In a recent conversation about church, I had to to think afterward.
Our conversation touched upon the fact that church attendance is in decline and the number of nons (people who identify themselves as non-religious) is increasing.
I remarked that mega-churches are doing very well. Mega-churches show a positive interest in religion. But, I was quickly cut off with, “The mega-churches are stealing our members.”
I didn’t know how to respond and we moved on to another topic. After thinking about it for a few days, I came up with an answer and can blog about it now.
There is no theft, no stealing, going on between churches. The mega-churches aren’t sneaking around and working in the dark. They offer huge, can’t be missed, edifices. They are on television, the radio, and the internet. They are loud.
I have to wear ear plugs when I attend the services of mega-churches. But, members meet me in the parking lots and seem glad to see me.
The mega-churches are satisfying human needs.
Not so with the dying churches. They have small buildings, mostly empty and require GPS to find. Asking someone on the street for directions only brings about a confused statement, “I’ve never heard of that church.”
Moreover, because the churches are sparsely attended by cautiously pious folk, they appear very unwelcoming. The sermons don’t capture attention because they involve abstract adages and a narrow language. It’s cold atmosphere.
But the cold has to do with attitudes and expectations, rather than denominational history or rituals.
Although the Catholic church modernizes it’s sermons, it takes the love and humility of Pope Francis to blow that cold air away and attract church goers.
I’ve even attending an orthodox Chabad, observing Shabbat, but the atmosphere was filled with contemporary love and awareness.
Dying churches can’t assume people are too materialistic to want the old style religious services. They can’t assume people want entertainment rather than spiritual teachings.
Truth and love is entertaining.
I’m not entertained by smut, violence, black comedy, or sexuality. They make me feel demeaned, not uplifted, but spirituality is another story. Spirituality and its application to everyday life is entertaining.
An August 23, 2016, Pew Research Study, titled, “Choosing a New Church of House of Worship,” confirms what people look for when deciding on where to land for spiritual nourishment.
We read in the study, “Fully 83% of Americans who have looked for a new place of worship say the quality of preaching played an important role in their choice of congregation. Nearly as many say it was important to feel welcomed by clergy and lay leaders, and about three-quarters say the style of worship services influenced their decision about which congregation to join.”
Dying churches can ask: Are our sermons requiring the congregation to perform mental gymnastics to figure out what is being preached? Are the sermons bullying the audience? Ar the sermons speaking to today’s social issues?
And, dying churches can ask: Are the members welcoming or wanting you to be like them?
In the Pew Study, half a dozen reasons are given for why people look for a new house of worship, the main reason being a move or relocation. Only 5% choose a different church because of a change in personal beliefs.
I’ll quote a few findings from the Pew Research Study:
- Quality of sermons, welcoming leaders and the style of worship services tend to be the key factors in why Americans overall choose the congregations they do…
- Overall, 56% of adults who have looked for a new congregation say the quality of educational programs available for children was an important factor in their decision.
- Seven-in-ten people who have looked for a new congregation say finding one was easy, while 27% say finding a new house of worship was difficult.
“This is a special gift you are to offer…” said Ezekiel the prophet. Then he rambles on about offering measured ephahs, homers of wheat, and grain offerings. About throwing blood on the doorposts and corners of the temple. To be honest, Ezekiel nearly loses my attention talking about unknowns, things that are unfamiliar. But I could figure out the “special gifts” offered were for making atonement, to be one with God, Love. So I kept reading and pondering.
The special gift offered is to make atonement.
An atonement is an apology, or compensation, or making amends for wrong done in the past.
Thing is, I don’t know anyone who follows Ezekiel’s physical format. Does this mean people have stopped making an atonement?
Despite religious theology and dogma, religious literature has preserved the integrity of the message, by adapting to extensive changes in society. New customs and practices are still advancing the message of at-one-ment with God.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) provides a 12-step program for alcoholics overcoming the addiction. The sixth through eight steps read, “We are entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”
The AA steps go on in more detail, but the heart of the process relates to atonement, and is as effective today as it was 2,600 years ago in Ezekiel’s era.
The integrity of the atonement message overlaps into all areas of life. If we eat too much, we can stop ourselves, admit that the overindulgence was not from God and put a sign (written in ink, not blood) on the refrigerator telling us to go for a walk, instead of snack.
Basically, the new custom has not diluted the power or truth of atonement.
I was interested to continue reading in the Bible about collective atonement. Ezekiel went on to discuss taking, “A young bull without defect and purify the sanctuary.”
Not many of my friends have a young bull, or even an old bull, in their backyard. I certainly don’t. So what do I do?
It was the “without defect” that spoke to me. I figured that the only thing I have that is without defect is from God. Patience, forgiveness, courage, flexibility.
To atone, I can offer spotless patience, forgiveness, courage, and flexibility to all people. It benefits not only me, but the collective society. And that is a special gift.
Success in spiritual healing is warranted only as we find and follow our own pace. Whether a pro or a rookie, here are six pitfalls to avoid when practicing spiritual healing.
- Gunning the start. Running headstrong, for example into an intense episode of prayer, will become tiresome quickly. Spiritual healing is a job, not a quiz or luck of the draw; it requires a balance of hard work, prayer, study, and practice, all done at a reasonable pace.
- Taking spiritual healing too seriously. A purist approach to spiritual healing makes one vulnerable to addiction, susceptible to going through the motions without living in the moment, enjoying the work, and keeping the inspiration.
- Trying to outsmart the elements of everyday life. Spiritual healing loses its force if it’s used to avoid life’s demands. Spiritual healers do not live an aloof eccentric existence. Spiritual prayer and work naturally forms multifarious relationships that coincidentally expand the impact of spiritual healing.
- Self-sabotaging the game plan. Spiritual healing is happening, similar to tectonic earth movement is happening, although its effects are unseen most of the time. Don’t interrupt the healing activity by forcing a human ideology.
- Assuming you are more spiritually minded than you really are. This is seen in extreme behavior—seen by outsiders as jaded and indefensible behavior. Spiritual healing is a step by step modality paralleling a practical Love and soulful wisdom. Even an epic healing of a monstrous problem does not qualify for the absence of humility and obedience to the law of progress.
- Attempting to use spiritual healing to extend mortality or materialist views. Spiritual healing manifests the essence of spirituality, indescribably ascending mortality, consumption, lack, material conservatism. Spiritual healing isn’t “used” but is more so tapped into, completely available to everyone, no matter what their ethnicity, background, or faith.
Spiritual activist and healer, Mary Baker Eddy, basically wrote, “I have healed hopeless physiological disease, and advanced the dying to life and health through the understanding of God as the only Life. It is backwards to believe that anything can overpower omnipotent and eternal Life. This Life must be brought to light by the understanding that there is no death, as well as by other graces of Spirit. We must begin however, with the more simple demonstrations of control, and the sooner we begin the better. The final demonstration takes time for its accomplishment. When walking, we are guided by the eye. We look before our feet, and if we are wise, we look beyond a single step in the line of spiritual advancement.” (21st Century Science and Health)
Last night I had a dream. Of course, I seem to dream during the day too, but last night’s dream was thought provoking.
The dream was of a couple getting married in a garage. The intentions of the couple was to stay married, so they “cleaned out” the garage of stuff first.
Most garages are stuffed full of clutter and gadgets. I suppose if you don’t have a garage, but have a storage rental or jammed packed closet, the plot of the dream would be the same.
If the venue for weddings was a garage, the job of cleaning out the area would be good practice for an upcoming marriage. We can clean out of our minds old attachments. We can detach from the past and from beliefs held by one person, because in truth, we can’t hold onto outgrown, cluttering beliefs.
Fortunately, we have the ability to take on new thoughts and those thoughts can come from truth and love, the power I call God. The thoughts lead to productive communication and arguments. The thoughts lead to effective prayers.
“The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.”—Psalm 29:4, NRSV
Back in the day, a belief I unloaded, and I don’t even know how I got the belief in the first place, but a belief I unloaded was thinking that marriage was “God ordained” or a vow to my husband and God nearly.
Until I read in the Bible when Christ Jesus was quoted as saying, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”—Matthew 22:30, NRSV
It was freeing to get rid of the thinking that marriage is a “heaven” thing or makes God happy. It’s not. Marriage is only a tradition helpful to humanity when it is used to express joy, faithfulness, trust and goodness. I’m still working on staying married, after thirty-three years, but the work is for myself to get closer to God, not an effort to make God happy.
God knows us as individuals. Not couples. We are God’s children and can feel right now, the attitude of heaven or harmony. We can feel unity and connection in love.
Quoting from science & religion to God: “Outgrown thought processes must be changed, otherwise “You are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.”
“Godlike prayer is not defensive. If we try to defend outgrown knowledge and ideals, prayer gets twisted into useless arguments.”
“The sublime grandeur of divine law will outshine sin, sorcery, lust, hypocrisy, envy, and outgrown doctrines and theories. Love will fulfill the rule of the spiritual equation and show Spirit’s supremacy.”
 Rom. 2:5