Sunday, May 29, 2022
Sunday, May 22, 2022
Some years ago I wrote a series of posts on other churches I was visiting -- it was a blend of curiosity, and fellowship / ecumenism, and a quest for my next home-congregation that (even then) I understood was becoming necessary. I had not planned on continuing that series -- until last weekend when I was traveling. At a graduation party for my son and some of his friends, I heard a couple of the parents discussing church services in the morning. I mentioned I was interested in joining -- why should I miss Sunday celebration and worship merely because I was in a different city? After all the arrangements had been made, they mentioned: it was a Christian Scientist service. I knew nothing directly about them except by reputation, and had no idea if their reputation was fair. And so I followed through with the plans to see what there was to see.
The worship space
The worship space was pews and piano and organ, and a space for the readers. It gave an impression that was pleasant but unremarkable.
The readings were extensive and substituted for the sermon, lasting around the same amount of time as a typical sermon. There was an introduction that made it seem that extensive readings were the norm, an intentional practice to keep doctrinal purity as they saw it, that the readings / sermon at each congregation should be distributed from a central location, with each location reading the same readings as the sermon. The majority of the readings were taken from a denomination-specific book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by their founder Mary Baker Eddy. In format, the readings were broken into a number of sections: each section began with a few short Biblical verses or portions of verses and continued with longer quotations from Science and Health which interpreted and expanded on various topics. For my part, I found the readings from the Bible to be so short as to lack their own context, and the readings from Science and Health to be difficult to reconcile with Scripture.
The leadership was mostly a pair of readers -- one man and one woman -- and most of the service consisted of listening to them read, alternately.
It was a small congregation -- the smallest I have ever joined for the main weekly worship service. I wasn't sure how much was due to being in a smaller city, or a smaller denomination. I could easily count on my fingers the number of people under thirty. (Those over thirty probably outnumbered them two- or three-to-one -- to give an idea of the modest size of the congregation.) The people were friendly without being pushy, and did a great job of welcoming and including me without crowding me.
The Christian Scientist particulars
The Christian Scientist particulars do seem very particular. While they did not hand me a theology book, there were consistent ways of wording things that made me wonder if we had compatible views on the identity of Jesus, or the goodness of creation, or even the reality of creation. There was a recurring undercurrent suggesting the physical is illusory, and a clearly recurring theme that if God is spirit, and the image of God is spirit, then man is truly spirit. At several points I had to shush the little voice in my head saying, "Wow, they're Gnostics!"
The worship space, reprise
After noticing the direction in which many readings slanted during the service, I took a second look around the worship space and did not find a baptismal font, or communion rail, or altar.
If I were to speak about God to someone from the Church of Christ, I might start with the goodness of creation, that we taste and see that the Lord is good, and that the created world declares the glory of God. They seem to understand the love of God -- that God is good. That might be common ground on which to build.
Sunday, May 15, 2022
Sunday, May 08, 2022
At Forward Progress, Michael Kelly's recent post on parenting is on my mind as today is Mother's Day in the U.S. He brings up the "dirty little secret of parenting," as he calls it: that we don't actually know what we're doing. He makes some fine points along the way. My children are now grown, and what I say comes with the benefit of hindsight, and knowledge that I need grace for a job that was flawed.
Here is what I see of our job as parents:
- Treasure our children
- Nurture our children
- Edify our children
- Guide our children
- Pass on faith, hope, and love
There will always be room for more to say because there are so many details of how to live that, and so many decisions every day about what is the best way forward. There will always be room to grow in understanding like there is always room to grow in love. But as in life, so in parenting: the greatest of these is love.
Sunday, May 01, 2022
Jesus' beatitudes have been translated into our language long since: they are not in a foreign language to ours, so much as a foreign spirit to the times in which we live. "Blessed", blessing, a trust in benevolence of anyone or anything, seems foreign to us. The beatitudes tell us about God's values: Purity, humility, righteousness, peace, mercy -- these are not among the values of our times. The beatitudes are spiritually beautiful -- in an age which has deadened tastes for spirituality and for beauty. Reading them washes our minds, washes our spirits, re-baptizes us with the Spirit of God.
The most important battle of our day is spiritual: regardless of which person comes out on top of any particular conflict, that person will not last long. It is "the way of all flesh": rulers come and go. But will hatred win, or love? Will honesty, or falsehood? Will debauchery win, or purity? So the beatitudes do not need to be translated into our culture by a linguist, they need to be transposed into our culture by souls who live them in faith. "Faith" is another word that is out of phase with our culture; only when we live in faith can our culture be reacquainted with faith.