What should Church be?

For many people, church looks like this at the most basic level
cross

Yet remember that the angel said to the women who went to find Jesus at the tomb –

The angel said to the women “Do not be afraid! I know that you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. Why are you looking among the dead for the living? He is not here – he has been resurrected!” (Condensed Gospel rendition)

The church as we know it is dying.

The Christian faith tradition must change what it looks at in order to survive. It must change from being a religion of rites and creeds.

It must stop being an institution focused on
the historical Jesus
and the future Jesus
and learn to BE Jesus right now,
to the people in the world.

It must stop the idea of “Bringing people to Jesus”
(preaching the Gospel)
and start living the idea of “Bringing Jesus to people”
(living the Gospel)

Many people have left church because they know that something is missing.

There are many large abandoned church buildings.
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And at the center of them is the altar, a shrine to death, to sacrifice.
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For many, church is a place of divine insight, of sudden epiphanies

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But then when they leave, the everyday world is dull and boring.

For many, church is a sanctuary against the storms of life

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But does this teach them to live in the world?

Perhaps Church can be seen as a boat, to rise above the dangerous waters, or to safely travel to visit or help others.
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Each person gets their own boat. They learn how to row it themselves. They develop the strength to help themselves and to help others.
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It is a place where we can each learn how to learn and grow safely. Others watch our progress and make sure we are not going to get hurt. They cheer us on.
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It needs to be a place where we can learn that right here is where God meets us – that God loved us enough to come down to Earth to be with us and live among us. That God loves us enough to still be with us right now, right where we are. That God wants to work through us, and with us.
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Church should be small, human sized.
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It should be intimate and personal.
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Why have we so long built churches that are immense, that dwarf us, that make us feel insignificant?
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They feel lonely, cold, isolating.
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They are out of proportion with us.
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When God came to earth, God came as our size. The Temple is not a place, but within us.

Often churches are built far away, high up, hard to get to.

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This is especially true of monasteries. They are places to retreat from the world.

Jesus tells his disciples that they are to be in the world – not apart from it. Jesus trained them to feed, to clothe, to help – everyone, not just those who are “in”.

For so many, God is seen as immense, and difficult to get to.
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There are narrow paths, and gates, and boundaries in the way
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We need to break apart the idea of church. We need to see through it, to reinvent it.
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Even modern churches, while looking different, still have the perspective wrong. The focus is on the preacher – on one person. The people sit passively, staring in the same direction. If they speak at all, it is from a script (a hymnal, a prayer-book) Only one person is allowed to speak something different, to direct the service.

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This sets up a hierarchy – of one person higher than the rest. This is directly opposed to what Jesus wanted, who wanted us to have only God above us. To have a person above us is to make them into an idol.

I’ve met many people who’ve left church for all of these reasons. They felt lost, alienated, alone. They too read the Gospel and met the real living Jesus and made a home for him in their hearts. They know that Jesus says that the Church is us – people, doing the will of God here in the world.

Yet, God says that people were not made to be alone. We are meant to be in community. We are meant to live and work and be together. No one person has everything required. We must work together.

Church needs to be all of us working together to help others. It isn’t a building or a place. But even if we remove the idea of the church being a building, we still have to remember the ideas that have long been part of church, so even when we take the Church out of the building, we must still make sure the old ways don’t come along.

It must be open to all.
It must be human-sized.
It must not be led by a single person – all must participate.
It must be a place where all can grow.

Again- it sounds like I’m talking about a place – an institution. I’m not. Certainly, people need to gather together occasionally. People cannot truly connect online. But, the money raised from members cannot go to a building or a salary. It cannot be inward-based. This will cause self-collapse, and is the opposite of what Jesus wants. The Church cannot support the church. The Church – the Body of Christ, must give aid to the world. That is where tithes must go. Outward.

People can meet in small groups, in each others’ homes.
They can meet in school gyms (they are not being used on the weekend)
They can meet in community centers or hotels.

There are plenty of already-built places that have meeting areas that are either free or inexpensive.

But when they meet, it must be a place to organize to go out into the world, to bring Jesus to people, by feeding, clothing, healing, visiting.

Not by preaching the Gospel,
but by living it.

(All pictures are from Pinterest)

On speaking with the dead.

Jesus tells us a parable in Luke 16:19-31. Pay special attention to the last line.

19 “There was a rich man who would dress in purple and fine linen, feasting lavishly every day. 20 But a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, was left at his gate. 21 He longed to be filled with what fell from the rich man’s table, but instead the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 One day the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.23 And being in torment in Hades, he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off, with Lazarus at his side. 24 ‘Father Abraham!’ he called out, ‘Have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this flame!’25 “‘Son, ’Abraham said, ‘remember that during your life you received your good things, just as Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here, while you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, a great chasm has been fixed between us and you, so that those who want to pass over from here to you cannot; neither can those from there cross over to us.’ 27 “‘Father,’ he said, ‘then I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 because I have five brothers—to warn them, so they won’t also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said. ‘But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 “But he told him, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’”

Now let’s look at a verse from the prophet Isaiah –

Isaiah 8:19-20
19 When they say to you, “Consult the spirits of the dead and the spiritists who chirp and mutter,” shouldn’t a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20 To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, there will be no dawn for them.

We too live in a time where people would rather consult “spiritualists” than God. But perhaps they can’t hear from God. Where is the connection broken? Sometimes God doesn’t talk to humans. Sometimes we don’t talk to God.

This reminds me of the story of Samuel, a young prophet, when he first was called by God. Pay special attention to verses 1 and 7.

1 Samuel 3:1-10
The boy Samuel served the LORD in Eli’s presence. In those days the word of the LORD was rare and prophetic visions were not widespread.2 One day Eli, whose eyesight was failing, was lying in his room. 3 Before the lamp of God had gone out, Samuel was lying down in the tabernacle of the LORD, where the ark of God was located. 4 Then the LORD called Samuel, and he answered, “Here I am.” 5 He ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “I didn’t call,” Eli replied. “Go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down. 6 Once again the LORD called, “Samuel!” Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “I didn’t call, my son,” he replied. “Go back and lie down.” 7 Now Samuel had not yet experienced the LORD, because the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. 8 Once again, for the third time, the LORD called Samuel. He got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli understood that the LORD was calling the boy. 9 He told Samuel, “Go and lie down. If He calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for Your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 The LORD came, stood there, and called as before, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel responded, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.”

What if we live in a time where God is speaking, but nobody is listening? What if we think that only ministers can hear from God, but everybody else can’t?

Jesus came to make us all like brothers – equal.

Matthew 23:8-12
8 “But as for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi,’ because you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father, because you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 And do not be called masters either, because you have one Master, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

We are all able to speak to God and to listen. Jesus’ death tore the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies.

Matthew 27:50-51
50 Jesus shouted again with a loud voice and gave up His spirit. 51 Suddenly, the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom; the earth quaked and the rocks were split.

There is nothing anymore that separates the direct experience of God from everyone. It is no longer a place just for the High Priest. There is no “them” and “us” when it comes to access to God .

You no longer have to consult spiritualists or mediums or even ministers. Why get it second-hand? Go directly to the Source and hear it for yourself.

(All Bible translations are HCSB)

What would make me happy about church.

I saw a member of my old church recently. I asked her if she knew why I had left. She smiled and said no. She said “You are missed.” I said it’s been two years. I pointed out that if she wanted to know about me she could have called or written me. Of the 200 people in that church only three contacted me. Only three took the time to check up on me. It doesn’t sound like I’m really missed.

While in one way I feel that I wasted three years of my life there, in another I’m glad I got away when this was the response of a church that prides itself on being welcoming. If they can’t take the time to check up on the welfare of a regular member, then maybe it is all an act. I don’t have time for acts anymore. I need people who are real in my life.

She asked me if I was happy. And in a way I am. I’m glad that I’m being true to the voice of God. I’m glad that I didn’t listen to a minister who told me to be silent about that voice.

In a way, I’m not. I’d hoped that I could have found more of what I needed there rather than having to create it from the ground up. I’m sorry about how much emptiness I found. I wanted a community of people where we could share how God was working in our lives, and join together our energies to make the world better. I’m sorry about how I was treated by the minister. I’m sorry for her need to control. I’m sorry that my leaving was so abrupt and final.

I accept that it is all part of God’s plan. I just wish I’d had a bit more of a head’s up as to how it was going to go. I felt that I was abandoned on the side of the road with no map for a bit.

I told the member that I know what my calling is. I knew when I joined that church that it wouldn’t be forever. I knew that there would be a time or I would have to leave. I just didn’t know when and how that would happen. I certainly didn’t expect it to happen like it did.

What would make me happy about church?

All people are ministers. All gifts are valued – no higher than another. All are equal.

All are welcome – rich, poor, gay, straight, all races, and all abilities and genders. All are treated with respect.

The focus is on service to everyone – not just on members of the church.

No proselytizing. Your life is your testimony.

Church is a place where we refuel and reconnect to the Word, to the Vine. We learn how to serve. We learn how to discover, improve, and share our unique gifts with the world.

What would make me happy about church? If church was more about action and less about social club. If church was more about healing the world rather than like an AA meeting. It should be a place where everybody learns that we are loved just like we are – and then we share that message with the world with no exceptions or caveats.

A lot of people go to church to assuage their guilt. They’ve been taught that they are sinners, and the only way to get over that is to go to church. The structure of the service is often so that they have to come back every week to hear this message again. This isn’t what Jesus wanted. It isn’t about a guilt-trip at all. It isn’t about submission and fear. It is about us sharing that message of love and redemption to everyone we meet. We do that by treating everyone like Jesus would – with love, kindness, and compassion.

I’ve not found this yet. I’ve found pieces of it. I’ve found some that are very close, but they exclude women from being full members or ministers. I’ve found some that are high on service to the community, but still have the focus on one main personality – an ordained minister. I’ve found some that welcome other faith traditions for their wisdom but they shun people who are gay. So they are welcoming of some who are “other” but not all.

I learned as part of deacon discernment process that if you see something missing then it means that you are called to create it.

There is no division.

For us to even allow the idea of ministers is to negate the sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus came to do away with all boundaries and all hierarchies. In Jesus, we are all equal, all blessed, all worthy.

It is like if you are arrested. The police officer will read you your rights, which include not talking unless an attorney is present. He will then ask you if you understand your rights. The moment after you say yes, he will start asking you questions.

So you answer. He’s an authority figure, and you have nothing to hide, right? But part of the Miranda rights state that anything you say can and will be used against you. But you talk anyway. And you get in trouble, because your words are taken out of context. You would have been better off staying silent.

We give away the power that Jesus gave us when we let ourselves be led by ministers. When we allow a division of us and them, of lay and ordained, we are ignoring the very essence of Jesus’ sacrifice.

Jesus came to remove all boundaries between us and God. Jesus came to set us free from all the guilt that we’ve been given all of our lives, where we’ve been told we aren’t good enough, aren’t worthy enough – basically that we aren’t enough, period. We have been told over and over that whatever we do, whoever we are, it isn’t enough and we need to do more.

We are told this in every facet of our lives. We are told this not only about our relationship with God but our relationship with the world, with each other, with ourselves. We are told that we’ll never measure up. If we just dress better, listen to the right music, get another degree, date the right person, we’ll get there – except when we get there we are told that we are still lacking and we need to try harder.

Jesus tells us that we are there already.

Jesus tells us that we are perfect like we are.

We don’t need an intermediary. To allow anyone to be over us other than God is to ignore the whole reason Jesus came and died.

It is way past time to rethink church and what it means and how it looks and how it works. This is part of why I write this blog. I know I’m not alone in this feeling. But it is hard to undo and remake something as basic as our idea of church. In part, I’m stripping it down to the basics. What did Jesus say? What did Jesus teach? What did church look like? What didn’t it look like? What are we doing right? What are we doing wrong?

It is all a feeling-out-in-the-dark kind of thing. Yet I feel that this is better than blindly following someone who it turns out is also blindly following someone. I think our souls are too precious to place in the care of a person. And I think that isn’t what Jesus wanted.

word/Word

In the Episcopal church, as part of becoming a priest, you have to agree to this statement- “The Bible contains everything necessary for salvation.”

I have a hard time with this. I find awakening and enlightenment to be found in sacred texts from all around the world. I think that God didn’t put all the eggs in one basket. I think that there are way more people on this earth that God wants to reach than just those who have been exposed to the Bible. So I don’t think the Bible is the only pathway to God.

Also, it assumes that God has no intervention going on. I have a hard time believing that you can just read this particular book and you will be saved. What about the intervention of the Holy Spirit? What about coming to know Jesus as your friend? These are not mentioned.

Actually, if all you have to do to get saved is read the Bible, then you don’t need priests at all. Somehow I doubt they have thought about that.

It sounds like idolatry to say that the Bible contains everything necessary for salvation. This sounds like they are worshipping a book, and not the source of the words. The paper is more important than the flesh and blood that is Jesus.

They are worshipping the words and not the Word.

White is white – on blind obedience to the Church, and going it alone.

Some of you will remember that I was in the deacon discernment process for the Episcopal Church. This means that I believe (and the priest believed) that I was being called by God to serve “the least of these” – the poor, the homeless – those who have no one to serve them. Some of you have been reading along since April of this year, when I stopped going to church. The part that is interesting to me is that only a handful of people have even seemed to notice I’m gone.

I’ve recently written to the team that was involved in the process. It took me this long to get over my anger at and sense of betrayal by the priest. I didn’t want to write an angry letter. There are/were (what tense do I use?) nine people on that team, all trying to “listen” with me to see if it was a call from God. None of them have written back. I then sent a copy of the letter to the Bishop. Nothing, again. I feel like I’m standing at the front of an auditorium and the microphone isn’t on so nobody can hear me. Or maybe they are ignoring me, hoping I’ll go away. But the weirdest part is that more people from a church that prides itself on being welcoming and friendly hasn’t contacted me.

I was very active in this church. I was there every week. I was the leader of the team of lectors and chalice bearers. I was also an acolyte. I served up front as part of the worship team nearly every week. It is a small church. I’m hard to miss.

To be a deacon in the Episcopal Church is a big crazy process. It takes years. It takes homework and meetings. You have to submit your transcripts. You have to submit your baptism and confirmation records. You have to submit to a physical and psychological exam. Basically, you have to submit. They want to make sure that you are hearing from God, sure, but they also want to make sure they can control you. They want to make sure that the Church is safe by not signing off on a wacko, sure, but they also want to find out if the priest or the Bishop tell you to do something, you’ll do it.

The odd part is that you have to go through all this for an unpaid position. You are expected to keep your day job. You have to do more at church and in the community, but you don’t get paid for it. They have this whole multi-year process to shape you into a deacon. The process is arduous.

But it turns out that they don’t really have a framework to teach you how to follow God when the Church isn’t. That’s the scary part. There’s a group in the Catholic Church that embodies this blind faith in the Church. The Jesuits say that if they see that something is white, and the Pope says it is black, they are to say it is black.

I’m not about that kind of obedience. I understand it, somewhat. We humans are fallible. I entered into this process because I know of my weakness. I’m bipolar. So I wanted training and oversight. I wanted to make sure that if I thought I was seeing white, it was indeed white. It is my greatest hope that I not deceive or mislead anybody. I think it is really important to make sure it is God’s voice I’m hearing and not my own imagining.

I left church because I could see white and everybody else was doing black. The more I read of the Gospels, the more I realized that what we, collectively as a Church, are doing, is wrong. It isn’t about building church buildings or having ordained ministers. It is about building up the Body of Christ – by teaching every person who is called to be a Christian how to be a loving servant of God and how to hear the voice of God. Everybody. Not the elect, not ordained people – everybody.

I think everybody needs to go to Cursillo and be woken up to the Holy Spirit. I think the homework assignments for the deacon process are very helpful for helping people “hear” their calling. I think small groups where people “listen” to each other and keep each other accountable are useful. I think reading books by progressive Christian authors about their struggle to integrate the ways of God with the ways of the world are helpful. I think we all need to work on our faith rather than take it for granted.

Perhaps this is what they are afraid of. Perhaps this is why they haven’t contacted me. I represent a total upheaval of the way things have always been done. No more church buildings. No more vestry. No more priests. Church isn’t a social club but a way of life – and that life is service. Perhaps this frightens them.

It is like the early Christians, who knew in their hearts that what they were doing was right, was in fulfillment of all the promises that they as Jews had been told. They knew that Jesus was the Messiah. But everybody else railed against them. How dare you upset the way we’ve always done things? How dare you tell us that we are doing it wrong?

I get that. People are like that.

But white is white, and black is black, and the blinders are off now.

Who is in charge here?

Jesus didn’t come to make a religion. He didn’t come to establish rules of who was in charge. God is in charge. God is the teacher. But then, as now, people can’t handle that. They want to have proof, and documentation, and certificates of training. They want to control and limit. Jesus wanted nothing to do with that.

In Mark 11:27-33 we read about an interaction between Jesus and the authorities of the day.
“27 Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him 28and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?’ 29Jesus said to them, ‘I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.’ 31They argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven,” he will say, “Why then did you not believe him?” 32But shall we say, “Of human origin”?’ -they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. 33So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’”

Even Jesus was questioned. How could he possibly have the authority to heal people and to forgive them their sins? This was radical. This still is radical. Healing? Without medical training? Forgiving sins, without theological training? Are you kidding?

Then others started taking Jesus’ lead. They realized that they had the power to heal too. This concerned the disciples.

In Luke 9:49-50 we hear this conversation between Jesus and his disciples – 49 John spoke up, “Master, we saw a man using your name to expel demons and we stopped him because he wasn’t of our group.” 50 Jesus said, “Don’t stop him. If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally.”

Perhaps this is how we got to where we are today. Jesus’ disciples didn’t like the idea of someone else getting in on the action. This was their thing. This was special, and they’d left their homes and jobs and families to join him. They were in the club. Then these strangers started doing what they were supposed to be doing, and they got angry. I suspect they thought “How dare they – they aren’t part of our club!”

But Jesus didn’t come to create a club, or a clique, or a church full of rules. Jesus came to wake us all up. Jesus came to let us know that we all are children of God, and we all can call on Him. With Jesus, we can heal the wounds of the world.

Then Jesus says in Matthew 23:8-12
8 “But as for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi,’ because you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.9 Do not call anyone on earth your father, because you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 And do not be called masters either, because you have one Master, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

So why do we have ordained people? Why do we have priests and ministers, who are set aside and separate? Why isn’t everyone trained, instead of just a few? How much of this is about control?

What of this is in line with what Jesus taught?

Jesus called us all to be part of the Body. We are all to work together. No one is greater than another.

In Matthew 20:16 we hear this from Jesus – 16 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.”

We aren’t to raise ourselves up over each other. We are all equal in the eyes of God. We are all called to love and serve the Lord.

“Do you trust me?”

Sometimes, when I’m praying, Jesus says “Do you trust me?”

I say, I’d like to, but not really. I’ve committed myself twice. And now I’m talking to myself.

Or at least, that is how our society would label this. Lilly Tomlin said that if you are talking to God, you are praying. But if God is talking to you, you are crazy.

I’m afraid. I’m terrified of going too far and losing control. I’m afraid of going over the edge. I’m afraid of having to go into the hospital again. The last time was 12 years ago. Who wouldn’t want a nice break from work? But the bills don’t pay themselves. And mental hospitals aren’t that awesome. The last one I was in one of the workers tried to molest me. This is especially evil since I was on sleeping pills.

So when that little voice in my head says “do you trust me?” and I think it is Jesus, I don’t know. So not answering that question really is answering it. It is saying no. No I don’t really trust. Because I’ve been over the edge before, and I don’t like where I landed.

So why is it that all the churches I’ve been in (mainline Protestant, mostly Episcopal) don’t teach people how to hear from God, and how to know what is the voice of God and what is the voice inside your head? Isn’t that the point of church? The stories in the Bible are full of people who talked with God. They knew God was talking to them.

God asked them to do some crazy things. Take everything you have and pack it up and move to some place far away. Take your child and sacrifice him on an altar to Me as a test of your loyalty. Or, you are going to give birth to the Messiah.

You know, stuff like that. Crazy stuff.

Yet our entire faith is based on people listening to a voice in their heads telling them to do crazy stuff.

Our culture says that if you are saying that God is talking to you, you are crazy. Even my former priest (Episcopal) said that she thought I’d fail the psych exam for the deacon discernment process I was in.

Meanwhile, I’m properly oriented to day and time. I get to work on time, I get the bills paid. I have friends. What is “crazy” but simply not adapted well? I’m starting to think she is crazy for thinking that serving God is all about trying to raise money by getting more people in the church. I think that serving God is all about waking up the ones who are there to hear the voice of God.

Maybe that is what she is afraid of. Maybe she’s never heard from God. I find it interesting that I’m not the only person who feels this way.

I’d like to propose that it is crazy that when a minister finds out that a parishioner has a desire to help people and wants training and oversight, she then thinks that the person is called to ordination. Isn’t the desire to help people normal? Isn’t it part of what everybody in church is supposed to feel? And the training – that is to make the person better able to help. Isn’t that the point of church?

Or is the point of church to be a social club? My old church had a few social outreach ministries – Second Harvest and Room in the Inn. Both are very good things, the very things that church is supposed to do. I know that the first one met with a lot of resistance when it was proposed. Meanwhile, the normal activities, the stuff that takes up the majority of the time there, are book clubs (not all are religious), ice cream socials, outings to hockey and baseball games, and karaoke night with frozen margaritas.

I feel it is crazy for people who say they want to join together to serve God to be distracted with these kinds of activities. You can have fun and serve God at the same time. Instead of hanging out at a game, why not hang out at a widow’s house and help her with house repairs? Why not volunteer to teach an immigrant how to read and write?

And make sure that you don’t make a requirement of membership in the church for getting help from the church.

I asked for oversight because I’m bipolar. I want to make sure that what I’m hearing is the voice of God and not the voice of Betsy. But the more resistance I got from the priest, and the more I started looking around at the activities in the church, I didn’t feel like I was going to be lead anywhere there.

Now, I knew even from the beginning that I was going to not be a member of this church forever. I prayed beforehand, upon returning to church, as to if the Episcopal church was the right one for me, and God said that it was the closest there was to what I needed right now. So I knew it wasn’t forever. I knew it was going to end, I just didn’t know how or when.

When the priest attacked me for my blog post called “My Problem with Church”, that was it. April 17th, and I’ve never been back.

This is hard, and strange. I’ve identified as a church-going person for many years. I’ve been a confirmed Episcopalian since the late 1980s. Gone. There is a sense of freedom, and of fear. I’ve been asked by some members to come back to lead the way for others, to wake them up. How can I, when I’m silenced by the priest?

And more importantly, I don’t want to lead, or teach. I want to be fed. I want to learn.

So yes, really, I do trust Jesus. I trust that I’m being led in the right direction. I don’t know where I’m going, and I don’t know how I’m going to get there, but I’m in good company for that feeling. I know that if I was going to stay in that church I’d be even further from God’s path.

Marriage license

I would like to be able to marry people. I don’t mean I want to become a polygamist. I want to perform wedding ceremonies. In fact, I want to be able to perform all sorts of life ceremonies for people.

The problem is that I’m not a minister of any church in any official fashion. Sure, we are all ministers, but apparently that is just lip service. As far as the law is concerned, being a member of the Body of Christ isn’t good enough – you actually have to be ordained to marry people.

Now, I want to perform life ceremonies for people who don’t go to church. There are plenty of people who need ceremonies who aren’t members of church. The church has turned off and turned away people. The church has become irrelevant to many people’s lives. It has become hypocritical and hyper judgmental. People don’t feel welcome in church.

But they still need ceremonies.

We humans need ceremonies. We need to mark transitions from Then to Now. We need to indicate that something is different. Ceremony and ritual is part of what makes us human. We need closure. We use ceremonies to mark time and growth.

Ceremonies and rituals are like doors. We walk through them, and then we are different. It isn’t the door that makes us different, it is the act of walking, intentionally, through that door. It keeps us mindful and aware.

I simply don’t understand why the person performing the ceremony has to be credentialed. It isn’t like she or he is doing something complicated. A few words, said meaningfully, is all. There is no magic trick. There is no surgery, actually binding people together. It seems that it would make more sense to look at the intent of the people getting married more than the person doing the ceremony. Look how many divorces take place all the time these days, and they were married by credentialed people. So that isn’t working. It isn’t the people performing the ceremony that makes the difference.

Now, you don’t have to be a minister to perform a marriage ceremony. You can be a judge, or a captain of a ship for instance. There are plenty of non-religious people who can marry two people together – but I don’t fit any of those categories.

I wonder if there would be simply something to just going to the county clerk’s office to register (yes, you have to register) to be able to marry people. I don’t think there is any proof that you have to provide to be able to do this. I don’t plan on taking money for it – but I do want it to be legal. There are certain mail-order ministries that aren’t accepted as valid proofs of being a minister.

But again, we are all ministers. I would think that the simple fact that I want to be able to do this, to help out my friends who want to get married or have other ceremonies but don’t go to church, would count. That is a ministry.

I tutor ESL kindergartners. That is a ministry too. But I didn’t get tested or have to be certified. Sure, there was a criminal background check, but nobody asked for proof that I actually had a degree in English or had tutored before. That seems far more relevant.

But two people who want to get married? That is all them. They are doing the hard stuff. The words said on the wedding day don’t make you married. It is everything you do after that.

On ministers, and spoon-fed faith.

I’m wrestling with the idea of ministers. I’m wrestling with it from several directions. I have an issue with ordained ministers. I have an issue with people who aren’t ordained and call themselves ministers. Then I have an issue with the entire idea of ministers at all. So I’m going to try to work out where I’m coming from and where I’m going by writing about it.

I believe that each person has within them a unique perspective. I think that each person’s insight into what is Truth is valuable. I liken it to the story of the five blind men and the elephant. Each person in the story was touching a different part of the elephant and each person thought they had the whole thing. They thought that their particular understanding of what they were experiencing was truth. But each person was wrong because they only had a small part of it. It was only when they started comparing what they were experiencing did they start to understand that the elephant was far bigger than they had apprehended. This story is usually used to illustrate how each faith tradition should interact with each other and that no one faith has a lock on who God (YHWH, Allah, The Divine, the Creator…) is. But I expand this story. I use it to point out that each person’s understanding of God is valuable. Everybody needs to share.

With a top-down lead church, with a minister in charge, nobody gets to share. It is a passive experience. The people sit and listen to one person say what God is. Perhaps some people need that for a while. Perhaps they need a God with training wheels. But I’d rather them learn that they are strong enough to ride on their own.

I have a big problem with the entire idea of people being passive about their faith. I think it is dangerous. I think our souls are too important to be handed over to another person. I think we all need to be accountable to each other, and we need to be in community. I’m not about mavericks. But I think everybody needs to participate in the conversation as to who God is. When we entrust our spiritual health and our spiritual path to one person it is giving away our own power.

I believe that knowing Truth is like looking into the heart of a diamond. I believe that each person sees the heart of the diamond in a different way. What you see is valid for you, and what I see is valid for me. Together, when we compare notes, we gain a better understanding of what is there.

Then these pop-up strip-mall churches concern me. There is no training. Would you go to a doctor who gets his authority just because he says he is a doctor? He hasn’t been to medical school. As far as you know he hasn’t even read a medical book. He believed that he has a gift for healing so he says he is a doctor and starts accepting patients. He also has no oversight. There is no established authority over him that monitors what he does. There is no recourse when he does something wrong. So why not have the same training and oversight for a self-proclaimed minister? If you are going to say you are in charge of the spiritual health of others, then it is important that you aren’t going to mislead them.

There is a guy in California who styles himself Archbishop Carl Bean. He founded the Unity Fellowship of Christ Church in Los Angeles. Archbishop? Really? Is that all it takes? Get people to listen to your take on the Bible and then apparantly you can call yourself anything you want. Most of the links on his church’s website are asking for donations for his retirement fund. I find this highly suspicious. I had a coworker whose grandfather started the church that he goes to. The grandfather’s title is Bishop. Again, we have the same issue. Start a church, get a title. Something seems very wrong about this. I also know of a lady in Nashville who calls herself “Minister Lois Grady”. She uses this title on her book and her Facebook page. I know people who are ordained priests who don’t use their title on their Facebook page. They’ve had three years of graduate school and gone through enough paperwork to kill several trees and more committees than the President meets with to get that title. In every mainline church there are rules about who gets to be called Bishop or any other title. You can’t just declare yourself Bishop. You can’t just declare yourself a minister, either, which is the first step.

But then what does Jesus say about ministers? Let’s look at Matthew 23: 8-12. Jesus says “8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9 And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (NRSV)

So it sounds like Jesus is against the idea of anybody calling themselves “Father” or “Rabbi” or “Teacher” – or any other title indicating authority.

None of the apostles were ordained. Neither was Saint Francis, who founded the order of the Franciscans. Neither was Mother Theresa.

Then there is the idea that every person who is a baptized Christian is a minister. We are all called to preach the Gospel, the good news that God loves us and has forgiven us of all our mistakes and faults. We are all commanded to love and show love. In the same way that Jesus loved, we are to love.

There are faiths where there are no ordained ministers. Quaker and Sikh are two that come to mind. But then there are establishing faiths that have a very strict system in place to ordain ministers, and that is still not a guarantee that they are any good. They can in fact be criminals in cassocks. Just because you have passed a criminal background check does not mean that you won’t ever break a law in the future. And when they do break laws, their crimes are covered up so they can continue to damage their congregants. So being ordained and part of a faith tradition that says there is oversight is no guarantee of safety or true teaching.

I’m not alone in seeing problems with the church. There are Facebook groups called “Christians for a Change”, “Christians tired of being misrepresented,” “Kissing fish: Christianity for people who don’t like Christianity,” and “The Christian Left.” There are hundreds of books talking about how it is time to strip away a lot of the “stuff”

I believe each person needs to take an active role in their faith. I believe that every person needs to wrestle with their faith in a similar manner as Jacob. I believe that each person needs to read every holy scripture from every faith tradition. I believe that people need to stop having their faith spoon-fed to them.