Saturday, December 30, 2006

Men and Worship

My husband S picked up one of my library books that was lying around -- Malcom Muggeridge's The Third Testament. Not exactly light reading, but he'll read anything.

We talked late last night about the dominant themes in the book. The topic of religion comes up a lot in our house now, given my leading to start a church thingie. S talked about a few of his colleagues whom he admires a great deal. They belong to churches and have active church lives. They also have a noticeable inner peace. S focused on that. He said he'd really like to have a religious faith, but he hasn't found anything he can believe in. He'd like to have that inner serenity. But wanting to have that doesn't make one religious because it doesn't make one believe particular things. Or even to have faith where one doesn't have beliefs. It also cannot make you have religious experiences or a sense of the inner Light.

He's been to Meeting a few times but hasn't really been caught up in it. He comes to the potlucks to be friendly. But despite his years of being raised a Catholic and 10 years of being married to a Quaker, he hasn't "found religion."

Our meeting is full of women, most of them married to spouses who don't attend. There are very few men and only three married couples.

This isn't all that unusual. Most church congregations are more than 65% female. In fact, there is a website devoted to the problem of men and church (see But is serving beer and going to baseball games solving the problem? Is the problem a cultural one: that religion has turned into a feminine world? Or is it a brain type problem: that thinker-oriented people have more difficulty than feeler-oriented people with the type of emotional and psychic responses necessary for faith (or belief)?

Why is it that what we call religion is always a belief system? Why is it always focused on the feeling side of things, rather than on the action side of things? And focused on the non-rational, rather than the rational?

Whatever happened to Iron John anyway?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Quaker Darth Vader

I have a habit of killing things.

I used to kill plants. This is bad for a gardener.

Then I read a lot of books about gardening and paid more attention to what I was doing. Things still die sometimes, but at least I know that I didn't kill them.

I kill groups. My standard formula is pull in, then pull out. For example, join a gorup, get asked to take a leadership role, develop a vision, let others catch the fire of the vision, get knuckles rapped by current leadership structure, pull out to get out of leadership's way, and end up taking everybody along with me so that the group collapses.

Yep, I've done it more than I care to admit. In fact, I generally ask the group not to let me in any kind of a leadership role so that I can't do it. But it always happens anyway: they're short of people, and could I just help out a little; or they need someone who understands music, and there's nobody else; or they just want to learn a little more about this one idea I had, and would I mind coming in to talk to them. This is how it starts. When I say no, they get the idea that I'm either lazy or selfish, or just plain weird, and I get bullied into it.

They have no idea what I'm going to do to them.

I realize I'm in danger of doing it again. As I pull out of my current Quaker meeting, after having promoted and experimented with programming over the past year and encouraging the meeting to do outreach and expand, I will be doing damage. Fortunately, these are strong-minded people, and they will likely recover. But I dread the thought that anybody in the meeting might feel moved to follow me.

I think I dread that more than failure.

This is why I hesitate to get my meeting involved. I don't want a committee of support or clearness. I don't want them getting sucked into the idea. It's for their own good. If I burn, I burn. But it would be just plain awful if I weakened the meeting in so doing.

Leadings can be so awkward.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Rolling Up The Sleeves

Last week, I screwed up my courage and told my husband that I have had a leading to start up a church. Not exactly a church, because I'm not going to call it that, but a thingie instead of a church. Sort of a thingie like a meeting except not really a meeting, and not as noisy and hyper as a church, but cleaner and honest and transparent-like. Pastored, but without a pastor. You know what I mean? Something kind of like that.

"It's about time," he said, without looking up from the book he was reading.

I blinked. "I beg your pardon?"

"Church is TSFW [family code word for Too stupid for words]. Meeting is insipid. You could do something better than that." He looked up then. "I want to be in the band."

So I guess there's going to be a band.

He wasn't finished. "You always do what you think you're supposed to do. That's not living. The work you do during the week is not you, that's just what you do to help the family make money. All this Quaker committee work, that's not you either. You have to have passion about something that you do. You've been pulling toward something for a long time and not doing it. This church thingie thing is more like the real you. It has that ring to it. So just do it."

He still wasn't finished. "Don't try too hard getting it all together. Way will open."

This from the man who never attends meeting.

So okay then. I guess I'm doing it.

Ideas always come to me as a whole, beginning and end and middle, all at once. Usually, there is a long period of nothing, like an unrest, but then, it coalesces all at once. It's apparently a personality type-- intuitive thinking as opposed to linear thinking. This is always difficult, because nobody else can see what I see, and there is not much transition zone to it.

It's this way with the church thingie idea. I've been trying to make notes on what I see so that I can communicate it to others when the time comes. Finding words for the concepts isimportant.

I ordered two books from Chapters to build on this. First was Emerging Churches by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger, because it was recommended by Aj on some website somewhere. And Brian McLaren's The Secret Message of Jesus. I got some language from them, and some ideas became more clear as I compared one thing to another.

The next step looming ahead is to tell my meeting. I get kind of a cold sick feeling at the pit of my stomach just thinking about it. I am clerk of two main committees and two other committees. I know that my donations to the meeting make up over 10% of the revenues, and I'm going to need that money to start up my own church thingie, so I can't continue it. Also, my kids currently make up 25% of the children's program.

I'm going to have to screw up my courage again.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Orthodoxy Blues

There's this little problem with the whole idea of starting something. Actually, there are a thousand little problems, but then there's this one about orthodoxy: I've never known what to do with it.

Back in my university days, I used to go to Varsity Christian things with some of my friends, just to see what it was like. The people were very nice, and a few of them had very interesting minds. But a lot of the time I had to spend silently telling myself shut up shut up shut up so that I wouldn't say anything. It was hard. I wasn't Quaker at the time and having left Catholicism (which will turn orthodoxy into Buckley's Mixture for anyone), I was alone spiritually. An exile, in a way. I found my choices were either Reason or Religion, but not both. And the voice in my head was committed to Reason.

Truth to me has always been a verb, not a noun. I have no experience of it any other way. I can't decide to believe in something or not believe in something. When people talk about believing something as if it were an act of will, I don't understand what they mean.

But if you're going to start something, then you have to have something to say. People don't start something unless they have some message or some spiritual product that lights a fire under their derrieres. An experimental, undefined thing doesn't cut it. Moreover, what you start needs some kind of structure and anchor. If there's not enough, it will drift aimlessly. I think this may have been what happened in some parts of liberal quakerism: refugees from orthodox religions sought shelter there and gradually pressed it into new directions. (However, the same could be said for the Wesleyan movement causing other forms of quakerism to drift...)

Anyway, I dusted off some old university books today to take another look at orthodoxy. The first book featured six figures: Augustine, Pascal, beloved well-thumbed Blake, Kierkegaard, Bonhoeffer, Tolstoy. And reading snippets from each, one after the other, I could hear the trumpets and timpani. Yes, here was orthodoxy, arguably some of the best of it.

Yet as I did my little romp through orthodoxy, something occurred to me that had never occurred before – that each was not orthodox in his time, but only after; and that each was breaking from the preceding orthodoxy in some significant way.

Augustine wrapped the fledgling religion into an ark and tossed it out in to the ocean of the Dark Ages, just as the Roman Empire caved literally around his feet. He hooked it to Platonism and bound it with the twine of harsh scriptural interpretation so that it would survive. I guess we can thank him for that, otherwise Christianity would have died with the Roman Empire, but without forgetting that his simplistic orthodoxy seeded the inquisitions, crusades, and power priesthoods.

Then flip ahead to Pascal, rebelling against the Age of Reason, but by using reason. He questioned, peeled off the twine of Augustine and Aquinas, and set a new orthodoxy that could survive philosophy. All the while, he lived under the threat of excommunication.

Then flip to Blake, rebelling against the Steam Engine, but by using the imagination and senses. The church nearly consigned him to an asylum for madness.

Then Kierkegaard, the mystic schizophrenic outcast. Bonhoeffer, the executed. Tolstoy, the excommunicated. And the others, the ones I haven't read.

We could back up further to the Old Testament prophets, who rebelled against the tribal violence that was proto-judaic orthodoxy and organized religion into rules and principles. And then Jesus, tearing down the pharisaic orthodoxy of rules and principles to replace it with the principle of compassion.

And what of the orthodox people of their time? Do we ever quote the French Church that persecuted Pascal, the English clergy that shunned Blake, the Danish theologians that publicly ridiculed Kierkegaard? Do we even know their names?

What we call orthodoxy appears to me right now to be a conglomeration of heretic rebellions against previous orthodoxies. By the time something becomes orthodoxy, it is already old orthodoxy. There is always someone reaching ahead to a new vision of Jesus' teachings that will work with the changing age.

Were these men all insane? I can't rule that out. I don't like most of what I read in their writings, especially the common theme of blaming women for men's failings. Or rejecting ordinary life as something perverted. Or the logic embroidery they did to knit their experiences to Christian doctrines.

Yet despite this, I have deep respect for them. They must have heard something or sensed something that called them deeper. They took spiritual risks, went out on a limb, climbed into the New Nothing because they were called into it.

As I read what these men wrote, I realize I don't have any inclination to believe what they wrote, even if I could make myself. I just want to be like them. I want to do what they did, not say what they said. The New Nothing interests me far more than the old orthodoxy, even if it doesn't have a name.

And there's the rub. For no matter how much it compels me,what kind of a new thing can be built out of a New Nothing?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Next on Next

So there I was, sitting in Next, looking around at the fridge art. Kids were running around, lovers with cuddling on the sofas, announcements were popping up on the slide show board, the guitarists at the front were strumming a little.

The pastor dude with his goatee and 1970s sideburns managed to get things started at about 11:15. It was kind of a mellow start. We had to stand to sing three rather long songs on the slides, but the band was very good. People were sitting by the end of them. The pianist had her arm around one of her kids while she played. Most of the other kids were running and hopping around. (An observation: there were no kids above 10 years of age, like, no teens. Maybe that was due to the limited ages of the adults. But then again, maybe not.)

The theme for the day was advent. Apparently, last year, Next didn't "do" Christmas because it was kind of a tired theme, so they thought they'd do it this year. Today's subtopic was waiting.

It sounded okay to me so far. Then instantly the theme of waiting for Christmas suddenly morphed into waiting for the Second Coming, and how we all just couldn't wait for the end of the world. I caught my friend's eye, she gave a slight grimace.

Waiting for Christmas AND Waiting for the End of the World. Oh, but we don't know where and when it will happen or EVEN if it will happen during our lifetime, so we're supposed to wait for it.

Okay, so I'm not a fundamentalist. I found this interpretation of Christmas waiting very weird.

A young woman did the sermon on waiting. She happened to be pregnant with her third, so that was kind of a neat idea. She did her sermon about Mary waiting for the birth and talked about her trials and tribulations, such as explaining to Joseph that she was pregnant. She spoke well about her theme, although without in any way digressing from the official church line about what happened at Jesus's birth and conception. She dragged in the Waiting For the End of the World theme too and talked as if she just assumed we all knew what "post trib" and "pre trib" was all about.

Not much happened after the sermon -- just one more song.

Overall sense of Next? Well, it was a lot more subdued that I had thought it would be. In fact, it was pretty mellow. When I've seen Christian rock-type events on TV, they've seemed a lot more over-the-top. My friend, who had been to Vineyard churches in her twenties, said that Vineyard was a lot more high energy. But maybe this is just Canadian culture: we don't tend to be over-the-top about anything. Next was more cozy and comfortable than high octane.

Then there's the "sense of the meeting" there in that room. Whatever list of sins can be cast at the feet of Quakers, we do tend to be able to "feel a room." There is a big difference between a group that has centred in some way and one that is spiritually skimming the surface. My sense was that this group was surfing. They were seeking, desiring, trying, but in a loose and vague sense. I sensed that they weren't able or willing to Go There, if you know what I mean.

The service talked mainly about particular Christian doctrines. And they worked in talking a bit about their experiences. But these weren't experiences of the doctrines: they were just experiences that had something in common with the topic. Nobody talked about experiences of the doctrine messages themselves. I had a sense of parotting -- saying what you are supposed to say, wishing to believe it, working to stay within the lines. For example, the energy sagged during the sermon, even though I believe people were generally listening. There just wasn't anything to connect to. Can one really have an experience of doctrines?

There were two moments when I had a sense of something a little deeper happening. One was when the keyboard player played a song she'd written herself, words up on the slides, so everybody sang along. There was a vibrating sincerity to it, even if I found the words a bit too churchy for my taste.

The other moment when the room seemed to ring like churchbells was during the U2 song, the chorus line: "But I still haven't found what I'm looking for." This line is repeated many times throughout the song, and each time, it became more naked and powerful.

It was also the opening song. Come to think of it, it may have left the people too vulnerable to soak up the doctrinal message or to Go There.

I wonder if that never occurred to the music planners...

Sunday, December 03, 2006


I went to Next today with an RC friend. Next is the only "emerging" style church in our city. It's just called Next, without the Church.

On the whole, the experience was interesting. I found their website almost deliberately obtuse trying to be trendy. Figuring out when the meeting/service was was a bit of a challenge (they called it Next Classic and stated that it started at "about 11").

What struck me most about Next was that my friend and I, in our mid 40s, were probably the oldest people there. This was a twenty-something crowd with some thirty-somethings, and with lots of little kids. Funny how all the other churches are full of grey heads. This church had none. And it was that kind of grungy young-intellectual look -- goatees, dreadlocks, noserings, counter-cultural clothes. What also struck me was that this young crowd was 50% male. The young male cohort is the hardest to pull into a church. And here they were.

The church had pews, but it also had some sofas thrown in, apparently for the people in love, because they seemed to grab them. There was a large toy and play area at the back with some pews facing backward. The office was part of the main room. There was coffee and muffins on arrival, although they were in a back room, so you had to know they were there. And of course, there was the rock band at the front.

My son's piano teacher happened to be at the piano, leading the music. They did U2 (Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For), Joan Osborne (What If God Was One of Us), and Bruce Cockburn (some Christmas song I'd never heard of). They also did one song written by one of the musicians, which the congregation apparently knew very well. The music was pretty good, although the guitars and drums were amped slightly more than the piano and vocals, so the main theme was hard to follow. People sang, at least for the songs they knew. The words were up on a slide.

The pastor was impossibly young with a facial hair thing going. He kept handing around the microphone to let others talk -- e.g., he interviewed three children about waiting for Christmas and let another woman improvise a prayer before the sermon. Another woman did the sermon, her first time speaking before the group. Before the service, he walked around and talked to people, not officiously, just very quietly and naturally. He came up to us and introduced himself. Very friendly, not pushy.

The art on the walls was intriguing. One piece looked like a fridge door spattered with paint. I think it was a fridge door spattered with paint. There were some kids' paintings and some canvas boards with paint dripping down them. Purpose of this art? I'm not sure.

I won't get into the theology of what I saw -- I'll save that for another post. But I am occupied right now thinking about the demographics. Why do these young people come to this church? Was it the music? Maybe the sense of community? That and the fact that there aren't any people their parents' age?

I've often thought that churches are based around personality types. Quakerism is for introverts and would push an extrovert to the brink of insanity. Evangelicalism is for extroverts and gives introverts the willies. Mainstream churches try to cater to both groups, possibly very unsuccessfully.

But maybe age groups need certain types of churches too. Maybe there isn't much point in fishing around for other age groups to round out the ones we have. Maybe we should just come out and say it: "Quakerism - a silent worship community targeted at the older educated adult."

No, don't get mad -- I'm just telling it like I saw it.