Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Jesus says to Judas in Gospel of Judas 57, "Lift up your eyes and look at the cloud and the light within it and the stars surrounding it. The star that leads the way is your star." from THE GOSPEL OF JUDAS, edited by Rodolphe Kasser, Marvin Meyer, and Gregor Wurst, with additional commentary by Bart D. Ehrman (p. 169)
Monday, January 10, 2011
So why would any church ever need as its motto, “Your search for a friendly church ends here”? I first noticed this on a sign while in Texas last September. On a Sunday drive to visit an historic fort an hour’s drive from my Texas home, I saw the sign in rural Limestone County. I nodded my head and naively thought that someone at a country Baptist church in the Bible belt had coined something that deserved pause. As it turns out, a cursory look at the hits on Google reveal common use of the motto, especially among southern Baptist churches.
Having spent virtually all of my adult life in the Episcopal Church, whose membership has a reputation for being restrained—at least—I have become accustomed to not acknowledging the person next to me, except during the exchange of the Peace. I have become accustomed to routinely passing others, nodding or greeting, but without ever bothering to introduce myself or receiving such an invitation from the other. The textbook example of this describes my experience of attending service at a moderate-sized church in Santa Fe New Mexico as a newcomer for many weeks and then one day having the person who had sat across from me for all those weeks welcome me, as if I had just walked in the door—to which I replied, “I’ve been here since August” and her response was a puzzled look. In fairness to the situation, I hadn’t extended my hand to her either during all those weeks.
Anyone who has spent much time in church can easily conclude the same thing—that churches are essentially social places, and it’s quite easy to go unacknowledged. Most American churches today seem to have built into their routine a time for people to greet their neighbor during the service. That said, it is likely that this weekly ritual is the extent of people having an exchange with each other, unless they either already know one another or some external event precipitates such knowledge. This is my experience. The habitual invitation to the coffee hour is just as likely to leave a newcomer to his own devices, while he watches those who know one another cluster together. The minister of the small church I have attended for the last several months issues this invitation each week. She also invites newcomers to stand so that they can receive a small gift and the applause of everyone else. And she adds, “we promise not to follow you home.”
For all of the sojourners who are not particularly outgoing, I suppose the motto, “your search for a friendly church ends here”, just might ring true. In a spiritual tradition where we hear and read and are invited to wipe away the obvious divisions that separate us one from another, where love and loving are at the center of what we claim to witness, the irony is not lost on me. By habit, and maybe by nature, I am an observer. The decades-long experience of Episcopal worship taught me to find comfort in sitting quietly in my pew before the beginning of worship, while at the same time giving me a reason not to engage my neighbor—either in the sanctuary or in the parish hall. My experience beyond the reserve of the most significant church experience I’ve known on this journey hasn’t really changed anything for me. Churches are not particularly friendly places. At least, that’s my experience. That’s what I’ve witnessed. Not having attended one of those churches claiming to be the end of the search for a friendly church, I’m wondering why any church needs to make that claim to begin with.
The Search Ends Here—Albuquerque, New Mexico (January 10, 2011)
R. Harold Hollis
Monday, January 3, 2011
"And I wonder when we are ever gonna change it
Living under the fear till nothing else remains
Looking for something we can rely on
There's got to be something better out there
Love and compassion, their day is coming
All else are castles built in the air"
from "We Don't Need Another Hero" by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle