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Don’t Go To Church by Rev. Matt Bridges

*Part 1 of 4 in a new blog series by Matt Bridges

Don’t Go To Church!

Consider the following phrases

-Go to church.
-Going to church.
-Went to church.
-Don’t go to that church. They’re [boring, too churchy, too hipster, too contemporary, too      traditional……].
-Where do you go to church?
-We go here.
-I used to go to that church, but they just weren’t feeding me anymore.
-Parents go to “Big Church” and children go to “Children’s Church.”
-I have to go to church later.
-Be sure to invite someone to church.
-Wow, church was awesome today.
-Wow, church was bad today.
-Meh, church is boring and that’s why I don’t go.
-Oh man, you got churched!
-I can have church anywhere and at any time, why do I have to go there?
-I have church by myself in nature.
-“I’m spiritual but not religious, and so that’s why I don’t go to church.”
-“I don’t fit in at that church.”
-Oh, come to my church, you’ll fit in great there.
-Worship at the church of your choice.
-I make this place my church.

 

 

 

 

“The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people.” If you “go to church” and sing this song and believe the words, then you are in the midst of an ironic situation. You are embracing that the church is not a building but a people, yet you “go” to church. What has happened in this situation is that you have substituted one meaning for another.

It’s often easier to say “I’m going to church” because we all seem to know what that means. These kinds of phrases are comfortable to say. They’re quick and easy and it’s easier to assume people know what you are referring to. But in the mixing of these meanings for the same term, we have come to where we have lost the original and basic meaning in how we talk about church—if not lost, at least favored one meaning over another by how we use the term. We make basic assumptions of people when we use that word and our response if questioned might be “well, of course we know the difference.” Also, in the uses of this word “church,” assumptions are imposed upon us too. Just as we create and use definitions through experience and impose those definitions on others, the same thing happens to us. With a word like “church,” the definitions and assumptions imposed can really make a difference.

Can’t we just keep expanding our definition and understanding of this word to incorporate new meanings to this word? I mean, aren’t we still using a good word to reach out to people to know God? Well, yes and no. I don’t look at using this word “church” in a way to show “good” versus “bad.” It’s definitely not that simple. I also don’t think the word is static and should be above change. I want to look rather at the word itself and ponder some of the potential consequences—healthy and unhealthy—of expanding a definition and usage of a word past its original meaning. Can the word “church” be used in a lot of different ways? Yes. Should it? Perhaps. But at what cost to the church? The cost is important when we think of how believers might identify themselves as followers of Christ and part of the church. Let’s explore the word by itself and how it came to be. And in exploring this word, maybe we can see healthy and unhealthy implications and reclaim what perhaps has been lost in living our faith day to day.

*Stay Tuned for

Part 2  Nov 8 “Breaking Down The Word: What’s the Big Deal?

Part 3 Nov 15 “Okay, So What?”

Part 4 Nov 22 “So What Do We Do?”

 


final-bridges2Matt Bridges is an ordained elder in the United Methodist church and currently serves in New Mexico as the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Lovington. Matt has served in ministry in one form or another for the last seventeen years. In particular, he has a passion for music ministry and other types of worship ministry. In all of the things he’s learned in ministry, if he were to write a book on worship right now it would most certainly be titled 1001 Times (and counting)  I said “Well, I’ll Never Do It That Way Again” in Worship. He is joined in ministry by his wife, Corinne, and daughter Emilie. And they all love being the church together.

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Spiritual Direction by Rev. Peter White

When I was a kid, my brother and I played baseball everyday in our backyard—aluminum bat with a tennis ball, so the home runs would fly. The backyard was tiered with three levels, which made a pretty novel field.

Most days out, we imagined ourselves as our favorite teams. He was the San Francisco Giants of Will Clark, Kevin Mitchell, and Matt Williams. I was the Kansas City Royals of George Brett, Bo Jackson, and, my favorite player, Kevin Seitzer.

And one of the best parts was mimicking the batting stances of our hitters. Seitzer would angle his knees in together, hold his hands in close to his face. And then I’d slap a double over our first wall.

Baseball is a game of rhythms. Be patient and pay attention. Watch a batter. He doesn’t just stroll into the batter’s box and swing. Everything’s timing. Everything’s ritual. Redo the velcro on the batting gloves. Tap the dirt off the cleats with the end of the bat. A practice swing or two. Digging in with the back foot. A slight bounce with the knees.

Everything set.

Pause.

And then there’s the pitcher. Every pitcher has their own unique windup. Feet on the rubber. Bring the ball to the glove. Stare in for catcher’s sign.

Everything set.

Pause.

It has a way of wiping the slate clean. If you missed the spot on your pitch, or swung at a pitch out of the strike zone, or the ump made a bad call, you start the calming routine again to reboot. It puts the past in the past so the focus is one this one singular present moment.

Eugene Peterson writes in his book The Contemplative Pastor:
In Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, there is a turbulent scene in which a whaleboat scuds across a frothing ocean in pursuit of the great, white whale, Moby Dick. The sailors are laboring fiercely, every muscle taut, all attention and energy concentrated on the task. The cosmic conflict between good and evil joined; chaotic sea and demonic sea monster versus the morally outraged man, Captain Ahab. In this boat, however, there is one man who does nothing. He doesn’t hold an oar; he doesn’t perspire; he doesn’t shout. He is languid in the crash and the cursing. This man is the harpooner, quiet and poised, waiting. And then this sentence: “To insure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooners of this world must start to their feet out of idleness, and not out of toil.”

Feet out of idleness. Such a great image. I wonder if hitters and pitchers think of it that way. How do you go about your life in the world coming from a place like that?

The spiritual life is a little bit like that.

There’s a story about Jesus where he gets into a boat on the lake and tells his disciples to go to the other side. Then he lies down and takes a nap. Seriously. Before long a storm surprises them all. The disciples are freaking out. Jesus is snoring. They wake him up. He tells the storm to stop it. And it stops.

Now, the text doesn’t say this, but I imagine Jesus groggily fluffs his pillow, curls back up, and immediately goes back to sleep. I’ve often heard sermons from this story with this lesson, since we can be like Jesus, we can tell the storms of life to settle down. But I wonder if that misses a bigger point. I wonder if the lesson of the story is that we can sleep during storms.

Jesus with feet out of idleness.

How do we do that?

Practicing a variety of spiritual disciples can contribute. One way is regular meetings with a spiritual director. A spiritual director listens with you as you listen to God. Meeting with a spiritual director often looks like a one-on-one monthly checkup to reflect on what God is up to in your life.

A good spiritual director asks lots of questions. How are you experiencing God? What is God speaking to you? How are you cooperating with God? What does prayer look like for you? What does Sabbath look like? What does your spiritual life actually look like compared to what you wish it looked like? Is that idealized version even a healthy and realistic vision of the spiritual life?

Personally, I meet with my spiritual director twice a month. I know it’s a safe, confidential place to vent my frustrations, celebrate my victories, and express my doubts. I know for that hour, I’m paid attention to and I’m listened to. Sometimes what my director reflects back to me stings a little bit, but I know it’s true. And it’s not unusual for my director to tell me, “Everything’s going to be okay. You’re normal.”

It’s almost like finding that settled place to set my spiritual feet. It’s almost like mimicking the batting stance of Jesus. It’s where I’m teaching my feet some idleness.

If you’d like to find a spiritual director in your area, visit Spiritual Directors International (http://www.sdiworld.org/find-a-spiritual-director).


peter-whitePeter is married to Jackie. They have two toddlers and reside in Tulsa, OK. He’s a spiritual director and ordained deacon in the Oklahoma conference of the United Methodist Church.

He lived in Seattle during the Mariners’ historic 2001 season of 116 wins. He’s still waiting for them to win the American League pennant. He writes at The Sabbath Life, where you can subscribe to his newsletter, and he can be followed on Twitter @thatpeterwhite.

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Weakness into Perfection by Mikel Bechtold

Weakness.  It seems like “weakness” has become a dirty word.  I don’t know, maybe it’s always been that way, maybe it’s human nature to not allow anyone to see that we have weaknesses, that we are not perfect.

Perfection.  What is perfection?  As a Christian I have been taught that we must always strive for perfection, to live our lives in a way that is “Christ like.”  If we are to live as Christ lived, then we must work towards perfection, for Christ was perfection embodied.  But guys, Christ showed weakness.  He doubted, he struggled, he had moments of anger and deep sorrow.  He didn’t hide these moments of weakness from the world, from his closest friends, they are instead, well documented, and guess what? He’s still perfect.

Why then, do we attempt to hide our weaknesses from the world?  Why do we try to hide our weaknesses from ourselves?  Only when we truly admit to ourselves that we are not perfect, that we struggle, that we need help, that we aren’t always who we know we should be, can we really grow, grow towards true perfection.

It’s easy to put on a strong face for a couple of hours, those moments we need to be the super version of ourselves.  It’s easy to sit behind a computer and write, hitting that delete button when that version of ourselves that we don’t want others to see makes an appearance.  It’s easy to hide ourselves away when we are feeling weak so that no one has to see that part of us.  It’s easy, but is it right?

Maybe I’m in the minority but I long for transparent and authentic relationships.  I need to be around people who have weaknesses and who we can journey together, through the valleys and the mountaintops.  I need people in my life who understand weakness and who are willing to share those moments with me so that I can overcome my own.  Who doesn’t need people like that?

Christ is and has always been transparent and authentic.  He also knows our weaknesses and desires to walk beside us as we struggle.  If we aren’t being honest with ourselves as to where and when we need help, are we allowing God to work through us and heal us at the same time?

Love yourself, warts and all.  Don’t hide away when your soul is crying out for help, crying out in despair.  Don’t keep that part of yourself from everyone else.  Who knows, God could use those moments of yourself, those moments you hate and hide away, those pieces of you that seem weak, to change another’s life.

God is amazing.  His people are amazing.  We are capable of so much, but only if we are honest with who we are.  Only in that honesty can our true potential be realized.

I heard a quote recently and I’ll try to get it right here: “Who we are is God’s gift to us.  Who we become is our gift to God.”

Who are you going to become?  And how are you going to get there?


Mikel is the mom of thr13087918_10154164251769938_6289861413863975931_nee beautiful children and wife to our very own Bearded Theologian and aspiring bench warmer for the Colorado Rockies.  In her spare time she fights crime a seeks justice under the mantle of Wonder Woman.  She loves to spend time hiking with her family, reading, coffee, and of course Texas Rangers baseball…  Her passion is creating space for people to gather, right where they are in life, too be raw and real with one another and with Jesus.

 

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Trump Tapes by Leia Williams

I am sure you were as stunned as I was when you finally popped open your computer this weekend after prying yourself away from the comfort of your cozy bed. Instead of seeing another ad for a pumpkin spiced something or other, headlines about what Trump said 11 years ago filled your screen. That’s right, he said another icky thing about women and it was just splashed all over every cotton-pickin social media site known to man.

Lovely. Truly lovely.

Hearing it and reading it made me angry, like red, hot angry. My face turned all the shades of red visible to the human eye, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why it made me so angry.

Oh wait, yes I could.

I know why it made me angry, and I know why it made thousands of other women angry, too. It made me angry, because a young man did the very same thing to me when I was 14 that Trump was bragging about in this tape fiasco. He, too, thought he had every right to put his hands on me, not because he was a celebrity though. No, silly Trump. Men don’t need such a luxury to force themselves on you. They only need to believe two things. (1) They can do whatever they want to women or girls. (2) Nothing is going to happen to them, if they choose to put their hands on women or girls without consent. But here is the real rub and it doesn’t have anything to do with Trump really

My people were on his side.

Conservative, evangelical Christians, particularly men, were giving him a pass, because this was just “locker room” talk after all. It wasn’t a big deal. They could not condone his language, heavens no, but most of them were still able to shrug it off. “What about forgiveness?” they said. “What would people hear you say, if you were taped like a celebrity?” they demanded. Many of these same men were also antagonistic towards women who could not let it go. Then a despicable meme started circulating that said, “If American women are outraged by Trump’s naughty words, then who the (fill in any foul-mouthed word you like) bought 80 million copies of 50 Shades of Grey?

My people were circulating this as well.

Dear brothers in Christ, many of the women who cannot look past these words cannot do so because they are not just words to us. They are memories. They are memories we never wanted; memories we can’t return. They live with us every day. When you dismiss this as merely a “boys will be boys” moment that is inconsequential, you dismiss the women around you with these experiences. You invalidate what has happened to us without our consent as if these travesties are to be expected and we should just embrace them as normal. When you share memes like the one floating among my Facebook friends, you imply we like being sexually assaulted, because a popular novel falsely suggested rape and domestic violence are synonymous with love.

 

Brothers, we are equal, image bearers of God with you. We are co-heirs of the Kingdom, beloved children of God just like you. This has nothing to do with your vote or your party. The message you are sending when you defend or sweep hellacious comments like these under the rug is that sexual assault is not a concern. Yet, 1 in 4 girls in the US are sexually abused before they reach the age of 18, and nearly 1 out of every 5 women in the US has been raped. These women and girls are all around you. We hear your words. We read your comments. We see your flippant disregard for our well being and you want to know what we are really thinking? We are not thinking about how you will vote in November. We don’t care.

We are thinking that your attitudes towards his remarks are an indication of what you are teaching your sons. We are worried that you are teaching your sons sexual assault can be shrugged off as inconsequential, because it is only “locker room” talk and women like it anyway.

We are worried that the heinous statistics which have shaped our lives will also shape the lives of our daughters under the very watch of a church that claims to be praying for God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.

 


leiawilliamsMy name is Leia, which should tell you that my dad’s favorite movie is Star Wars and I have some very unfortunate nicknames.  I studied International Relations in undergrad and couldn’t find a job to save my life, so I changed my plans and studied communications in graduate school. Now, I have served The United Methodist Church for nearly 7 years in fundraising, discipleship, and communications.

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Just keep swinging…

Batting average in baseball is defined by defined by the number of hits divided by at bats. A .500 average is a great thing to have. This means you hit the ball half the time you have an official at bat. This season DJ LeMahieu led Major League Baseball with a .348 batting average. Ty Cobb holds the record for highest career batting average with .367.

One thing baseball taught me in life is that I am not going to be batting 1,000 on every idea. Sometimes ideas misfire, don’t get off the ground, stall, or just fail. When I strike out, I strive to make adjustments and be better next time.

Just like I do when I play softball, I look at where I can improve and set out to improve. But be aware of slumps. A slump in baseball is when you are not hitting. Sometimes in our lives we get into slumps. When I find my self in a slump I go back to the basics. I pray to God to help me out of this slump. I seek help either from books or from people I can trust will help me out of a slump.

Failure can be ok as long as you move forward and don’t get held back by it in a way that you find yourself in a slump. Best way to get you out of a hitting slump in softball, keep swinging. So keep swinging.

Peace

Matt Franks

Co-Founder Bearded Theologians