Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Life . . . Sideways

While driving around today, I found myself stopped at a traffic light with a motor cycle in front of me. Oddly, my first question wasn't, "Why in the world is someone riding in 20 degree weather?" No, that question came later. No, my first observation was the bumper sticker on the back of the motorcycle. In bold, black letters upon a yellow background was the word "LIFE."

If the sticker's intent was to communicate a message, I wasn't sure what it was. Is this a part of the "Life is good" campaign? Is he proclaiming a commitment to a pro-life way of living? Does he really, really like the Milton-Bradley board game? I don't know. I just know that, for this daredevil cold-defying motorcycle rider, "Life" is something really important. Important enough to put on a bumper sticker.

But the other odd thing I noticed is the way the sticker was placed. You see, motorcycles, being the size they are, don't have bumpers. So he'd put this sticker on the back fender, and to make it fit, he'd had to turn it sideways. The words ran up rather than across. He's celebrating life...sideways.

Well, that's the only sort of life there is, isn't there? No matter how much we dream, plan, envision and hope for the "perfect life," no one has one. There are disappointments, hurts, blemishes, sins and wrong turns in everyone's life. Everyone. Even those people you envy who seem to have achieved perfection...well, they're either hiding something or they're dead and living in glory. This world is broken, and for all of us, there are times when life gets...sideways.

If you were to study the lament psalms, those prayers that are meant for when life gets broken, when life runs sideways. And there are more of them in the psalms than songs of praise. Those psalms, we remembered, give us language to pray when we don't know what to pray. They give us words to sing when we can't sing. And those psalms remind us that it's the broken times that allow us to appreciate the good times. It's the darkness that helps us celebrate the dawn. The psalmists always, always, always gave thanks even in the midst of brokenness because it's there, more than any other time, when God's power is clearly seen.

Life...sideways. It's not a bad place to be. It's not a place we would want to stay, but if we're alert, if we are able to pray and praise God even when life is sideways, then we'll find our relationship with God deeper than before, deeper than it would be otherwise. If your life is sideways right now, I want to encourage you: be like my motorcycle-riding friend. Defy the winter, step out into the bad weather, and see what God will do. Praise God even when life is sideways, and you will praise God even more when life is right side up because you will know what God can do.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Why Come To Church More Often

written by: http://sharonwylie.com/

Why should you come to church more often? Because you want to.

I hear this from my congregants all the time. That it’s hard to come on Sunday mornings–people want to sleep in, they have lots to do–but when they do, they’re glad. “I need to come more often,” I hear again and again.

One of our regular Sunday morning volunteers told me she volunteers to make herself come. That’s as good a reason to volunteer as any I’ve heard.

I am not baffled by this thinking at all. I know as well as anyone that it’s hard to do things that are optional, and coming to church is optional. Our lives are filled with the things we have to do. Culturally, church used to be on the “have to” list, but that’s changed in recent decades,

Why is it so hard? For one thing, worship services start on time, not on demand. Arts attendance has also been declining, and fewer people are going to the movies as well. We are increasingly accustomed to being able to watch what we want when we want it, and dragging ourselves out of the house to get somewhere for something that starts at a specific time takes effort.

And let’s face it, most of us struggle to do the things that are good for us. Oh yes, attending church is good for you! Google “mental health church attendance” if you don’t believe me. Attending church is up there with eating more fruits and vegetables on the list of “things that are good for me but I struggle with anyway.”

But there’s more to it than “it’s hard to get myself to church.” Church attendance used to be a signifier of conformity and commitment to cultural norms. Now, at least in the liberal religious tradition, it’s an expression of counterculture.

The world around us is increasingly online; church requires presence and face-to-face interaction.
The world around us privileges the needs of the individual; church privileges the needs of the community.

The world around us requires little commitment from us; at church we are often asked to volunteer time, give money, and make commitments to continue to volunteer time and give money.
The world around us allows us to isolate ourselves from people of different generations, with different values and beliefs; church requires us to get to know these people and even DO things with them!

The world around us values materialism, consumption, and entertainment; church challenges us to commit to values that call us outside ourselves.

That last point gets to one of the cruxes of attendance: church doesn’t even always feel good. One of my congregants categorizes services as either candy or medicine.  ”Candy” are those services we leave feeling joyful and full of love for the world and for each other. “Medicine” are those services where we’ve been challenged to make change in our lives and in the world. Like choosing to watch a somber documentary film instead of the latest Marvel movie, coming to church is sometimes the no-fun option. But taking our medicine is “good for us,” my congregant would say, and I agree with him.

I’m sure there’s more. Attending church is so countercultural that many of us are afraid to mention it to friends. Does anything more powerfully say “weirdo” these days than “I went to church on Sunday?” (My colleague Jason Shelton calls us “dorks,” which he applies specifically to Unitarian Universalists and not just churchgoers in general. I can live with that.)

So if you’re struggling to get to church regularly, know that there are strong cultural forces that make it difficult. And maybe knowing that will help you actually get there more often. You may be glad you did.