Empty Church

GA is coming, that’s Presbyterian Speak for our large governmental gathering “General Assembly” where we discuss worrying things like Our Investments (or not) in Israel, How important gay issues really are (or aren’t), and……the fact that there are no young people in the church. Debate will ensue about most of these issues, except the last one. There is no governmental amendment to magically change the demographics of the church

There will be lots of worrying about the drop in membership, the drop in money and the drop in young people in the church.

People will ask where have the people gone? They will also ask why people won’t represent (Particularly the lay people), they will ask where the children are….and they will worry…

However, I do believe that at most churches, Presbyteries and even on the GA floor the wrong question is being asked. The question that really asked isn’t Where are all the people.

The worry IS about the emptiness.

But I think the question people are really asking are not “Where have all the people gone?” but rather “Where has Jesus gone?”

Because, if Jesus was in church, then wouldn’t the people be in church? If Jesus was here, wouldn’t people flock to us and what we are doing?

Here I have to confess: I believe Jesus is in the church!

But I also believe Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit is already at work in the world. I believe that church doesn’t hold a monopoly on God (our God is bigger than that)

and I believe that the emptiness the church is feeling is real and is scary….I also believe we have felt it before, when Jesus died on the cross, when the tomb was empty, when Jesus Ascended, when the church was scattering across Africa, etc. etc.

The church is empty, but what can we theologically learn from that emptiness

Maybe Jesus will find us in our church and ask us….

You are afraid of the emptiness? Look at what God did with an empty tomb!

 

(and p.s. if you want more families to be present I highly recommend BABYSITTING and FAMILY FRIENDLY accommodations as a start, it isn’t an amendment that will bring families flocking in, but it is a way to serve those who are already present–this should not be an uphill battle folks, it should be a given)

My God, Your God, let’s call the whole thing off

Ok, recently there was an article in The Atlantic about the state of religion in America. Some salient quotes include

“They found that young non-Christians have profoundly negative views of Christians. For instance, among 16- to 29-year-old non-Christians, Christians were viewed as “anti-gay” (91 percent), judgmental (87 percent), hypocritical (85 percent), sheltered (78 percent) and—surprise—”too political” (75 percent). In 2010, respected academics David Campbell and Robert Putnam’s landmark book, American Grace, concluded that partisan politics was directly to blame for the rise of religiously unaffiliated Americans. “The growth of the nones,” Campbell argued, “is a direct reaction to the intermingling of religion and politics in the United States.”http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/02/the-changing-face-of-christian-politics/283859/?utm_content=bufferd0f38&utm_source=twitter.com
and the one that is about where I am “the sudden need to make clear that they were “not that kind of Christian.” Pastors increasingly found that a partisan politics was pushing people away from faith and causing tension among those in their churches. ”

Recently I posted something about Christianity on “The Facebook”. It was an article by someone who said they wanted to be Christian, because most of the world is Christian and it is high-handed to assume the world is wrong. (It sounded a little….um….condescending in tone)

Anyway, I posted it on FB because, it was interesting/good food for thought (despite the tone). I did that usual pull a quote from the article to highlight it thing.

Unfortunately, some people (who granted I hadn’t talked to in a while) thought I was the one who was being condescending…I got some comments basically amounting to “I know your religious, but I think this whole God thing is ridiculous–and this article shows why” subtext: I can’t believe how crazy you are.

It made me sad. I mean, granted that the quote looked like it was from me, but still, they THOUGHT I WAS THAT WAY TOO!

I’m religious, I love God, I have three children, I’m only 30….

Yet I am also an intelligent, fantasy-loving feminist, who believes in LGBTQ rights.

I think I can do all of it at once, and I dream of the day when I find other people who feel the same way I do.

So far, not so much….

Haven’t really found them…

I have found a lot of “you can’t be a real pastor because you are a. a woman b. don’t condemn people to hell”

and a lot of “Oh your religious, right, can’t take that seriously so….moving on”

To “Fantasy isn’t religious, your crazy”

don’t forget “church is boring”

and finally “Religious people are the cause of all wars, and if your religious it MUST be because your a bigot”

The thing is, my God isn’t really the same as most people’s God

and it makes people uncomfortable.

Here’s how I feel about religious beliefs

1. Every relationship with God is different, maybe yours doesn’t look like mine, but thats ok…

2. Atheism is ok. In reality I don’t “get it” so its hard for me to be more than “ok” with it, but I think “ok” is pretty good, and more importantly, pretty honest, and I try not to get worried about it, because its up to that person/God to work it out, not me.

3. If your peddling hate and call it Gospel, that is where I draw the line. It hurts me, I mean actually physically gives me a stomach ache, when people purvey hate and call it Christ’s way. How can anyone even think this is beyond me…Jesus Christ hung out with the NONRELIGIOUS and AMORAL people of the time, because Jesus loves everyone, if you can’t get that, I don’t think we can really converse about beliefs

4. I’m not sure I can believe in a God that would send Gandhi to hell……seriously, that is how it is for me

5. And finally, If/When I face God I would MUCH rather get in trouble for Leaving the door way too wide open than too closed. I’d rather be in trouble for letting the wrong people into God’s house than keeping the right ones out. 

So that’s my God, it might different than yours…but I don’t see how denigrating each other can help……

besides, think of all the good we could do if we could band together against those things that all humans agree are wrong….

And if it happens in church, that would be awesome, because that happens to be where I like to go….

This sounds just like “Bible Study”…what’s different about all of this?

My Presbytery is trying to explore the whole 1,001 worshipping communities/church planting. 

As we did we talked over exciting interest for starting a house church in the college area…

 

and we were discussing how to go about, different ideas and resources (i.e. Messy Church etc.)

and someone asked “Can someone tell me, how this is different from a Bible Study? I mean we do this, we get to better in different houses and worship and get together what is different about this?”

Well……I might have said a few things in response 🙂

1. Its not that different but we are reformed and always reforming because we need to find new ways to tell the gospel message. Clothing Exchanges are not that different from Rummage Sales (as one of my congregants pointed out). But they ARE different because they speak to a different generation in a different way!

2. We need to meet people where they are in a tree, by a well, even on the cross. If that is what Jesus is doing then that’s what we should do too. 

3. Because we need to show our willingness to see, know, people in places that AREN’T the church. When people say they are Spiritual-but-not-religious they mean they want to reach God, but they don’t want to reach God in the same way we do, so we need to find ways that work for people. Ways in which they are comfortable. Thank God, the message is the same as what it was  over 2000 years ago, even though the method changes

4. Aren’t we reformed and always reforming so we can grow and be nurtured closer to Christ? Don’t we hope that we keep looking at ways to become more able to see God?

5. Because its not exactly the same, it seems the same, but its really not. Because we are saying, come to our Game, Come to our Home Field, Come to our Turf and we’ll tell you about how we do the God thing. Its not simply sitting inside the church and throwing open the doors and wondering why no one is coming in…its going out to meeting them on their turf…its street ministry at its finest.Its changes to a “you might not experience God the same way we do, so we’ll come to you and let you tell us what you want to try” thing…that’s what Spiritual-but-not-religious is, experiencing God in a new way!

 

Your right, its exactly like Bible Study…..Only Different!

 

 

Embodied Spirituality: (w)holistic faith and what it means

Good Examples of Embodied Spirituality tend to be as follows

yoga

monks working

liturgical dance

and Mr. Rogers (because he’s the Presbyterian Superhero of faith 🙂

Here is the Spiritual but not religious issue in sum:

Christianity–more and more abstracted and spiritualized religion, emphasizing the moral lessons of the Bible, essentializing Jesus as love and pursuing faith. Like good Augustine-type-people we have more and more distanced ourselves from the body, turning communion into a remembering of Christ. Barb Hedges-Goettl concludes that we have moved away from the reality of the broken, embodied Divinity present in Jesus Christ. A particular example of this can be found in how communion is celebrated (more about this below/in the thesis)

Hence Christianity is about being “spiritual” and has almost nothing to do with our bodies

If anything we should deny our bodily needs, giving quick and easy solutions to issues of 1. addiction: denial, proof that worldly wants are addictive and evil 2. homosexuality: denial its just a bodily impulse and the body is evil 3. Health Issues: If you are truly pure your body will be healed, otherwise better luck in heaven. These are broad generalizations, but you get the idea.

Hence we have an entire generation of the spiritual not religious, because if Jesus is only love, and we should deny the body, why do we need to gather and/or embody Christ through the church? The church doesn’t embody Christ, in fact, it doesn’t even consider embodiment important, so bodies are–literally–gone from the church. Spiritual but not religious people can do all that from home. So that’s it, they’ll be Spiritual, they don’t need to be religious.

If what we eat, how we care for our bodies, where we are present and how we are active are spiritual activities, then spirituality very quickly turns religious….

Barb Hedges-Goettl suggests to us that a vital piece is missing, and that is the living body of Christ. My question is : If we say Christ’s body is both present in communion and embodied by the church, what does this do to our faith: God is NOT JUST present when we see love, God is calling us to presently embody love as a corporate (ie enfleshed/embodied/living-flesh-corpse) of Christ that is out in the community….I find this especially interesting in a digital world, where embodiment is finding new expression–and yet still nothing beats a face to face meeting (you can’t hug on skype)

“In my dissertation I wrote that faith is about meeting God and God acting upon us. God is the life-changing agent/subject, not the object of belief. The living resurrected Christ changes us; he is not just an example to emulate or the purveyor of an ethic or value”–Barb Hedges-Goettl Photo

Dr. Barb Hedges-Goettl ‘s thesis is : The Body is Missing: Eucharistic Theology of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Conversation with Zwingli, Calvin, and Nevin” (10107), has been submitted to Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in preparation for posting on ProQuest)

PS Shepherd is the best fictional clergy, EVER

When your in debt…

Maybe this is really obvious to other people, but apparently its not really helpful to go to a big stewardship conference when you are about $100,000 in debt. (at least it not if your me….)

There I’ve gone and said it. My family and I are over $100,000 in debt, and the end seems nowhere is sight. We live paycheck to paycheck, my husband works three part time jobs, I work one fulltime job. I try to tutor (although I’ve let that fizzle recently). We rent out our extra car, and we have wonderful people who we pay (not very much) to help us to take care of our 3 boy-boys. We try to stay off the credit cards, but when bills come they come. And maybe we could have put off having children, but every time we’ve had a child someone has been home (first two were during our summers at grad school and the third was when my husband was looking for a job by my new church) so we know we are saving a TON on childcare. We are done with that (we think) and I guess we could have not had kids, but honestly that so does not work for us. So we can’t really see what else to do……

Here is the part that gets me…We’re not alone. Most people my age are struggling with debt. I’m lucky that I have a job with benefits (which frankly is why we have 3 kids) but really, we aren’t really “making it” so to speak.

So when I went to the kaleidoscope stewardship conference, I really wanted to hear about the United States’ problem with debt, in the context that we pray and promise the forgiveness of debt. I wanted intellectual conversation, theological discussion. I probably would have settled for the fact if someone (besides me and my big mouth) had raised the issue…

What the conference was: A great bag of tricks and tools, and a new set of language to think about stewardship–a training for stewardship teams or world-weary pastors, a way to address money in (primarily) big churches or churches with undergivers.

A nice way to think about these situations are like this (your planting the seeds of stewardship)

328 × 272 – colsdioc.org

What it discussed: Healthy financial practices–including giving, personal relationships, thankyous, ongoing stewardship (instead of a once a year thing), and some reflection about where people do put their money and why it isn’t church (instead). For thoughts about wealth and how it effects judgement read this fascinating article..

575 × 300 – staparish.net

What it didn’t include:

ways to leverage Time and Talent as well as money, (much) theological discuss, what to do if you were in financial distress (or are already in debt), and the fact that we are moving on from institutional religion to something else in Christianity….

The story was pay your debts and then you can get on with your life…..apparently I will never be able to get on in my life.

I guess I pictured the conference to be more about this…

and less about this

367 × 224 – salempresbytery.org

If your interested in my theology of debt read my brilliant post about Ruth here!

But here is the long and short of it.

American’s Don’t God to Church (this report notes that “overwhelmingly, they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.”)…ok so again an indication our “stewardship” approach should probably be more about sharing what we’ve got rather than raising money for the instituion….

All Americans have to deal with debt (sequester anyone??), ESPECIALLY those Millennial/Nones we (us religious people) are so desperate to connect with….

We pray for, Christ promises and we attest to the forgiveness of debts.

Anyone else notice that Christianity is dropping the ball here?

I vote we find a way to REALLY address debts and the feeling of worthlessness it induces (again read my Ruth post for more on this)

And since I’m one of those in deep debt. I pray we do it soon!

 

Graph from the fascinating article linked above

The Fig Tree

One day Jesus told a parable (Luke 13:1-9)…there was a fig tree and the master came out to inspect it.

“This tree has been here 3 years and never produced fruit, cut it down”

“Tell you what, I’ll dig out a new home for the tree and give it fresh fertilizer (and water), why don’t you wait a year and see if it produces fruit then” the gardener persuaded

“Fine but if it doesn’t grow, chop it down”

And that is the end of the story…no resolution, no happily ever after, why?

Because the point of the story is the need for nourishment, as the kids in church said today, chopping down a tree isn’t going to help it to produce fruit, but encouragement does…

But digging even deeper into the story, we have to wonder, what is the point of the fig tree producing fruit anyway? Here it goes to all the trouble of growing fruit for what…

to nourish itself?

to have it sit there forever?

to help itself to grow bigger and stronger?

No, it does it so that some other creature can eat its fruit! The usefulness of the tree is not in the tree structure itself; the tree was growing just fine without any fruit, but in how it nourishes others…

And that, my friend is the church, we exist not to nourish or help ourselves, but to share our fruits with others.

If we have no fruit, if we go on upholding our structure, then we are not, in fact, successful.

There is a theory (probably most famously put forth in the book “Bowling Alone”) that society embraced and loved institutions in the 1950s. There were many groups that flourished in this time: scouts, elks, bowling clubs, churches. Churches adapted the institutional structure and did as well as the rest.

Today the structure is to make your own kind of community. You do yoga alone, you make connections online and through relay rides and couchsurfers (for my thoughts on millennials read here). But, that doesn’t mean the hunger/the thirst for God isn’t still there (Psalm 63 was paired with the fig tree gospel reading for a reason). People long for a spirituality that feeds them, has  integrity (***please note, I do not mean they want a vending machine or religion that caters to their every whim, but something that is both relevant and still full of integrity), and one that practices what it preaches–supporting social justice & those in need. Millennials have just internalized the independent nature of our culture (I’ll do it alone, in fact I’ll make a community all on my own) hence: Spiritual but not religious. Church’s need to figure out how to nourish that independent nature so it too can produce fruit.

Its like a Farmer’s Market where people want to take responsibility for their food by connecting to the people who grow it…How can church be less like a supermarket and more like a Farmer’s Market?

After all, Jesus came and gave his ENTIRE LIFE as nourishment for all of us, that is why we (Presbyterians) practice open communion, because everyone gets to share in the spiritual fruits of Christ!

I’m not saying bowling is better than yoga or vice versa, I’m saying that when the church is able to make spiritual fruit to nourish others, that is called ministry! (again we are back to the Farmer’s Market at my church, how can we make it MORE nourishing)

 

How can we, as a church, make the fruit to nourish others.

 

PS do you know olive trees live thousands of years? In the Garden of Gethsemane I was able to see some fig trees which, in all likelihood, stood while Jesus prayed right before his crucifixion. So really, giving a church/person/tree of a couple of years when we can grow and be shaped by thousands is looking at things from a human perspective…How much more can God see, from where she sits? Here is a picture of some of those ACTUAL trees!

Life, Fairy Tales, God, Children: How Katy Works

Why do I go to church?

You know, most people my age don’t go to church

Most of them don’t even believe in religion

They may believe in God, but if they do it tends not to be the “standard” version of God

These people are usually identified as “nones‘ (which is kind of a detrimental name, even though I know it isn’t meant that way…maybe we should be calling them/us something else) Something like 75% of people my age don’t affiliate in their religion

(for more about why I include myself, a pastor, in this at times, please read my post “I don’t Know What I believe”)

But I believe in God….Life is just too short to be meaningless…

Meaningless is just too hopeless to be believed

And people are just to wonderful to give up on….

And because of these truths, I believe in God….I know that not everyone believes what I believe, and I don’t mind (usually). As long as you aren’t preaching hate as gospel, I’m pretty ok with most beliefs…after all I’m not the one who is going to judge whether the fig tree is bearing fruit. That is up to the boss.

What I do worry about, is my generation in terms of willingness to try to religion. Have we given up? Do we truly think it has nothing to offer? Does the bad really outweigh the good? Do we think that we can only find our own spirituality outside of church? (What does that have to say about church, but what does that also have to say about us).

I recently learned that millenials are those of us born between 1980 and 2000. Here is what we have in common.

We grew up in a boom, but came into maturity in a economic downturn/depression

We are the children of baby boomers

We tend to be called hipsters

We don’t have a lot of life opportunities: jobs, marriages, having children–>we have to put these things off

We were all born in a pre 9/11 reality

We grew up with Harry Potter

We like individuality–but tend not to rebel, but instead go off our own way

We are thought of as ungrateful and lazy

We don’t have a strong religiousity

Yet here I am: mother, fairy tale enthusiast and pastor. Here I am, trying to figure out if I have a strong enough call to conduct a ministry via sci-fi and fantasy that I need to invent something to do this.

In a lot of ways I am “old-fashioned” for my age. I am young, married, have three children and an “old-fashioned” kind of job that carries with it healthcare and a pension (at least for now). And yet, I feel the pain of those around me. I too am physically weighed dow

n by student debt that I’m terrified I’ll never get rid of, I too understand that completeness and fulfillment will not fully come from my employment (hmm…that should be on the list above).

So I guess I’ll keep at it, hang onto the understanding th

at my concept of religion and my relationship with God is helpful to some of the people in my life, and that people will or won’t join churches on their own, and its not my responsibility.

Still–and take this for what its worth–I like church and I believe in God…

Katy likes it! Hopefully if/when you are interested you can find a place that fits you too!

Dear Child: Faith is a journey. –Love God

Image

Faith is a journey, and sometimes that journey isn’t an easy one.

But as we learn more and more about Jesus, here is what we learned

1. Jesus did ministry on the move. You notice that Jesus is almost always making his way between cities? Sure Israel is the size of the New Jersey but the journey from Jerusalem to Galilee is about 240 miles, and Jesus walked that more than once.

2. Jesus believed in packing light, but he also believed in good traveling companions—Jesus asks us to take no extra baggage, but to always remember to take a friend, so if you are considering going on a visit for church, pursuing ministry or just doing something new in your spiritual life, Jesus recommends doing it with someone else. (which is why I advocate Co-Pastorships)

3. The Holy Spirit guides us—just as it guided Jesus Christ, we need to remember that we are following Christ’s footsteps, and we have the best guide, we just need to take the time to listen to what God is doing.

4. Its called walking in “Jesus’s Footsteps” not “Sitting in Jesus’s Pews.” My Church’s Farmer’s Market has been a giant step outside of our sanctuary (which is sad that this is a big step, nevertheless its great we’ve done-so) , but we need to figure out where Christ is going, and how to follow him there (as opposed to say, staying where we are and assuming that God wants us to stay there forever)

5. Jesus took Sabbath: Jesus escaped the crowds, he rode boats, he ate with friends, he prayed alone. He found ways to take a break for himself and his ministry, so that he could recharge for the next one.

6. Jesus did not have a checklist. Jesus did not have any requirements for following him—he did not require gold, food or certain characteristics. You can bet one of the disciples was the person who always complained about everything, and another one was that nice but not too bright person, and that one of them had a mental illness, one of them was socially awkward and one of them talked incessantly, while another wouldn’t talk at all. Yet Jesus invited them all to journey with him. He didn’t even require belief (instead he fostered it). He just asked people to come exactly as they were.

What can we do?

Recently I’ve been thinking about how to better meet and get to know the community. What are their needs? What are their prayer concerns?

Maybe we should have a prayer concern board out at the farmer’s market. Maybe we should have projects to thank all those who serve the community (nurses, EMTs, police, Firefighters), maybe we should fundraise for the poor, maybe we should give out free meals, maybe we should grow our own garden to donate fresh food, maybe we should provide a space for people to pray—as you can I’m full of ideas. In fact, at times I get carried away, and it can be overwhelming for others. But, I am confident that we have important things to do, and we are capable to do them!