Tag Archives: church

I LOVED this…

Okay, one of my favorite bloggers has outdone himself.  Great little article.  “Why I Don’t Like Church Names” —  Check it out!

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Organic

I grew up in the counter-culture – hippies, communal houses, civil rights marches, anti-war demonstrations, and yes organic gardening.  When I was about 5 or 6, our family moved to a big farm in the country to seek intentional community, and to get back-to-nature.  (All these years later, I still love the song “Woodstock” by Crosby Stills Nash and Young with the words “got to get ourselves back to the garden” — I think they were on to something there, humanity is still longing for the Garden, a place of connectedness with God and the rest of creation, not that CSNY’s interpretation of what that looked like or how to get there was on target.)  We had a huge organic garden behind our house, and I have fond memories of walking through the fields to collect praying mantis egg cases to put in our garden.  If you do not know, a praying mantis is an insect that eats other insects, and if you put them in your garden they will eat the insects that might eat your vegetables.  We also ordered lady bugs in the mail, which also eat other bugs (as you might guess from this memoir, I was an atypical girl — I loved bugs and frogs and the like).  Our dogs dealt with the deer and rabbits.  So, it is with these memories that I think about the term “organic church” or “organic community”.

What does this mean practically?  It means that the idea of “organic community” has to do with letting things grow naturally the way God intended.  It means finding His way of dealing with problems that arise, instead of inventing some man-made rule or organizational structure.  We are finding all the time that the man-made chemicals which we have used to “protect” our crops from pests actually are not so good for us (wow!  what a surprise that stuff that’s made to poison bugs could also hurt us!)  In the same way, our worldly ways of dealing with things like church discipline, harmful teaching, etc can actually also slowly poison us, and can in the end become as bad or worse than what we were seeking to protect ourselves from in the first place.  Or perhaps we are seeking to preserve something, much like many fruit & vegetable genetic hybrids seek to extend shelf-life.  However, like those hybrids, we can end up with a tasteless copy of what we were trying to preserve.

So, how do we do this thing called “organic church”?  I believe we must begin by challenging our assumptions.  We can not do things simply because “we’ve always done them that way”.  That does not mean that we have to throw something out simply because it’s traditional.  Some traditions are good.  They can provide us with a sense of stability and continuity, and actually can help foster a sense of community.  However, when traditions no longer express the heart of God, we need to examine them carefully, and modify them or discard them to more clearly express our message.  This is what I believe Jesus was referring to when He said to the Pharisees that they “nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.” (Matt 15:6)  It wasn’t tradition that was the problem.  The problem was making the tradition more important than the word of God – i.e. the message of God – which was to express justice, mercy and compassion to the downcast of the world (which, if we correctly understand the condition of the world, is the entire world).

Unfortunately, such “nullifying traditions” are typically so much a part of our culture that we are no longer aware of them.  Thus, in order to challenge our own assumptions we must approach with humble hearts and a desire for change, and we must ask the Lord to reveal to us the things we can not see.  I also believe it is vitally important that we continually ask this of ourselves, not simply point to those outside ourselves.  For instance, it can become very easy to focus on the speck in the “institutional” church’s eye, and neglect the plank in our own eye.  All of us are susceptible to developing “pet traditions” that make us very comfortable, but do not accurately reflect the heart of God.  As the psalmist said “Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults.” (Psalm 19:12).

Striking a Chord

As I was preparing to write this post, the phrase “strike a chord” came to me.  Sometimes we can use an expression all the time, and not think about what it really means.  From my little bit of music theory training, I know a chord to be formed when several different notes (often 3, but not necessarily) are played together.  The notes that make up the chord each have a different sound, yet when played together they make another sound, different from the individual notes yet harmonizing with them.

Thus when a thought or idea “strikes a chord” in us, it is resonating with our own thoughts.  Just like the notes in a chord each have a different sound, so the words used to express the idea may be different than the words we have used to express the same idea, and yet there is a sense of familiarity that the idea somehow belongs with the ideas we ourselves have been pondering.

Extending this allegory a bit, sometimes we may also feel like we are the “discordant” note — challenging others ideas and opinions.  However, if done in the right spirit even this can form a sort of harmony.   The classic chord sounds that many are most familiar with are the common chords found in the major scale, but there are other scales: minor scales, jazz scales and blues scales to name a few.  In some of these scales, chord variations are formed when a somewhat discordant note is added to the chord.  It is when these discordant sounds are added that the listener sits up and takes notice.  In the same way, at times an opinion or idea may be offered that at first glance appears to be a completely different perspective from our own, but the more we listen the more we begin to see that the idea we at first thought very dissimilar to our own is actually also “striking a chord”.

Am I advocating moral relativism?  No, I do believe that truth is absolute, but our understanding of truth is limited, thus when we come together we all grow stronger as we share our differing perspectives.

With these thoughts in mind, my two recent posts on Hebrews 10:25 (“My Journey…” and “… Why We Gather“)  seem to have struck a chord with a few people out there.  Some of the responses (listed below), in turn struck a chord with me, expressing with different words ideas I too have been struggling to express.  For those of you who might want to read more thoughts on this subject, here are some other places to read:

  • A thought-provoking discussion sparked by the above-mentioned posts occurred here on the blog Chaordic Journey by Jeff Rhodes (the post itself is mainly just a quote of my blog, but the comments add many additional thoughts).
  • Also on Chaordic Journey, there were recently two follow up posts on the subject of Organic Church here and here.  I was particularly struck with Jeff’s description of organic church (read the full article):

“The point is that “organic” church is not about tradition or non-tradition, building or no building, big or small, emerging or whatever would be the opposite of that. It is about the life and vitality of Jesus breaking into our reality everyday. It is about God’s will and activity in heaven coming into our world through us and in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. I think maybe the best place in Scripture which captivates the idea of “organic” church is Hebrews 10:23-25.” [All I can say is AMEN!]

Hebrews 10:25 – Why We Gather…

Last post I talked about my journey towards a deeper understanding of Hebrews 10:25. I began by sharing what I realized this scripture did not say, specifically:

  • It didn’t say be sure to go to church every Sunday.
  • It didn’t say be sure that you gather in a specially designed building.
  • It didn’t say be sure you join an institution.
  • It didn’t say gather in one place around one primary leader.
  • It didn’t say make sure you hear a 1-hour sermon every week (or a 40-minute one, or a 30-minute one).
  • It didn’t even say how often to meet.

So what does it say? Well, let’s look at the context a bit. Hebrews 10:22-25 says:

22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

These verses imply a number of things about the purpose Christian community. Here are a few, I see:

  • To draw near to God
  • To experience forgiveness
  • To help each other hold fast and to not waver in our faith
  • To spur each other on to love and good deeds
  • To encourage each other

Furthermore, when reading the entirety of the book of Hebrews, one finds a major theme through out is that this world is a very difficult place, very much like a wilderness, which has a hardening tendency on our hearts (2:1, 3:7-8, 3:15, 4:7). It is in this context that we are exorted to:

The verse in 3:13 is especially interesting. I remember reading this verse once a few years back, and realized for the first time that it said to encourage each other “daily”. I looked up this word in my Greek lexicon, and found it meant (and I quote) “daily”. It hit me then that I wasn’t sure I had ever in my life encouraged someone or been encouraged by someone every single day.

So, a radical return to Hebrews 10:25-type gathering is what I would like to experience, in every increasing measure, in this life. Are you experiencing that? Let me hear from you. Feel free to leave a comment.

My Journey to Hebrews 10:25

I lived overseas for a while. The place I was living was wonderful, but the problem with leaving what you know is that when you come home you tend to see everything with a new set of eyes. So it was when I moved back home. The things I used to think normal now bothered me. One of those things was what we call “church”.

I remember in those early days of being home, the hype and commercialism of American church life were in my face daily, screaming at me, and I experienced what some would call “a crisis of faith”. Ironically I was speaking in some churches, and as I was driving from one engagement to another, I said, “God, I don’t even know what I believe any more!” I was thinking about all the hyped-up “truths” I was hearing presented as if these things were ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY from God, when really they were nothing more than our American cultural opinions. I suddenly felt I simply didn’t want to be a part of that kind of Christianity anymore.

A still small voice spoke to my heart and said: “Do you believe in Jesus?” I was so exasperated that I didn’t answer right away. I really had to think about it. Finally, after forcing myself to remember the story of how I came to faith (which was quite powerful, and for another place and time), I answered, “Yes, I believe in Jesus.”

For months after that I felt as if Jesus was all I believed in. And because all the other extraneous “stuff” was flying out the window, I really didn’t get a lot of joy from “church”, by which I mean Sunday morning services as we practice them typically in our culture today. I was so unhappy with church life that I began to question God about that too:

Q: What is this thing we call attending church anyway? Where in the Bible does it say I have to “attend church”.

A: This is what it says:

“Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together…” (Hebrews 10:25)
Wow! What a simple statement. I began to study Hebrews 10:25 with passion. What first hit me was what it did not say:
  • It didn’t say be sure to go to church every Sunday
  • It didn’t say be sure that you gather in a specially designed building
  • It didn’t say be sure you join an institution
  • It didn’t say gather in one place around one primary leader
  • It didn’t say make sure you hear a 1-hour sermon every week (or a 40-minute one, or a 30-minute one)
  • It didn’t even say how often to meet.

I began to view “church” differently. Sometimes, I would be really tired on Sunday mornings, and would not feel up for going. I would feel the old indoctrination pulling at me saying: you really should go.

(Funny, I didn’t even grow up in church, I became a Christian as an adult – grew up agnostic/pagan/New Age – and yet I still felt indoctrinated! How did that happen???)

Anyway, when the “should” came into my mind, a simple question would come each time in response: “Have you forsaken gathering together with other people of faith?” Each time I heard this question, I realized I had, in fact, not forsaken Christian community (usually I was so tired because I had been to numerous gatherings with other believers all week). Further the question itself revealed to me that it wasn’t the joy of community that was drawing me to the Sunday morning service, but a sense of religious obligation.

Please understand, I am not “anti-Sunday-morning”. I am only saying that whatever day we meet together our purpose should be to encourage and strengthen each other, and if we are doing something that doesn’t do that, then we’re not really doing “church” (which means “gathering”) according to Hebrews 10:25. I’m also saying there really is nothing sacred about meeting on Sunday morning per se, unless it’s sacred to you.

There’s a lot more to say about this. Most importantly, what does Hebrew 10:25 (and the rest of the book of Hebrews) have to say about our purpose in gathering together? I’ve hinted at it so far. In a future post, I hope to speak to this in depth.

“Alternative Church… Organic Church… what?”

I wasn’t sure what to name this blog. I had other names that stuck out at me more than Alternative Church, but they were already taken. My favorite is Organic Church, a term I coined for myself, but found someone else also coined the same term for themselves. I think I like that term because it paints a picture of what I want to be rather than what I don’t want to be. The word “Alternative” indicates there is something that one is reacting against — that is, an alternative is always an alternative to something. There has to be something you don’t want to have an alternative.

Organic on the other hand speaks of a vision of something that is as natural as breathing. Nothing artificial, nothing man-made. Growing naturally, being tended not cultivated. Not manipulated, but allowing it to be what it is naturally.

Still, alternative has some positive connotations for me, and most “alternatives” I have been exposed to came from a desire to have something more authentic, more “organic”, if the truth be told. Growing up, I spent more half my school years in what were called alternative schools. These schools were born out of trying to find methods of education that worked more effectively than the traditional methods. During what would have been considered grades 1-4, I was enrolled in free schools, except for 1 year when I was home schooled. No we were not Christians, which is what most today associate the home school movement, we were hippies. My Dad was an atheist, and my mother agnostic. The home schooling occurred because there were no good alternative schools available where we were living for that year. I have fond memories of trying to dodge the truant officer (we were certainly ahead of our time)!

The Free Schools you can read about at the link (but it’s wikipedia, so take it with a grain of salt), but to summarize, they were schools with very few rules or expectations. The idea was to give freedom to kids to learn in their own way at their own pace. Though the schools themselves had age ranges, they did not separate the children into grades, give grades, or have traditional classrooms. Teachers all went by their first names (yes, you could say it was a “hippie school”).

I can honestly say there were some major drawbacks to this method of schooling, though some aspects of it worked well for me personally. Being naturally inquisitive, I sought out opportunities to learn. I remember when I was 8, I had a math teacher named Lou Fabrizio. All the students loved him. We all thought he was “super cool” – long hair he wore in a pony tail, and an easy teasing manner that went over well with everyone. One day, he happened to mention Algebra, and I asked him what it was. He explained it to me in such a way that I understood and actually found fascinating. So at the age 8 I had my first exposure to algebraic equations. It was only years later in the public school system that I found out that Algebra was not typically introduced until 7th or 8th grade at least (I don’t know if that’s still true, but it was then).

I also believe the schools were very positive for fostering creativity. I wrote and bound my first book during that period. It was called “The Cat Who Had Too Many Kittens”, and was about a cat that had an astronomically large number of kittens, and all the trouble it caused her. My best friend and I wrote and starred in a musical that we performed for our families. I also wrote poetry, many short stories, and was apprenticed for a time to the improvisational theater group Living Stage. Where we did “miss it” was that we went to the far extreme in the other direction. Believing structure was the enemy, we had almost no structure. For me that worked okay, since I am fairly self-directed, and thrive in that kind of atmosphere, but for other students not so well. Structure was not the enemy. Killing the human spirit and the natural exuberance of the children was.

After that, from 5th to 9th grades I went into the normal public school system. Talk about culture shock! To make matters worse it was a public school system in a rural area, which had been largely untouched by the social movements my family had been so much a part of. I instinctively knew that my past life did not fit into the frame of reference of those around me, and for most of my public school years hid my previous school experience from even my closest friends. Nonetheless, I did well academically. My brother not so well. However, not fitting in with the “brainy” crowd, who all thought I was a little weird, I soon was hanging with “The Outsiders” (S.E. Hinton was a novelist I and a number of my friends read back then, and we all related to “the Outsiders”. We didn’t call ourselves that really, but remembering I find the term and the mindset fits us well).

My mother seeing that I was languishing in the public schools suggested private school, but I didn’t want to go to a school with a bunch of “preppies” (the word at that time was a term of contempt among my crowd). Thank God for the “alternative” that presented itself, which was an alternative school I ended up attending for grades 10-12. This school had taken the best ideas of the free schools and yet added necessary structure. It was far from “preppie” (though we did have one or two token preppies in our student body, but they too were part of our community).

We had classrooms, but they were small, and had round tables at which everyone sat instead of desks in rows. We had grades, but the entire community of the school had daily and weekly interactions with each other across grade levels through school meetings at which everyone, student and teacher alike had a voice. Our classes emphasized traditional subjects of math, English, history, literature, and foreign language, but also gave equal importance to philosophy, art, music, drama and environmental studies. We had no “study halls” instead students all had several “free periods” each day which we could use as we saw fit — hanging out, studying, working in the art studio, playing music, or debating philosophy on the back porch (my personal favorite). And, as in the free schools, all the teachers were known on a first name basis (to this day some teachers I can only remember by their first names: Roger my English teacher, Tom my biology teacher, etc). I honestly believe that school changed my life. Instead of languishing, I thrived, and my heart came to life again.

What does all this have to do with church? Am I saying that we should have “hippie churches”. No, not exactly. Wouldn’t exactly work since the hippie movement is by and large gone. It’s really kind of a parable of church life today. Maybe we can learn lessons from these folks who went before us who were looking for more authentic and organic in models for educating children, in the same way that many today are looking for more authentic models of Christianity and Christian community. Can we learn from their mistakes as well as their successes? The free schools made the mistake of seeing “structure” as the enemy. Today I think sometimes we in the “alternative” Christian community are making the mistake of seeing “institutions” or “programs” as the enemy. In fact, neither is the problem. You may beg to differ, but actually it is possible to experience true community in an institution. I did at my alternative high school (yes, isn’t a high school an “institution”).

We run the risk of thinking the answer lies in finding the right model. We also run the risk of becoming reactionary. The free school movement didn’t keep kids from getting damaged, we just got damaged in different ways from what happened in the public schools (just as we did also in fact thrive in different ways).

In the same way, if we develop new models of church life, new models of Christian community only as a reaction to what we see not working we may find ourselves throwing out necessary components which in our minds we attach to what didn’t work, but may in themselves be neutral, just like the free schools threw out all structure because they saw certain school structures stifled natural childhood creativity and exuberance. History is full of many more examples. Instead we may need to see structures as subservient to function, just as the alternative high school I went to embraced the structures that helped them while throwing off the ones that did not. The catch is we’ve gotta know what we are for, and not just what we are against.

So what are we for? I’m still learning myself, but I believe Hebrews 10 hold as clue. I’ll write about that next time. I’ve rambled enough for now.

In Search of True Christian Community

I am in search of the Church. Not as we know it, but as it was meant to be. For the past twenty plus years, I’ve been involved with many gatherings of people each named church, but for some time have felt an increasing dissatisfaction with what exists of church life.

I am wanting a place where I can be, and let my doing truly flow out of my being. I am wanting a place of free exchange of ideas, and where people dare to think outside the box. I am wanting a place where I have deep spiritual friendships, where we speak into each other’s lives, but do so in love and humility of spirit, each realizing the other is also responsible before God to follow Him in good conscience.

I haven’t found this place. But I’m finding glimmers of it. I’m still searching.