Posts Tagged ‘church’

Stickin’ to it.

February 18, 2018

In the late ’70’s many of us wandered up to a cool mountain town; we were trying to figure out what the hell had happened. Some had survived the excesses of countercultural lifestyle; others were just there to do the college thing.

  By that time, the ’60’s flower-power revolution that had failed to actuate had been appropriated into the Establishment. Now you could buy faux hippie threads from the JCPenney catalog; that reality was really a bummer, but people were buying the stuff anyway.. The free love thing had been commandeered by Hollywood. It seemed like everybody was “doing it.”

Our little group of wanderers and students found ourselves congregated in the mother-earth lap of an Appalachian river valley. We had gravitated here to, as John Denver had phrased it, “find Jesus on our own.”

“On our own” turned out to mean: apart from the institutional Church, because it was out of touch with what was happening in the real world and everybody knew it was full of foolishness and hypocrites. Haha.

As the gathering developed, however, our little charismatic experiment turned out to be a little more infected with the ways of the world than we had anticipated. Even though we were a bunch of young bucks and does banded together, raising our kids as a sheltered new testament tribe, showing all the local old-school religious folks what the kingdom of God was all about, eventually after about 20 years it flew apart and we all went our separate ways.

But the failure of men to do God’s will is not the conclusive evidence about the credibility of Him whose crucifixion was inflicted by that same failure, our human failure. Ultimately his resurrection overcomes the crucifixion. The message of Jesus is not about what men do or fail to do; It’s about what he did for us.

By the late ’90’s when our little congregation fell apart, our three offspring had gone off to University, where they got a different view of things, different from the churchified bubble they had been raised in. Long story short: it was good for them to be educated, and all three retained their faith.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, some of us maturing saints—shell-shocked survivors of the great postmodern charismatic reactionary push—began gathering in our homes to “on our own” collectively continue our covenantal search to discern the Lord’s will for us. So we were then, and still now, gathering in our living rooms to read the Bible, pray, and seek God.

As for me and my wife, we have walked a middle road between that house-church body of Christ and another church, which is  a more conventional arrangement for presenting and living out the gospel in society.

This has worked well for us.

By ’n by, all three of our offspring became world travelers for one reason or another. Over the years we have done a lot of globetrotting, following them to various fascinating destinations around the world.

Like for instance, Europe. When we went to that Old World, I began to understand that America is the new kid on the block. Over there, they’ve been doing this Christianity thing for a very long time, about 2000 years.

While it is plain to see that there is a huge institutional legacy of the “Church” in the Americas, the cathedrals of Europe can be seen as indicators of a very different religious experience in days gone by.  Every major city presents evidence of some stupendous religious megalith that dominated European society in a big way for a very long time, until the purveyors of human rationalism came along to challenge their authority.

This Church as a human institution, whatever it shoulda woulda coulda been spiritually, was for a very long time the big kid on the block, the elephant in the room, the megalith institution that dominated  Old World society and cultural In a BIG way.

Those 1st-millennium continental Catholics erected a bunch of huge, monumental edifices. You can find them in every major city and small town.  Europe displays an infrastructure of past religious hegemony on a massive scale. The Reformers later did more of the same.

Case in point. Last year, when we were in Prague, Czech Republic, I snapped this pic inside a cathedral:

PChrch

So I’m thinking. It’s plain to see, this Christianity thing is much, much larger than what is represented by, say, the quaint quasi-classical structure down on our Main Street USA. Beholding this magnificent structure presents a challenge in many ways: it’s a theological, cultural, architectural wonder!

Who built this thing? Was it erected through the blood and toil and sweat of impoverished medieval slave-serfs? Was it founded upon the heretical  manipulations of indulgence-selling ecclesiastical con-men? What kind of empire were they building here? A corrupted hierarchy of covetous clergy? Does it give glory to God, or to the works of Man?

Now I could speculate vainly about the motivations and corrupt practices of those who went before me as  constructors of what is purported to be the Kingdom of God. I could judge them as users and abusers who took advantage of clueless poor people who probably could barely afford to pay the light bill and keep gas in the cart and the kids in shoes while they were fretting about their deceased relatives in purgatory or limbo. I could conclude presumptuously that this humongous structure is nothing more than a work of vanity and hubris and systemic abuse that was erected by men who were surely just as guilty, just as culpable, just as sinful and suspect as myself. I could condemn them as robber-baron ecclesiastic manipulators who were no doubt serving  Babylon or Rome or the  Pride of Man.

But, sinner that I know myself to be, I shall not so judge them. Rather, I shall admire the building for being, in an imperfect world, what  it should have been, and is generally in retrospect considered to be: overpowering evidence of the human impulse that strives to glorify God.

Furthermore, I understand that my assessment is considered to be an obsolete way of thinking. I realize, from both my common observations and study of history, that the religious  hegemony of this huge institutionalized Church has been supplanted, governmentally and socially, by the humanistic, democratic and socialistic movements of  the 19th and 20th centuries.

And that’s okay. Shit happens and nobody’s perfect, not even the humanists, who havre proven through their own systemic abuses that human government and politics falls far short of true justice.

We Christians do need reminders that there are other people in this world who have different fixes than we do for rectifying human injustice and misery. We don’t have to agree with everybody, but we do have to, as Christ and his apostles commanded, live peacefully with everybody insofar as it its possible.

What I am seeing now, in the present predicament of our world is this:

That big guilty-as-charged Churchified juggernaut that sought to order human activity and governance in the last sixteen hundred years—it is being challenged and threatened by a newer Religious juggernaut from the east.

And if I must choose between the two, I’ll go with the one that I know to be true, even though it has not always been righteous. In the end, I think it is better to build upon the testimony of the one who died on a cross and was, three days later, resurrected. It is better to stand with Him than with another religious empire whose plan would be to get us kaffirs all on our knees five times a day.

In his final revelation to those he loves, Jesus counseled his friend John to “strengthen the things that remain.”

So therefore and henceforth, I say unto thee: I’m with Jesus.

The failure of men to do God’s will is not the conclusive evidence about the credibility of Him whose crucifixion was inflicted by that same failure, our human failure. Ultimately his resurrection overcomes the crucifixion. The message of Jesus is not about what men do or fail to do; It’s about what he did for us.

That’s my faith and I’m sticking to it.

King of Soul

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The Hollowness of God

August 20, 2017

So many people dis God these days–criticizing him because he (she, or it) doesn’t correct the dysfunction and atrocity of this world. And the word on the street or in the web is that the Deity, if he (she, or it) does exist, doesn’t seem to care enough about us and our faith  to make our proper expression of that religion a little easier to validate.

My guess is that God is a little skittish. When he did show up here to give us some direction, we nailed him to a cross. So perhaps you can understand why he doesn’t just throw his weight around; he knows we’re likely to just crucify him again. In fact, some of his people are probably being given the third degree in places right now here on this earth.

One thing that God has done lately that I know of, however, is: he has taken a lower profile. The deity’s presentation to us these days doesn’t appear to be aimed at  compelling us to revere the high and mighty aspect of his being.

This is a different scenario than what it used to be among us homo sapiens.

There is evidence in the earth, however, that in ages past, God’s presence was experienced and conceived of amongst his people in way very different than what his minimal interface with us today would indicate.

In times of long ago, it seems that God was Big.

Which is to say, when humans strove to express their devotion to the Almighty, they did it in a big way. They built big structures for a big God.

We were in Europe a few weeks ago, traveling between three fascinating capitals, Vienna, Prague, and Budapest. Traipsing through such ancient cities was a real eye-opener for me. These old megalopoli are amazing in the eyes of a clueless American such as I, who was born and raised, you see, in a the “new world.” I have discovered now that America truly is a new world, compared to this very old place.

In the new world we do have Big, but our Big is mostly applied to commercial stuff, like the Empire State building, Sears Tower, TransAmerica building, World Trade Cent–er, not that one. Anyway, we Americans developed Big Business, so we have built big buildings to express our big ideas about capitalism, and our big development projects and our big bank accounts.

In Europe, hundreds of years ago, Big was all about God. Let me show you what I mean. Here’s a shot of the inside of the Cathedral that the Czechs built in Prague, at a complex called Prague Castle. It’s named the Church of St. Vitus:

Pretty huge, huh?

You betcha. The Catholics worked on this thing for over 600 years before they got it finished. As you can surmise from the photo, the inside view of this structure is quite impressive, possibly incredible enough to even inspire the beholder’s belief in God, or at least provoke a thought or two within the viewer’s brain that God’s non-existence is an unlikely proposition, since humans would go to so much time and expense to build such a place of worship for Him.

The outside is pretty impressive, too:

PChrch2

In the 21st-century, however, most folks, mostly tourists such as myself, walk around such places and snap pics on their phones, and maybe ooh and ahh a little bit at the remarkable immensity of human propensity to fill the God-shaped hole in our collective souls by going to all the time and trouble and blood and sweat and tears to erect such an edifice.

Surely they. . . we. . . would not do all that for a God who doesn’t exist.

In the olden times, when believers would gather together in this place and others like it, they would attend masses that were performed by priests, and they would pray to God and pray at God and receive communion and then be dismissed by the priest to go back to their humble domiciles and live their simple lives. That’s what doing church was all about back in the middle ages when the construction of this Catholic temple was begun.

Nowadays, though, doing church is typically more like what these folks  were doing in Vienna, on a typical summer Monday morning,

lingering outside the incredibly impressive superstructure of the cathedral, buying trinkets, snapping pics, sipping coffee, then going inside and oohing and aahing at the hugely structured religion, or excuse me, the the huge religious structure, and whispering to their companions, admonishing them to be quiet so as not to disturb those Catholic worshippers who are up there in the front as we speak doing their religious thing. . .

Apparently that’s “doing church” in the 21st century.

But for the worshippers in that sancturarial up-front, whatever transpires mysteriously in that hollowness between the congregants and their risen Saviour is not the same as whatever we tourists are doing in the periphery as we gaze up at the distant ceiling.

I do wonder what’s going on up there. It’s a long way up. Incredible what men and God can do when they put their souls to it.

King of Soul

Vienna

July 8, 2017

My mama raised me to be a Catholic. Daddy wasn’t into religion much.

After I grew up, and became a man who could/would relate to the world on my own terms–after I had reached the age of reason and I had decided for myself what this life was all about. . . after I had lived life to the full, and managed to do a few things right and many a thing wrong–after I had made a grand mess of my life, then allowed the Lord of the Universe, our Creator, to take hold of me at the ripe old age of 27 and turn me around and plant my wayward feet firmly in the ground of the gospel of Jesus Christ–after all that. . .

I met my wonderful little women, Pat from New Jersey. We got married in 1980 and by n’ by she presented three lovely children to me. Eventually the kids grew up, became responsible adults, etc and, long story short, we have followed each one of them to various points of interest all over the world.

Our current adventure in following progeny has brought us to the wonderful city of Vienna, Austria.

Now I have to say that this is an amazing place. Walking around this city for just one evening has already taught me some profundities about what life is all about and where things came from, long before I was born. Previously unexplained elements of my childhood, my heritage as a Catholic kid who later turned born-again Christian, can now be contemplated from the perspectives of history itself, and the movement of certain people groups at various periods of time from the Old World to the New, which is to say, America.

I mean, we grow up and we see things and we don’t really have a clue where all this stuff came from or how it got here and how we came to be in the midst of it all. In my case, I was a kid in the middle of the Deep South, in Mississippi in the 1950’s. Growing up, snotty-nosed and clueless as I was, now I’m wondering how likely it could have been that I grew up Catholic instead of Southern Baptist.

Well, my mama was a French-American Catholic from Louisiana, and my daddy’s people were from Scotch-Irish stock from up in the piney wood of Mississippi and before that they had come through Pennsylvania and before that from the old country, Ireland or Scotland or somewhere over there on the other side of the Pond.

So now, at this particular moment in time, it just so happens that I wake up this morning on the other side of the Pond, which is to say: now we are in Europe, the Old World, because yesterday (or maybe it was the day before that) we flew from America– formerly the New World– to this Old World, and one plane led to another and now I find myself in Vienna on a sunny morning and thanking God for such a wonderful life a the one we now find ourselves in.

As we strolled along the Karntnerstrasse last evening, we encountered this very impressive big cathedral structure, so I snapped a pic:

Steph-z

The immensity of history–what has gone before–is what I’m feeling as I pondered this structure. The erection of this church building took lifetimes of work and toil and sweat, and devotion, back in the days of the Holy Roman Empire, whatever that was, and its long tails of historical development through Peter and Paul and later Constantine and then all the Popes in Rome and eventually the Austro-Hungarian empire and the Hapsburgs and their hunky-dory relationship to the Catholic Church. . .

Until that fateful day in 1914 when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand got shot in Sarajevo by an angry young Serb and the Empire ended and the Old World ended and World War I dealt the final death blows to the ancient reins of power and the reigns of the royal houses that had ruled Europe for a couple a thousand years or so.

As I was pondering all this, we did stroll inside, into the Church at Stephensplatz. We found there a group of devoted Catholics celebrating Mass. This kind of thing has been going on here for a long time. And I don’t care what you think or say about it . . . This was a good thing.

Steph-in

That devotional setting took me back to childhood memories of being Catholic because that’s the way Mama raised me, even though Daddy wasn’t into it.

So as I contemplated, and in some sense, entered into. . . the devotion of these congregants to their belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, and their expression of that devotion in the sacrifice of the Mass,  and as I reconciled in my mind between those ancient strains of high-church faith and the Protestant Reformation that later changed everything . . . right down to the johnny-come-lately tides of Charismata that had drawn me into my experience of the Christian faith in 1978, and my present appreciation for all that God has done for me and Pat and our grown-up children and their spouses. . . as I stood there in the quiet reverence of a tourist who just happened into a cathedral while other believers worshipped in their strange high-church way . . .

I could relate. I could relate to what they were feeling.

This morning, I can still feel it, devotion.

Devotion goes way back. This is a good thing.

King of Soul