What is church?

If you’re like me, you grew up believing that “church” was meeting with like-minded believers in a specific building on Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night–and sometimes every night if there was a series or revival going on.

But what if that’s only a part of what church is?

And what if that’s not even the most important part?

What if “church” is more about our relationships with everyone we meet…whether they share our beliefs or not?

What if “church” takes place at work…on the playground…at a restaurant…in a bar?

What if “church” doesn’t have to have its own building but could be happy meeting in someone’s home…or a rented building…or a park?

What if “church” meant using the money we so often spend to keep the lights on and the air conditioning and heating running and used it to feed the hungry…help provide homes for the homeless?

What if “church” meant sometimes going to jail in order to protest injustice? Or getting together to write letters to (or call) members of Congress to push for less spending on unnecessary military might and more to meet social needs?

Yes, meeting together to worship with like-minded believers is important. But it’s important because it gives us renewed strength to go out and actually “be church” in all the other places and situations we find ourselves.

What if “church” meant we were really willing to pray this prayer…and live it? How would our world be different?

Mission prayer

Paris is burning

The first time I ever heard those three words was in a slightly different order (Is Paris Burning?) when I picked up a book about Hitler’s determination to destroy the city during World War II. The city survived–and has flourished.

But today…

Notre Dame Cathedral

Today, the city…and the world…is in mourning. The beautiful historic symbol of faith and France–Notre Dame–is in flames, even as I type this. The spire has fallen, the roof has collapsed, evacuations are being ordered because of fears that the walls may collapse outward…

A building that has stood for 600 years as a testament to the power of faith…that has touched many with the art and music that has come from it…that has survived multiple wars and bombings…is now being lost to us.

It is ironic that the fire is occurring during Holy Week. Perhaps it is an irony that can cause those of us who claim Christianity to better understand the feelings of those early apostles during the first Holy Week.

Yesterday was a day of celebration…the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Towards the end of the week, the faithful will be being reminded of the dark days when it seemed that everything Jesus stood for was lost…that there was no future. I am sure that is how many are feeling right now as they watch the flames.

And yet…something new arose from the ashes of that first Holy Week. And that same faith can continue to cause us to hope that something new will arise from these ashes. It’s far too early to know what that might be…but faith does not die because a building is lost.

Faith is a trust…a belief…in something that cannot be seen. It is more than hope. It is more than buildings. And so, even as we mourn this loss–just as the disciples mourned the death of Jesus–we trust that a new day will dawn…that something new will arise from the ashes.

This is my song…

I’ve had a lot to think about this last week. I attended the national convention of the American Guild of Organists in Kansas City. It was a wonderful week of music, classes, fellowship, and worship…some very powerful worship!

Since this is the 100th year since the end of World War I, many of the events of last week were connected and intertwined with that event. They were vivid reminders of the desire–and need–for peace in our world…and the difficulties we have in being peaceful.

Yes, the “great war” was 100 years ago, but so many of the feelings and events that led up to it sounded so contemporary…unfortunately. I was reminded of a line from the song that was popular during the Vietnam War–“When will we ever learn?”

Music in its many forms can challenge us. It can give us hope. It can call us to be better people…and help us focus on the better future that we all want. It can remind us that we are all children of one God–whatever name we call the Divine.

May we somehow learn to sing together these words so often set to the tune Finlandia:

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

May truth and freedom come to every nation,
may peace abound where strife has raged so long;
That each may seek to love and build together,
a world united, righting ev’ry wrong;
a world united in its love for freedom,
proclaiming peace together in one song.

Church? When?

I grew up at a time when life was–in many ways–less hectic. And there were some times that were sacrosanct…kept free. Wednesday nights and Sundays were reserved…for church.

And the blue laws were still in effect. For those too young to remember, that meant that stores weren’t open on Sundays either. If you’d forgotten to buy something on Saturday that you were going to need on Sunday, that was too bad. You’d have to improvise!

But time moved on…and religion began to take a less important place in our lives–at least, in some ways. And sports began to take a bigger part. There were more and more opportunities for kids…and because more kids wanted to take part, the times when sports were scheduled began to expand…and moved into those previously sacred times.

So here we are now. Often there are rehearsals on Wednesday nights…and games on Sundays.

And yet, we seem to do church the same way we did all those years ago. And it’s not working…not well.

So…what do we do?

Yes, there are many people for whom Sunday morning church still works. I’m not advocating doing away with it, because I know that time and experience are still important parts of their schedules.

But there are many, many others for whom “traditional” church and traditional church time don’t work. Maybe because of jobs…maybe because of school activities…maybe because of sports or dance or other activities that their kids are involved in.

So can we look at some new possibilities?

  • Does church have to be on Sunday morning?
  • Does it have to be formal?
  • What if we set up some meetings in homes (house churches)?
  • What if we didn’t actually have a sermon?
  • What if we did a “chat and chow” activity?
  • What if we met at a bookstore? a Starbucks?
  • What if we met in the evening?
  • Could we create online communities of worshipers?

I’m sure there are other possibilities…I am still tied enough to traditional understandings of church that I find it a bit difficult to think outside the box. But I think it’s important to, because there are a lot of folks who are searching but not finding a spiritual home in our Sunday morning services.

I still love those services–they meet many of my needs. But I’m also excited about the possibilities that are out there…and trying to listen for where the Holy Spirit is calling us (me…) to go.

A prayer for peace

How long, O God? How long before we realize that each life is of worth? that the world we inhabit is incredibly diverse and beautiful? that we are not just consumers but are called to be stewards?

Forgive us, God.

We have looked for ways to divide into groups that call others “less than.” We have said that some lives are not as important as others. We have ignored the beautiful diversity you have created in humankind.

Forgive us, God.

We have trashed and misused your creation. We have exploited the earth’s resources, and we have hunted some species to extinction.

Forgive us, God.

We have decided that because we are humans, we can do anything we want–and we have ignored your call to be stewards of all you have given us. We have instead consumed to excess, leaving some with nothing while others have far more than they need.

Forgive us, God.

Remind us that we are dependent on each other–that what hurts one will ultimately harm all. Help us realize that we must be stewards or we will none of us survive.

We–all of us…humans, animals, our world, our planet…all of us yearn for the time when all the world will live in peace. Give us the courage to work to make it so.

Amen.

A prayer for a new year

Creator…

We stand at the threshold of a new year. The days stretch before us…clean, bright, waiting for whatever we will write on them. That is both an exhilerating and a frightening prospect; will we write things that will support others…bring us together? or will they be filled with division and hate?

There are so many possibilities!

Grant us the willingness to walk in the path you have called us to…a path of healing, of hope, of wholeness. Give us strength to persevere when things and people around us would conspire to call us to take the easy way.

Help us to look at those around us with empathy…to be willing to give others the benefit of the doubt…to listen with open ears rather than our preconceived notions. May we see you in the faces of “the other.”

Most of all, as we move into the future, give us the courage to truly mean this prayer…to live it, not just say words that disappear into the air.

It will not always be easy. But you promise to walk with us–and we claim that promise as we move into this new year.

We pray this in the name of the One who showed us how to live. Amen.

In a stable

Nobody wants to give birth in a stable—
	smelly and dirty…
	noisy with animal sounds…
	nothing private or pleasant.

But maybe that’s just why it happened that way--
	Emmanuel…God with us
		not just in pleasant-ness
		but in the dirty-ness of life.

Maybe we seek you in all the wrong places--
	failing to see you in those who are “other”…
	searching again in Herod’s palace
		when—if we open our eyes--
			we find hope in the stable.