Thursday, April 21, 2011

"a resurrected church...within..."

"It's crowded in worship today
as she slips in
trying to fade into the faces..."

I know I've used Casting Crowns' "If We are the Body" to keynote an earlier post, but it's such a powerful song, and fits so perfectly with today's message, that I'm using it again.  I hope it moves you to dance within the body of Christ. 

My friend, and colleague, Suzette, recently shared the following  article,
"20 Steps to a Renewed Church," (also copied below for your convenience), by the Former Episcapaelean Chaplain at Northern Arizona University, Tamie Harkin, as it appeared in The Fund for Theological Education's online newsletter.  It's a powerful message with so many practical ideas for renewing our sense of church.

Mary Baker Eddy defines "church" as:

"The structure of Truth and Love; whatever rests upon and proceeds from divine Principle.

"The Church is that institution, which affords proof of its utility and is found elevating the race, rousing the dormant understanding from material beliefs to the apprehension of spiritual ideas and the demonstration of divine Science, thereby casting out devils, or error, and healing the sick."

For me, this "church" refers to any collective body of ideas with a God-sent mission and purpose.  Marriage, family, congregational worship groups, businesses...and as Jesus, intimated, the collective organization of movement, flexibility, affection, rhythm, function...called, the body. When John relates him as saying, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." John then going on to explain, "...he spake of the temple of his body." (John 2: 19 & 21)

Rather than being institutionally proscriptive, Eddy's definition has given me permission to be expansive in my expression of church, and has empowered me to act with courage, compassion, and clarity of calling.  I have used it to find direction and healing in every part of my life.

But that's another post.  Back to this amazing article that Suzatte shared, because I am finding it practical. in so many ways.

In thinking about its message of renewal, especially for my own inner sense of church,  I've been brought to my knees.

How often do I judge myself, instead of embracing every twist and turn of my journey, or forget to greet myself in the mirror with appreciation, generosity, and grace?  How many times have I forgotten to allow myself the joy of seeing God' presence in those things that
really touch my heart, all because I have held myself to following a rigid spiritual that hasn't left room for a walk in the woods, or sitting in an art gallery, dancing with my husband, or playing Life with our daughters? 

Allowing Harkin's ideas and insights, to wash through ways that bring joy to all the "bodies" of my marriage, my family, my neighborhood, school, place of worship...I am suddenly giddy with excitement about what "church" might look, and feel, like.   Perhaps it will look like a happy group singing praise to God on a beach at sunset with new friends gathering..moment-by-moment, to warm themselves by a bonfire of love. 

I hope you enjoy Tamie's article...below...there may be sections that you don't relate to...that's okay, this is just one person's inspiration on church. I found it fresh and compelling. You may not agree with some of these ideas, my only hope is that you are willing to read her article with an open mind, and take from it what might be useful to you. Although her faith traditions, language, and worship experience may be different than mine, I sense that we share a common love for congregational communities of faith, and worship, that care about others, and like to sing.

Thanks Suzette...I can't wait to see you at our sweet little urban storefront hippie church where we laugh, and cry, and eat, and pray, and hug. and yes, sing...alot!!

20 Steps to a Renewed Church  
- Tamie Harkin

Tonight I went to a meeting at the local Episcopal church; it was a dinner and get-together with the new Bishop of Alaska.  Apparently, Alaska hasn't had an Episcopal bishop for a while, so this is exciting news that there is now a bishop. 

The dear little Episcopal church here, which is called St. James the Fisherman (how cool is that name?!), is tiny and doesn't have a priest and is run by well-intentioned older women.  Which is the story of so many rural Episcopal churches.  I left thinking, "ah, the church."  Not "ah" like a sigh of relief, but more just a sigh.

I feel like buried in the center of the church (and I mean the church as a whole--all the Christians worldwide) is this amazing, redemptive, beautiful thing.  But it's in a deep cavern somewhere, and meanwhile people have stacked old broken chairs in front of that cavern, and shoved all the old Halloween decorations up around the doors of the cavern, and there are cobwebs, and way up above the cavern, in the church building, people are arguing over whose pew is whose and how to correctly iron the cloths used during Eucharist. 

And, of course, they're arguing about whether gay people are really fully human.  When I was an Episcopal chaplain--for four years--all the time people in the church would ask me, "Why don't young people come to church?" or "How do we get young people to come to church?"  I have some suggestions now, so listen up.   Here is a step-by-step plan for how to get more young people into the church:

1. Be genuine.  Do not under any circumstances try to be trendy or hip, if you are not already intrinsically trendy or hip. If you are a 90-year-old woman who enjoys crocheting and listens to Beethoven, by God be proud of it.

2. Stop pretending you have a rock band.

3.  Stop arguing about whether gay people are okay, fully human, or whatever else.  Seriously. Stop it.

4.  Stop arguing about whether women are okay, fully human, or are capable of being in a position of leadership.

5.  Stop looking for the "objective truth" in Scripture.

6.  Start looking for the beautiful truth in Scripture.

7.  Actually read the Scriptures.  If you are Episcopalian, go buy a Bible and read it.  Start in Genesis, it's pretty cool. You can skip some of the other boring parts in the Bible. Remember though that almost every book of the Bible has some really funky stuff in it. Remember to keep #5 and #6 in mind though. If you are evangelical, you may need to stop reading the Bible for about 10 years. Don't worry during those ten years you can work on putting these other steps into practice.

8. Start worrying about extreme poverty, violence against women, racism, consumerism, and the rate at which children are dying worldwide of preventable, treatable diseases. Put all the energy you formerly spent worrying about the legit-ness of gay people into figuring out ways to do some good in these areas.

9.   Do not shy away from lighting candles, silence, incense, laughter, really good food, and extraordinary music. By "extraordinary music" I mean genuine music. Soulful music. Well-written, well-composed music. Original music. Four-part harmony music. Funky retro organ music. Hymns. Taize chants, Bluegrass. Steel guitar. Humming. Gospel.; We are the church; we have an uber-rich history of amazing music. Remember this.

10. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

11.   Learn how to sit with people who are dying.

12. Feast as much as possible. Cardboard communion wafers are a feast in symbol only. Humans can not live on symbols alone. Remember this.

13.   Notice visitors, smile genuinely at them, include them in conversations, but do not overwhelm them.

14.  Be vulnerable.

15.  Stop worrying about getting young people into the church.  Stop worrying about marketing. Take a deep breath. If there is a God, that God isn't going to die even if there are no more Christians at all.

16. Figure out who is suffering in your community. Go be with them.

17. Remind yourself that you don't have to take God to anyone. God is already with everyone. So, rather than taking the approach that you need to take the truth out to people who need it, adopt the approach that you need to go find the truth that others have and you are missing. Go be evangelized.

18. Put some time and care and energy into creating a beautiful space for worship and being together. But shy away from building campaigns, parking lot expansions, and what-have-you.

19. Make some part of the church building accessible for people to pray in 24/7. Put some blankets there too, in case someone has nowhere else to go for the night.

20. Listen to God (to Wisdom, to Love) more than you speak your opinions.

This is a fool-proof plan.  If you do it, I guarantee that you will attract young people to your church.  And lots of other kinds of people too.  The end."

Thank you Suzette for sharing this wonderful article with me.  I am making space in my heart for its message to evangelize my sense of church, congregation, worship...and body of being.

with Love,


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