Why Church?

Church membership and attendance numbers are down nearly everywhere, and I’m not all that surprised, really.  Church often gets a bad rap, and I sometimes feel the need to defend it.  Many people view church as nothing more than a place where irrational people come to worship a mythical Being.  And for many, the stereotypical image of God and Church is an in-your-face, repent-or-burn-in-hell perspective which isn’t very inviting, and something I’d rather not be associated with, either.  While I do not want to be critical of anyone else’s beliefs, the traditional image of God as a supernatural “Being” out there who plays favorites and has a “worship me, or else” agenda is an image fewer people are able to accept as meaningful, myself included.  But “Church” doesn’t have to be defined by that image of God.  That is not the only image of God there is.  So, in my defense, and the Church’s defense, I want you to know why I am involved.

1.  To Seek.  Simply put, I find meaning in the journey of seeking what Life is, what it means, how it is possible, where I fit in with it all, and what we are to do with it.  Many churches provide multiple styles and opportunities for those who seek more.  I could choose to seek on my own, at home, in the woods, or any other environment, and often I do, but I have found a benefit in sharing that walk with others.

2.  To Fellowship.  The cool thing about a good church is, it is filled with people who strive to treat others with kindness, Love and compassion.  It is community.  We are not without our share of individual problems as well as our collective problems, but we try to work through them in healthy ways.  We share meals together, we share in each others’ celebrations and in our sorrows.  We help raise each other’s children in a safe, trusting environment, teaching them the same values of kindness, respect, Love and compassion, thankfulness, hope, and the joy and happiness that comes from that way of life.

3.  To Share.  Everyone has something they can share that will help the world around us. It can be a few dollars toward a project that supplies mosquito nets to those in Haiti, or for a local organization housing battered women.  Sometimes it’s hands-on, like building a wheelchair ramp or helping someone with their grocery shopping.  Sometimes it goes so far as taking in a child who needs a loving home.  Churches sponsor charitable and volunteer opportunities in their local communities, and often globally, as well. Young and old, their members help staff soup kitchens, patch roofs and provide the voluntary giving that defines compassion.  Compassion feeds something very important in ourselves.

4.  To Love.  For this last one, I’ll finish with a story about my friend Michael.  When Michael was in middle school, he and his mother came to our church through a transitional program for homeless families.  They were literally housed in our building for a week which gave them a safe place to stay and assisted with finding a more permanent housing situation.  Michael had a rough time with being bullied at school, and being homeless doesn’t do much to help a teenager’s self-confidence.  But even after he and his mother had transitioned out of that program and into a home, Michael came back to church.  On Sunday mornings, as the youth would gather in their meeting area with doughnuts and drinks, Michael would be there, often off to the side, not saying anything.  He didn’t want to participate or speak up, but he wanted to be there enough to come.

And Michael kept coming back.  The other kids welcomed him because that’s what the Church taught them to do. Through small acts here and there, just like we try to do with every teenager in the group, we welcomed him and treated him as we would want to be treated. And over time he found hope.  He found friends who cared.  He found talents he was unaware of.  He opened up and found self-confidence.  Michael graduated from high school with honors and was accepted to college on scholarship, pursuing talents and gifts he didn’t know he had before.  It scares me to think where he might have ended up without the church, in a different crowd, pushed out instead of invited in.

Michael was changed.  But was he changed because we prayed for him to a God who decided to intervene and help him succeed?  I don’t see it that way.  Michael was changed because he was loved.  Love did for Michael what nothing else could do – it overcame the obstacles.  Love overcame the pain, sadness, bullying and insecurity.  Love overcame the lack of money, housing and acceptance.  Love overcame all the things that were pulling against Michael.  That Love came to Michael through ordinary people simply willing to share it.  To see that kind of change happen is joyous, and to know you had a small part in it is gratifying.

I believe Love is the ultimate trump card.  I have experienced the results of it first-hand in places all over the globe, from coal-mining towns in the West Virginia mountains to Hungary and Cuba and places in between.  Love wins.  It defeats anger and hate with nothing more than a soft smile or an outstretched hand.  It’s so simple a child can do it.  God IS Love, it is said.  Maybe it can be that simple.

Church is like everything else in life:  You get out of it what you put into it.  I don’t believe in a God who is going to punish you if you don’t show up or get involved.  But however you want to do it, and whatever you want to call it, I firmly believe that getting together with friends to seek, to fellowship, to share and to Love will bring you meaning, fulfillment and many rewards.

 

45 Things I’ve Learned Along the Way

I turned 45 years old in September.  That’s really hard for me to believe.  It’s fascinating from this perspective, looking back on my life and realizing even if it goes incredibly well from here on out, it’s pretty much halfway over, if not far less.  I can sense my mortality more at this stage, which gives me a better feel for Life’s temporary nature than I had before.  So I thought I’d take some time to jot down some things that I’ve learned along my own journey, for the record, as my very first blog post.  So here they are, the 45 most important things I’ve learned so far, in no particular order, except for the first one.

1.  Be kind.  Go out of your way to do so.  How you treat the world comes right back to you.

2.  Better yourself.  Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.

3.  Imagine yourself in other people’s situations.  Empathize.

4.  One of the best decisions I’ve ever made was when I turned down a much higher paying job for a more rewarding one.

5.  Forget about fashion.

6.  Respect others.  You want the same for yourself.

7.  Maybe the thing you fear will happen, maybe it won’t.  But fearing it won’t do you any good.

8.  Share.

9.  Try to make someone smile every day.

10.  Forgive yourself, don’t beat yourself up.

11.  Remember life is temporary.  It can end at any moment.  Be grateful for the opportunity.

12.  Teach yourself new things.  Every skill you can acquire makes life a little easier.

13.  Forgive others, don’t hold grudges.  If someone insists on being an ass, don’t allow them to make you become one, too. Free yourself from the negativity.

14.  Have hope. Only the smallest amount is necessary.

15.  Grow a plant that will feed you.

16.  Laugh at yourself.

17.  Things don’t always go as planned, be flexible.

18.  Hate is easy but makes things difficult.  Love is difficult but makes things easy.

19.  Pay attention.  Observe. Watch what goes on around you and you can learn all sorts of things from other people’s successes, as well as their failures.

20.  Seek God.  I just can’t imagine how the dirt of the universe can take shape, live, breathe, grow, think and love without some incredibly creative “something else” involved.  I find meaning in trying to figure Her out.

21.  Be fair, seek Truth.  Truth doesn’t care about what your pride or ego thinks.

22.  Don’t compare what you have (or don’t have) with others.  You have that same special spark of Life given to every other living thing.  You have being.  You have self. That is special as can be, and worthy of celebration and thanks.

23.  Seek patience.

24.  There are two sides to every story.  Try to see it from the other side, fairly, before making a judgement.

25.  Revenge and animosity are tempting, don’t fall for them. It is negative energy.  Let it go.

26.  Spend time in Nature.

27.  Cheer FOR others, not against them.

28.  Stay alert!  Life is dangerous. Carelessness or stupidity can kill you, or others, instantly.

29.  Wonder.  Life is an amazing mystery.

30.  Seek wisdom.

31.  Discern for yourself.  Don’t just accept what is fed to you by others.  You have a good brain, use it.

32.  Never assume.

33.  Be polite.

34.  Be prepared.

35.  Admit your mistakes.  I once dropped the ball on a job I was supposed to do.  My pride and ego tempted me to try and save face by blaming it on something else and not being honest.  I could have done so, quite easily, and no one would have known otherwise.  I went to my friend, who was counting on the job being done, and confessed the truth that I simply dropped the ball and had no other excuse, and that I was sorry.  Her eyes watered, she got a big smile and reached out and hugged me strongly, thanking me for being so honest.  I’ll never forget that.

36.  Lighten up.  Many things don’t need to be taken too seriously.

37.  Practice being a better listener.

38.  No whining.  There’s always someone else with a bigger problem.  Plus, nobody wants to hear it.

39.  Simplify your life.

40.  It’s okay to cry.  Life is sometimes hard and emotional.  I’ve crumpled in a heap and cried over losses and regrets.  It’s natural.  Let it out.

41.  Look for the positive.

42.  Save.  Make good financial decisions.  Don’t spend money you don’t have.

43.  Analyze yourself.  If something makes you angry or upset, dig deep to uncover the true reason.  Usually it’s something you can fix within yourself, related to pride, ego, greed or selfishness.

44.  If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

45.  Eat well, drink plenty of water and get plenty of sleep.

Peace,
Bootie