The silence of sound

He was seven years old when he learned he was deaf. Born deaf, to Deaf parents, he never knew anything was different about him. His first language was Sign, and it was the only language he needed until it was time to go to school. The only problem was that the school was not within the town. When the town began, there was no need for a school of its own, and the citizens who lived there now all wanted as little taxation as possible. So they sent their children to the nearest town over to go to school.

Haverford was a small town, and a quarter it off it were deaf. Some families were entirely deaf, like how other families all had brown hair or green eyes. It was just the way it was. Some deaf couples had moved here, to join their lives with this unusual community.

You see, everyone here learned Sign from infancy on. It was a way for the babies to talk to their parents before they could use their voices. It was a way for everybody to communicate in crowded bars. It was a way to check if your friend wanted to have a hotdog or a hamburger from 30 yards away in a noisy football arena. It was a good language for everyone to know, whether they could hear or not. More languages meant more brain cells firing, more neurons developing.

It also made the town more welcoming for deaf people, except when it came to schooling. Strangely nobody really thought twice about it, how the school in the next town over separated the hearing kids from the deaf ones. While all classes were taught in English and Sign, the classes with the deaf were different, were lesser than.

It took an outsider to see how. Sometimes an outside perspective can make all the difference. Sometimes “normal” is just what you get used to. Just because you’ve always done it that way, doesn’t mean that is the way it should be.

The deaf children were taught the same subjects, but not in the same way. There wasn’t the depth. The teachers (all hearing) felt they were just biding time, babysitting, not teaching. They had no expectations of their young charges, no hopes for their future. So they didn’t challenge them, didn’t prepare them for life outside of their home town.

In order to graduate every student had to successfully interview for a job, but the advisors did all the work. They would set up the interview, provide an interpreter, and arrange for a taxi. They didn’t show the students how to do any of those things. They might as well have told the students that they were babies and would never grow up. They had never tapped the potential of their students.
It was the outsider who began to question this, to say this was wrong. She had been raised by a deaf mother and hearing father, and knew first-hand how strong the deaf can be if appropriately encouraged. Flowers don’t bloom in gardens that don’t get sun or rain, after all – and people were just the same. She encouraged the town to build its own school, where the students could learn together, regardless of hearing ability. This became what saved the citizens, and knit them into a tighter community, one that was an oasis.

How had this started, this deaf town? The town was founded a century earlier by Benedictine monks, who had all taken a vow of silence. They had all learned Sign to communicate, both with each other and the few lay people they had hired to help them. Everyone had to know the language whether they were there for religious or secular reasons. This ensured the monks didn’t have to break their vow when they had to interact with the workers.

The town had slowly grown up around the monastery. More and more people came – not a lot, mind you, but enough.

But that was before the Soft Revolution, the one that slowly took over the society as a whole, over the course of several decades. It was so subtle, so sly, that people didn’t even realize it was happening.

How did it start? Was it with the “Christians” aligning themselves more with the righteous than with the poor? Was it when they started making church more like a social club than about social justice? Was it when “churches” started protesting at funerals of gay people? Perhaps the push to say “Merry Christmas” instead of the more inclusive and welcoming “happy holidays” was the final blow?

Christians were seen not only as “behind the times” but also as rigid, intolerant, and worst of all, unkind. People left the church, or never joined, because they felt it was irrelevant, or even infantile. “Freethinkers” cried against the pointlessness of the faithful – that they were sheep mindlessly following their master, who sadly was often wanted for tax evasion or sexual immorality.

The church had done it to itself. Nobody had closed the institutions like had occured in the French Revolution. No law had made it happen. But the effect was the same – church was irrelevant, in part because it was irreverent. People hadn’t left church. The church had left the people.

But this little town, this vestige of a silent religious community, remained. Everyone here still used Sign, regardless of whether they could hear or not. It became a tiny oasis in a world of too much noise.

Strangely, surprisingly, it became the center of a new form of faith, one where people listened to God in their hearts instead of from a “leader”. They began to put their faith in an invisible master instead of a visible one. They turned away from following people or institutions or rites or creeds, and started following the One who speaks to us all. This silent community became the new seed of hope in a world all too often distracted and divided.

Flower fund

There is a flower fund at the church I went to. It pays for the flowers behind the altar, but it also pays for the wine and the wafers used for Communion.

Often people give to the flower fun in thanksgiving for something good – a birthday or an anniversary, for instance.

But it is also given in memory of someone who died. Some of those deaths are natural. Someone died after a good long life, well lived. But some of those deaths are tragic – accidents, suicide, crib death.

We eat joy and sadness when we share Communion together. Those wafers and that wine were bought with money in memory or honor or thanksgiving of those very human events.

We eat them together, kneeling, at the altar. This is a profound thing. This is a healing thing.

I know people who think they are too sinful to go to church. This is like saying they can’t go to the gym because they are too fat. Church isn’t about being holy. It is about being whole. It is about accepting and sharing our joyful and sad times together.

But church isn’t about a building or a denomination. It is about being part of the Body of Christ. We are all members of the same Church, regardless of creed or ritual, or tradition, regardless of whether we go on Sundays or Saturdays, or not at all. We are all called, and we all serve in our own way, according to our calling.

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.

Rethinking the idea of church, and religious organizations entirely.

We need to rethink church. It isn’t about a building or a particular minister. The more money a congregation spends on a building, the less it is spending on people who need it.

But people need a place. They can meet in a park if it is a pretty day, but the weather is so unpredictable. They can meet in a gym in a school if it is agreeable to that, or in a community center. Sometimes the trick is finding a location that isn’t being used for its original purpose during the time that the group needs it. It is sort of like a time-share arrangement.

I like the idea of the building being a community center, because it is supported by all members of the community. But then there will be arguments about the separation of church and state, and people who are atheist might get angry that their tax dollars are being used for something they are opposed to. So that might not work out.

Some people like a solid place. They don’t want to wonder from week to week where they are meeting, and find out too late that it has been moved to the school up the road. Some people identify with a building, and want the constancy of it. So in that case, what do you do?

Instead of a congregation building a church that is only used on Sundays and maybe Wednesdays, why not create a space that is open to all faiths? The Muslims can use it on Fridays, the Jews on Saturdays, and the Christians on Sundays. During the week, there can be gatherings for all three groups (and any others) so they can meet and mingle. The same meeting area will be used by all, just at different times. There are certain accessories that each group uses – have a separate storage room for those, and the different groups can pull them out for use.

Each group contributes to the cost of the building and its upkeep. Thus, they are only spending a third of their normal expenses. Thus, they have more money left for helping people who need help. It is important the people they help not just be members of the congregation. We are called to help everybody, not just those in our “family”.

It is important that congregations remember that they are called together to be stronger together. More people working towards a common goal makes it more likely that it will happen. Their goal is to serve God – not to serve the idea that is “church.”

Now, there is no worry about the congregations getting too big and needing a bigger building. The congregation isn’t the group of people. It is the people who share the same idea.

Build another building, with the same concept, in a nearby community. Have it be the same size. People who live near there can meet there. Think of this kind of like branches of a library, or a franchise of a food establishment.

It has nothing to do with ministers, or people all being in the same place to listen to the same person. This is critical that it is not personality-driven. In fact, the less hierarchy, the better. The moment a church starts identifying itself with its pastor, it stops being a church and starts being a fanclub. Having different speakers throughout the year is good, or having the meetings be unprogrammed is good.

Now, it is perfectly OK to have a video camera and screens in the meeting halls, and occasionally the different halls can be “connected” by technology, rather than physical proximity. Think of it as a teleconference. This needs to not be the norm, however.

Have gatherings during the week for the different congregations in the different buildings to meet together. Make sure that the meetings are more about service, and not socialization. People can meet and network while they are serving.

People join religious organizations because they want to serve God, not because they want to go to potluck dinners. The purpose of a religious organization should be to enable people to serve God.

Recipe for a new church, in part.

Church isn’t a place or a building. It can’t be burned down or broken into. It can’t be venerated. It isn’t a pilgrimage site.
It would be nice if people can just meet at each other’s houses, rather than have a separate building to have to keep up and pay rent on. If a separate building is required, it would be awesome if it could be multi-faith. Muslims on Friday, Jews on Saturday, Christians on Sunday, and a joining of all three during the rest of the week. This seems like an efficient use of space. Or have it like a community center, where religious groups just happen to meet.

But really, the most important idea is this. Church is within us. Every person has within them the light of God. Every person was created by God. So “church” can be here, online, where we share ideas and encourage each other.

What does it matter if we have huge cathedrals that are filled every week if the people inside are not awake to their divine connection with God? Jesus tells us about the dangers of storing up treasures for ourselves here on earth. He tells us about the danger of losing your own soul, of forgetting our connection with God.

Church is a community of like minded people. The community is meant to build each other up. To encourage and support. To heal. To work together for the fixing of the world.

A church service is anything that helps further the goal of loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves. We are called to love God with all of our hearts and all our minds and all of our souls. We are called to love our neighbors in the same way.

Who are our neighbors? Everyone. We are called to be nice to everyone. Sure that is hard. Jesus tells us that if you love only the nice people, what’s the point? We need to love the mean people because they need it more. We are to treat others as we would like to be treated – not like we have been treated. We are commanded to serve people because we are Christian. It isn’t about us converting them to be Christian. It is about being a servant.

Each person needs to know that God is real, and active, and present. God isn’t a “past tense” God. God is right now.

Each person needs to be empowered to hear from God.

Each person needs to be encouraged to share what they have heard from God.

Prayers should be offered for everyone. This includes those who are gathered, those who are part of the community, all seekers, and all who are lost. Pray for nations and the world. Pray for everyone. The Buddhists have a nice way of praying that asks for all beings to be well.

Prayers need to be balanced. If there are petitions for healing, then there also need to be prayers of thankfulness.

People need to learn how to determine their spiritual gifts, and then how to apply them.

Everyone needs to have a volunteer activity in the community. Faith without works is dead.

This isn’t an ego trip. We aren’t special. We are workers in the field. God owns the field.

Whenever anything new is considered, it must be measured against the command to love. Does it show love?

Everyone is expected to read the Bible, especially the Gospels. It is helpful if they also read any religious text(s) from any other faith tradition they are called to.

We are not here to worship and serve anything or anyone other than the Creator.

It is essential that people do not confuse themselves with God. We are the creation, not the creator. We have within us the light of God. This does not make us God.

There is no leader. Everybody takes turns. This is a journey together.

We are all walking up this mountain together, and we are here to encourage each other and point out things along the way. This includes butterflies as well as rocks. (beauty as well as danger)

It may help to have certain items as part of the worship service. But these things must not be venerated. They are reminders or signifiers. They point toward the truth, but they are not the truth. These things could include candles, incense, icons, or bells for instance. We are corporal beings, and sometimes we need corporal ways to access the spirit.

The goal is for each person to awaken to their own divine nature, and then take that awareness out. Each person is the Buddha, each person is the Christ. Each person, once awakened then needs to make that nature visible through action. How do we bring healing to the world?

Love made visible. Social action.

Go have a walk afterwards, and then have lunch together. It is important to get exercise, and it is important to share food together. It is what Jesus did with the disciples, so it is what we should do. If the group goes out to eat, be sure to be nice to the waitress and tip well. So many Sunday patrons are really rude to the staff. “How you treat the least of these…” didn’t get into their heads. If you are rude to the staff, then you didn’t hear the message. You are reflecting badly on God and His followers.

How you act reflects on God. Watch yourself at all times. How would I act if this person were Jesus?

Encourage exercise – walking, yoga, water aerobics, whatever.
Encourage creativity – painting, embroidery, beading, writing, whatever.
Encourage prevention rather than cure.

Tradition will kill you.

“We do it this way because we’ve always done it this way.”

I find it interesting (and disturbing and sad) that the only person who has talked to me about staying in church has used this as an explanation.

We need to keep this going because it is tradition.

I remember seeing a psychological study about peoples’ reaction to smoke coming under the door. There is a subject in an office waiting room with other people, but the other people are part of the study. Smoke starts to come under the door. The subject sees it, but doesn’t alert others, and doesn’t leave. This happened time and time again. When asked later why they didn’t react to it, the answer was that they didn’t want to cause a fuss. So, for the sake of keeping the peace, everyone will die. They’d rather be quiet than get everybody moving towards safety.

If we are in a car that has gotten off the road and is headed towards a cliff, we need to jump out of the car.

If the church goes one way, and Jesus goes another, we know who we must follow.

I’m finding it amazing the number of people who are on the same page here. People are leaving church not because they haven’t heard the Gospel. It is because they have heard the Gospel. They have heard the message to love and serve, and they are seeing a huge disconnect. They are seeing hypocrisy. They are seeing that church is self-serving rather than self-less.

The tithe goes to keep up the building and pay the staff. It doesn’t go to feed the hungry or clothe the naked.

The ministers have all the power, and they don’t teach the members how to be ministers.

We need to all think for ourselves. We all need to read the Bible for ourselves. If what the church says does not line up with what God says, then we are obliged to try to reform the church. Or leave. To stay and pretend that everything is fine is to give support to something that we know is wrong.

Sometimes things start off ok, but then they get sidetracked. I read about a women’s prayer organization that is for Anglican women. The charter said that no money would be raised in the name of the organization. Yet, years later after it was founded, they take up dues. They collect money for various scholarships for their members. I’ve heard that there is no proper accounting for this money. So, the start was good, but it got off the track.

Plus, I’m against anything that doesn’t allow someone membership based on something they have no control over. Only women can join? What about men who want to pray? God calls everyone.

This is like saying only men can be priests. Yes, I have a problem with that too. But I also believe from my studies of the Gospels that every person is called by God to know and love and serve God. It isn’t for the few, the proud, the priests. It is a gift that is given freely to all by the Holy Spirit.

We pray for soldiers who are at war. Yet we are told to love our enemies, and “thou shalt not kill.” There is a huge conflict here. We are praying for the safety of people who are doing something that we know from the commandments we are not to do. This is crazy-making.

Sometimes something is so broken that it can’t be fixed from within and you have to start all over.

God is constantly talking to us. He never stopped. It behooves us to listen to God talking in all things. God didn’t stop talking when the Bible was written. You can find truth everywhere.

But don’t take my word for it. Read, pray, think on your own. Stretch your horizons and boundaries.

Don’t be afraid. Love. Perfect love casts out all fear, remember?

Church shouldn’t involve money, or a building. It isn’t a place. It is a gathering. Look up the meanings of “ekklesia” – the root word for church. It is pretty surprising.

I don’t know what church should look like yet. I’m thinking I should send my tithe money to a charity, like the American Red Cross, or the Nashville Rescue Mission. My Sunday mornings are changing. There should be time to read the scriptures and time to pray and listen to God. I know there is a lot of healing to be found in a small circle of people who are willing to be open and honest with each other.

But I know I can’t be part of something I feel is wrong. And I know I’m not alone.

Let us pray together for the strength to return to the beginning. Let us examine everything in light of Jesus’ teaching to Love. What practice shows love? Do it.