Sunday Morning Church Rant

I didn’t go to church today because I couldn’t face another stripped-down summer liturgy. Bleh.  Recycled sermons, vacationing preachers, substitute organists, empty pews, last moment lectors, absent acolytes, no choir, no coffee hour. The church on vacation isn’t pretty. 

But that’s not our only problem. We have a problem of relevance. We are trying WAY too hard to find it. When church leaders chase the latest opinion polls, and change their main Sunday liturgies to meet the “market,” those who have been shaped by the liturgical traditions of the past are left to embrace the change or leave. What seems to have been left out of the rush to seek the seeker is that the Church was never more embracing or growth-filled as when it was the keeper of mystery, ritual, prayer and sacrament and served the community. (1st – 3rd Century CE)

It will be a sad, sad day when a generation hence American mainline churches are empty (like Europe) and leadership wishes we had hewed to liturgical practice, embraced social justice, and welcomed the stranger and the familiar at the same time.

Am I really all alone in my grief at the demise of the weekly Lutheran and Episcopalian Sunday liturgy — the ritual of action, listening, singing, silence, Word and Meal that has sustained me spiritually all my adult life?

Are there no clergy around me who think that the rush to reinvent the church by changing worship is getting at the problem from the wrong end? Is technology in the sanctuary really All That?

You’d think with all the gutting of worship tradition that all following Jesus ever meant was showing up for church, and that Church meant getting people in the doors on Sunday morning. I always thought living the faith was what I did with my life the rest of the time, out in the world. Worship was what pulled me back into the tradition of the mothers and fathers, helped me remember, fed me at the Table, grounded me in the mystery.

I’m sad the scramble for growth, money, resources, and relevance has meant the suburban churches in my area are always riding the wave of the Next Big Thing. I’ve been around long enough to know that there is always a next big thing.

The rush to relevance has left me cold. It’s exhausting (no wonder the church heaves a huge sigh during the summer). Think I’ll go read Morning Prayer (BCP, p. 75) and have my own church today.

Signed,

Wish You Were Here. 

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You Gotta Have Hope

It’s true that all we have is the now. Every moment, lived now, is how we put together a life. Living our mental time too much in the past, or too far into the future, is a sure fire recipe for suffering.

In a previous post I wrote about a few important aspects of changing our body experience in the present: focusing on actions we can take to change our inner world: good nutrition, daily exercise, quieting the mind through prayer, ritual, or meditation, and focusing our time on mutual, healthy relationships.

Here I’d like to talk about the mental attitude of hopefulness, a necessary ingredient to creating a more positive outcome to our efforts toward change.

Have you ever noticed that while you are in that awful process of really being sick with an infection or injury, trying to decide whether to make an appointment or get to an urgent care center, the anxiety about your situation amplifies your suffering? In the same way, I wonder if you have noticed that once you make up your mind to take action, and put yourself in a situation where you can receive medical help, your symptoms begin to subside even before you are examined?

This lessening of anxiety and its effect on our suffering once we are confident we will be helped is known as the placebo effect: the way that hope for change creates an increase in well-being and a lessening of suffering.

That is how powerful the emotional experience of hopefulness is. Part of the therapeutic process, whether in a hospital room or a counseling office, is sustaining hope for change. I believe that human beings can change; I have changed, and continue to work on my own change processes. I have helped many people create their own change, and witnessed healing of heart, mind, and body all my life.

Hope is the confidence that the suffering of the present can be relieved, and that there is a path that can be relied on to attain healing. It is what can carry us through the work of the present to a new future. It’s the most necessary mental ingredient I know when taking on the challenge to create something new in our lives.

If you have hope for a different future, you can often endure the suffering of the now, the work necessary to change your circumstance, and launch yourself into a different tomorrow, next week or next year.

Want to change something now? Grab onto your hope for change and don’t let go.

Advent Early On

Every year after Thanksgiving I’m surprised when the church calendar says it’s a new year. Advent marks the beginning of the church’s annual liturgical review of the great stories of the faith.

Traditionally it starts with the prophets, who warn that God is among us and will show her/his self even more clearly in the days to come. Get ready! they shout. I’m always puzzled at this exhortation. How can a human being get ready for God?

It’s this great human gift and problem of looking into the future. As far as we know, other mammals aren’t able to imagine the future in the same way we do. They live their lives much more in the “now” than in the “then.” But humans are so in love with the future, we think anything is possible there. The allure of a future we can imagine makes us all less attached to the present, I fear. We put off anything we can. The present? Well, we’re just passing through.

The answer for me is the spiritual skill of waiting. It’s some of the toughest emotional work we do, holding ourselves in the present while expecting something in the future. It’s not about gifts and presents, I think. It’s about waiting for God to be fully revealed to us and to a hurting world.

I will be thinking about Waiting this Advent. How hard it is, why it’s important to grow that emotional muscle, what living in the present while expecting the future feels like. I think it’s the central work of faith, managing the now and then. A belief that both the present and the future deeply matter.