I would so appreciate it if you could read my Terms & Conditions for reading Spiritual Sunday posts before continuing. Thank you. 🙂
Before I start, I should mention that I have indeed seen the article about the nuns vs. Pope Benedict. I guess the reason why I chose not to do a full-on blog post about this is because I feel it’s being discussed everywhere and the general consensus is to say, “God bless those nuns.” Or, rather, most people are on the nun’s side, me included. If you’re curious, this is what I said about it on Facebook: “Oh, dear Benedict…you’ve definitely let this whole popetatorship go to your head. And with that, I say God bless these nuns. Because, really? Poverty? Social justice? *sarcastic gasp* How DARE they?!? Also, WWJD (in the whole Who Wants Jelly Donuts sense…okay, fine. Really. What would Jesus do? Certainly not this.)”
Anyhow, when I set up this blog, I knew that I didn’t want to get horribly political in my discussions. I suppose that’s what political blogs (and agendas) are for. I want my posts to be civil and open-minded, and I want to avoid any heated debates at all costs. Therefore, I choose to post things that are more friendly-discussion-based in nature, mostly for my own (and others’) education. So with that, here’s my actual post: 🙂
As I’ve previously discussed, I’ve been to different kinds of church services. With each experience, I learn something more about myself and my religious beliefs. In addition to that, I start to form what kind of church experiences I enjoy and feel comfortable in. Within the last year or so, I also came to form my (very humble and unique) opinion of what “the full church experience” should be. In other words, I’ve discovered what my own personal “important parts of church” are, or which things contribute to it. They follow, in no particular order of importance:
1) A welcome to everyone, new and visiting–I think it’s important to emphasize that the church is a welcoming community to all. Taking the time to acknowledge everyone is important in a service to me because I want everyone to feel comfortable with the choice to come and worship. And even if the ones who step into a church are not religious people, I want them to feel as if they are not being shunned. I will always maintain that the God’s and the church’s message is one of love and acceptance for all. If a church didn’t have this, I would say they’re not even practicing the fundamentals of Christianity.
2) The Bible, or equivalent religious text–It’s my assumption that churches and religions are bound together by a common set of beliefs. In that way, I think some reference to these stories and ways of life is necessary. I personally like having examples by which to live by; otherwise, I (humbly) believe that church would simply be nothing but a speech. After that statement, though, my thoughts on religious text and how to present it in a church become much more complex.
I know I will get criticized for saying this, but I do believe that we as people should be smart and independent enough to figure out what parts of these religious texts to follow. To put it simply, I believe religious texts should be used as a vehicle for good, not evil. Keeping just those qualifications in mind, I would say that the Tao Te Ching (the book on Taoism) is perhaps the most perfect example of a “religious text” (though, as those following Taoism know, there really aren’t hard, fast rules when it comes to Taoism…just suggestions and simply being). What I know of the Tao Te Ching is that it has applications, but no “you shoulds” and “you shouldn’ts” as most other religious texts do.
So I suppose in my perfect church world, we would reflect on the humanitarianism, love, acceptance, and miracles of the Bible, not all the horrendous things like murdering, casting people out, and suffering. Now, I know what some of you may be thinking: the Bible is God’s word, and it should be followed to the core. Not true. The Bible is actually composed mostly of human accounts, with many differing versions of the same event, because as we all know, humans aren’t perfect. On top of that, it has been translated into so many different languages that original meanings can definitely get lost in translation. And if one wants to follow the Bible to its core, then they should themselves follow through 100%–not just stopping at ostracizing those who are different from them (homosexuality comes immediately to mind), but also cheating on their spouses, stoning (i.e., murdering) disobedient children, wearing hats or having a shaved head when going to church (if you’re a woman), not owning any possessions (ANY. Like, not even a toothbrush.), not planning ANYTHING in your life (marriages, kid’s birthday parties, what you’re going to have for dinner…), still have slavery, forgive all debts after 7 years…the list goes on and on.
How the religious text is introduced in church is another story. Really, I think it should be in any way you feel comfortable with. Personally, I’ve been uncomfortable in churches that treat their service like a college lecture, with everyone having their Bible for reference to highlight certain verses they cover during sermon, taking notes, and having those verses behind the pastor on a PowerPoint presentation behind them. But that’s me and my own learning style. Many people do very well in that setting, and learn the best in that way.
3) Prayer–I kinda figured this was always a given, but I’m not an expert on every single religion/church out there. I’m more about the quiet, reflective prayer to yourself, or the group prayer where you and the congregation pray for peace, but if loud prayer’s more your style, go for it. I just think a conversation with your respective god is important in the faith. After all, if you’re believing in something you can’t technically experience with your senses (though I argue the opposite…I truly believe God is in nature and in humanity and you can see it through the beautiful colors He provides us, the sounds of laughter, what the heart feels with love…that is experiencing God through the senses…but that’s a different topic), then speaking to this thing you can’t see is the best expression of your faith, no?
4) Hymns/Singing–There’s something so healing about joining with the congregation in worshipful singing. I especially like songs based on original prayers or hymns from the Bible (or your respective Holy Book), because then it’s applicable to what you’re being taught or what you’re “supposed” to read (see point #2). To put melody to the healing/happy parts of the Bible/Holy Book gives one the chance to reflect in more detail on that passage, in my opinion. With me, for example, the Prayer of St. Francis sticks out. I’m not the type of person who could quote Bible passages by heart, but I can definitely tell you my favorite hymns and why, and refer fellow Christians to the lyrics of those hymns during difficult times. I guess it doesn’t hurt that I used to be a pianist for a church and so would know hymns better than most, but I could do this before I even had that job. 🙂
5) Communion–Out of everything, I think this might be the one that most people would disagree with. But there is something about the sacredness of communion to me, a symbolism of everyone coming to the table and being able to partake in something holy, no matter what your station in life is, is absolutely beautiful and very epitomizes what I think church–and religion, for that matter–should be. I should now take the time to emphasize and repeat what I just said: no matter what your station in life is. I realize this is a major point of contention in many churches, but I believe that anyone, as long as their heart is in the right place, should be able to receive communion. I disagree with churches of certain denominations (mine included) that have a sort of unsaid rule (actually, it’s usually written in a book or program) that if you’re of a different denomination, you should be respectful and not go up to communion. But they don’t necessarily check up on these things beforehand (except for the incident where a lesbian was denied communion at her mother’s funeral, which, if you haven’t figured it out by now, completely disappoints and enrages me). Still, this shunning practice is something that I believe should be done away with. If someone is truly wanting to give their heart to this particular religion, who do the higher-ups think they are to stop that person? There are many instances that I can think of where God/Jesus welcomed someone into His arms that society otherwise shunned: lepers, blind people, poor people, etc. Now, this statement is null and void if someone is going up to communion as an act of mockery and spite.
So that’s it. The full church experience, as outlined by one opinionated Violet. What do you guys think? Is there anything I left out? Any of the above that you don’t think should be a part of a church? I would love to know below.
To experiencing things you have faith in to the fullest,