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Archive for February, 2012

Preface

Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, most of the United States was still cognizant to some extent about various forms of religion.  We knew that Jews were Reformed, Conservative or Orthodox.  Christians were mostly Protestant or Catholic, though there were other groups that had some connection to Christian beliefs, with their own prophets or leaders.  Some like The Worldwide Church of God crumbled apart over the years or severely modified their beliefs.  Individual churches sometimes faded away over “mismanagement” like the Crystal Cathedral or the arrogance and sins of someone in leadership such as Pastor Ted Haggard of New Life mega-church in Colorado. Sometimes internet personalities such as the Crouch family were almost a church unto themselves.  Other groups were identified by names that only appeared in the last two centuries, such as Seventh Day Adventists or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon), Christian Science or Jehovah Witnesses.  But it was difficult for someone moving into a new town to figure out where they wanted to go to church, especially if they had little knowledge about religious faith.

In a few short decades the general population has by and large become illiterate on religious issues.  Folks know a little about some denominations though they are often mistaken because of misinformation.  Also, large portions of Protestantism have morphed their original beliefs into something that fits better with modern American culture.  An example might be that from about 1910 to 1950, a sizable branch of Evangelicals were having serious discussions about whether women should be wearing makeup and jewelry, or some others believed that one wasn’t really a Christian unless they spoke in tongues.

 The Search for Love

Here we are in 2012, and a young couple decides it would be good to attach themselves to a local church they could love, for the sake of the kids at least.  Interesting that research from the Pew Foundation indicates that usually the most common decision maker for church shoppers is how clean are the restrooms.  They called a couple churches and naively asked what that church believed.  They all replied: “The Bible.”

So the couple tries the church down the street first, New Vision Chapel.  They discover that the pastor preaches about theology in such a manner that they leave confused.  So the next week they try Glory to God Ministries.  The guitars are so loud they think they are back in their teenage years at the school dance where kids are really looking for “love.”  The next week they try a huge place called Jesus Megadome that has huge parking lots and a stadium. The music was jumping, with the preacher telling the folks that God was there for them whatever their need, and their faith would guarantee them not only a place in heaven, but heaven on earth.  The couple wasn’t sure of this idea either, since someplace in their college history classes they learned about early Christians willing to go to their deaths for faith in Jesus.  What ever happened to that concept, or was this really a new religion?

Looking for Love

They kept searching: Shepherd of the Valley, Kingdom Hall, Bread of Life, St. Martin in the Fields Episcopal, Family Heritage, Grace Chapel, Cornerstone Fellowship, The Rock, Spirit and Truth Worship Center, Lighthouse Christian, Religious Science, and Community Church of Joy.  After some time they figured out they were wasting their time.  So the got more organized and charted out a check off sheet, with some things they had learned were important for them.  Their list follows:

  • Are the restrooms clean?
  • Is it easy to park?
  • Is there at least one verse from the Bible read during the service?
  • Does the sermon only last between 20 and 30 minutes?
  • Are the songs they sing not just repetitions of one line over and over 15 times?
  • Are the songs used written by some college kid who fancies himself a musician and poet, or maybe by someone with more depth and life experience?
  • How many of the sermons are focused on my feeling good, avoiding Hell, and loving God’s gifts but with no responsibility for my own actions?
  • Are other faiths or churches regularly denounced?
  • Are the services exciting like a football game?
  • Did anyone ask us out to lunch after church since we were strangers there?

 The Solution

The couple finally heard a popular song in the car on the way home “Looking for Love In All the Wrong Places.”  It struck a chord with them and soon they settled on attaching themselves to a local Zen Buddhist group that told them they could believe whatever they wanted as long as they were quiet during the meetings.  What a relief!

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On the way to my volunteer job this morning I enjoyed a cup at Starbucks while doing the morning crossword.  As is common there, black birds walked around the patio, pecking up fallen crumbs.  Watching one of these little creatures trying to eat a fairly large piece of someone’s muffin, I was a bit surprised to see him abandon the majority of the morsel and fly off into the warm morning air.

Wondering why he didn’t try to eat the whole thing, it struck me that birds just need enough for a few hours and if they eat too much, their takeoff might be a little precarious!  Sure different than us folks!  That brought to mind a line in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us today our daily bread.”  The daily bread line in the prayer, uttered by millions over the last 2,000 years, is probably not often meditated upon by those of us who don’t worry about hunger.  But the concept is dynamic.

First, bread in some form has been a common food in every culture for centuries, so the idea has been easily understood.  Secondly, the great concept of being concerned only for today is a foreign idea to us who are obsessed with planning ahead, often in partnership with stress and worry.  Third, the idea of asking for enough on just a daily basis, has even been discarded by some faith groups who believe (an Old Testament) concept that the One who had no place to lay His head intends for believers to have wealth, which sadly often corrupts!

After contemplating these thoughts while swishing down my coffee, I went on to work at the Well in the Desert, where I volunteer on Mondays over the lunch hours.  We serve a hot, free lunch to anyone who walks in, sometimes as many as 200 souls.  They know we will be there, that the food will be tasty, the volunteers cheerful, and that we will be there in all weather.  So they come for their daily bread without worry or concern.  Would that the Creator be trusted that much!

Matthew 6:26:  Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?    

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