A Secular in the Sanctuary

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More rain, more green, more room for growing

So, I went to church today. . .

Yes, you read that correctly.

I attended the family church, to show respect (my father-in-law’s ashes rest in the garden there) and to see how the church has changed.  Well, I have to say, I saw very little change from years past.  Still mostly elderly folks–all good people I think–and some old time hymns mixed with the old prayers.  All presented in a “progressive” manner, but mixed with so much traditional baggage I had some difficulty seeing the “progress.”

(Keep in mind I was raised in the church and served as a Minister for many years).

Overall I can say I felt welcomed (because family attends) and some of the music was good.  I even sang an old hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” that we used to sing in chapel at the Christian college.  Personalistic theology, but uplifting melody.

I say I felt welcomed, but I need to clarify that.  The words used in song, prayer, scripture and sermon were not quite as welcoming.  There was a lot about “Brothers and Sisters in Christ” (what if visitors like me were not Christian?) and sin (“we’re all sinners” was supposed to make us all feel better, I guess) and a biblical passage from Genesis about a whole city full of “wickedly” sinful people God (graciously) promises not to nuke because there were a few “righteous” residents.  I sat in the pew thinking:  “Gee, I guess I’m a wicked sinner here.”  Almost made me proud. . .almost.

Another bible passage was read from Luke where The First Christian (Jesus, it’s assumed) taught his famous prayer but also said “ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened.”  That was a pop song in my high school youth group.  Now, I find it strange and almost cruel.  It implies that you’ll get what you ask for from your “divine Parent” (Santa?).  How many have read that for centuries, asked God for something and NOT received it, sought and NOT found, knocked on God’s door and no one was home?  I remember being taught:  When you don’t get what you ask for it means you are either too sinful or “God has something better for you.”  Nice dance there.  In other words, Jesus didn’t really mean what he said.

The sermon was pretty good.  The woman pastor told some good stories and one actually brought a tear to my eye.  The main message seemed to be prayer and mercy, especially God’s mercy to us.  Here again, all I could think of was:  What does that really mean?  I think it means we are “lost” without that mercy because a Judge can be merciful to a criminal, or something.  It left me wondering:  If you replace GOD with PARENT, maybe a parent shows more “mercy” to their child than most of what we hear from God–doesn’t it seem that way?  At least a parent doesn’t demand that their child constantly ask them for things, praise and adore them, then threaten to punish them with everlasting timeout in a very hot room if they don’t obey and believe every word they say!

Once again, I think this church is full of good people, and a generally nice message of love and goodness and acceptance is presented.  This is true in many congregations I’ve served and visited.  These folks are very welcoming of people of color, LGBTQ folks and others.  I think people are simply unaware that their “Good News” isn’t really very good to hear, at least for many of us who don’t accept the basic assumptions (WE are God’s People, there IS a God listening to “God’s People,” the Bible has authority for today, Church is a meaningful, relevant thing to do in a contemporary, pluralistic city, etc.).

I’ll probably go back again.  There is almost always something–something–to take from the experience of a congregation of believers.  Yet. . .I often wonder. . .what might happen if other voices, other minds, were allowed and welcomed to speak up and speak out?  What if other faiths, and seculars, were invited to speak, give sermons or be interviewed in church?  Why not?   Why fear that radical inclusiveness?  (This happens in some places –interfaith gatherings, UU fellowships, etc–but not enough, in my way of thinking).

I couldn’t help staring out the (minimal) windows during the service to enjoy the green, growing trees and a few notes from lively birds.  Beauty so close by, but unnoticed.  Have you ever wondered that “sanctuary” often seems to be just outside so many places we humans call “sanctuary”?

 

 

 

 

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