can ‘worship’ and at the same time be talking, as it were, to God. This is what I find so wonderful about Catholic (Roman or Anglican) services.

    It does not suit all temperaments, I know. But that is why I have often thought God allows so many ‘flavor’ selections. 🙂

    It was just Pentecost last Sunday, and that is the day we were Graced with the Holy Spirit. That presence of the Holy Spirit is what I believe to be the wellspring of that gratitude of which you speak. May yours deepen, and your journey continue to be fruitful.

    Yours in Christ

    • I think everyone who’s posted on this thread has really reached the essence of faith. By feeling loved we can love; by feeling loved, we transform ourselves and can therefore positively effect those around us. And the beauty of liturgy transcends time and place and ties us to the generations who’ve come before. Chesterton said “tradition is the democracy of the dead”; by using traditional liturgies, we connect to centuries of the faithful. Like my fellow Anglican Patti, I was raised in liturgical churches (Catholic then Episcopal), and I read the Daily Office every night. But nether the Roman, nor Anglican, nor Baptist, nor any one church can possibly contain all the ways God reaches out to us. Maybe instead of lamenting all of the different denominations within Christianity, we should celebrate what fundamentally connects us–belief in a loving, forgiving, and caring God, and we can be grateful he allows us to worship him in ways that best connect each of us to Him.

  5. Corinna, I was really touched by what you wrote about Jesus’ core values. Love and sacrifice are such simple ideas, but they are among the most difficult to live out consistently, but to do so is to be close to the kingdom of God, i.e., to live life on this old earth as he intended. I don’t think you have to worry about automatically returning to these core things when setting foot into a church, etc. When they’re in the heart, they’ll just come out. (Of course, the trick is to get them in there in the first place!) You likely know enough about me to know that I’ve not been able to put them into my heart on my own–I’ve had a lot of help, including from a few well-placed 2x4s 🙂

    Also, re Luther, I’m not too certain but that he wouldn’t turn over in his grave were he sitting there with you….He was really adamant about “justification by faith,” and I don’t think even Vatican II would have earned his imprimatur.

    • ps: I just noticed that there are hyperlinks built into this so that clicking on my name takes you to my blog…..how cool is that!! There are a few others scattered among your readers 🙂
      pps: or, is it pss: ? In the picture I’m dressed as Albert Einstein. We share many things: birthdays, pi (pi day is 3.14). Unfortunately, I don’t have his hair (I confess, it’s a wig), nor do I have his brain…oh well, life is soo unfair! Ja!

  6. As a firm believer that organized religion has NOTHING whatsoever to do with how well humans treat one another, I for one sincerely hope Corinna’s journey does not lead her astray from None-ism.

    While the value of the general concepts of fellowship, brotherhood, taking care of one another and treating our fellow man as we would be treated are certainly worth supporting and promoting, STRONG arguments could be made that more harm than good has come from the greedy, lying, corrupt organizers of religions. Historical details aren’t necessary for most folks. Many of those details are too gruesome to print, yet are easy to find.

    Using a book of contradictory fables written centuries ago as a guide for moral living in modern times ― which on one page tells you it’s a sin to kill, yet on another page tells you to stone your own daughter to death if she sleeps with her boyfriend ― is no less foolish nor frightening than using the scant medical knowledge of those barbaric times to do brain surgery today.

    To put it simply, there are in fact no gods, no devils, no heaven and no hell. Those are only figments of a select few Human Imaginations ― just like Santa Claus, Easter Bunnies, Frankenstein and fire-breathing dragons. They were imagined into ‘existence’ by understandably frightened and confused early humans, for no other reason than to furnish comforting (therefore popular, though incorrect) explanations for random misfortunes ― and other mysteries undefined or misunderstood. Imagine otherwise and you may as well also imagine the Earth is flat.

    A growing number of humans worldwide would prefer to see SANE thinking prevail.

  7. I’m not going to argue with you. And I am not going to contradict you. I am simply going to say that your idea of sanity and mine differ. I prefer mine. Peace be unto you.

    Yours in Christ.

  8. You begin your topic with Jesus, but then it sort of refocuses on what Jesus taught (as if looking back on his life from afar to follow a distant example), focusing on loving your neighbor, doing good, and so forth – all extremely important, but the Christian life to me is not primarily about that. It’s about what changes when you meet Jesus.

    When you think of the Christian faith as duty or religious ritual, that’s quite different from what I would say it means to be a Christian. Yes, Christians are to be good and do good, but hopefully everyone in the world sees a reason for being and doing good, as opposed to being selfish, hateful, and evil, to have a functioning, healthy community. But knowing Jesus is different.

    You can think you are really doing well and not know you are living blindly and with no hope of a solid future. That’s how I was. But then Jesus shines a light on your reality when you meet him, which he did to me. No more hiding, like you can hide things from other people – like you can do with those nearest you; your spouse, friends, or co-workers. All that’s on the inside is seen and confronted by Jesus; he insists that you turn around and go another way to follow him; so life with Jesus changes you dramatically. He says, “I make all things new.” Thus, as I became a believer, my entire worldview changed.

    You cannot see this from the outside looking in; you can only see this when you do it.

    Does that mean that because I belong to him, I never sin or do wrong? No, it does not. But it does mean that if I seek him as persistent as I can; try to walk with him daily; talk to him honestly; he will continue to correct me, forgive me, pick me up when I fail, show me a better way, making me stronger with every effort; he sticks with me like glue as he works out new things in me. He meets me daily with unconditional love, wisdom, and encouragement. Basically, he takes me as I am but will not leave me there because he graciously wants so much more for me.

    In times of trauma (for me, cancer, chemo, radiation) he was there. In times of rejection and loss, he was present. When people I loved disappointed me and I could pray nothing more than, “Help me, Jesus,” it was enough — He heard. I was never alone or without hope because He was there.

    As I know him more and more through studying the Bible, worshiping, giving to others, having faith to do what I cannot fathom as possible, and talking to him in prayer, he fills my heart with love for him. I adore him and I feel his love for me more and more. I gain understanding of his ways. I am confronted by my poor habits and he, with gentle prodding and probing, does not allow me to stay there. He is gentle, but He is my King and he insists I honor him in that light. He says if I do not, then I do not know him and he does not know me.

    He loves me so much he died to take the wrath I deserve for ignoring my Creator and disrespecting the world that God made. Jesus was willing to do that for me because I belong to him. Because I am his, I am willing to die to my own self-focus and let him live in me as I respond to his voice which speaks loudly every day, through the Bible and through my experiences. Essentially, he came that I might have life and have it more abundantly. If I take his words to heart, I find that I am healed as he blesses my efforts to respond to his love.

    God says, “I will give you a new heart” and he absolutely does it, little by little. Nothing is more challenging, because it is hard at times to let go, but nothing is more fulfilling than knowing Jesus and living out my life in and through him. That’s what the Christian faith means to me.

    • Well, maybe you’re being a little harsh, John. On this blog, Ginger has always done a good job of describing her faith with a sense of warmth and without making anyone else feel less than she is just because they may not believe in the same manner. I always find a kind of pleasant gentleness in the way she presents herself in her writing. I also hear what you say as well and indeed I have my moments when I believe that much of religious expression is a tragedy visited on the human race particularly when it gets into cult mode and separates families and cultures and excludes people because of their sexual preference coming up with trite expressions like “love the sinner hate the sin”.
      My challenge with folks like Ginger and others who feel that the Jesus experience is the only way to be able to get the most out of life is their total ignorance of the fact that it just ain’t so. There are so many therapeutic avenues that open up the same kind of transparent reality that allows one to open up to themselves and to intuit behaviors that are life changing without affirming Jesus.

    • Ginger, bless you and thank you. I have never, ever heard a better or more heartfelt sermon. You have said what I couldn’t find the words to say. All I can answer is Amen and Amen.

      Yours in Christ

  9. “Well, maybe you’re being a little harsh, John.”

    Possibly so, but after what I’ve seen firsthand and otherwise learned about the unmitigated insanity of most organizers of organized religion, I find he gentle approach to be mostly ineffective.

    Most religious followers appear to be following for noble, honorable reasons. They follow because they genuinely desire better lives for their families and fellow humans beings. More often than not, a Follower’s worst mistake is in believing that better lives come ONLY through blind acceptance of another human’s strangely-compelling yet thoroughly misconceived ideas about human existence. Despite their fundamental misconceptions, some Followers can still be admired and befriended because they demonstrate noble purpose and honorable intent. Some of them even have a sense of ‘existential’ humor.

    However, many just find it easier to follow blindly than to face existential mysteries head-on. This isn’t surprising. For Followers, discovering the TRUTH about the fundamentals of existence is often frightening, especially when centuries-old belief systems are suddenly revealed to be misconceived. For most Followers, the realization that they’ve been blindly putting their faith into foolish contradictory fables and flawed mythologies can be an unsettling experience.

    In the interest of promoting sanity, I enjoy moving that sort of unsettling experience forward, and gentle doesn’t usually get that job done.

  10. By the way, I’ve noticed that Corinna’s host site WordPress has an oddity about it that occasionally causes responses to appear out of chronological order. One solution is to reply ONLY by clicking on the ‘Reply’ button at the very bottom of these individual blogpost threads.

  11. Such diversity! This IS a real look at comparative religions……well, primarily Christian religious similarities and differences!…..but even here there is a tremendous difference in beliefs and non-beliefs. I tend to side with John about the mythological roots of the Christian religion, but I understand that most people who read this blog…..at least those who comment….. would strongly disagree with me. I am not uncomfortable with that…do not feel defensive…I do not have a need to have people agree with me. I am strongly embedded in my own understanding and beliefs, and I leave the judging to others….not to God, as i am quite sure that the kind of Universal that I believe in does not have the capacity to judge……Peace. Merrill

    • Hi Merrill, I really appreciate the way you state your point of view without a sense of anger or judgement. I think it’s impossible to know what another person is imagining when they speak of “God.” Some people, like me, might think of something such as the Universe or energy of the cosmos or something hard to define like that and others will concieve of something far more concrete like Jesus. And maybe some people will concieve of many versions depending on their mood or the day or what phase of life, etc. I think this diversity is okay. I think we can still talk and maybe even move forward together…

  12. John: I am just now reading your comments. I am a Christian and follower of Jesus, but I would agree with you that “organized religion” has nothing to do with how humans treat one another. The institutionalization and organization of religion (I’m speaking here specifically of Christianity) has done much to vitiate, emasculate, and blaspheme the name of God and of Jesus. Paul the Apostle was pretty rough in his rebuke of the Jews (he was himself a Jew) when he said, “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles (ie, non-Jews) because of you.” Jesus’ strongest statements were reserved for the religious leaders of his day as he spoke to the hypocrisy and self-righteousness they exhibited in their own lives and instilled in the lives of their converts. He could have been speaking just as well of many of the religious leaders of today (who claim the name of Christ). The writings of the New Testament are at least as reliable as any other ancient source, and they set forth what his immediate followers heard and saw (though some are indeed second hand), and they record a man who could be both tough as steel and gentle as a lamb and who willingly made himself a servant to others and laid down his life for them. I’ve been involved in institutional churches all my Christian life (since 1971) and have seen good and bad, but they aren’t all the same. To the extent they honestly reflect Jesus, his character, values, and view of things, I’d say that’s a good place to be, Now, since we live in the real world, most churches are filled with highly imperfect people, not always pleasant to be around, but to the extent that they recognize their deep, real need of God (Jesus called that being “poor in spirit” in the Beatitudes), then I’d give them a shot as well….
    Walt

  13. Walt, you again hit it on the head. I have a friend who constantly laments the hypocrisy of the people she meets in church, and has thrown her baby (faith) out with the bathwater (church). My response to her is this: a church is supposed to be the place you find hypocrites and sinners, as hopefully, they are there because they NEED to be! That doesn’t mean all will recognize their own sins or be any more pleasant because they do. But at least they are in a place where there is a snowball’s chance in Hades of getting healing.

    My response to both John and Merrill is that I have lived in the kind of universe they postulate. I’ve have rejected the whole Church and it’s stupidities and savagery; I’ve been a ‘Universalist’ without Christ; I’ve been into Metaphysics with a capitol M and Reincarnation and Buddhism and Kabbalah (all in varying degrees but enough to at least skim the surface. I ‘did’ all of these before turning back to MY beginnings of faith and joy and rest in Jesus Christ.

    For me, John and Merrill’s universes are black abysses, filled with cold and void, and I am glad to be out of them. I would wish for them the same warmth, strength, comfort and joy I have found, but it’s not my call or place or judgement to value where THEY are, it is simply my responsibility to proclaim the Good News. If, as Merrill says, she is not uncomfortable with her universe, then that is her heart, and only the Holy Ghost has the ability to change it (in my understanding). One of the pleasures of following this blog is to hear others proclaiming that Good News as well.

    Peace and the Grace of God in Jesus Christ to us ALL.

  14. I tend to look at what an institution calls us to be ,rather than the mess we humans tend to make of it. To me, the two greatest documents in human history are the Bible and the U.S. Constitution. Both challenge us to treat our fellow humans with dignity and respect; one in the secular world and one in the spiritual realm. And without a doubt we, as failed and fragile humans, have never really lived up to the ideals in either document.
    Like the Bible, the Constitution originally contained some pretty toxic language (anyone remember the three-fifth’s rule)? However, it would be absurd to reject my identity as an American just because, so many times, we’ve failed to reach the goals our Founding Fathers set for us, or because they saw the world very differently from us. The Constitution’s core message and primary objective was to ensure the fundamental dignity of our citizens. That is what we, as Americans, should strive for.
    So too with the Bible. You can criticize the Old Testament for the overarching violence of its historical sections, and you can treat Paul as a misogynist, but when you read Jesus’s words, he clearly challenges us to look at the world and other people in a whole new way. Love of enemy was a radical idea 2,000 years ago, as was affirming the dignity of the poor and sick. . That is what we, as Christians, should strive for
    Yes, I lament the horrible things people have done in His name, past and present, just as we should lament what our government has done despite the call of the Constitution; the decimation of Native American populations comes to mind. But I would no more reject my faith than I would reject my citizenship. What I try to do every day is live up the ideals Jesus set for me-and for all of us,

    • Hi Tim, I really appreciate your comments (and others on this thread) acknowledging the harm humans have done to other humans in the name of religion (and so many other things but, here, specifically religion). Sometimes I think a simple acknowledgement of the wrongs goes so far in healing whatever damage may have been done (as opposed to denial or minimizing, etc.). I think true acknowledgement takes humility and a willingness to accept responsiblity (even if we personally didn’t commit the violence) that is a profound gesture of love. Sometimes I wonder if many people today are turned off by the good aspects of religion because many religious leaders won’t take the simple step of acknowledging the hurt that’s been done and the desire to make better choices.

      • Corinna, You said ” I wonder if many people today are turned off by the good aspects of religion because many religious leaders won’t take the simple step of acknowledging the hurt that’s been done and the desire to make better choices.”

        Remember that when Jesus was around history apparently holds that the crowd surrounding him, when the cruxifiction time came, yelled “crucify him”. So I think people are more turned off because God gives people free will to build a momentum on whatever they choose. On the other hand, we have a truly spiritual leaders drowned out by the mass media who have chosen the position of Godless (yelling crucify them, the true spiritual leaders). I believe when we have more people like you appear to be doing, humbly sorting through your “noneness” on a journey to find your place, we will find a resurgence of truth– truth as in “seek and you will find the truth”. The Absolute Truth found in the inner paths of the mystical paths of the worlds religions is the truth that will ultimately solve the worlds problems like those who attempt to do so at http://www.thrivemovement.com. (I’m not saying thrive movement will succeed without a revolution in higher consciousness).

        Jeffrey

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