10 Ways Churches Could Bring Us to God. -Roger Wolsey

10 Ways Churches Could Bring Us to God. -Roger Wolsey

7-8,000 churches close their doors every year in the U.S. – about 150-200 every week

The Church is dying. Specifically, Christianity in Western countries is rapidly diminishing. 7-8,000 churches close their doors every year in the U.S. – about 150-200 every week. In 1966, there were 600 Catholic seminaries in America. 189 remain. 1000 Southern Baptist congregations close every year with half of them predicted to close by 2030. More and more churches are seeing fewer people participating in worship services and the ones who do are attending less frequently. Sure, there are a few exceptional congregations here and there, but they are outliers and those too will be declining within 10 years or so. Some say way we need to reform Christianity. Some say we need to do church differently. Some say we need to revise the language. Some say we need to jettison Christianity and the Church that conveys and enfleshes it all together.

From moderate to radical, my colleagues Reverends Mark Sandlin and Greta Vosper, respectively, recently wrote essays conveying such calls to action in their recent columns on Progressing Spirit.

Here is how Sandlin closed his essay,

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Oysters, Ballerinas, and a Reminder that No One Owns God - Vance Morgan

Oysters, Ballerinas, and a Reminder that No One Owns God - Vance Morgan

a reflection on the work of Barbara Brown Taylor

There are several contemporary writers on spiritual issues and matters of faith whose work I admire so greatly I that purchase their latest books as soon as they are published—I have my Amazon account set up to send me such “heads up” announcements. These are authors whose books never fail to both deepen and broaden my own perspectives and attitudes about faith and what is greater than me. The list includes Anne Lamott, Joan Chittister, Annie Dillard, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Lauren Winner and, more recently, Rachel Held Evans. Interesting that the first half-dozen names on the list that come to mind are women—but not surprising.

At the very top of the list is Barbara Brown Taylor, whose work I resonate with on almost every page. I have gone so far as to tell people that when I read Taylor’s books, I feel as if I’m reading a memoir of my own spiritual journey and a description of the current state of my faith, just much more eloquently expressed than I could manage. Her most recent book, Holy Envy, arrived in the mail about two weeks ago and is my current reading obsession. I’m about halfway through it; most of my reading time with it has been spent while riding a stationary bike at the gym early in the morning.

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A hierarchy clinging to privilege even as the structures around them totter: Tom Roberts, NCR executive editor

A hierarchy clinging to privilege even as the structures around them totter: Tom Roberts, NCR executive editor

"We would rather be ruined than changed. We would rather die in our dread than climb the cross of the present and let our illusions die."

"We would rather be ruined than changed. We would rather die in our dread than climb the cross of the present and let our illusions die." The quote is from W.H. Auden's The Age of Anxiety and I ran across it in Franciscan Fr. Richard Rohr's Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps. I had revisited that book recently because more and more I think of the crisis in the church as one in need of the wisdom of recovery literature and the particulars of 12-step programs.

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Waking a Dancing World

Waking a Dancing World

From Patheos: A Zen Priest Reflects On Being Spiritually Fluid, March 9, 2019 by James Ford

I was recently a bystander on a Facebook thread about being Buddhist and Christian. My name was raised as an example of someone, how shall we say, “spiritually fluid.” A lovely term coined by Duane Bidwell, a professor at Claremont School of Theology, Presbyterian minister, and long time Buddhist practitioner.

I raised my usual objection that being a Unitarian Universalist is not (necessarily) being a Christian. And that, me, while I am a rationalist and naturalist (common characteristics among Unitarian Universalists) I basically considered myself a Zen Buddhist, not a Christian.

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From Certainity to Mystery

From Certainity to Mystery

Michael Saunders, neurologist and priest, writes about the journey of faith

I have just read “From Certainty to Mystery”  by Michael Saunders. Michael is a retired consultant neurologist, an Anglican priest, and someone who has muscular dystrophy . In his book he provides very personal reflections on his relationship to matters of faith developed throughout his personal and professional life. Born and raised in a fundamentalist conservative evangelical household he reflects on the intellectual and professional challenges which led him to question and change. I found echoes of  “Leaving Alexandria” by Richard Holloway in the sensitive and personal description of the journey of life.

In the book Michael raises the questions many of us raise: Does God work without science? Will disease cure itself if we pray hard enough? Or must we help ourselves? Michael Saunders, Neurologist, Ethical Philosopher and Priest says he is  a religious pluralist. "I consider that all religions are created by humans in an attempt to explain the great questions of life and that this should be more openly acknowledged by the Church hierarchy. It is perfectly possible to be a ‘seeker’ within one’s own cultural and religious tradition while acknowledging the equal value of the other great religions of the world. True spirituality is about ‘transformation’ of the way we try to live out our lives and this is common to all undistorted religious traditions."

Michael Saunders has spent many years in roles of priest and neurologist simultaneously working predominantly in North East England and North Yorkshire. Michael qualified in Medicine at Charing Cross Medical School in 1962 and has worked as a neurologist in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Middlesbrough, Northallerton and India.

He was ordained in York Minster in1984 and has been licensed to Stokesley Deanery, The Archbishop of York, Ripon Cathedral, Great and Littlle Ouseburn with Whixley and Marton Cum Grafton, Masham and Healey.  For Ten years he was an Honorary Tutor on the North East Ordination Course and served as an educational advisor for Bishops' Selection conferences.

He has recently retired from being lead Governor of the Newcastle-upon-Tyne NHS Hospitals Foundation Trust.

He is married to a consultant psychiatrist and has four adult children.

"From Certainty to Mystery" by Michael Saunders

Published by Olympia Publishers @ £8.99- Paperback ISBN: 978-1-78830-201-2

Diabolical

Diabolical

It was the American rocker Larry Norman who, in 1972, asked the question that many others had been afraid to voice.

It was the American rocker Larry Norman who, in 1972, asked the question that many others had been afraid to voice.

On what was perhaps the most influential album of his career “Only Visiting this Planet” he posed the question of a thousand flowerchildren who were finding their way in to the new Jesus movement: “Why should the Devil have all the good music?”

As far as many of his contemporaries were concerned, Norman may as well have been the Devil. His long hair and rock and roll stylings meant that they had his number, and it looked remarkably like 666.

To be even handed, it was at least a time when some rock musicians deliberately played up their diabolical stylings. Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page had deliberately appropriated an occult sensibility, using Satanism to sell records. If he did in fact sell his soul to the Devil, then perhaps his current feud with his neighbour the ‘Angels’ singer Robbie Williams is Page’s own private hell. 

But while we were all more credulous in the years surrounding the summer of love, surely in these enlightened times we pay less attention to talk of Satan and his demons.  While on the one hand, the Devil is perhaps the most clearly mythological figures in the Christian tradition, still a surprisingly large number of people cling resolutely to a belief in a single identifiable entity – whose name happens to be Satan.

There are probably a host of reasons for this, but don’t discount the influence of Baudelaire’s famous line: “the loveliest trick of the Devil is to persuade you that he does not exist…" or as later repurposed for the film ‘The Usual Suspects’: “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled, is convincing the world that he does not exist.”

A fear that the very thing the malign agent we call the Devil wants is that we don’t believe in him, prevents our disbelief, adiabolically clever ruse – or is it just another example of the Devil’s famous pride? Always his downfall.

The thing is, of course, that the Devil of popular imagination is a long way from the Satan, or rather Satans of Biblical accounts. The Old Testament (Hebrew) Satan is an agent of Yahweh. A prosecuting counsel, an angelic being with the job of giving people like poor beleaguered Job a hard time. But as traditions began to synthesise Satan turned into a different character all together.

The Lenten fast comes from the story of Jesus in the wilderness, where after forty days without food he is tempted by none other than the old adversary. But of course Jesus’ temptations are the same that we all face, the temptation to abuse resources, power, and relationships – as well as the temptation to get out of the wilderness to somewhere with more food and less temptation. In other words, they are about what it means to be human.

I’m choosing to spend the forty days of Lent reflecting on the Devil, and you can join me if you like. Subscribe to my free daily meditations any time, but do it before Wednesday 6th of March if you want to get the full ‘Sympathy for the Devil?’ series.

Simonjcross.com/sympathy