when is a sin not a sin..?

School hols means v. little time to blog, let along think of blog. However you may all be amused to know that Son mentioned in Sundays post for lovely note has now written in indelible biro on his wall I ‘heart’ God (as in I love God – but he drew the heart). So how do I react? I was of course angry at seeing the pen, then melted on seeing what he had written… ( he had also written various cricket references, which as a fan myself I also found hard to discipline…)

Made me think though about what is wrong, or what is a sin. I mean if the sentiment is right, if the heart is in the right place, but the act is wrong, does that still make it wrong? Obviously line must be drawn somewhere, will not start on crusades, holy wars and so on… answers on a postcard please…

traditional vs modern, part 1.

For some reason this doesn’t seem to have appeared on my blog, so I’m posting it again. apologies if you’ve read it already!

hmmm, now how to address this without putting peoples noses out of joint. Well firstly, sorry if I do and hey it’s just my opinion. But lots of things have happened recently, relevant to me, about different types of worship format. So I am going to write about it. I have had lots of conversations with people about this and I think I just need to get a few things straight in my head and get them off my chest. So here follows a few posts on the subject (maybe more if I really get going…). Feel free to ignore, I think this is largely for my own benefit! But I really would welcome any comments…
So… I have attended village churches throughout my life, for most of my 36 years. All fairly traditional, lots of liturgy, hymns, you know the standard kind of thing. However in all that time I never felt like I had any real faith, so my view is a bit clouded to say the least. I feel like I only ever got half the picture and partly this is down to the church. The traditional CofE approach seems to gloss over so much, but particularly Satan and spiritual warfare. Someone recently suggested to me that maybe they were talking about this stuff, but that I just wasn’t open to it, so maybe I didn’t really hear it. Of course this is possible, I mean I talk about my eyes being opened, so why not my ears too? However I still doubt this! So my issue is not with the traditional approach per se (althought it is not for me right now), it is that they don’t give the full picture. You tend to get a nicey-nicey view of Christianity, baby Jesus in the crib, isn’t it lovely, sort of view. (I know this is a sweeping generalisation…) And how can you have a real view of Christianity or faith without having the whole picture?
(Incidentally, I am deliberately not going to mention any names of churches. This is my view and I do not wish to be openly negative about anywhere in particular. Equally I do keep my blog relatively anonymous, although not entirely and a little digging would give any answers that might arise, but I do prefer it that way – not that I am being particularly contraversial but I don’t want to feel I should temper what I write. I do not actively invite people to my blog, if they find it they are totally welcome, but only a couple of people that actually know me read it regularly and one of those is my husband…!)In my opinion parish churches also seem to perpetuate the myth that it’s ok to just go along on a Sunday morning every once in a while and just forget about God for the rest of the week… I mean for 20 years I went to a parish church, not really believing and certainly not living my life for Christ. I look at people from my old church who I once thought were totally committed to their faith and now I wonder, well are they? Not that I am judging them, but it’s just that now I really know what real faith feels like, that it is changing my whole life, then I realise that others who I knew, maybe aren’t living their life completely for Christ.
So then I wonder about the congregations of other parish churches. From my own experience, there are lots of people in parish churches who attend for many reasons other than a committed faith. Maybe out of tradition, or duty, or for their children or a host of other reasons. Again I am not judging these people, I was one for 20 years! So then I think, well if I can attend a parish church for 20 years and really not believe at all, then how could that happen? how could the church let that happen? I am not bitter about it by the way, I know that I needed to go through a lot of rubbish to be in the place where I was ready to hear God eventually, but surely that must say something about what is missing in our churches? For me it is about having the whole picture; its about listening to people who are TOTALLY committed to Christ and actively show that in their every day lives (and I don’t just mean the Vicar)… When people ask us why we are going to our church rather than any other I say, because it is child friendly and in fact more than that – the kids are actively encouraged to be part of the service; it has decent, modern worship music, that actually makes you feel that you are worshipping God; the preaching is totally relevant to todays world; and those that attend are, generally speaking, actively living the Christian life rather than just going along out of habit. I actually WANT to go to my church on a Sunday, I don’t feel that I have to or should go out of some kind of duty. I do not drift off during sermons, I do not use prayer time as an excuse for 40 winks or to plan the weekly shop and neither do I use the post-communion time for a chat with my neighbour. Yes, these are all things I used to do at my old church.
So that makes me wonder, is this about ‘the church’ or my faith? With my new found faith, could I regularly attend a traditional church and feel differently about it. Well of course, the answer is yes I could, but I don’t want to, because my current church is feeding my faith. If I didn’t have regular contact with the kind of people at my new church then I am sure my faith would suffer. I would like to say that of course it wouldn’t, it’s about what’s in my heart. which is also true, but sharing with other believers who really ‘get it’ is so beneficial to my faith that I do not want to do without it. So then, is it about my faith? I now believe so fervently and with such a hunger to know more, that I have never had before. I look at people from my old church who I once thought were totally committed and now I wonder, well are they? Not that I am judging them, but it’s just that now I really know what real faith feels like, that it is changing my whole life, then I realise that others who I knew, maybe aren’t living their life completely for Christ.
I know it must be very difficult for the Parish Priest, he (or she) has to cater for his whole parish. He can’t say, well if you don’t like it, sod off… (ok some might do!). Generally speaking they have to cater for: young people, children, families, OAPS, and so many more, usually all in one service, in most churches the most attended is the mid Sunday morning church – locally it’s 9.30 or 9.45. So how can one possibly appeal to all those people in one service? I have only ever been to 2 churches that do this well, but admittedly probably do alienate a few people along the way. Obviously a plant church doesnt have that need put upon it, they can say to people, come along and see if you like it, if not, that’s fine, it’s not for everybody. But then in this day and age when most of us have access to a car, should the parish church still have to cater for its parish? Most parish churches, except in very rural areas, have at least 3 services on a Sunday, all with the usual traditional liturgy, catering for a very similar audience at each service. SO…. could one of these services be a bit different? to maybe appeal to a wider audience?

I am NOT completely anti the traditional. Approach to worship is a very individual thing, I do realise that. My Dad for example would not in a million years chose to come to our church regularly. BUT there are a lot of people out there who are travelling a long way to go to church on Sunday morning rather than a quick walk or short drive to their parish one, that must say something right?
A friend of mine came ot our church today for the first time and in a email to me tonight she wrote the following:
‘I think it’s an awful pity in a way that the C of E is struggling so much, and yet it would appear to me (based on my very wide sample of one!) that Christianity is most definitely out there, and that modern people do believe – they just don’t want the old fashioned way of doing it. Most vicars would give their right arms for a fraction of the congregation there today. Says something, doesn’t it!’

traditional vs Modern part:II

Part 2:

Q. Are modern/satellite/plant-type churches killing off parish churches?

This is something that my Dad believes with a passion. His view of our church (which, by the way, is officially part of the Church of England and the local diocese, and approved by the Bish etc etc) is that it is drawing people away from the parish churches. My simple answer is, well what does that tell you?

But I wonder, does he have a point? Should that matter? On the one hand I think, no he’s wrong, if the village churches catered a bit more for what people need they would be packed on a Sunday too. I mean the very fact that within 5 miles of us there are 2 large contemporary churches that are packed every Sunday, must show there is a need for that in the area right?

But on the other hand there are hundreds of beautiful old churches, across the world not just the UK, consecrated for the very purpose of worshipping God, with a handful of worshippers under their roofs every Sunday. So should we not be encouraging people to support their parish churches?

This is something I do feel very strongly about. There are churches being closed every week, being deconsecrated and turned into houses and offices and even bars. Some of these have been used for worship for hundreds of years. Is this right? If modern churches are having to hire sports halls and leisure centres for their services, then why not use some of these old churches. Even churches in use are often half empty every Sunday morning, so why do they have to do this? It seems completely backward in a way – crazy that on Easter Sunday at the 8am service in a local village to me, there were 20 people. 20 PEOPLE!! and yet down the road there were 20 people just waiting to set up for their service, only to find they had to run over to the local sports hall for help. so that 300+ people could come and worship. I am a bit of an architecture fan and whilst I understand many old buildings are not ideal for big services, it is possible and to me seems overtly sensible. Why can’t an outside church hire or use an existing church building for a service on a Sunday? or even once a month? Why can’t our church buildings be full every week?

Going back to the original question, in actual fact the congregation of my church is geographically very wide spread so although some people are chosing it over their local parish church, in the case of individual churches I dont think it is making a big dent in any single existing congregation. So then if people are coming from such a wide area, that presumably indicates that none of our local parish churches are offering what the locality needs, whilst the modern ones have to hire sports halls and are packed every weekend. So what does that say?..

Easter Day thoughts…

Q. When is a sports hall not a sports hall?
A. When it’s a church…

A slight techinical hitch this morning meant that our church which usually meets in a school hall, couldn’t set up as usual (ie:the caretaker didn’t arrive to unlock…) Thankfully the sports centre over the road had a free hall (or half a hall – the other half had badminton games going on…) and let us use their hall. The team this morning was amazing – they set up what usually takes nearly 2 hours, in 1, with no hitches, everyone pitched in and no one got lost on the way over!
I can imagine that my first thought on finding the gates locked on Easter Sunday, probably THE most important Sunday of the year, with no way of getting in (and all the equipment being locked in a container on site…) would have been one of mild panic. Actually wild panic might be more like it… It just goes to show:

For nothing is impossible with God. Luke 1:37

And actually maybe there was a reason for it. I mean how many more people would have heard the Good News this morning than usual? Those maybe expecting to go for a quiet swim or a round of squash would have been hard pushed not to hear it, where we were. With the band louder than usual as the drum den was locked in the container, and very echoey accoustics the word surely travelled throughout the building. In fact those playing badminton next door were only separated by a net so they got the full message (and if they were chosing to play badminton on Easter Sunday morning, then they probably needed to hear it…)

My Dad came to our church for the first time today. He usually goes to his parish, very traditional, church. He has never been to our church before, but is rather doubtful about it as he feels it is taking people away from the parish churches, (more on that tomorrow I think…). However the one thing he did approve of was the rousing ‘Jesus is Risen, He is risen indeed, Allelulia’ which our congregation shouted out with undisguised joy, a far cry from the usual feintly murmured response at his church. At least he found one positive thing to say about it….

I was just thinking how I should finish off todays blog amd my 6 year old has just handed me a picture he has drawn, which says I love are (sic) God. and I love you Mum (except he drew hearts for the love bits). Children have such a simple take on things. Yesterday we talked about what Easter was all about and he has all the info, knows all the days, what happened and he just accepts it, just like that. I haven’t told him he should love our God, he just does and he doesn’t mind telling people. If only life were so simple for all of us…

I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. Luke 18:17

Good Friday Thoughts

So today is Good Friday, the first Good Friday in my life where I have actually truly believed. In previous years I have had no desire to go to the 3 hour long service at our local church, frankly I could have thought of nothing worse. So this year the very fact that our new church was encouraging people to go out and bless their community seemed a great opportunity to do something. We had open house. Stats for the day: 60something people, 150ish cuppas, 7 pints of milk, 150 hot cross buns, 1 vat of soup, 36 boiled eggs, 1 broken picture and a lot of chocolate and daffodills. A lovely day had by all. Great fellowship, fun for the kids, just lovely. Have looked forward to it for ages.
However, now at the end of the day, when the kids are off to bed and we are tidy, washed up and ordering a takeaway, I feel rather like I have missed out. Perhaps the 3 hours of meditation and contemplation would have been better. I’m not sure I have even spared more than 2 minutes in prayer or thinking on what Jesus did for us on this day all those years ago. I know it shouldn’t just be about the day, I mean we should remember it always but I kind of feel like I have let him down. and myself.

We’re off to watch ‘The Passion’ (Mel Gibsons version) over dinner, so perhaps that will bring it home. Not sure that is the answer either, but am no so exhausted from the days adventures that I don’t now have the energy to contemplate too much…

The bottom line is that I never have enough time for prayer and quiet contemplation, whatever day it is, so perhaps instead of beating myself up I should do something about that…

Jesus’ appearance

At work this morning, and I frankly have neither the energy nor inclination to do any, so I have been reading the papers, online, love it! Haven’t read a paper for a while and I was interested to see on Maundy Thursday how much religious input there would be in the press. Well, not much is the answer to that… But what I did find was interesting and a bit disturbing in places. Why is that some people (and quite often its non-believers) have an obsession with what Jesus actually looked like? I mean really, does it matter? Ok so we all have the traditional image of a young bearded man and then there are others who want to push the boundaires and suggest variations, usually based on ‘scientific’ or ‘historical’ fact that are way off this traditional image. I mean really, isn’t all about the person he was? isn’t that what he preached? It’s about the person, the heart underneath – he didn’t care if people were prostitiutes or lepers, he would speak to them, engage with them, heal them, it wasn’t about what they looked like. So what is this obsession with how HE looked? Is it a science thing? trying to prove what he looked like? presumably so they can then disprove it also…?

I start on this because there’s a bit in the press about the Turin Shroud, I guess because it is about to go on display again. There is, again, such obsession over whether it is real (and I will not go into that here..). Some American scientists (and I would like to say this is from yesterdays paper so it’s not an April Fool) claim they have produced a 3D image of Christ, using the shroud as their reference point. see here:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/7538773/Is-this-the-real-face-of-Jesus.html

Ok so in science terms this is quite a feat: using a 2D image they have created a 3D one, and I am not disputing that this is possible, but why? why spend all this time and presumably money, on an image that may not be Christ at all, just some other poor soul who was crucified (or maybe not even that, although I believe current thinking has ‘proved’ that it is a shroud of someone who has been crucified).
More here:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/italy/7530444/Turin-Shroud-to-be-exhibited-for-first-time-in-a-decade.html

And of course then there are the comments too, that follow all online articles. Those who so ardently have to prove their point, and usually do so by alienating themselves to the rest of the readership. For example:

‘Duh! cynical attempt to restore some credibility for the church by using a known (but famous) fake to stir the gullible masses. The surprising thing is the masses still ARE so gullible’

and:
‘Is there anybody in the world more gullible than a religious person? They’ll believe anything. ‘

Frankly I find this offensive (although not surprising). I am a well-eduated woman, who has more than an ounce of intelligence. I will not ‘believe anything’, quite the opposite in fact. If I want to know about a subject I look into it, research it, and only form an opinion when I know all there is to know. Faith is not about being gullible, on the contrary it is about believing ‘The ultimate Truth’. Surely it’s far more gullible to believe the lies of the enemy, espceially when they aren’t questioning them…? I liked this comment though:

‘Wow, I’m amazed at the hatefulness and vulgarity spewed in these comments… It seems that if a fake image of Jesus can get under people’s skin, it’s pretty indicative of the spiritual battle going on in their hearts. ‘

So, then, does it matter what He looked like? It certainly seems to bother the unbelievers….