A Place to Call Home

On December 14, 2012, I was at work when I heard that there had been a shooting at a school. As I went online to see what had happened I learned with the rest of the country that it happened just miles from where we live, in a school that looked just like ours, to kids that were my daughter’s age, to parents that seemed just like me.

We had just moved to Bedford and for the first time in many years we felt “settled” – we had a house for the first times, our jobs were going smoothly, the kids were happy in their schools (K and pre-K) and we felt safe. Secure. Happy. Comfortable. Is that what the parents in Sandy Hook felt like? Just hours before their world was shattered? I could not even imagine.

As we reunited with our kids at home from a “normal” day at work and school we couldn’t stop hugging them. Do we hug them enough? Do we make sure every morning they know how much we love them? Are they safe?

When ours kids were babies we stopped going to church. It was just too complicated. The crying always happened right during the prayer or the key point of the sermon. The diaper change always seemed to come right when we got settled in the pew. I saw on the news that President Obama also admitted to not going to church when his girls were young so I kind of felt I was off the hook. In addition, we hadn’t really found a church that fit both me and my husband. I had grown up Presbyterian, he Catholic. At the core, we believed in the same things, but clearly there were differences in how we felt most comfortable practicing our faith.

On that Sunday morning after Sandy Hook we came to Bedford Presbyterian Church. We just needed a place to go and be. I don’t even remember what I prayed for – thank you for my kids? Comfort for the Sandy Hook parents? Wisdom to lawmakers in tackling guns and mental health?  What I remember is that it simply felt good to be there. We felt welcomed. I felt at home.

This was the start, and as we got to know the people, the style of worship, the values of the community it felt more and more right. We now consider BPC our church home and it continues to become a part of us – as parents, as advocates, as followers of Christ.

Pointing the Way

Stratton PondI came across this observation in a journal I was reading today:
“People still crave connection to the holy and always will.
The church too often simply fails to show up at the intersection of the holy and our lives.”
 (Reflections, Spring 2014, p.13)

I think the observation is true.
I also think this is true.
For too long the Church has falsely marketed itself as THE locus and keeper of the Holy.
Come to church to find God.
Attend church to be religious.
What you need is here.
We dispense God like a pharmacist dispenses a prescription.
And, people aren’t buying it any more.
I am not buying it any more.

Are their holy moments that happen in church (or synagogue or mosque)?
Sometimes when the sanctuary is full.
And, sometimes when I am the only one there.
But God is not locked up in any four walls.
Holy moments can and do happen anywhere at any time.
And, the truth we experience holy moments more out there than in here.
Watching your children.
Watching the sun set.
Holding hands with one whom you love.
Dancing like there will never be another dance.
Sitting still and allowing the silence around you to fill you.
What the church can do…
What we need to do…
Rather than thinking it is our job to dispense the Holy realize our job is to point the way.
What we can do and need to do is to be that reminder that we – all of us – are to pay attention.
For when we do each moment has the potential of being holy.

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…