Sometimes it’s hard…

Sometimes it’s hard to go to church.

I know.  It’s a horrible thing to say.  Nevertheless it’s true.

There are some Sundays where it’s really difficult to get myself out of bed and drag myself into the shower.  As a pregnant woman I don’t find the pews particularly comfortable. My son does not enjoy the company of other children in Sunday School and thus stays up with us. This would be fine if I was was preaching but for some reason when we go to my Dad’s church he does not like entering the sanctuary. He feels we should be able to hang out in Grandpa’s office until it’s all done and that means it’s a struggle for my husband and I. I sometimes miss contemplative music. Also if I’m honest I miss music that I know. As I’ve been busy working up to this point I don’t really know the music at my Dad’s church. I find this hard. I really respond to hymns and music in worship and when I don’t know them, it’s difficult for me.

Sometimes it’s hard but we persist. We continue.

The issue of church attendance and comfort has popped up on my Facebook feed a lot lately. Donald Miller recently wrote a blog about how he doesn’t attend church very often and people are going crazy. Apparently quite a few people I know have very strong feelings about this. It would seem many feel church is a necessity. Some have said that you meet God in the liturgy. Others have shared another follow up post by Geoff Suratt on why he will never leave the church which would often receive comments and statements which affirm people’s comfort and positive worship experiences.

None of what anyone is saying is wrong. It’s all a matter of perspective. I’m thrilled that so many people get so much out of corporate worship and feel a sense of connection with God there. The truth is, for me I don’t always feel that way. With the distractions and lately the discomfort of the pew as I sit there in this awkward pregnant body I don’t get the ‘high’ or the sense of peace and tranquility that so many do. I go for other reasons. I go to be part of a community of believers. I go to lift others up. I go to worship and participate as I am able. I go for my son. I go for a whole host of reasons but truthfully, I really don’t go for myself.

My greatest spiritual awakenings and understandings have most often come in a moment of solitude. My morning prayer with God, the study and readings I do alone often fill me with greater peace and understanding than church does. There are moments and times in worship when I do experience a great sense of wonder and awe but it’s not a constant, consistent thrill for me. I live for quiet moments of faith. I long for God’s whisper in moments scattered throughout my day.

Often when people talk about how important church is and how we all need to carry on the traditions as they have always been I find my mind wandering to the ministry of Jesus. I think of the teaching he did around tables, on hill sides and at the well. I wonder if we should remind ourselves that he made a pretty big stink in the temple and he prayed in gardens alone. There are many ways to meet God. Many worship styles, experiences and learning methods at play. There is no one right way in which to do it and while it might work for you, it won’t work for everyone.  I go to church because I want to go. For my son, my family and the community. I go because it’s right for me where I am in life right now. I want to facilitate change. To help create more open, accepting environments. I want to make God accessible to more people, in more ways. I go for many reasons, important reasons but that doesn’t always mean it’s easy.   

I think perhaps it would be wise for us as people who worship together to remember how much easier it is to not go. As we seek to be an inclusive church, to create inviting environments perhaps we should look at what we are up against. How the warmth of a cup of coffee, a good book and your pyjamas might be more enticing than heading out the door on a winter morning. How difficult it is for people who do not know the rules and hidden structure of worship to jump in and participate. How hard it might be to focus on a sermon when the last time you sat through a lecture was 10 years ago in school. It doesn’t come easily to everyone and when it does, they are the lucky ones. Maybe if we look at the reasons people don’t go or don’t want to go we will see ways in which we need to change. We may discover areas of improvement and perhaps become the accessible places we want to be. Sometimes it is easier not to go. I guess it’s our job to create a worship experience that is so inviting that people want to go anyways.

Sabbath

It is Sunday. There is a family dinner to be prepared. There is a healthy pumpkin bread recipe I’d like to try and I really want to make it at some point. I have great plans, wonderful plans. But instead of making dinner, pumpkin bread or doing anything really you can find me at this moment drinking coffee with Monkey Monkey and about to dive into the latest Food Network magazine after a nice after lunch beach visit with my boys.  It’s been a wonderful, lazy day.

That wonderful, lazy day is Sabbath, my Sabbath. I have not done what needs to be done but I’ve done what I’m supposed to do.  I’ve rested.  I’ve stopped working.  I have been still.

I pray that you allow yourself to be still today. That you have moments where you understand what it means to sit, to be silent, to relax. We are a people of God and we are called into Sabbath, called into rest. It’s often in these quiet moments that we feel God is near. Be silent today. Let God in.  Practice Sabbath and enjoy the rest that God gives.

I’ll see you tomorrow when my Sabbath is over…

Doubting God.

I was in the middle of writing a post about tomatoes, gardening and pruning {I bet you have an idea of where I was going with this} but then I ran across this article “Young Americans Losing Faith?  New Poll Shows 31 Percent Of Adults Under 30 Doubt God Exists”  This doesn’t surprise me.  Does it surprise you?

To put this another way, 1 in 3 Americans under 30 have doubt about the existence of God.  I would bet the Canadian number is higher if only because we might be slightly less afraid to admit it and we’re a more secular culture in general.

To me this means as a church we are dealing in an increasingly secular world.  A world that isn’t afraid to express doubt and acknowledge the possibility that God may not exist.  It means we are living in a world that is different from one we have in our church memory banks.

We have to change.

We have ignored this doubt.  We push doubt away and pretend it doesn’t exist.  It does.  It has to.  If we’ve never wrestled with our faith or really struggled with God, how can we mature and grow as Christians.  We need to allow doubt to be part of the conversation.

Things are not as they were 50 years ago.  People today see churches as places that are great for weddings and hold a great deal of nostalgia but are not relevant as a faith option.  Instead of coming to church people are turning to the internet, friends and celebrities for ideas on faith and God.  We’ve lost our influence.  We are no longer part of their conversation.

This loss of influence has frightened us.  Fear is not the answer, faith is.  In the Bible God constantly says ‘Be not afraid’ and yet we find ourselves living daily in fear.  We hide from the outside world and wonder what comes next.   The problem with this way of living is that we will never know what happens next if we do not do something to make the next thing happen.   We cannot show others light if we are hiding it from them.

Jesus called us to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world.

This is a heavy calling.  We are to live in the world and shine our light.  We are to add flavor and substance to our communities.  We aren’t doing this.  Our lights grow dim and our salt is losing it’s flavor.  In focusing on ‘not’ dying we’re not living.  In our struggle to stay alive we’ve forgotten our purpose and mission.

Imagine a church that lived according to the Gospel.  That was the light of the earth and recognized the need to live in community and care for others.  Imagine a church that could say the following:

We are Christ followers.  We gather together to worship and praise the Lord. We live in the world God created and care about it.  In our community we love, we laugh, we live. We long to serve and will find ways to help those in need. We know that our building is a resource but is not our God. We pray hard and fierce. We read the Bible and learn from it’s message. We are living a mission given by God to us in this time and place. We are Christ followers. 

I would go to this church.
Others would too…

 

My garden and a bunny got me to thinking…

This past weekend my family and I travelled up to see my brother and sister graduate from University in Sault Ste. Marie.  It was a wonderful weekend, we had so much fun and I’m so proud of them both.

Of course while I was away there was a heat wave here at home.  My garden sprung to life while I was away and so today I thought I would check out the progress in the clear light of day as we got home fairly late last night.  The change was phenomenal.

My clematis was gorgeous and in full bloom

My tomatoes exploded

My herbs were happy

…and the bunny was happy.

This bunny is one of a family of bunnies.  I know what you’re thinking.  Bunnies aren’t good because they eat your strawberries.  You weren’t thinking that?  I was.  They eat my strawberries!  Nevertheless they are in our yard this year more than any other and I discovered why.  While we were away this happened to my grass:

A patch of clover decided to multiply while we were away.  We’ve been battling this clover for a while but it’s gotten out of hand lately.  My husband has been working hard and removing it.  He is constantly outside digging it up, spraying some kind of natural iron compound on it, yelling at it and giving it the look.  So far nothing has worked.

The bunnies love clover.  They come into the yard and eat away all day.  It’s paradise for them.  Unbeknownst to us we’ve created a perfect paradise for bunnies free of dogs, quiet and removed from traffic with plenty of their favorite foods.

As I stood outside marveling at the determination of the clover to survive and the never ending stream of bunnies which seem to find their way into my yard I got to thinking.  Lately I’ve read quite a number of blogs by people in their thirties who are searching for a church and desperate to find a place where they fit in.  They long to find an environment they feel comfortable in.  They long to find a place that offers community, is recognizable to them and doesn’t exist simply for themselves.

Unfortunately they are struggling to find a place that they recognize as church and I’m not really surprised.  Church as most of us practice it today is unrecognizable to most people in their thirties.  There is no organization that they belong to, no place they go where people behave as the church does. Meetings are held at coffee houses or at a round table.  Gatherings are informal and relationship is the primary focus.  People come to church expecting to find relationship and connection but do not see it because we do not present it in a way they understand or can connect with.

My backyard is an accidental paradise for the bunnies.  A safe haven from the storms of the world.  A place where they are fed, nourished, protected and given rest.  Maybe we need to create an intentional paradise for the people of this world.  Maybe we should be creating safe places for people to escape the storms of this world. We should feed them, nourish them, protect them, empower them and allow them to be.

If we did that imagine what a ministry that would be, what opportunities we would have to serve others in our world. I’d love to know what you think.  What would your paradise look like? What do you need in a church?

Meet me at dawn.

As the sun begins it’s stretch into the sky, my alarm goes off on the nightstand beside me.  I slowly drag myself out of bed and stretch my body attempting to get  muscles moving once more and it’s clear to me in seconds they would rather be tucked back in my warm bed.  My feet barely leave the ground as I point them in the direction of coffee.   Shuffling towards the kitchen while rubbing my eyes I’m lucky not to make contact with any door frames.  I can barely see.  The light is dim.  I need that coffee.  The minute it takes to brew feels like an eternity and I’m hesitant to create any noise that might waken my 2 year old.  These moments are meant for me and God.

With coffee in one hand and a notebook in the other I scramble off to find my Bible.  After I have collected everything I settle into my corner, comfy and secure. I begin to pray.  After prayers I read.  It’s God and I.  Together in the quiet of the morning.

Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?  Time with God at dawn.  Moments set aside for reflection and prayer.  The truth is it’s more like a duel than a sunrise symphony.

It’s not that I don’t love God, I do.  It’s not that I don’t respect God, I do.  It’s just that in the morning, at the crack of dawn before the world awakes I’m probably a little too me when I face God.  I ramble about anything and everything in my thoughts.  As I’m not reading for a purpose there’s very little to direct me and my thoughts can seem scattered and confused.  While reading I’ve been known to complain to God, cheer to God, reject some rules and find myself pushed in to the reality of what it means to be a follower.  Some days I struggle to stay awake and most days it’s not pretty.

It’s funny really.  When I’m writing a sermon I pray with a purpose.  I’m composed and directed.  Things have a plan and I listen and reflect and follow as I’m supposed to.  Without a plan I’m all over the map.  Without a plan it’s chaos. These mornings aren’t perfect but they’re me.  This time set apart from God is one on one time with no real purpose.  It’s rather liberating really.

This ritual is fairly new.  Adopted out of the realization that I far too often neglect time with God independent of work.  I came to the conclusion after one too many days away that I needed to schedule God in as he’s too easily pushed to the side.

I’m probably not alone in this.  Life is busy and in this modern age we’re always moving, thinking and saying we’ll get to reflection next week.  Time set aside for quiet reflection is frowned upon as we could be using that time to do something.

I’m here to tell you it’s okay to sit.  I’m actually getting more accomplished now.  I waste less time on the internet.  I am more invested in the day, in what is happening right now.  Starting the day off with God means I actually carry God with me.  It’s a nice feeling.

It’s okay to sit.  It’s ok to reflect.  There is nothing wrong with stopping.  We all need to set time aside to sit, listen and hear what God is saying.  While my time isn’t perfect, it’s my time.  Time God is using to teach and direct me.  It’s time for discovery and surprises.

This week I invite you to join me.  Seven days is all I ask.  Seven days at dawn where we meet God and surrender our time to him.  It doesn’t have to be perfect time.  It doesn’t have to be planned.  It just has to be.

Will you join me?

Great things might happen.

This weekend I’m preaching on Luke 24:36b-48 and I didn’t intend to.  I thought I would preach on 1 John but something kept calling me back to this passage of doubt and the disciples.  How they were scared and unsure when Jesus arrived.  How Jesus brought peace.  How he was patient with them in their uncertainty.  How he didn’t give up on them.  It spoke to me.

Jesus offered the disciples a tactile experience.  He allowed them to touch, to feel him.  He showed them how alive he was by eating and just being with them.  He calmed the chaos in simple ways.  He just was with them and brought them peace. This was his way of connecting to them after the resurrection.  It is so simple yet beautiful.

There’s so much we could learn from this.  He calmed the chaos by offering peace and just being there. As the church in transition we are living in a state of anxiety.  Anxious about what we should do, how we should act and what we are doing wrong, we find ourselves flailing looking for answers.  What we need to do is surrender control to God and just be.  We should be witnessing to the moments of grace that God has shown us.  We should be sharing the power of God in our own lives as individuals.

In our anxiety is feels like we’re trying to plan our way out of this mess.  We hope that with a powerpoint projector or some kind of fancy program people will see Jesus.  We believe if we find the next best thing they’ll realize the importance of Church.  Those things are great but they aren’t how Jesus did things.  If we look at Jesus’ example, he ministered through relationship.  Everything he did was about people and he didn’t have an agenda.  It was never about growing a church or keep one open.  He ministered and shared God’s love because he loved people and wanted them to know there was nothing God wouldn’t do to get into relationship with them.

That’s the best part of the Christian message isn’t it?  There’s nothing God wouldn’t do to get into relationship with you.  God loves us so much that he would die so that we could always be with him.  This kind of love is so incredible.  It’s so powerful.  It’s our story to tell and we should tell it.

We are witnesses to this great love.  We should share our individual stories of grace and the power of God in our lives.  If we let go of our anxiety and started to just share the story we would find ourselves in the communities in which we live.  We would meet people and discover who they are.  We would find out what the needs of the community were and we could begin to meet them.  There would be a sharing of lives, our stories and love would flow abundantly.  With no agenda beyond living the message of grace and love in the world, great things might happen.

It could be incredible if we just let go and lived.
It could be incredible if we just let go and trusted God.
Do you think it’s possible for us to ever let go and truly trust God?

How Mad Men made me think about disconnect & the church {with a hint of Zou Bisou Bisou}

I can’t get this song out of my head.
I blame Megan Draper.
I have to say it may have been the only good thing about Sunday’s episode for me.


I’ve watched Mad Men from the beginning and I’d like to say I’m happy it’s back but really I’m not sure I care because it’s been so long and I feel so disconnected.  I think it’s that way with a lot of things.   It definitely seems to be that way with church.  People tend to talk to me about their faith (occupational hazard) and it’s often a reflecting on how things were, or how much it meant to them back in the day.  Once you’ve walked away it’s hard to come back.  Things are never as they were and memories become hazy and it’s easier to let things lie.   They’ve lost connection with the community.  It’s hard to reconnect after a long time away.

I was willing to let go of the show.  I was willing to walk away after Sunday night’s episode but my husband says I cannot, I must give it a chance.  I know this is only a television show and it doesn’t affect my life if I don’t watch it but it got me thinking.  Are we willing to put in the effort it takes to reconnect with those who are not connected with the faith any longer?  Are we willing to put ourselves out there and share our lives with them so they can see who we really are?

Right now it seems like faith has become too individualized in the Christian community.  We talk about our individual journeys, our preferences, our theology, our desires and our needs.  What about the journeys of those who are new, those who are lost or those who are struggling?  What about the preferences of those outside our walls?  What about their needs, desires and wants?

We need to move past our own agenda and into Jesus’ agenda.  We need to support one another, love one another and share the hope that Jesus offers.

Community is important.  Community centered around the good news and the hope it brings.  We really need to share in the ministry and mission of Jesus.  We need to get out into the world, get our hands dirty and work side by side spreading hope and peace.  Jesus called us into community.  We need to shift our focus from what we want to what people need and start being the church once more.

What Church should be…

I think about worship a lot.  I think about style.  I think about substance.  I think about flow and movement.  I think about experience and texture.  These things are part of the worship experience.  They are part of what people take with them when they leave.

In the last couple of months I’ve lead worship at 4 different churches.  Each has it’s own unique style and form.  Moving in and out of these styles has given me the opportunity to think a lot about worship and what I would like to see in a Church.  I’ve talked with family and friends.  I’ve thought about what church should be like. This has been an interesting exercise for me.

After much thought I can confirm that there are few things I know for certain but I know what I would like and I think Church should be:

real….
People are engaged with the word and one another.  Prayers have substance.  Songs have meaning.  The service would be spirit-filled.  The people would be spirit-fueled.   

relaxed…
The people would come as they are. Whether certain or uncertain, confused or sure, prepared or unprepared, none of it matters as all are welcome.  The only expectation is that grace is given and love flows freely.     

relevant…
Engaging with the word and the world is the goal.  Leaving filled with desire and determination to make a difference.  The church should live out a mission that matters in our time and place.

I wonder how this is possible.
And I wonder if it could happen @ 5 on Saturdays…

It’s time for a turnaround.

I just discovered a book called “Brand Turnaround: How Brands Gone Bad Returned to Glory and the 7 Game Changers that Made the Difference” by Karen Post.  It was suggested to me by Kobo Books and I really couldn’t figure out why.  I read religious books, the occasional biography and a lot of fiction.

According to the description the organizations that Ms. Post studied all experienced “a widely publicized meltdown that threatened to put them out of business and each one is going strong today. Why? They took charge with conviction, creativity, and smarts.” and there are 7 steps we can learn from them to turn around a broken organization.

As I was thinking about this I realized how brilliant Kobo is and how they must read the blog.  I’m always talking about the imploding Church and how we need to move forward.  Someone must’ve figured I needed this book.  We need a turnaround.  This might be the place to start.

In the summary Kobo told me the 7 steps needed to re-brand and refocus.  I thought they could be useful.  Here they are:

#1: Take Responsibility
#2: Never Give Up
#3: Lead Strong
#4: Stay Relevant
#5: Keep Improving
#6: Build Equity
#7: Own Your Distinction

Looking at the list it actually is quite useful for us in the PCC right now.  We’re looking for strategy.  We’re trying to pick ourselves up.  Recreate ourselves.  Or are we?  Mostly it seems like we’re flailing about and this might be the direction we require.  We need some direction.  We need these rules.

Think about it:

#1: Take Responsibility
 Have we taken responsibility?  Are we willing to see what we’ve done wrong and where we could have made better choices?

#2: Never Give Up
This is so important.  We need to shed the defeatist attitude and adopt one of hope.  We are Christians after all and the resurrection is a core part of our belief. We need to believe in it.

#3: Lead Strong
We need to be and develop strong leaders.  Strong from the pulpit and strong from the pew.  We must not live in fear.  This is absolutely essential.

#4: Stay Relevant
I think this should probably say become relevant for most of us.  Those churches and people who have developed positive ministries in the Post-Christendom period should be looked to as an example for the rest of us.  We should learn from each other and most importantly learn from the world what is important.

#5: Keep Improving
We must not stop improving.  We must always look for things we can improve on.  Is there a way to make people more comfortable when they enter Church?  How can we more effectively reach people in our community?  Is the message being translated in a powerful, positive way?  I could go on {and on} but I trust you get the point.

#6: Build Equity
Not surprisingly there’s a lot of equity in the name Jesus.  In some ways we have created a ‘brand’ based on him.  We really shouldn’t focus on building brand equity for the PCC but instead look at the value we place on our faith in general.  Why do we meet?  Is there a reason people should actually join us?  Will those outside benefit from coming in?  Would they want to come to us over anyone else?   We need to start seeing faith as something of value.  We need to start empowering our members to live out the message of Jesus.

#7: Own Your Distinction
We need to be distinct.  If we aren’t, what’s the point?  There are thousands of churches in our country.  There are dozens within our cities and towns.  What makes our church, the individual church we attend matter?  Would it be missed if it wasn’t there?  Is there a distinction from others?  At this point I would say if there is no distinction and too many churches perhaps we should look at why we operate this way.  There has to be a reason, something that makes you special.  Finding this is often the key to finding your passion and purpose.

I haven’t even read the book yet and I love these points.  I don’t know if they’re the actual answer but I bought the book on Kobo.  I intend to read it further and see if it could be of any use.  We are entering a time when things will have to change or we will cease to exist in the form that we know.  The church will continue, I have faith in that but the PCC is broken and it’s time we started the process of healing.

I’m not trying to be negative.  I think it’s important to note here that throughout the history of faith God healed broken people many times.   He led the slaves out of Egypt and created a nation.  He freed people from exile.  He rose from the dead and freed us from disconnection from God.  Just because it feels like the end doesn’t mean it is.  We are a resurrection people.  It would be good for us to remember that.

Wonder Bread Jesus

Communion in these parts tends to be celebrated with Wonder Bread and a bitter  sweet wine (or if you’re lucky a grape cocktail).  Jesus is cubed and placed on nice trays.  The liquid is poured into tiny cups.  It’s a process.  It’s a system.  It’s how it’s always been done.

The problem I have with this is that Jesus is not sweet wine, grape cocktail or Wonder Bread to me.  Jesus does not leave a bitter taste in your mouth.  Jesus is not foam that dissolves the instant it is placed on your tongue.  Jesus is an artisan bread.  Jesus is special vintage wine or Welch’s grape juice.  Jesus is the best of the best.  Jesus is texture.  Jesus is body.  Jesus is.

Our Wonder Bread Jesus is troubling.  Our desire to cut and cube, to keep things orderly, to have Jesus cut perfectly so we all get the same experience.  Jesus is so much more than this.  Jesus is the misshapen loaf that was lovingly created in the early morning by a baker who lives for baking.  The bread that is crafted for nourishment and enjoyment.  Each piece is filled with body and texture that we savor.  This bread is meant to be ripped apart and devoured with your hands while still hot. Like this bread, Jesus is filled with life and soul.  Jesus is an experience you remember. Jesus is something you want to experience over and over again.

How many of us would miss Wonder Bread Jesus?

Lately I’ve begun to wonder this.  This tradition and ritual seems lost on some people.  As I stand behind the table reciting the words that have been passed down for generations, I hear the conversations that take place in the sanctuary.  I also hear phones clicking and people moving.  As I move through the experience I have to wonder if they would miss this moment if it weren’t happening?  Do they understand what we are doing?  Are they really connected in the communion of the body of Christ?  Do they even know what that phrase means?

I find myself imagining a different way.  I drift towards an image of family style communion held around a table or two.  Where people gather together in a room or in a hall and celebrate the feast of our Lord as a true feast.  What if loaves were passed and cut and enjoyed.  What if jugs of wine and juice were found on tables and people filled their cups and celebrated community.  The feast would be blessed.  The Lord would be invited into the gathering.  It would be a celebration.  There would be a time of sharing so that people would know what this moment was about.  They would learn what the ritual truly means.  They would become part of the experience.  It would be a living moment of faith.  I think we need to work towards more living moments of faith.

Would you miss the Wonder Bread Jesus?

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