A Place to Practice – Part 2

After I wrote my last post about church (I use the church in its broadest and best sense) being a place to practice those things that nurture our best values and our best selves and expand the circles we draw around our lives, I recalled a lecture I attended a number of years ago. The presenter was a sports psychologist who worked with the New York Mets baseball team.  His presentation was not on professional baseball or professional sports, but on the changes that were happening (and have continued to happen) in the sports programs in which our children participate.

He noted that the change that was taking place was most children’s sports programs were now being organized, run and managed by adults.  Whereas a generation ago, most sports activities in which children participated were organized by the children themselves.  Kids would show up at the ball field.  Sides would be chosen.  The rules agreed upon.  When a disagreement arose it would be worked out often by agreeing to a do over.  While the skill level today might be greater with semi-professional coaches who oversee practice and training, children’s love of the game and the negotiating and conflict resolution skills they learned by playing together on their own are  diminished.

I thought about that lecture quite a bit as my children grew up and participated in organized sports, but after my last post I began to think about it in terms of the church.  Longer than children’s sports programs, the church (in its most traditional sense) has been organized by a group of “adults” who organize, run and set the rules for the game.  If you want to “play” you have to play according to our rules.  What is now happening, it seems to me, is that more and more people are saying we don’t want to play the “game” in that way anymore.  We want to show up at the playground and whoever is there we will organize the “game” and negotiate the rules and work together to figure out the best way forward.

Which makes me wonder…
If we (and our children) have lost something in overly organizing their sports activities, is there something to be gained by individuals and groups of people reclaiming their own initiative in redefining church or community or spirituality?  It will certainly look and feel different than what it does today, but it may end up being more thoughtful and more vital than what we have known for some time.

What do you think?

A Place to Practice

Here is what I think church should be or could be about:
A place to practice.
A place to practice kindness.
And compassion.
And generosity.
And gratitude.
A place to practice saying Please and Thank you not just for what we need or have, but please and thank you on behalf of another some of whom we know and many of whom we don’t.
Church could be and maybe should be a place where we practice being (or coming closer to being) our best selves.

But, more often than not we get it wrong.
And church becomes a place of shoulds and oughts;
Right and wrong;
My right and your wrong.
A place where if we know the rules and the rituals we belong and if we don’t we feel like we don’t have a place.
A place of believing in Jesus instead of being inspired by the words and witness of Jesus.
A place where God is understood more as a noun than as a verb.
A place of being right and getting it right more than a place to practice.

What if we could be more the first than the second?
What if we began to believe that any place we practice being our best selves was church?  And, anyone with whom we practice kindness and compassion and generosity and gratitude was our community of faith? Would we began to pay attention in a different way because that which we know and name as God could be present in each and every one of those moments?
What would change for us?
Would we look at our lives and each other differently?
I wonder…

Headscarfs, Yamakas and Crosses

Last night I attended a local civic event which recognized one community member and one non-profit organization for their commitment to the communities in which we live.  It is always nice to see people recognized for their vision and commitment and the work they do to make the communities in which we live better for everyone.  But, what caught my attention and got me thinking was not the laudatory remarks about the honorees or the proclamations made by local politicians, but the guitar player in the band that had been hired for the evening.

Remember this was a purely secular event.  And, the music was selected so that middle aged people could dance to it.  What stood our for me and made me look twice was that the guitar player wore a yamaka, a rounded skull cap worn by observant Jewish men mostly, but not exclusively, at religious services.  And, more than that no one seemed to notice.  I am sure wearing the yamaka was meaningful to the guitar player, but it was a complete non-event/non-issue to everyone else in the room.  And, I am sure the same was true for any and all of the women whose jewelry included a cross on a necklace.

But, here is what I wonder…
What if one of the people in the band had been a Muslim woman who had made the choice to wear a headscarf?  How many people would have noticed that and made comments about it over their cocktails before we were called to dinner?  Is there anything different about her choice to wear a headscarf or his choice to wear a yamaka or her choice to wear a cross?  I don’t think so.  My guess (hope?!) is that for each of those individuals, more than just being a symbol of religious identity, their yamaka or headscarf or cross serves as a reminder to the wearer that they are called to serve God in how they live.  Maybe we all would do well with such a reminder.

The Providers

Yesterday afternoon I had an appointment with one of the doctors I see annually. Practicing good “bedside manner” and, I am sure, looking for other indicators that might affect my health, he asked how the church where I work was doing.  In a few sentences I tried to say all was well, but also describe the pressure organized religion of any variety or stripe is under saying that much of my professional training and experience did not match the emerging trends.  A bit surprised by my response, he said, “It sounds like the medical profession facing incredible change with no clear direction.”  Then, when I turned the question back towards him he said, “When I decided to be a doctor I thought I would be a professional. Now I find I am a provider.”

I walked away from my appointment thinking about his comment.
Is that what is happening in and to so many professions – clergy, doctors, teachers, etc? That instead of being seen and treated as professionals who have a particular training and skill set and expertise, we are now seen as providers and those who buy or receive our services view themselves as the professionals who purchase what we have to give?  I don’t want to diminish the issues and concerns or the changes that need to take place in any of our professions, but I do think my doctor’s observations are on the mark and the change in perception/understanding he put into words is a part of the challenge we face.