Crumbs

I’m amused/perplexed/concerned by the thing that my old church did after communion. All heavily liturgical churches do this.

Anything that was consecrated had to be consumed, locked away, or specially disposed of. Drops of wine and specks of communion wafers had to be dealt with.

After everybody had taken communion, the chalice bearers would do a little pre-cleaning while still at the altar. At this church they did it with their backs to everybody, in part to not be in the way of the priest and the crucifer who took on a quasi-deacon role. Of course, it didn’t matter that their backs were to everybody. They were standing at least 20 feet away from the first pew, and nobody sits in the first pew anyway. So it wasn’t like what we were doing was secret, but in a way it was.

Yes. I said we. I was one of them. I became a chalice bearer in part because I wanted to know what was going on up there. I love ritual. I love symbolism. And I love being on the inside of things. For some things you have to be “in” to get all the layers of meaning.

Plus, they were chronically short on chalice bearers. I was grateful to have the opportunity to learn as much as I did so early in my membership. It was so big at my old church in Chattanooga that there was no way I could have made a place for myself up at the altar. They were full up on helpers.

But I should have thought about the fact that they had so few people who were able or willing to do that task at this church. I feel it speaks to a certain lack of activity, or a certain fear of it.

Plenty people don’t feel “worthy” to be a chalice bearer. Some don’t even feel worthy enough to touch the chalice to help the chalice bearer guide it to their lips so they don’t get wine spilled on them. Some don’t even feel worthy enough to take communion at all. This is worth a whole post on its own.

But some don’t even want to participate, not really. They want to show up and get a sticker for being there and go home. They’ve done their duty for the week.

Back to the clean up part. The chalice bearers drink whatever is left of the wine in their chalices. Then they pour a little water in the chalice and a little water on the paten (the plate for the wafers). They swish it around to catch any crumbs. Then they pour the water from the paten into the chalice, swirl it around, and drink it too. They will use their linen napkins (called purificators) to wipe up anything left and put them in the chalice.

There is a special order to how the whole assembly is put together to be put back on the shelf for the altar guild.

The next place it goes is to the piscina.

The piscina is a special place that the communion ware goes after the chalice bearers are done with their bit. It is a special sink that is not connected to the sewer system. The drain goes directly to the ground. This way no unintentional bits of consecrated elements go into the sewer system.

To me, this seems all a bit excessive. Even if a crumb is dropped, it has to be eaten or disposed of outside on the ground. It can’t be vacuumed up. It can’t be stepped on and ground into the carpet.

Funny how the ministers care so much about the crumbs and they miss the people who are leaving.

I’m still a bit angry about the fact that I’ve been gone from that church for almost a year now and it was as if I never went. I went almost every Sunday for three years. I was up front serving, as a chalice bearer, a lector, or an acolyte – or all three, for the majority of that time. I wasn’t just a pew warmer. I was up and working. I was visible. My name was in the order of service. Because I was part of the deacon discernment process I was even being prayed for by name as part of the Prayers of the People.

But none of that means anything. I left, and it is just like I went off the radar and nobody noticed. I’ve seen a few people from that church in the library or at the Y and they act like nothing has happened. It is all very weird. It makes me think that I made the right decision – that they were all asleep all along.

Sure, some are awake and present. Some asked what was going on. Some took the time to listen to my concerns. But not nearly the amount I would expect, given my activity level. Surely some of them would wonder if I was OK. Surely some of them would call or email to see if I was sick, or hurt. The fact that a handful of people cared enough to talk with me about why I left just lets me know I was in the wrong place all along.

I feel like I wasted three years of my life. And I’m wary of committing to another church organization, of any form. I’m wary of getting sucked in only to get spit out all over again.

I’m wary of finding out once again that the crumbs are more important than the people.

Making people feel welcome.

(Thoughts on hosting a retreat at a local State Park)

Everybody has to be made to feel welcome and included. If they have anything that may prevent them from going it has to be addressed.

No worries about how to pay for it, or how to get there. Road trips can be hard. People can’t drive long distances or don’t have a reliable car.

Dealing with money. Some can pay, some can’t. How to do this in a way that is fair? Do the teachers/presenters make money? If so, how so? How much?

Childcare. Who does this? If the parents have to, then they can’t participate in the event. Have child-appropriate activities separate from the adult activities? Or find a way to include them? Children need to be included, but also know how to share space. It isn’t fair to the adults to be interrupted by loud children. All must be able to enjoy the retreat, regardless of age.

All are ministers. All have gifts to offer. None are greater or lesser than.

Food. Buffet at the on site restaurant sounds best to start off with. Less trouble, and people can choose what they want.

It isn’t fair to those with dietary issues to not consider their needs – whether for health or conviction. But it also isn’t fair to those who don’t share their food concerns. Not all want a vegan gluten free kosher diet.

My idea of heaven is an international buffet, with guides to explain all the new foods. If you want to stick with steak and potatoes that is fine. If you want to stick with beans and rice that is fine. And there is no judgment and no guilt.

We all have to take into ourselves what we need. We all are at different levels of being, and none is better than another.

You have to do what you know to be best for you, right now, as you are. It is helpful if you are also ok with the idea that choice may change.

If you set up rules of “I can’t ever eat meat again” you may miss out on a lesson or connection that you would make if you allow some wiggle room. The goal is more important than the rule.

Aho!

I’ve recently heard the word “aho” used in several different gatherings. In the context it is being used it sounds like it means “I agree” or “awesome”. I looked it up, and it could be one of two things. According to Wikipedia, it is either a Native American word or a Japanese word.

If it is a Native American word (and the tribe is not specified, so it sounds questionable to me) it means something like what I think I’m hearing. It means something like “So be it” or “Amen.”

If it is Japanese, it means “idiot.”

So I’m not using this word.

First off, I’m not going to confuse people. If they know that the word exists in two different languages and means two entirely different things, they don’t know which meaning I’m using. If they don’t know what the word means, then it is going to be even more confusing.

Neither of these languages are my language. Not only are they not my native tongue, they are not languages I’ve learned and am fluent in. So it doesn’t make sense to use this word.

I totally respect the idea that sometimes there are words in other languages that aren’t in my language. Sometimes you have to borrow a word from another language because there isn’t a word in yours. Sometimes ideas are more fully expressed in another language.

But that isn’t the case here. There is a word. It is “Amen.”

Perhaps people frown on the use of this word. Perhaps people are afraid of it because they are refugees from church. I get that. I am.

But I’m giving up the church as we know it. I’m not giving up the idea of God, and of Jesus.

In the same way I’m wary of people who refer to God as Source or any of any other myriad of other terms I’m hearing. I’m not even sure what they are talking about. I’m not even sure they know either.

As for me, I’m going to keep saying “Amen” and “God”, because I think it is best to say what I mean and not be ambiguous about it. Perhaps it is politically correct to be vague and use broader terms, but after a while I’m not even sure if we are all taking about the same thing when we start using different words. So I’m sticking with the known good.

Recovering church member.

Christians in recovery aren’t like recovering alcoholics. We are more like food addicts. We can’t do without food. We just need a healthy relationship with it.

When you are a recovering alcoholic you have to learn to live your life without alcohol. But you can’t live without food. You have to relearn how to eat. The trick is to learn what is a healthy relationship with food and what isn’t. The trick is to set up boundaries.

In the same way as food addicts, people who have been hurt by mainstream church (by the current definition of what “church” means) are renegotiating this relationship. They can do without the top-down leadership, the politics, and the obsession with money that comes with church as it is currently defined.

When we have had an unhealthy relationship with church, we have to renegotiate the deal. We often try to stay away from church. Sometimes we go back but to a different denomination and we find we are welcomed. Sometimes we find that welcome is short lived and we discover the same bad processes and unhealthy ways of thinking that plagued our old churches. Sometimes we start to think that the whole idea of Christianity is wrong, and we stay away from anything associated with the idea.

The only problem is that the thing that drew us to church, and the thing that got us to leave is the same thing. It is Jesus in both cases. Those of us who leave church don’t do it because we don’t love Jesus. We do. We just weren’t finding him in church, or at least any modern definition of it.

As for me, I wasn’t finding him in the activities that the church sponsored. I wasn’t finding him in the book clubs that featured books that had nothing to do with how to be a better Christian. I wasn’t finding him in the margarita karaoke evenings. I wasn’t finding him in the Bunco gatherings that were held in the parish hall. And I certainly wasn’t finding him in a minister who told me to stop talking about how God was and is interacting with my life.

I left church, but I couldn’t leave Jesus. The only problem is in trying to figure out how to have one without the other. Just like with food addiction, I need Jesus in order to live. I just can’t handle all the extras that have been added on top of him.

So much was put on my plate when I’d go to church that Jesus became the side dish instead of the main course. There were so many garnishes and condiments and appetizers and desserts that I couldn’t see him at all. When I left church and left all of that, I missed him, and I got hungry for him all over again.

I think this is true of many people I’m meeting. We love Jesus. We just don’t love how he’s been served to us.

Just like a food addict, we need to strip it all down to the basics and start from scratch. We need to reevaluate our relationship. We need to set up healthy boundaries. We need to figure out what we need and what makes us feel ill.

For me, one of the big things is that the group not have a permanent building. Jesus didn’t build a church with bricks, but with bodies. The church is the people, not the place. The more money that is spent on a church building, the less that is spent on helping people who need it.

Another thing is there needs to be no one minister. We are all ministers, by virtue of our baptism and our acceptance of Jesus into our lives. To have only one person sharing their story, and only one person making the decisions, is to take away the God-given power, voice, and ability that we all have.

So while I really like the gatherings that I’ve been going to, I’m still missing Jesus in them. I think we’ve all gotten so afraid of how we were treated at church that we’ve just dumped everything and been feeling it out. We are reassembling the jigsaw puzzle but without the picture on the box, and we are leaving out all the bits that we are afraid of.

While I like that the meetings are in friend’s homes and we all get to share our stories openly and honestly, I feel that we are missing something really important. We forget to invite Jesus to our circle. We don’t talk about him. We don’t have communion. Well, not openly. Tea and cookies can count, but it has to be intentional for it to count.

I think we feel that because we don’t talk about Jesus, because we don’t invite him to our circle, that we aren’t going to get hurt like we did the last time we were in a place that mentioned Jesus. And we might. We might get hurt because whenever we gather with other people, we gather with other people’s problems. I also think that we still need to try. Just like renegotiating a relationship with food, I think we need to renegotiate a relationship with Jesus. I think we need to invite him in, to help heal that brokenness and that hurt. I think if we don’t, then we will start to feel more and more empty.

Clean plate club

Are you a member of the clean plate club? Remember that from childhood? Remember the shame your parents would put on you to finish everything on your plate?

Even if you were full, even if there was something on your plate that disagreed with you, that made you sick, you were expected to finish it off.

I get it. Our parents didn’t want us to be wasteful. They needed us to learn to appreciate what we had. They also didn’t want to have to feed us at irregular times. If we didn’t eat at lunch time, we’d be hungry at 2, and they would have to make more food for us. That is inconvenient for them. It also teaches the child that he is in charge, and that is a bad precedent.

But there is a problem here. The child didn’t fill his own plate. There may be too much on it. There may be items on it he is allergic to.

Children are not small adults. Their stomachs are smaller. To insist that they eat the same amount and at the same times as adults is to ignore that fact.

To insist that they clean their plate when they had no say as to what and how much went on it is to teach them to ignore their own body’s needs and their own feelings. It is to tell them that their own needs and feelings do not matter.

It is exactly the same as force feeding the child. Actually it is worse. It is expecting the child to force feed himself. It sets him up for a lifetime of not listening to his own body’s needs. It sets him up for obesity, at a minimum.

At the worst it teaches him that his own needs and feelings do not matter, do not count. It teaches him that he, himself, as a person does not matter and does not count.