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.

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Spiritual but not religious – poem

“Spiritual but not religious”?
So was Jesus.
Jesus didn’t come to create a religion
he came to start a relationship.
Jesus wants you to know
that God loves you personally.
That God isn’t some
amorphous thing in the sky
waiting to catch you screwing up.
God loves you
God made you.
God wants you
to know God personally,
directly,
without an intermediary.

Jesus couldn’t stand
the religious authorities
of the day
and how they made sure
that people
saw them praying,
and saw how big
their prayer shawls were.

Jesus wants people
to show
how big
their hearts are.

Jesus wants us
to be in relationship
with each other
and with God.
He wants us to serve God
not by religious observance
but by taking care
of each other.

Jesus would rather a person
never go to church
than spend all their time
in church
and none of their time
helping people.

With Jesus,
your religious observance
would be in a soup kitchen
or helping people clean up
after a tornado
instead of sitting for an hour
in a building, in “church”.

Jesus came to tell you
that you
are the church,
not the building.
That we collectively
make up living stones.

Jesus didn’t want us
to be anything
other than equal.
We are not supposed
to have
ordained and lay people,
but all the same people.
We’re not supposed
to have
bishops and popes.
The only one
above us
is God.

So “spiritual but not religious”?
So was Jesus.
His teachings are true.

A new definition of “liturgy”

The word “liturgy” means “work of the people”. It is a church term that refers to the actions that laypeople do to create the church service. Before the Protestant Reformation there was no liturgy. The church service was performed entirely by priests. After the Protestant Reformation the role of consecrating communion was performed by the priest but nearly everything else was often done by members of the congregation. The idea was to make space for people – to make them feel part of the ministry.

I propose that we change the idea of liturgy from meaning the things we do in church to the thing we do as the church. In liturgy we might wear special vestments or carry the Bible or a candle or a cross. How about we do the same things but in a different way – out in the real world? Otherwise, all we are doing in liturgy is play-acting, and that isn’t what God wants of us.

How about instead of wearing special robes we wear what we wear every day and see it as the uniform that we put on to do our work in the world?

How about instead of carrying a Bible in our hands we carry it in our hearts?  How about we live it out loud instead of just reading it out loud? Instead of just sharing the Gospel we live it by being the Good News to a hurting world?

How about instead of carrying a candle we carry the light of Christ in our hearts and share that light in a dark world?

How about instead of carrying a cross we help others by carrying theirs? Like how Jesus was aided by Simon of Cyrene to help bear his burden on the way to his crucifixion.

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.
abandoned1
abandoned3
abandoned4

And at the center of them is the altar, a shrine to death, to sacrifice.
abandoned2

For many, church is a place of divine insight, of sudden epiphanies

light1
light2
light3

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

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

lighthouse1
lighthouse2

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.
boat1
boat2

Each person gets their own boat. They learn how to row it themselves. They develop the strength to help themselves and to help others.
boat3

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.
belay1

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.
here1
here 2

Church should be small, human sized.
small1

It should be intimate and personal.
small2
small 3
small 4

Why have we so long built churches that are immense, that dwarf us, that make us feel insignificant?
big1
big2
big3

They feel lonely, cold, isolating.
big4

They are out of proportion with us.
big 5

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.

far1
far2
far 4
far 5
far6

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.
far 3

There are narrow paths, and gates, and boundaries in the way
gate1
gate2
gate3

We need to break apart the idea of church. We need to see through it, to reinvent it.
apart 1
apart 2
apart 3

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.

pew 1
pew 2
pew 3
pew 4
pew 5

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)

Living church

Jesus uses the word “church” only twice in all of the Gospels, and both of them are in the Gospel of Matthew. (MT 16:18 and 18:17) This is significant because if Jesus came to build a church in the way we have been taught to think of it, he would have talked about it a lot more often and we would have had references to it in the other Gospels.

In the Gospel of Matthew, he renames his disciple Simon after he declares that Jesus is the Messiah.

– Jesus continued, saying “Your name is now Peter, because you are a rock, and upon you I will build my living church, and the gates of death will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you join together on earth will be joined together in heaven, and whatever you separate on earth will be separated in heaven.” – (MT 16:17-19, Condensed Gospel)

Most translations cite verse 18 like this – “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the forces of Hades will not overpower it.” (HCSB)

I have learned from my studies that the word that is translated as “forces” (or sometimes as “powers”) literally means “gates”, and that Jesus is not indicating Hell (as “Hades” is sometimes translated) with the word “Hades”. Hades isn’t a place, but refers to the “power of death” according to the notes in the Harper Collins Study Bible. This source also refers back to a note on MT 11:23, saying that Hades is the “Greek equivalent to Hebrew Sheol, realm of the departed dead.”

This is why I interpreted that scripture in the manner I did. We’ve read that line over and over and it doesn’t mean anything real to us until we dig further.

Peter, and all of Jesus’ disciples, including you and me, don’t have power over Hell. We have something far greater. We have power over death. Being a disciple of Jesus means that we embrace and affirm life. This isn’t about “coming back from the dead” or simply having eternal life after we die. It is about being fully alive now, and sharing that life with others.

What we are to unbind or loosen on Earth is the same as what the disciples were charged to do elsewhere in the Gospels – to forgive sin, exorcize demons, and to heal the sick. We are to free people from the death of not being fully alive.

Jesus came to build a living church, not one of stones and wood. He came to free us, right now, from the death that is not being fully alive. This isn’t about the future. It is about the present.

He came to let us know that all of our sins are forgiven. And then he wants us to go share that good news with others. We aren’t to make new converts so much as bring people back to life by forgiving them in the same way we are forgiven, and re-joining them to the community. We are to include everybody who has been kicked out. We are to seek out the lepers of our time – those people who have been excluded from society. We heal them and bring them back to life by welcoming them.

Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah

When Jesus and his disciples came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, a town north of the region of Galilee, he asked his disciples privately, “Who are people in the crowds saying I am?” They replied “Some say you are John the Baptist. Others think you are Elijah, and yet others think you are Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

Jesus faced them and said “But as for you, who do you say I am?” Simon answered him saying “You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”

MT 16:13-16, MK 8:27-29, LK 9:18-20

Jesus responded “Simon, son of Jonah, God has blessed you with this knowledge because you didn’t learn this from a person but directly from God!” Jesus continued, saying “Your name is now Peter, because you are a rock, and upon you I will build my living church, and the gates of death will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you join together on earth will be joined together in heaven, and whatever you separate on earth will be separated in heaven.”

MT 16:17-19

Then he gave them very strict orders not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

MT 16:20, MK 8:30, LK 9:21a

So, I’m writing a book. (On believing in myself and my message.)

Recently I’ve had several people interested in the fact that I am writing a book. They ask what it is that I’m writing about. I always hesitate. I started to wonder why.

Perhaps I’m hesitating because I don’t know if these people are religious or not. A lot of people have a knee-jerk reaction against organized religion, and religion in general. I understand that. In fact that’s part of what I’m writing about. But I don’t want to say I’m writing about God and Jesus and have them immediately stop listening to me. So I have to figure out a way to warm them up to the idea.

It reminds me of the elevator speech that I would give to people when they would show up at the library. There were members of my former church who I would see at the library and they would say “How come I haven’t seen you in church in a while?” I needed an answer for that. Sometimes they wouldn’t say anything at all and I would tell them anyway. I wanted them to understand that how we are doing church is completely opposite of how Jesus wanted us to do it.

What I’m doing is stripping everything down and rebuilding from the ground up.

Some churches are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Some churches are doing what is right, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. Some churches are clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and feeding the hungry. But some churches seem to be more about celebrating God than following God. They get that good feeling once a week by saying that they are Christians but during the rest of the week they don’t live like they are. Jesus didn’t die so that we can get dressed up for an hour once a week and sing songs. He didn’t die so that we would live badly. So part of what I’m writing is about saying what we are supposed to do.

Perhaps part of why I hesitate when they ask me what I’m writing about is because of my lack of credentials. I don’t have a degree in theology. I’ve not been to Divinity school. And let’s face it – I’m a woman. The apostle Paul says that women shouldn’t talk in church. So by extension they certainly shouldn’t talk about church. But let’s look at who Jesus called. Jesus called the leftovers, the has-beens, the never-was. Jesus called tax collectors, fishermen, and laborers. Jesus called people who weren’t authorities at all. That’s important to remember. So just because I don’t have any training doesn’t mean that I don’t know what I’m talking about.

I want to wake people up to their true calling as followers of Jesus. I want us all to connect with the true Vine that is Jesus. I want everybody to know that they are ministers, and they are called. I want people to read the Bible for themselves, rather than have it fed to them. I want the church to be about the people and not about the building.

That. That is what my book is about.

Will it sell a million copies? Will I get to retire and write all day long? Doubtful. Will it change minds? Hopefully.

It is already written – it is in this blog. I’m just putting it together in book form and then self-publishing it. Fiddling with the format is tedious. I’ve looked at getting help for this and the price they want to charge exceeds what I think I’ll make on it. So I’m plodding along on my own. Meanwhile, I’ve got more ideas coming. It is hard to juggle it all. But I think the first thing I have to do is believe that this book needs to happen and stop apologizing for writing it and for believing that it should exist.