Community, Church, and Reasons for Distaste

There is a lot of blogs on community and individualism right now – at least in my current readings of the blog-a-sphere. Wondering what will make a cohesive religious (church) community and how to establish something ‘loving and cohesive’. Problem is…we are talking about the church here. 

Why is the church the actual problem? They have a variety of teachings on love, compassion, acceptance, forgiveness, and community – and about establishing something meaningful for the faith. That’s not the actual problem – the real problem is systemic. 

What we have here is battle between ‘doing the best thing’ versus doing the ‘routine, systematic thing’. The system is not set up for community building but for a worship service – a ‘show for God’ if you will. The central focus of church is not community – but focus on the worship of God and the ‘rules’ of how this works. 

There is a systematic way this thing actually works: opening prayer, some songs, offerings, some more songs, maybe a meet n greet, maybe some testimonies, children go to Sunday school, the sermon, an altar call (with more songs), and a closing prayer. Then next week we hit the merry go round one more time.

Not much happens in that service that does more to promote community than it does individualism. Same example can be seen in a movie theatre – God may not be the centre of attention at this time – but the actual service is quite similar. There is some money exchanged, everyone looks forward, their attention is ‘not on one another’, there is clapping, sometimes music, laughter, and even tears…then it ends and they all leave (to do it again at a later time). Meanwhile, they are all there for the same purpose – but they are very individual in their moments spent there.

Church actually functions the same way when you consider it. Granted the focus is much different – but the feeling of individualism isn’t. Community is not being captured in most church services – a look of community is – but in certainty community is actually quite overlooked.  Everyone is singular in their focus on God and worship – all the while doing this in front of a bunch of others who are in the ‘same zone’. Parts of it not much more than a rock concert for God and parts are not much more than a classroom setting.

Community is so much bigger than any of that – it’s meeting together to share with one another and get to know each other (and who we really are – concerns to fears to comforts). It’s about respect for elders, honouring those around us, sharing our stories and lives, giving to one another, finding our role/meaning in the communal house, giving children a supportive environment, and learning to love ourselves in the light of others and God. It’s just about making meaningful connections to a body of people.

I don’t like church when I know what community is meant to be and looks like – church is just another rock show or movie to me – I like the show – I have fun – I spend my time – but how many people do I truly bond with? God wants me to ‘love my neighbours’ and it can be argued Jesus, James, and Paul all state this as an emphasis of ‘fulfilling the whole law’ – yet it appears very little in church services. I wonder why?

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House of Prayer For All Peoples

***Excerpts taken from Chapter 6 of Rabbi Brad Hirshfield’s book ‘You Don’t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right‘.

“My House will be a house of prayer for all Peoples'” (Isaiah 56:7)

“Isaiah’s house of prayer, on the other hand, is not a place of negotiation and compromise. It’s a place where we would stand shoulder to shoulder and recite all of our different prayers from all of our different religions in all of our different tongues because any God big enough to pray to is big enough to hear every language and form of prayer” (Hirschfield, pg 134)

“In love and beauty we can make room for difference, or at least we seem to know that we should, but we have a harder time applying this expansiveness to tradition and truth” (Hirschfield, pg 136)

“It has been said that the opposite of truth is not a lie but a bigger truth. Truth is not found by falsifying everything else. When we do that, we are trying to make truth small, an irreducible essence. But truth is an additive process. It is bigger than any single space we inhabit” (Hirschfield, pg 139)

“We should cherish our disagreements and differences, our lack of uniformity. The track records of societies that insisted on uniformity, from Mao to Mussolini, had little of which to be proud. Let’s face it, final solutions are not the answer” (Hirschfield, pg 145)

“The more traditionally religious you are, the more deeply modest and radically inclusive you should be. After all, if your tradition truly is the infinite gift of an infinite God, then how could there be only one way to understand it? In fact, the uniformity that we so often fight for as lovers, parents, nations, and religious traditions is the opposite of the infinite unity that inspires us most” (Hirschfield, pg 152)

“I also reflect on the healing that it brought by inviting people to sit week after week before the image of a crucified Christ, the image of someone who would suffer endlessly so that we might not have to…I also sit awed by traditions that have, at different times, fearlessly embraced all manner of human inquiry because they believed that human beings really could know the absolute truth and were free to pursue it anywhere” (Hirschfield, pg 153 – on varying religious traditions)

“But the word integrity has the same root as integrate. When we fight for the integrity of our beliefs, relationships, and communities, we are actually fighting to integrate that which seems alien and threatening. We will have the most integrity when we are integrating the widest range of people and ideas” (Hirschfield, pg 154) 

God of Mystery & Truth

Faith doesn’t equal certainty. Doubts do not equal lack of faith. Truth is found as you continually seek.” (Steven)

I agree 100% or as Hogan used to say ‘110%’.

I have been doing some reading about faith in the last while – namely about this idea of certainty in one’s faith. It is okay to be sure about your faith – but being too sure about questions of the ‘mystery of God’ is tantamount to lying/exaggeration (in my opinion). Usually that much certainty becomes a control mechanism for the one with ‘the inside scoop’.

God is a mystery and anyone thinking this is not so – needs to re-read the very 10 commandments they value as some cornerstone piee of Christendom. It’s very clear that God’s physical attributes are never to be made into an image and I am guessing the reason is – we’ll make God in our image with that much knowledge.

The other thing God is not actually known by a name either (something I learned from Rabbi Brad Hirschfield). It is true there are many names for God: YHWH, Adonai, Shaddai, Creator, Father, etc…but not one of them encapsulates the entirety of God (thus the many names). So we keep producing names about God’s character for what we know about Him. But the name of God is actually elusive.

So we know we serve a God without an image and without a name. Both things are important to keeping up the honesty of the God we claim to know.

This leaks into my aspect of truth – which is the same as Steve’s. Truth unravels itself over time – we learn bits and pieces as we go – but we never have the full picture because there is soooo much to know about certain ideas we would call ‘truth’.

For example, the take on non-violence is such a blurry debate it’s hard to know how to land on your 2 feet…yet we are fairly sure being a ‘peacemaker’ is something truthful/good/foundational to humanity’s survival. The key to figuring it all out is hearing all sides to the debate (and experiencing it) – then rendering your personal verdict. However, this will change over time and depends on new knowledge you are privy to.

Now we can say we are ‘peacemakers’ and advocate ‘non-violence’ – true – but the truth of what we are saying is revealed from present to future – it is not static and sealed…it is rather open to dialogue and undertakes it own conversion.

So faith, to me, is something alive and living – it’s still moving and being written. It’s like Abraham – in the sense that faith moves us from place to place and we do not ‘stay in one location all the time’ – no, our faith moves and grows and that’s where we find we are encountering God.

So as the Hebrews writer used it “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.” (11:8 )

***Comment taken from SCP’s ‘Stuff in My Head (3)’ Blog.

Keeping Score (Judgment & Measure)

***Excerpts taken from Chapter 5 of Rabbi Brad Hirshfield’s book ‘You Don’t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right‘.

“Maybe that’s why God has so many different names in the Hebrew Bible: Adonai, Elohim, Shaddai, and on and on, to show that the label never fully captures the essence…It’s the same God, but that’s the point. How could any God so big be understood with only one name?” (Hirschfield, pg 108) 

“It is so easy to forget that the system that is right for you, even on that you believe God wants for you, may not be right for everyone. After all, how could the will of an infinite God ever be made so small as to fit into one finite system? Ironically, when it comes to our spiritual lives, we should be making the most room for one another, but it seems that instead we make the least” (Hirschfield, pg 112) 

“When the existence of the members becomes more important than their experience of membership, something is wrong” (Hirschfield, pg 113) 

“They must appreciate that their ideological commitments, no matter how defining or important they may be, do not override the love and respect that they share; they are more important to each other than the ideas that divide them. When you make that leap, virtually anything is possible” (Hirschfield, pg 116) 

“We tell people that if they don’t meet our measure it’s their problem, and sometimes that may be true; but it’s a good idea for people doing the measuring to take a hard look at their rulers first. It always seems that their markers of success look suspiciously like themselves – and then we’re back to making God look like us, rather than seeing how we all look like God” (Hirschfield, pg 117) 

“When people start imagining that how other people interpret religious practices are life-and-death issues, they are not so far from the people who flew planes into the buildings.” (Hirschfield, pg 120) 

“In fact, if your limits don’t have limits, you’re not a limit-setter at all. If your limits don’t have limits, you as are out of control as the people you accuse of being without discipline” (Hirschfield, pg 128 )

Keeping score is important. Measuring ourselves and taking stock of our lives is important; where we’re going and where we want to be are really important questions to ask, But please remember that the best score we keep is our own” (Hirschfield, pg 129)

Problems With Hell

I just finished watching a program (Insight) with Bill Wiese – the person who wrote the book ’23 minutes in hell’. Can’t say I agree with much of anything they have to say. Here is some of problems with it:

(a) There was mass confusion over salvation. They would actually say it’s not based on ‘deeds’ then move into the area of after one is saved and how to keep salvation is based on ‘deeds’.

(b) Bill claims all his information is backed by biblical teachings – however – they are also his interpretations about the term ‘hell’. Since he was unsure what got one to hell – how can his interpretations be all that sound? He uses a variety of Tanakh scriptures and I am not sure that is very sound in and of itself.

(c) Hell is being used as a tool to bring people into communion with God – fear tactic to approach God. Does that truly work? How can we even start a convo with a God after only fear exists?

(d) The weird comparison between the justness of God as compared to the love of God – made no sense to me. God is so just we have to be sent to hell (automatic place we start) – but love’s us so much doesn’t want us there (God’s grace). Some of it makes sense – but only based on one’s actions – not on some atonement theory.

(e) They used an example about a parent and a child – and how a child can choose to leave the family (I agree – it’s possible)…but what is the dad’s response? Does the dad stop loving the child? Does the dad utterly condemn the child to a place of eternal torment? That’s not really fatherly at all.

These are just a few things I picked up – what do you think about hell?

SocietyVs Proverbs

(1) If someone asks you for something – give them what they ask for

‘If I ask you for a loaf of bread, then give me a loaf of bread – not 1/2’

(2) We do/live life to see others also succeed

‘A marathon runner can win a race – but he does it with all the spectators and other runners. He can do the same time on his own without anyone around – but what is really gained? Even the marathon runner enjoys the community of the race – and his success is based on others.’

What is it? It’s it! Idolatry and Faith

***My comment from Mystical Seeker’s blog on Idolatry

Idolatry is literally the worship of an object – which might entail more than just a high respect/reverence for the object – in my opinion.

Idols were created things concerning making God as an image – now I think the bible or a Torah Scroll does not really fall under that definition per se – unless we see that as idolatry by our definition of what idolatry means.

I can respect Yael’s belief about the Torah scroll – those are God’s words to the Judaic community – and need to be respected (I would say even revered). But they would never reach a point of actual worship per se – like offerings to the the scroll or what not (or the bible for that matter).

I think there is some confusion over what idolatry really is in most Christian circles. Is not idolatry connected to ‘making a graven image’ and then worshipping it? Isn’t that the original definition of this idea in commandment 2?

I mean, we are looking deeper into the idea – as in idolatry of the heart – and the way some people revere some object (like a cross or a bible). I kinda agree – I am like Mystical in this regards also – a bible is a bible to me – even if someone burnt it in front of me – I know the teahcings are alive in me (and not only on the page).

Does anyone in any faith put their images and things ahead of God? I know it seems like some do – but this is not the common notion. Most people gain a reverence for something religious based on their faith in God – so they take some high esteem for certain rituals or a scroll. God enfuses the object with some meaning to the person of faith – the scroll is God’s words or the cross is a symbol of an act of Jesus for humanity (which means a lot to us).

That to me is not idolatry – unless one starts worshipping the actual object and removes God from the equation altogether (this thing becomes a replacement). The object would lose it’s meaning if removed from the connection with God one feels – so I am not sure of idolatry.

As for Jesus, I raised this issue a while ago and how a human is getting God status – and seems to break commandement #1 and #2 (of number 2 I am not sure). But Jesus does become a human image of the Creator – which is quite convenient for a human.

But I am also similar to Yael – the teachings mean a lot to me – they are my guidance and I first read them on pages and heard them spoke upon before I acted upon them. There is a sense for me of the sacredness of the teachings – but also in the sacredness of doing them (there is a weird combination there that can look idolatorous but is in fact not).

***What do you think? Am I playing too lightly with idolatry? What is you personal feeling on an issue liike this (which I think rarely happens in our day)?