August 28, 2015
In my congregation we meet one evening a month to meditate together. This is a time to first talk about spirituality in any variety of ways, and to then sit quietly for thirty minutes while music plays in the background. This isn’t, perhaps, meditation in the traditional sense, but it is a common experience of sitting quietly and it works for us.
I usually bring a reading, or introduce a brief portion of the Bible, as a discussion starter for our first half hour. Last evening I chose to start with a simple (I thought) question, “Do you believe that God is constantly watching over us?” I quickly sensed that the phrase “watching over us” seemed difficult for people, perhaps because it suggested judgment by God. So I reworded it to, “Do you believe that God is constantly with us.” That wording immediately struck a chord.
From that starting point we engaged in conversation about God’s care for us and our awareness of God’s presence, and then moved to questions of evil and the idea of free will. What impressed me was not so much the content, although it was a great conversation, but rather that people were engaged in the discussion as theologians. Most of them do not have the years of theological education that “Theologians” do, although some are well read in the Bible and related topics. But I spoke to them about their role as theologians because I wanted them to recognize that we all have a theology, and that they had each been artfully expressing theirs.
I value highly the resident theologians in my congregation. On any given Sunday, the number of theologians equals the number of people present. And the beautiful part of it is that I can learn much from them, especially as theology is lived out in day-to-day life.
August 21, 2015
The Church of Fail
I once read a brief article in Inc. magazine that talked about the “Church of Fail” (November 2014). Being who I am, I was immediately curious. It turned out that this is a concept that was begun by a social-media consultancy in Brighton, England, with the intent of giving people a place to acknowledge their failures, still be affirmed, and to then devise ways to do things better in the future. There was even a disclaimer from the people who originated the idea that no disrespect was intended toward churches.
What struck me was that rather than perhaps feeling any disrespect, churches should feel the challenge to be as welcoming and affirming of people in their failures as this organization was in its gatherings. Too often people put their best selves forward in churches, and the church should be a safe place to admit that we are human, that we make mistakes, that we fail at times, and that we desire acceptance and grace especially in regard to those situations. God is certainly gracious toward us. Is the church as grace-filled and affirming as the “Church of Fail”?
I have seen people be that vulnerable in my church, and never in such times has the response been anything other than affirmation, love and support. But I sometimes wonder whether everyone feels that freedom to share of themselves out of their sadness and pain, and their feelings of failure. After all, it takes a great deal of trust to open our selves up in that way.
Twelve-step groups are places where people share openly, and in that sharing is the opening of hope. Usually everyone in a particular twelve-step group is struggling with a similar addiction. That provides a common ground for sharing.
But so often, in life generally, and in the church specifically, we think that we are alone in our situation. Sometimes that may be true, but most often we are apt to respond to the sharing of another by saying, “I didn’t know anyone else felt that way. I am so glad to know that I am not alone.” Even though the details may differ, we are all human, all fallible, and all in need of support and grace. So, let the church be a “Church of Fail,” and a “Church of Grace.”
August 14, 2015
Speaking of Silence
I wrote last week about music, sounds and the idea of “deep silence.” Allowing silence to fill us is a different experience. It requires a change in thought and approach to life.
Of course, silence can be experienced as a negative.
Last Thursday night I logged into my website provider to post the new blog for that week. After getting into my account, I was met with a blank screen because the website wouldn’t load for editing. No matter how many times I tried, there was only a blank screen. After four calls to the provider, I was no closer to posting the new blog. It was frustrating. It was incomprehensible to me since I could get on and edit our church website, which is hosted by the same provider. But the best that they could say was that the problem was with my Internet provider. Even though people were talking, it had the same effect as being met with a wall of silence.
Silence can be frustrating. Being met with silence in an argument between spouses or friends is frustrating. Experiencing only silence in response to prayer is discouraging.
But the silence speaks, if we are attuned to hear. My silent website may have been saying to me that even though I have a commitment to post here in this space weekly, perhaps other things are more important, or perhaps I needed to learn patience, or perhaps…
If there is silence during an argument, what is it saying?
Is the silence in response to prayer a call to be patient and to learn to trust?
Seeking after silence can be frustrating too. Trying to sit in silence when our minds are running endlessly is discouraging.
Certainly the difficulty in sitting in silent meditation and prayer is a call to keep doing it enough that the noise will subside and the silence will deepen.
Silence doesn’t come easily. Yet, when we get to that silent place, or even a silent moment, something beautiful happens.
August 8, 2015
Music in the Mall
I visited a mall not long ago. This is a rare occurrence for me. I am just not an avid shopper. In fact, on this occasion, I was merely visiting with someone else who was shopping. But what struck me as I was walking was the music that was being played throughout the mall. It was loud music. It wasn’t that it was objectionable music, it was just loud.
Why was there loud music playing? I imagine that the corporate psychologists could give several plausible explanations, but my simple one is that it provides stimulation for people. The store operators don’t want people to fall asleep, or worse, to get bored and head home without making any purchases. And, I suppose when people are properly stimulated they will buy even more than they may have intended when they walked into the mall.
I have noticed this at baseball games as well. It used to be that people talked with one another in between half-innings. But now there is loud music, there are videos, and any number of other things to keep people stimulated and occupied during the breaks in the action.
We fill our lives with sound. And there are many beautiful sounds out there. But I believe there is also a need within us to connect with quiet, to even dwell in silence.
Theologian Matthew Fox spoke at a conference I attended a number of years ago. He talked about several topics, but at the heart of his message was what he described as a need for “deep silence.” As I understand him, this is not just quiet, but something deeper, something more intense, even more profound. It is in this deep silence that God can touch us intimately, and that we can touch God as well.
We fill our lives with sound. What happens if we occasionally fill them with deep silence as well?
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