A birthday update (#12)

It’s my birthday week, and I thought I’d give a rundown of where the project is overall.

So you know my project takes me to various churches in the Albany area. In that same vein I had been thinking of learning a bit more about a group called the Bruderhof. They are a faith based group in the Anabaptist tradition who live together in various communities across the US and elsewhere. The biggest interesting thing about them is that they share money- they have a “common purse”. They have a website which explains some about their beliefs and lifestyle, but the very best way to learn more about them, their faith, and why they do what they do, is through a visit. That’s what I did. And it was a pretty nice way to spend a birthday. So check that off the list.

My summer is getting all packed with work and on-call and weddings and baptisms and vow renewals. I would like to try to post at the rate of once per week or more. Sometimes it will be twice in two weeks. At this time I have just one more scheduled visit to St Stephen’s for a talk. After that I can get in some more new churches. I am looking forward to a mass at St Michael’s. If you remember this was my first miss and should have been church #2. It pays to persevere I guess, since I finally just decided to show up on a Sunday when I saw some cars there. They start at 10am, I asked someone in the parking lot. I have heard their mass is in Latin so I’m excited to experience that at least once. And I’ll be getting to few new denominations including Presbyterian and Greek Orthodox.

Thoughts on Gnostics, martyrdom, etc

So, a friend of mine loaned me a book called The Gnostic Gospels. The gnostic gospels are a set of writings about Jesus and early Christianity, but they were not placed in the canon of the new testament. For one reason or another it was decided they did not jive with Christian belief and should not be considered true gospels. This type of writing is called gnostic from the Greek word gnosis, meaning knowledge, because many of them deal with obtaining inner knowledge or enlightenment.

One of the chapters in this book deals with the death of Jesus and what it signified for early Christians who themselves suffered torture and death. Back in the day, you could be executed for admitting you were a Christian. Mostly this was about worshipping the wrong God, but also about rumors that Christians drank human blood, did magic, and committed sexual atrocities- same as the other weirdo fringe groups. Well anyway, it was pretty darn dangerous to be a Christian and talk about it. The early version of the church we know today, put forth writings to encourage Christians. They said being killed for confessing Christ was actually a good thing because it was a way of becoming pure and attaining God. It mirrored the very death of Jesus. Gnostics felt a bit differently. They saw Jesus’ death as split between the suffering of his body and the triumph of his spirit. Gnostic writing talks about confessing Christ through one’s actions. Confession aloud is of lesser importance because it is only words and therefore shallow.

So Christians had the issue of persecution and torture, and they were split into disagreeing factions on how best to address this. Gnostics never came right out and said to lie. But they did seem to favor an approach that let them keep quiet and avoid death when possible. The predecessor group to the modern church said that being martyred was good, even glorious and led the way to God. And martyrdom was becoming a way to gain more believers to the church, as many wondered what these Christians had that let them face death willingly.

It kinda struck me that this disagreement is a bit like some of the early ideas surrounding the civil rights movement and work towards black equality/advancement. There was a school of thought following Booker T Washington, advocating that blacks show through actions that they are intelligent and model citizens. Confrontation was to be avoided when possible. On the other hand, W E B Dubois led a more direct approach which involved being vocal- the type of thing likely to incite violence.

The reasons for Christians to speak out and incur violence were different than the aims of the civil rights movement though. The Gnostic Gospels points out that Christians were not after recognition to drive acceptance. They were after a closeness to God which probably did drive both recognition and eventual acceptance of Christians.

All of this makes me wonder about my own world. I have no point of reference for expecting violence or death for being myself. If I was in a different time or place and had a reason to fear torture, what would I do? Would it be more important to keep quiet and live, passing on my ideas as secrets? Or should I speak out who I am and take the consequences? I don’t think I will ever have to decide. But I do wonder.

Future Project Ideas

So this week I seem to have some kind of low grade infection; I’m insanely tired and have low appetite. Consequently, my day off yesterday was just me vegging in front of the TV trying to be interested in food. I wound up seeing a series of programs on NatGeo (hip new name for National Geographic) which were about religion. Specifically about isolationist type groups like the Amish and Hasidic Jews. We have no Amish near us, but we have a group called the Bruderhof. I hear they allow visitors sometimes and I’d like to visit them for my project. At some point in the future it would also be good to get an Amish view and later, after an extensive spectrum of Christianity, I want to check out Albany’s variety of Judaism.
For this week’s post, I’ve done another St Stephen’s visit. It will be coming as soon as I can organize my notes and copy them into blog form.

Next stop

This weekend I will be out of town doing something possibly blogworthy. Maybe I will post about it next week. Haven’t decided yet what my next stop after that will be. These last couple churches have several varieties of service and it’s derailing my plan a bit because now I’m not sure whether to revisit. Also, the 39 series is still really pulling me in and I wonder if I should take a Sunday or two and just do the 39 and go home after. It might be a nice break to do that. Especially if I have to work the Sunday afternoon. Well, I’ll let you know.

Next stop

This weekend I will be out of town doing something possibly blogworthy. Maybe I will post about it next week. Haven’t decided yet what my next stop after that will be. These last couple churches have several varieties of service and it’s derailing my plan a bit because now I’m not sure whether to revisit. Also, the 39 series is still really pulling me in and I wonder if I should take a Sunday or two and just do the 39 and go home after. It might be a nice break to do that. Especially if I have to work the Sunday afternoon. Well, I’ll let you know.

Overdue- a church tale

I guess it’s about time I got into one of my experiences with leaving a church. I think about it a lot. Especially when visiting churches and observing how a church involves and interacts with those coming in the door. It is a church I used to belong to and then made the hard decision to leave. I’m not revealing the name because it doesn’t really matter- it could really be anywhere. I will call it OldChurch.

OldChurch seemed like a really great place to be. In many ways it was. We had a variety of members with different views of how to live their Christianity. Each week at service we all greeted each other during a very vigorous passing of the peace in which we left our seats and wandered about for few minutes. It made me feel close to everyone to be able to smile and talk to them about their lives and families. OldChurch had some pretty good ministries for the needy and shared the building with other groups that did good works during the week. I volunteered for a number of projects at OldChurch and liked the fellowship dinners we held afterwards. I was often asked to help out with projects once it became clear I liked doing so. And things went well.

Now I tend to get into depressions periodically; sometimes they are mild and sometimes worse. I deal with that in a variety of ways and at a variety of speeds, but so far I’ve always come out on the other side. Well it was getting to that again and I was feeling blue. I was asked to participate in an event as one of the leaders. I said no. This was met with total confusion. Tracey said no? But she always says yes. Well no was my answer and they weren’t going to get a different one by acting surprised. But it didn’t end there. I was asked to help with several other projects, each of which I declined. More confusion followed. It was somehow incomprehensible that I refuse. It slowly became clear that these were seen as duties I was shirking. I was there to serve and it was not a choice. It was a requirement. That’s saying nothing of the fact that I was going through something kinda heavy at the time. It began to be a drag to show up on Sunday. It made me sad. Finally I realized it was more painful to attend church than stay home. So I left.

Many times I wondered how this could happen. I loved these people and this place. All the same OldChurch drove me away. I do not blame any individual member. I don’t think it was anyone’s fault. Rather I think it was a damaging mentality that managed to pervade a lot of what we did as a church group. Take for instance the treatment of visitors vs members: we were really big into greeting visitors warmly. It was one of the things that first drew me to OldChurch. But more energy was focused on greeting newcomers than becoming close to current members. No one saw that I was having a problem because there was no one I was really close to. Giving hugs and asking after one’s family is nice, but no one really knew me beyond that. So I felt alone and no one really understood or even tried. The second problem was the high focus on church participation. It should never have felt like volunteering was an obligation. And I don’t think that was the intent. But it happened. Words were used like ‘spiritual gifts’ and ‘be more’. There was a campaign to do more as a church. At the same time OldChurch was experiencing low membership and money problems. I think the idea was to become so active and vibrant that people would be drawn to OldChurch and fill the seats- thus solving attendance and money issues. Besides not working, this plan created undue pressure to ‘volunteer’. And this pressure was not something I imagined. One of my last interactions with OldChurch was a fundraiser, the paperwork for which I was handed and told “There’s no one else to do this.” As I understand it the woman who gave me the task was herself handed the paperwork and told, “Don’t worry, Tracey will do it.” So, while I felt very attached to OldChurch, I had to admit there were serious problems and it was time to leave.

One of the main things I take from this experience (besides sadness) is an aversion to false closeness. I wonder if that comes with territory though. Churches are an entity unlike most others in our world. They aren’t exactly a business, although they do require money. They aren’t exactly a set of friends because they don’t always have common interests or know everyone in the group. They aren’t exactly a club because they deal with matters of the importance of life and what we are here for. And they aren’t a governing body because they really can’t enforce the rules they preach. So what in hecks are they? They are something unique. And that means churches cannot expect to be a business or a club, or a government or a set of friends. I think churches need realistic expectations about what they are. You should not expect to be close to everyone in your church. You should expect friendliness from everyone and the possibility of close friendship with a few. I think there is another question to be answered here as well: should we serve the church or should the church serve us? Is the church as an entity mainly a place where people find things they seek, or where people go to serve others? Is there a way to do both effectively? I guess the answer could go either way depending on the church. With OldChurch it was a problem with too much serving others and not enough taking care of members internally. Other churches may have the opposite problem. Ultimately I think it is about balance. And again I am back to the refrain “that’s why I’m doing this project”- to see how possible such a balance is and if there are churches doing it right or wrong.

A Fun Day- Thoughts 1/28/12

Just an update- I figured I should do something extra what with the week off from the project. Several churches on the list I am still compiling are mysterious to me. They seem to have no website and I can’t confirm if they are active or what time service might be. I did a couple of drive-bys to check for signage. First I stopped at the an LDS (Latter Day Saints) place on Madison avenue. I met some Mormons. I asked about what time they meet on Sunday and do they meet on Sundays? I’m still iffy about terminology for some of the denominations. I mean, you don’t want to call a service a mass, or a temple a chapel, right? They gave me a card and encouraged me to learn about LDS and come on Sunday. They seemed a bit perplexed by what I wanted. I’m thinking I may run into a lot of assumptions about who I am, perhaps assuming I am ‘lost’ ‘confused’ or already one of the group. If I don’t really fit into those categories I am possibly something of a mystery.

The second drive-by was a place that looked deserted and had no sign except the name “Emmanuel Christian Center”. After getting home and googling it again, I found a website explaining that it is a retreat center which can be rented for events. So not actually a church. I’m beginning to see the yellow pages as rife with errors. For instance: they refer to the LDS albany address as the “Church of Jesus Chris”. Yeah. Ok.

first miss, St Michael’s Chapel

My first miss of the year is called St Michael’s Chapel. I was unable to discover whether they have Mass there or not, there was not a webpage which was clearly up-to-date. No times were listed on the door or anywhere near the Chapel. I was rather interested because some of my sources make it sound like Mass is done in Latin. So for the moment this one is a miss. If anyone knows for sure what the story is, I’d appreciate the info.