Right on

Maybe it took almost 500 years, but the Catholic Church has adopted some reforms originally demanded by Protestants.

Today, in turn, some Protestants are borrowing ideas from the Catholic Church. In an effort to feel more in sync with other Christians, some denominations have created their own Bible-reading schedules similar to the Roman Catholic Mass Lectionary; they are literally on the same page as others using that same guide. Traditional elements such as more frequent communion, celebrating Lent, or Stations of the Cross strengthen ties between Christians around the world.

The Protestants who came to these soils may have achieved the religious freedoms for which they set out, but lost something vital along the way. How else to explain the “Plan of Union of 1802” when 2,000 independent Congregational churches traded their autonomy and name for the Presbyterian structure and title?

The pilgrims and pioneers yearned for autonomy, to be free of directives about how to worship or live. The Plymouth Rock Society Toast summed it up: “To a church without a bishop and a state without a king.”

But perhaps the only thing more American than to fight for freedom is to achieve freedom and then look longingly at severed ties. It’s the same struggle I experience on a most intimate level. I want to make my own decisions about spirituality but that doesn’t necessarily mean I want to trudge the path alone.

Protestants may be turning back to the Catholic Church for inspiration—but they’re reaching forward too. It wasn’t until I was further along in this journey that I could reflect on some of my earlier church visits and see how popular culture, particularly trends in music, were being incorporated into the services of more established denominations.

“Are you here for the contemporary or traditional service?” a young man inquires of me at the chapel door of a Presbyterian church just a few months after I started my church-going.

“What’s the difference?” I ask. This is the first I’m hearing of two services.

“The music mostly. I think. I don’t know.” He looks around self-consciously. “I always go to the contemporary one. I’ll get Pastor Jeff. He can explain.”

He returns, tailed by a baby-faced man in an enormous blazer. Pastor Jeff has recently lost 100 pounds or he just likes really loose-fitting clothes. Either way, it makes him appear even younger than he already seems, like a kid wearing his father’s suit.

“You’re visiting us today!” He exudes oodles of confidence. He is handsome in a clean-cut way. I nod, picturing him in Christian camp as a teenager, all the girls chastely fawning over him in the mess hall.

“Right on,” he says enthusiastically, using a phrase I associate with surfers. He explains that the contemporary service uses newer “rock” songs and guitar, whereas the other features older hymns and a choir. Besides this, they are the same: identical message and readings and sermon. “The newer music rubs some of the older folks the wrong way,” he says.

I choose the one starting immediately—the contemporary one.

In the main sanctuary, Pastor Jeff says a few words of welcome and then disappears into the corner. Suddenly, a loud guitar riff fills the chapel. I scan the room to spy what I had previously overlooked: to the side of the altar sit the accoutrement of a full rock band including drums, bass, keyboards and two backup singers sandwiched between tall concert speakers.

The pastor spins to face us, an electric guitar strapped to his chest…

44 thoughts on “Right on

  1. hee hee !!! Love it!! It is so much about the questions I have asked myself: What do you want to do? and Where do you want to go? My answer always comes back: Go and do what resonates to you and if there’s a group of people out there who seem to resonate at least to some of the same ideas go be with them. I know the “Jesus thinkers” don’t usually like that answer and it is o.k. with me that they don’t. If I ever have the Jesus experience at the level they claim to have it I may change my mind but at this point I sincerely doubt it. So far the Jesus experience for me in the context in which they present it is way too limiting. My perception of what you’re saying is that Christian churches today are endeavoring to change with the times and are also borrowing things from each other in order to keep the doors open. I was told once, after commenting on the fact that the contemporary music was too loud, to go to the Wednesday night service where it was quieter. I told them I didn’t want to go to the Wednesday night service. They just shrugged their shoulders. It reminded me of the KISS concert I took my young teenage son to many years ago. I stuffed cotton in my ears to tolerate sitting in the “noise.” A young lady next to me looked up and laughed asking: “How come you have cotton in your ears?.” I said, “I can’t stand the noise.” She said, “Well, at least you came with your son. My father wouldn’t even set foot in the door.” So, sure…I’ll try anything once but I have to find my own “nest” to settle in.
    So far I’m camped out with Centers For Spiritual Living and enjoying my internal and external acquaintance with the Higher Consciousness I call God. From the descriptions I’ve heard of it, I’m sure I’ve had the Jesus experience too, I just call it an inner knowing. It’s a very personal thing to which I have adapted the words to a very old hymn: “……and It walks with me and It talks with me and tells me I am It’s own and the words we share as we tarry there none other has ever known.”

  2. lol……….You have entered the war zone all right, Corinna.
    The more traditional among us call it the ‘dumbing down’ of church (ALL RIGHT….(ducks) ALL RIGHT, don’t squash me! The point being that it’s not just the music that’s different in contemporary services, If you talking about a liturgical service, such as Roman Catholic, Anglican Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran…the newer liturgies have changed the language sometimes very seriously and always by trying to remove a lot of the rather uncomfortable parts.

    Example: 1928 Book of Common Prayer prayer of public confession. Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men; We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word and deed, Against thy divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. we do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant, that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee in newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
    Example from Contemporary Episcopal service prayer of public confession: Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

    At first glance you may not think there is much difference. But it is the flavor, the SPIRIT, if you will of the confessing penitent that comes across differently. At least to me. I was an English major and I have a very, very strong connection with what realities different words create. And we won’t EVEN go into the liturgies that have tried to incorporate ‘sophia’ language!!

    As to music, I vividly remember remember one Pentecost at my old Lutheran church trying not to gag as we, the choir, sang this nice little contemporary piece of music that was about five pages long and had AT LEAST 6 different words in it – love, flame, fire, love, love, love (well, maybe only three). I felt exactly as though I were a kindergartner singing “My name is Patti; my NAME is Patti; MY name is Patti, My name is PATTI. Yuck.

    Around the same time my husband, who was a member of the vestry, was called to go to the synod meeting all about ‘incorporating the contemporary’ into the Lutheran church. He made his opinions fairly well known and one of the music directors there said ‘Oh…but we’ll lead them slowly into it.” And David’s response was “Oh!!!You are going to use the ‘how to boil a frog’ method.” At their puzzled looks he said “You put the frog in lukewarm water and heat it gradually. That way he doesn’t know when he’s being boiled alive.” Needless to say, we were not long in that church and we finally became Anglicans of a provenence that uses the old 1928 Book of Common Prayer – as our Bishop said “the last seemly BCP.”

    I have one funny last story to tell and then I will quit ranting. Can you tell that this is a subject of extreme interest to me???

    Some elderly friends left the traditional church they had attended when it turned contemporary. They found what they thought was a safe haven. Then one Sunday the wife went into choir and found bongo drums waiting to be played. When her husband joined her, he took one look and said “Which churches will we be visiting next week?” Still, their bongo experience was not as bad as the incorporation of a didjeridoo at the church I mentioned above. I give thanks we weren’t there for it.

    I have often teased my Roman friends that our Anglican church is infinitely more Catholic than theirs, these days. But what you are going to find is that this is a subject that produces STRONG feelings and is another reason there really needs to be flavors!!!!!!!!!!!

    I look forward to the comments and thoughts incited by your newest blog. As always, you are a delight to read.

    Yours in Christ

  3. Corrina, you have tapped into what has become the ‘two-edged sword’ for many churches here on the East Coast of Canada – catering to the (mostly) seniors in the congregations by offering traditional services or doing contemporary services to attract younger people. In an ideal situation the congregation is large and employs more than one pastor so are able to offer two services but that is not usually the case. I have sat in on many a meeting to discuss this dichotomy, with the older members wondering why the younger people are not coming to church and searching for what they are doing wrong. The sad reality is that they are doing nothing wrong – as the old song goes, “The times, they are a-changin'”. I assume that’s part of what you are delving into with your Blog.

    And Frank, I can hear my mother singing that Hymn – she was a high soprano. I also spent years wondering what a ‘pyonder’ was – you know, “When the roll is called a pyonder”. . . smile. . .

  4. Carmen, I agree with you that this has become a two-edged sword topic in many churches. Luckily we found a church that is DEEPLY traditional, and has two services. The 8:30 is spoken, the 10:30 is sung. What is amazing and heartwarming and comforting is that it is also a church that has a HUGE age spread. We have many, many young ones, many teens, many young and not so young marrieds and then we have the on up there’s – as in the woman whose birthday we celebrated Sunday. She turned 100. We have almost no unmarried or divorced, but a few.

    I don’t know how my husband and I got so lucky, but I do know that our church is not in the ordinary mold. At one point a previous priest tried to introduce the really modern liturgy and such in catechism class for the teens. They all complained until it finally went back to – 1928 BCP.

    It’s almost like it’s a matter of harmonies. People have to worship on the same level of harmony in words and music or the discordance is going to be damaging for the object of the exercise, which is to worship God wholemindedly. If you can achieve that harmony as our church has, for everyone – that’s fantastic and a blessing. If it takes two services, then two services is a good idea. .

    While I am grateful for what I’ve found in my church, I don’t begrudge most of the attempts I notice to include a contemporary service in other churches. I admit that I get perturbed sometimes by how much is being lost in the language, but what the hey……………I am perturbed by the fact that our language has already disintegrated to the point that even the least uneducated person once had the richness of the language used by Shakespeare at their command and look at what texting is doing to us now? Whole nother subject and I’ll shut up.lol.

    And I got a good laugh out of your ‘pyonder’. As a native Texan, I can appreciate some of the horrors it is possible to inflict on the ear with mispronunciation. My favorite is the Texas version of ‘tired’. It’s ‘tarred’ as in feathered.

    Yours in Christ

    • Patti, Your comments on pronunciation made me laugh. Having been born and partially raised in Texas, I have some deep-seated pronunciation quirks. For example, I say “still” as “steel” and my husband’s name, “Phil,” will often come out as “feel” if I don’t make my mouth move properly. You can take the girl outta Texas, but she’s still gonna talk funny…

    • Patti, when I first read this one I was going to write, “Aren’t you lucky to have found a place like this!”, since it so obviously suits you (It’s wonderful that you have a wide age range – so stimulating and NECESSARY). After reading this whole thread, though, I now think, “Isn’t this congregation lucky to have Patti!”

  5. Hi Patti—

    Your post struck a chord with me as well. When we switched from Roman Catholic to Anglican in 2004, we just picked the nearest Episcopal church, expecting the stereotypical “Catholic lite” service. I was shocked when the priest faced the altar instead of the congregation, and used the angelus bells, etc. It really was like being in a pre-Vatican II Mass (except of course the priest’s wife was sitting in the pew behind us—LOL)!

    I serve as an acolyte for a Thursday evening Mass that uses the 1928 BCP. What I like most is the elegance and economy of the language and service. A lot of people think being traditional means using big or archaic words, but I think the 1928 BCP takes advantage of the inherent beauty of the English language by using the right words in the right rhythm. To me, the traditional Mass reinforces that you are somewhere special, celebrating something so extraordinary that it requires its own unique words and cadence.

    Of curse, in keeping with Anglican philosophy, I fully respect those who prefer a more contemporary setting. What’s important is what is in each person’s heart; the service is just a means to an end. But I’ll take “Pie Jesu” over “Our God is an Awesome God” any day!

  6. Hi everyone….When Michelle and I became Christians in 1971, a friend invited me to a “concert” at the church. Concert? It was ambiguously called, “Jesus Christ, Solid Rock.” it was sooo cool, because I really loved the rock music of the 60s. The concert was cool and weird at the same time. Rock music at church? “Isn’t this sacrilegious?” I thought to myself. I soon got used to the idea, but I came to feel that some of it was just too over the top….and at the same time realized I didn’t have much use either for songs that might have good words but may as well have been played at a funeral procession…..

  7. “Isn’t this sacrilegious?”

    Where have I heard that before…oh yeah…when the Pharisses and Saduceees were talking about Jesus! I guess we need to concentrate more on the message and less on the method of delivery. If rock works for one person, tradtional for another and no music at all for someone else, then its okay. Its when the form takes precedence over the content that our priorities get messed up.
    “Jesus Christ,Solid Rock”? Sounds like one of those cheesy K-tel album commercials from the 70’s!

  8. I’ll be interested in what happens in July at my local Center For Spiritual Living. Our minister serves on the city’s Interfaith Council and has invited each minister, Rabbi and Priest to come to our Center for an evening of singing with each one bringing their choir or special soloist to sing one of their traditional faith songs….Episcopalian, Methodist, Catholic, Jewish, Presbyterian and oddly enough we have a Mormon in the interfaith movement so I expect they will send some lovely singers too. We plan to open the program with our usual Sunday song which is a responsive: “Spirit’s calling are you listening?” and the response: “Spirit’s calling I am listening.” Of course we won’t hear from our fundamentalist nor evangelical friends since they don’t consider the interfaith council to be Christian. They have their own Christian Business Men’s Association. It’s too bad because I know from having attended some of their churches they have beautiful music to contribute as well.
    Anyway, I’m looking forward to an “enchanting” evening.

    • Frank, Please report back! If you’re interested in composing a “guest blogger” post, that would be lovely. Otherwise, just let us know what comes of this interfaith dialogue.

      • I will be glad to but it isn’t the first time we’ve done something like this. The interfaith group meets at a different church each month for their business meeting and to answer questions about each other’s faith as well as to combine efforts for giving to local charities and community events.. A couple of years ago we invited all of them to put together a Thanksgiving week service with each minister giving a three to five minute talk. It was amazing. A wonderful shaman native American Indian welcomed each guest outside the door with a smokey saging around their body. After everyone was seated, (There were many from each church as well, not just the minister, Priest or Rabbi), the Wiccans opened the evening by doing special blessings from the directions, North, South, East and West and then our minister said a few words to open the program and each minister, Priest and Rabbi and Islamic leader got up to give their presentation around Thanksgiving and gratitude. The local Mormon Leader came, too. And an old Priest from an ancient Persian religious group with his ornate robe and head piece. The Singh community sent a representative. It was an absolutely wonderful evening. Sadly our Jesus and Jehovah friends didn’t send anyone but we expected that.

        • Now THAT’s what I call an ecumenical experience – what a variety! What a rich learning environment. . . .and aren’t you lucky!

  9. Hi guys! Tim, when you talked about the 1928 BCP using the words in the right rhythm….isn’t that a form of music? I think it is, to both of us. And it’s the music that sits most pleasantly on my ears and hearts. I have had to learn the hard way that this is not true of everyone. We all resonate to different rhythms.

    An example: There is a young teen in our choir who has her head phones on every moment she’s not in church. When I heard her singing aloud, I realized that she was listening to some of that Christian Rock that Walt mentioned…whatever current favorite is on the Christian charts. At the same time, she will take those headphones off and sing (and enjoy) the choir’s rendition of Thomas Tallis’s work “If You Love Me”, which was written in the mid 1500’s. For her, both rhythms are right.

    My husband and I have found that our musical tastes differ quite deeply, quite often. He loves atonal modern music; I call it screescrawing and the equivalent of pulling a lot of cat’s tails all at the same time. He loves jazz with a passion, it makes my shoulders run up to my ears. I love Gregorian chant; it drives him insane. Funnily enough, we have met in taste on only two places: (most) traditional church music and something called Sacred Harp.

    Sacred Harp is acapella music that dates back to colonial times and has had a resurgence in the last 20 years. If any of you saw “Cold Mountain”, the gospel music sung in that was Sacred Harp. It is raw, vibrant, heartfelt and often unbearable to some people. It was mainly meant to be sung as a joyous noise for God and for the singer – never mind the listener, lol.

    Frank….when you say that your fundamentalist and evangelical friends won’t be attending, it’s possibly because of the feeling that there isn’t much difference between attending an interfaith service and doing what Rome wanted Christians to do – put out offerings for the Emperor, which meant worshiping other than God. I know that probably sounds crazy to you. I would happily attend a musical evening, as long as it was not a worship service. That’s partly because any worship service I attend must be Trinitarian centered. Just call us fuddy duddies and laugh. It’s ok. It’s very hard to explain how one can be non-participatory and yet non-judgemental. Just know that I try.

    Another part of the question of contemporary vs traditional – music and form, is the question of I guess…..how you ‘relate’ to God???? I don’t quite know how to express it. I know that there are some people who can contemplate the idea of “let’s go hang out and have coffee with Jesus” with no problem. I often feel more on the order of the woman washing Jesus’s feet and staying near the floor. I’m not explaining this very well, but that’s the closest I can come. One level works well with electric guitars and rock music, the other works better with Gregorian chants.

    There is obviously room for both the contemplative and the ecstatic in religion, and the music appropriate to each. Though I have a feeling Walt and I would disagree most heartily on what constitutes funeral and what doesn’t lol.

    Yours in Christ

    • Patti, Frank, Tim:

      Actually, Patti, you and I would probably be on the same page at funerals 🙂 I love Gregorian chant and probably even some that I would classify as a dirge would be delightful….I’m very ecklectic and love just about every kind of music. Some I just can’t listen to for lengthy periods 😐 . I’ve learned what Tim was saying about form vs content. The form is absolutely not an issue for me. That took a while for me to sort out and some never have.

      The day before we left for Senegal, West Africa in January 1980, a young woman we knew gave us a cassette tape by Keith Green. You may know him or not. He was a complete hippie singer/composer in the 60s, and in the early 70s, became a Christian. He wrote some of the greatest Christian music ever….plain spoken, heart-felt, sold-out for God, often using Scripture paraphrase as his text, tunes were in the 60s style folk music with meaningful lyrics. Dylan actually accompanied him on harmonica during his brief flirtation with Christianity. I fell in love with that music and delighted to play it and sing it aloud throughout our time in Africa (til 1989). The evangelical mission that we were part of maintained a school 70 miles away–in days when our only contact was via taxi, motorcycle, or car–and was very fundamentalistic, separatistic, and legalistic. One day when we showed up at the school, we found to our dismay that Keith Green’s music had been banned. Neither Michelle nor I were mature enough then to see the red-flagged handwriting on the wall and pull out. Such stands (there were many more) created unending problems and distractions–and hurt–for parents and children who were trying to figure out what was right. Keith was killed flying his plane, along with his son, in 1982. We still sing some of his music in our church and I have several of his albums. If you’ve not heard of him, here’s a link to his website, maintained by his wife, Melody: http://www.lastdaysministries.org/Groups/1000008644/Last_Days_Ministries/Keith_Green/Keith_Green.aspx

      As for being ecumenical, I want to cry over the divisions within the Christian world and am looking for ways to bridge some of that. Frank, I would attend that service as a Christian, though not likely as a representative of a church. I think Patti’s distinction is a good one: worship vs singing or some other human contact. I might have to politely bow out at some point.

        • Hi Frank: I honestly don’t know. I don’t have a set of guidelines to go by. I’m sure I would be asking, “Father, what do I do now??” This would be one of those situations where I would be asking myself that somewhat trite, overused, but really important question, What would Jesus do?
          Any thoughts?

          • Judging from my perception of your personality from the things you’ve said in Corinna’s blog I would find it hard to believe that you would walk out of anything unless you deemed it highly offensive. You might not agree with everything but you seem to be a person who would respect another’s belief long enough to give it a once over and move on as you do here without fearing that you would lose something of your own convictions. I could be wrong, of course. Only you could decide if you were worshiping or observing.

            • Right on, Frank! Truth has entered the building!…with apologies to Shelley 🙂 I think Jesus would have stayed also Frank. He might have something to say, but probably would simply watch quietly, though he might overturn a table or two (in someone’s thinking, that is)….

      • ps re old hymns: I learned many as a young boy going to church. After I knew that I was a Christian (I was 23), those old hymns took on new meaning. I didn’t always like the music (tune) but the words are great. A wonderful worship leader in a Christian Assembly Church (4-square) in Eagle Rock (part of L.A.) has given some of those great hymns a new flavor in a new album, “Generation Hymns”. Here’s a link to YouTube that has these on video: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLv3loTEpQ01x5RB8e8LYssNhGGqeZZoZk

  10. “Right on”? The pastor said that? I think that one left the building about 1975. But then, probably nobody is saying “left the building” anymore either. My point is, trends…..in everything they come & go, so why not worship styles? In the Mennonite church I’ve sung hymns a capella in 4 part harmony (or tried to — I think Mennonites are born being able to sing in 4 part harmony), and in the Vineyard church I’ve sung contemporary songs with the full rock band. I liked the hymns better, but I know a lot of folks got tired of the same old and felt like something new & fresh in their own everyday language expressed better their heart toward God. There used to be lots of heated discussions in churches I attended about worship styles! It seemed pretty incongruous to me that people would insult each other and vie for control, over how to sing to God!

    Speaking just for me, I can’t do organized religion of any kind anymore. Maybe I got burnt out, maybe my view of God changed, I don’t know. I guess I’m a Jesus-following None. A Free Believer. I’m not saying my way is right, but I don’t think there is a wrong. I’m glad for Patti and Tim and Walt being able to worship truly through liturgy and hymns, and I’m glad for Frank and his “enchanted evenings” with folks of all faiths, and I’m glad for those who feel close to God shouting along with the electric amplified stuff. For me, it’s a quiet moment in my chair with my notebook talking to my “Papa”, or being in Papa’s beautiful creation with him.

    For me, the institutional church is stifling, rancorous, petty, judgmental, exclusive and sometimes harmful to humans. My mom absolutely loved her church, even though it was all of the above. I think it would be better to stay in church and try to change it from within, than quit, but it seems like too big a job to me. I’ve decided to live and let live….or more like love, and let love.

    Thanks for listening to my rant,

    • LOL….
      Thanks Shelly for marching to the tune of a different drummer. If there’s room for all of us on Corinna’s blog then most certainly there is room for all of us on the planet who, in the end are all doing the same thing; declaring the One Power and emanating from the One Power. We just haven’t learned to dance with each other yet in a way that makes ALL of God acceptable to our senses. As we so often do with our personality we compartmentalize God similar to having an old fashioned roll top key hole desk with all those compartments where we can stick things that kind of go together but don’t have to touch each other. Eventually we may get to realize that we’re the “desk” but until then we find comfort in compartmentalizing. We are experiencing a new spiritual paradigm and, as with all such periods of change it takes time. Sometimes when I’m conducting a class on spiritual matters I end by telling everyone I have a very old hymn for everyone to sing together. One that they all know by heart. I ask them to start bending forward and back in their chairs and move their arms a little. When everyone’s in motion I begin and they smile and join in: “Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream. Merrilee, Merrilee, Merrilee, Merilee, Life is but a dream.” Breathe….and end.

    • Hi Shelley,

      Thanks for your rant. It makes sense, and is a big part of why I started this journey. How does one navigate these differences and understand them? To go it alone? To find a way with others? It can seem so complicated, but maybe the further along you get you find it’s really not. One of my mom’s best friends was once a very serious Buddhist, meditating regularly, etc. She no longer does any of the formal practicing and I asked her recently if she missed it. She told me her life is a meditation now. She is slowly dying now from cancer, and she seems more appreciative and alive and full of love than just about anyone I know.

    • Hi Shelley. Yes, I’ve come to some of those same conclusions. ps: you left out “self-righteous” and “irrelevant”. Thankfully, I’m still in a position to do something about it in an established church. I’m on a journey as well that will not be soon over, I think.

      I’m curious that you used “Papa” to speak of the Father. Have you read “The Shack”? I loved that, though many of my friends condemned it. Curiouser still: Jesus came and did a lot of teaching and modeling to show who God truly is, and he taught his disciples (apprentices) to use the word “Abba,” an Aramaic (his native tongue) equivalent for Papa. The Jewish leaders were aghast at this–it did not fit with their tradition. It was to show the kind of relationship God desires his creation to have with him, not only as the covenant-keeping God (Yahweh, a name the Jews were afraid to utter).

      One of the marks of a disciple that Jesus mentioned to let people know that they were learning from Jesus was their love for each other. Jesus deserves better than the crappy situation in many (most) of our churches. Thanks for your “rant”.


      • Oh Walt! Yes! Parts of The Shack had a great influence on me. Mostly the parts about the relationship between Papa, Jesus and Sarayu. After I read it, it seemed right to call God “Papa”, in the same spirit as Jesus called his father Abba.
        What have you found to do about the self-righteousness and irrelevancy in your church? I would know more of your journey.

        • Shelley:
          No easy answers. For the past nearly three years, we’ve been attending a congregational church in Pasadena (CA) which is definitely more accepting, encouraging, and just plain relaxed. We left a church that had been our home for over 30 years, and it was difficult, but freeing. I have been doing some teaching in our Sunday school (30-somethings and early 40s–I am 65) on the message that Jesus brought. So many American evangelicals are caught up in trying to prove themselves to God–even though they considered themselves “saved” and going to heaven–they are on a performance treadmill never doing well enough under the searching gaze of God on the throne. Their churches are pushing them to “pursue holiness” which is not a bad thing in itself, but the way it’s being pushed is what I call the “ministry of the mirror of condemnation”: “seek to be perfect” and keep examining yourself to look for any sin, and repent. Problem is, people who are so caught up in examining themselves will see nothing but condemnation, get discouraged, yet afraid of sharing their struggles and failures, and eventually lose hope. They have totally missed the grace of Papa, who is really like a perfect earthly father who encourages, teaches, and expects the best–but loves us unconditionally. That’s why (in my understanding), Jesus invited people to “Come to me, all who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29). The last sentence is what discipleship is all about–he “learned” us to be sons, loving Papa and others. The yoke is obviously a symbol of work–but he shares the yoke with us. Understanding the Father as Jesus taught is to realize he is adopting us as his chiildren (the Bible calls this ‘sons’ or ‘sonship’–and includes male and female), and he delights in us and enjoys us, even as a perfect father seeks to train his children to live life and, on occasion, may have to take us to the woodshed. (see for example Proverbs 3:12) You can’t help but love a Papa like this, like the story in ‘The Shack’ where Papa allowed that man to be involved in a horrific accident in order to reveal the way he loves us.

          I am also working with a small men’s group, seeking to impart some of the same understanding, and doing some writing. I know this sounds very small-scale, but, hey, Jesus started with 12 guys (very imperfect, I might add), and they turned the whole world upside down. I am also doing writing, including a blog, and I am also trying to contribute in a constructive way to this blog. The biggest stumbling block for people coming to Jesus seems to be other Christians. Gandhi made a notable statement to this effect after living for awhile in “Christian” Britain: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

          Don’t quit! There’s loads of promises about God showing himself to those who seek him. Also, ask him to lead you to some like-minded believers so you can encourage each other.


          • ps: About being irrelevant: Jesus was never irrelevant. What I try to communicate with people is that, if one starts with what he said, the rest of it (ie, Paul and the rest of the New Testament) comes into clearer perspective.
            re: being self-righteous. There again, Jesus is relevant. Christians have some pretty clear instructions about seeking to imitate and follow him and learn from him. A quick snapshot of what this would look like was penned by Paul in Philippians 2, where he writes telling those believers to have the mind of Christ, who did not seek to cling to his “rights” but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant. If people in churches actually did that, just imagine….

  11. Frank said:
    “If there’s room for all of us on Corinna’s blog then most certainly there is room for all of us on the planet who, in the end are all doing the same thing; declaring the One Power and emanating from the One Power. We just haven’t learned to dance with each other yet in a way that makes ALL of God acceptable to our senses.”
    That’s a wonderful metaphor, Frank. If, as I’ve said before, we can’t really understand how God thinks, then we shouldn’t limit His power to how we as individuals, meet Him. What I’m reading in this series of posts is how He has so many ways of approaching us, from traditional liturgy to inter-faith meetings. There’s a passage in the Psalms, (paraphrased): “Where can I go and not find God? He is there when I awake and when I go to sleep. Even in the grave He can follow me.” That passage carries a powerfully positive message, that no matter where we may be on the “religious” spectrum, from hierarchal church to “None”, He always there, ready to embrace us.

    • Thanks, Tim. Yes, I like that passage from the Psalms, too. To me, it makes God limitless. Your comments about God “always there, ready to embrace us” reminds me of another passage. I believe it’s attributed to Jesus, “Lo, I am standing at the door knocking.” These days I no longer interpret that to mean that Jesus is waiting for us to let him in. His consciousness, as God is on the inside of us “knocking” to be recognized and let out. We were never without God or Jesus. We just forgot who we really are. As one of my favorite lady ministers used to say, “If you feel separated from God, who moved?” Lots of people tell wonderful stories of how they “found” or “met” Jesus in their lives and I believe all of their stories. They are very meaningful to them. Still I believe he was ever present and they simply had a wonderful moment when their eyes got open like the two men on the Emmaus Road. Sometimes that God consciousness is in front of our eyes and we don’t see it. There’s a great Zen saying: “When the student is ready the teacher appears.” It is not only a few who have that special relationship. We all have it. There’s nothing to look for but ourselves. In my interpretation of things, when we open our own door and let “Jesus” out, it comes with a recognition of the special gifts and talents we have to give to the world. A recognition of the things we have to forgive ourselves and others for and a loving and warm gratitude for all of Life. Whatever you wanted to do or be or become or whatever fear or anxiety that held you back is let loose and you are free to be and you bless the world because of it because no one else can give the gift you were meant to bring.

      • Frank, in my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful and thought-provoking posts you’ve ever made. God on the inside knocking to be recognized and let out! Wow! what a mindblower that is. We forgot who we really are, and only when the curtain parts or the scales drop for a moment, do we remember… which is what most of us call “God spoke to me” or something like that. I want to spend some time with these thoughts. Thanks, Frank.

  12. Hello all….Corinna, Tim, Frank, homewithin, Walt….this is a very interesting thread, and is actually making my head spin with thoughts. Some of them are comfortable and some of them are very uncomfortable. Everything I have read on this thread is going to make me do some serious pondering and discussing with God. I may or may not get any answers (and sometimes they come in strange ways, lol) but the exercise is going to be good for my soul.

    Ok……where to begin. Well, Frank, you asked at what point Walt would have to disengage, and I think that question goes for me as well. I have to be completely honest and say that I would only be involved in a social manner. Period. When I say the Nicene Creed on Sundays, or the Apostles Creed, I say it believing wholeheartedly and completely in the content. To participate in a service that did not have either of those affirmations would be impossible for me. You notice that I said “for me”. Yet I will not condemn anyone for their faith, whatever flavor. Because my belief is so deep in the creeds I follow, I worry about those who don’t (I’m not trying to be patronizing, I’m just stating a personal truth) and I find comfort in the concept that Tim mentioned “Where can I go and not find God” and the promise and knowledge that God is so much more gigantic than I am that I really shouldn’t worry.

    homewithin, I understand your talking to your Papa…I talk to Frank’s Abba as well. Coming back to an institutionalized church was very hard for me, especially on with a patriarchal basis, because I was incested by my step-father and that does not lead to much trust. I think part of the reason I cling so strongly to and find such solace in my faith now – it’s liturgy and it’s creeds and it’s two centuries of traditions is because it was such a difficult journey back. And it was a journey that went through a lot of different blind alleys, as I have mentioned; a complete rejection of religion, then back to metaphysics, reincarnation, Unity, Lots of interesting places and stops on that road.

    All those things you said the church is….it IS. And yet, I sat in church a few Sundays ago and was looking down from the choir loft during the service and this huge wave of….well, the best I can describe it is familial feeling…swept over me in waves. The thought passed through my mind that this is MY family; that I am part of a Body of Christ and that we all belong to each other. And some of the people I felt that wave of love for are people that get on my nerves in ways I can’t even begin to tell you (and I’m sure I get on theirs, too!) They pray for me and I pray for them and we cherish each other in the same way that members of any family often squabble and fuss and get nitty-picky and still help each other.

    That is the only reason I would hope that someday you find a church/group/spiritual gathering to be family with again.

    I think, bottom line about the whole styles and form question that this thread started about, well, if there IS such a thing as reincarnation, I must have spent every life I’ve ever lived as a nun. If I step too far outside a very deeply structured form of religion, I am unhappy. Walt, I enjoy the pleasure you get out of the music you talk about and yet it would drive me to drink.

    This whole response to Corinna’s blog has been very illuminating in one way in particular and that is how God doesn’t duplicate things. We are unique specimens. And the goal is to always make it possible for our individual uniquenesses (is that a word????) to coexist and dance with each other in some way.

    Ok. I think I have said more than I should – just want all of you to know how much pleasure and intellectual stimulation I get out of this place. Thanks, Corinna. And all of you.

    Yours, as always, in Christ

    • HOW BEAUTIFUL, PATTI….. You brought tears to my eyes as you simply opened yourself up to be seen. It takes great courage to do that but it brings such beauty to what “God” in YOU is all about. If I were a person looking to understand the Creeds you mention you would be the first person I would look for because I know they are more than words to you. They are not the words of men, for you. For you they are God’s voice speaking through you as you. They live and vibrate in your being. Thank you for sharing. You have touched lots of hearts today.

    • I’ll second that–beautiful Patti! That’s one of the best expressions on the value of the liturgical tradition I’ve read in a very long time. I think the mainline liturgical denominations have gotten a bum rap in the last few decades (some it well deserved and some of it self-inflicted), but they still have tremendous value to those who belong to them. Just as God Himself is timeless, participating in a service stretching back centuries transcends time. And as you said, Patti, what works for you and me doesn’t mean it has to work for everyone else. I think this entire blog is proof God can work in many ways through many different kinds of people, and that we can all share in each other’s joy in the various paths we’ve chosen to find Him. If we can do it, there’s still hope that many, many others can as well.

  13. Thank you Frank…Tim…I admit to having felt the need to find a fig leaf and your words are comforting. Tim, if we are on the same page in our respective churches did you notice that the Gospel today was St. John – the “God is love, and if you love God you must love your brother” passage? I heard it and pondered it in a completely new way today because of this thread. To use another phrase from the era of “Right on”, how “serendipitous’. 🙂

    Yours in Christ

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