Changing Church

Sunday I rearranged the sanctuary so that everyone was facing a different direction. Oh my,the looks of confusion as they entered! And I heard a few people exclaim, “Now I don’t know where to sit!” Holy cow, you’d think I’d spun them around three times in the dark and they ended up on Oz. Somewhat sadistically, I’m tempted to do it more often just to keep them on their toes. (For the full audio podcast of the sermon, click here.)

Seriously, I did have a point. We were celebrating Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit blew into town, empowered the disciples and a movement began. You know, every time the Spirit shows up something changes – people are led out of slavery, women get pregnant, ministries start. So, if logic serves me correctly, evidence of the presence of the Spirit in church is change. Not change for the sake of change (like moving chairs), but life-affirming, meaningful, love- and justice-filled change.

You know that churches are declining, right? Take a look at these stats:

  • 31% of Americans say that they are nonreligious
  • 25% of those 30 and under in America say they are “atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular”
  • 40% of Americans attend church regularly (this may be the “halo” effect where people want the surveyor to think well of them, because other reports of actual church attendance find that only 20% attend church regularly.)
  • 80% of people 20 and younger have never set foot in a church.

Here are a few thoughts about why I think this is:

  • The church is becoming irrelevant
  • It insists we believe in absurd, antiquated claims(i.e. Adam and Eve, Virgin Birth, heaven and hell)
  • Many churches support a prejudiced theology (against divorced people, LGBT, women, poor, etc.)
  • The church is not a friend of science
  • It tells us not to ask questions
  • The pastor’s function is as a propagandist, not a teacher or prophet
  • God is “out there”
  • Church is more about the glitz in worship than spiritual depth, searching and transformation

Here’s the deal with most of Christianity… the church is dying, but we’re not really doing anything new to fix it. We might package it a little differently – now we can have coffee with our worship, or sit in a movie theater, or a big amphitheater with a band and TV screens – but they are preaching the same old stuff.

Brian McLaren, author of A New Kind of Christianity, states:

 “We acknowledge that we have created many Christianities up to this point, and they call for reassessment and, in many cases, repentance…we are reassessing as a humble act of ethical responsibility, so that we can avoid merely carrying on the “traditions of humans” as Jesus said the Pharisees once did. We are in fact following the example of our ancestors, who again and again from the margins did this very kind of collective self-examination and repenting.”

It is time to look honestly at what kind of religion has been created and determine what needs to change to help it evolve to the next stage of spirituality. We cannot be so egotistical as to believe that what we create next will be “right” for all time, but perhaps it will be the next best step in the evolution of our understanding of the Divine, ourselves, and the relationship between the two. This means lots of hard work re-examining our community and ourselves, it means deconstructing what we thought we knew, or what we’ve been told, then searching and exploring the world and our hearts for “truth.”

Can you imagine what that looks like? Based on the things I’ve read and studied, here is a beginning of what I think this looks like:

  • We individuals we need to look within… we cannot expect to be a community based on the love and principles of Jesus (inclusivity, compassion, non-judgment, peace, harmony, forgiveness, seeking justice for the marginalized and outcast, etc.) if we don’t each work on our own hearts to get to that place.
  • Then our actions as a community need to reflect our interior work.
  • We need to move away from theism. There are multiple ways that a primarily male-imaged God “out there” is stifling our growth.
  • We need to shift away from our belief of Jesus as God. Among other things, this perpetuates the image of the male divine role and relegates women to second-class subordinates.
  • We need to reexamine our worship, songs, traditions, rituals, prayers, sacraments… everything. It’s time to ask why do we do this? Just because some guy 2000 years ago said we should? Is that really a reason to still be baptized, or circumcised, or eat bread and wine? Maybe it is… but have we even asked the questions?
  • Theologically, we need to re-examine our belief structures, creeds, and doctrine to reflect the evolution of our hearts, minds and souls.

This type of self-assessment can be sort of earth-shattering… or it can be liberating. And, as far as I can tell, there really isn’t any marked path to follow. We’re paving our own way to a faith that is more meaningful, relevant, personal and communal. Join me.

Peace,

Kaye

Fun in church

We did it again… we had fun in church. I’m sure many of my contemporaries would have been chagrined at the clapping, laughing, teasing, and secular music. It sort of begs the question of what it really means to worship?

I’ve never bought the concept that God “needs” or “wants” our worship. Do we have a narcissistic God whose ego must be constantly stroked in order to bestow blessings upon the people? Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? For ancient people that was certainly the case, but I think most of us have moved beyond that understanding.

Nor have I ever understood why some people believe that the only true worship includes sitting in the pew, solemn, serious and repentant – no smiling, laughing, shaking hands, clapping or drinking coffee allowed. And for God’s sake, don’t dance in the aisles! Especially not to a song like “Dancing Queen” like we did yesterday! Oh, it feels so good to be in a place where we can break free from some of these confining worship restrictions.

And, I guess that’s it for me. Worship is about breaking free, if only for a few moments, from the tethers of the daily grind. It is about remembering there is Something More and connecting to that through music, prayer, deep thinking and community. It is about stepping outside of our isolating little worlds revolving around each other like planets in the solar system, and for a moment recognizing that we’re all part of the same universe; individuals, yet intimately interconnected.

Reconnecting in this way brings strength, perspective, hope and comfort. It lightens one’s soul, gives the weary a little hope, reminds us to take ourselves a little less seriously, and sends our roots deeper into the Ground of our Being.

Love and Light,

Kaye

 

 

 

Meeting Sophia

Do you know which five characters get the most scripture coverage in the Old Testament? God (by various names), Job, Moses, David and Wisdom (or Sophia, as she is known in Greek). Sophia come in fifth on the list! If you add in her “air time” in the Apocryphal writings, she moves up to second place. But how many of you have ever heard a sermon on her? (For the full audio version of this sermon, click here.)

In the 16 years of my ministry even I hadn’t preached on her! Never mind that she is a huge Biblical figure. Never mind that scholars have been talking about her for decades. To really tell the truth about her importance in the ancient Israelite and early Christian communities comes close to heresy for most people. I’m grateful that in this community I can talk about Sophia and know that you are curious and fascinated, if nothing else.

So, here is a brief low-down on Sophia.

Sophia (Wisdom) was more than just the personification of an attribute of God.  She was a person and a cosmic reality. Scripture shows that she was the functional equivalent of God in creation, continuing creation, power, stature, demands for people to follow, characteristics… and as such she was Israel’s God in feminine form. She is Queen of Heaven, a messenger from God and God’s lover. She was the epitome of the ancient Mother Goddesses, except that she was limited and marginalized by monotheistic male-centric Judaism.

The repression of Sophia’s power as a divine figure began with the philosopher, Philo who substituted a personified, masculine Logos (“word” in Greek) for Sophia. At first Logos was equal to Sophia, then Logos was substituted for Sophia, until Logos took over most of Sophia’s divine roles. Philo then demoted Sophia to “ever-virgin,” “Maiden” “daughter of God,” effectively taking away her power. And then in the 3rd and 4th centuries the early church fathers abandoned all references to Sophia in relationship to Jesus (that’s another sermon) and she disappeared from western theological consideration.

Why do we hear nothing about her now?  She is considered nothing more than a personification of a concept. No one is taught the implications she had for ancient Hebrews and for early followers of Jesus. She has been rendered barren…no longer a mother, a Great Mother Goddess, a Queen of Heaven. She has become unimportant.

And yet for women she can be hugely important. Sophia opens up a new way of thinking about, imagining, and relating to the divine. She opens up a world where women, at long last, can identify directly with the divine. Sophia affirms women in a way that God imaged as a male cannot do.

The more I study our scriptures, tradition and history, the more I realize how much knowledge and scholarly research has been censored. Groups of people throughout the ages have determined for us who God is and who God is not, who God likes and who God doesn’t like, who Jesus is and who he is not. And, unknowingly we’ve been willing to go along, believing that we’ve been told the “Truth” the only “Truth” and nothing but the “Truth.” Certain beliefs have been so ingrained in us that it feels blasphemous to even consider a concept like Sophia.

My goal is not for you to ditch the male God or your way of thinking and believing, but to offer you more perspectives, more information, and more ways to know and understand God. I know it would be easier if I stuck to the traditional theological statements, maybe the creeds. But then I would be censoring what I’ve learned from you out of fear of what you might feel or say or think. Out of fear of making you uncomfortable.

Sometimes we need to be made uncomfortable in order to grow.

I’m inviting you to keep growing with me, to have a spirit of adventure and a thirst for new ideas, to bring your spirit and let it expand in the love, strength and creative vitality of Sophia, Divine Mother of the Universe.

So be it.

~ Kaye

 

Are you crazy?

Lynelle Saunders, Director of the Racine Friendship Clubhouse, an adult day center for people living with mental illness, joined us in worship and spoke to us about mental illness. Not only did she impart valuable information about local resources, but she shared her story as a woman living with bi-polar disorder. Lynelle is a shining example of someone who has tackled her disease head on and has determined to live life to its fullest. Has this always been easy for her? No. But she gives hope for all those who struggle. (For the complete audio of her sermon, click here.)

Lynelle was hesitant to discuss the “stigma” surrounding mental illness, preferring to be optimistic. She believes the stigmas will gradually disappear as the younger generation seems to be more understanding, accepting and open-minded than older generations. I hope and pray that she is right. But, sadly, there is still a “stigma” that we, as spiritual people who recognize the sacred worth of each human being, must learn to look beyond and overcome. We need to learn to be supportive communities that are not afraid of, nor condemning of, nor condescending of people with mental illness

For the record, I do not struggle with mental illness (though some of you may choose to differ). I have, however, had many, many experiences with people who live – sometimes well, and sometimes not so well – with mental illness. I’m saddened by the shame and embarrassment people feel around their diagnosis. Why is it “ok” to have diabetes, or heart disease, but not mental illness? Why can we talk about cancer, fibromyalgia and high blood pressure, but not depression and bi-polar disorder? Why do people not even feel safe opening up about their mental health issues in church settings?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health,

“Mental disorders are common in the United States and internationally. An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. When applied to the 2004 U.S. Census residential population estimate for ages 18 and older, this figure translates to 57.7 million people. Even though mental disorders are widespread in the population, the main burden of illness is concentrated in a much smaller proportion — about 6 percent, or 1 in 17 — who suffer from a serious mental illness… Many people suffer from more than one mental disorder at a given time. Nearly half (45 percent) of those with any mental disorder meet criteria for 2 or more disorders…

Mental illness affects a huge number of people. Certainly it is time we set them free from the stigma of being “crazy.” These are chemical imbalances in the brain, most of which are treatable and manageable. Perhaps more people would be willing to get the help they need if families, communities and friends were more accepting and understanding. Perhaps education about the symptoms would lead us away from the clichés that don’t work for people with mental illness. You know the ones … “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”… “you just have to work harder”…”get off your lazy ass and get a job”… “there’s nothing wrong with you, it’s all in your head.”

We need to be careful with our words. Be careful not to pre-judge. Be willing to be educated about mental health issues. Be a loving, compassionate, caring presence with people who struggle.

Peace, Kaye