What the Modern Church is Missing

Let’s face it. We live in very different times, cultures and circumstances than those of the church 100, 500, 1,000 or 2,000 years ago. It takes different things to keep people of our day and age involved. Every century that passes between the preaching of the apostles and the modern era increases the gap in the ability to grasp just what it is that they were willing to lay down their lives in defense of.  No, the Gospel itself hasn’t changed, but in reality, we can’t even imagine the culture in which the Apostles lived and taught. We don’t face the persecution that they faced. We don’t have a government actively hunting us and killing us (with the rare exception). We are also so far removed from Temple service, even the Jews of today cannot fathom what it was like to stand just before the altar of incense. We have truly lost touch with that era. Our technology, our “necessities”, our distractions… none of them existed in the days of the Apostles. Open world instant communication, transportation… it just wasn’t conceived of by 2nd century writers.

Their goal was to spread the Gospel to the adults, and to bring hope to the aged and the infirm. They knew that the adults of their time were the prime targets in terms of difficulty, and in terms of influence. The adults of that age were stuck in their ways. They did as they had done for centuries. But the adults also exerted power over the young. If the adults could be convinced, the young would join with them and a new generation would be born having been Christian from their youth, and willing and able to follow new laws and new commands that their fathers didn’t know. But in our days, these tables have turned. The adults are Christian for many reasons. Some have experienced a genuine transformation of heart. Others are Christian merely because their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents etc. were Christian. Still others are Christian because their friends were, and they went to youth camp with them, and “getting saved” was just the thing to do at the time. And none of them can be faulted for any of these reasons. The Holy Spirit has the ability to work with any of them.

The new issue, is the youth. The age of reason, the age of enlightenment, the age of scientific discovery, and now the age of information have made it more important than ever to target the younger generation. They have at their fingertips, all of the information known to the collective consciousness of man. They can find anything that they want to know, good or bad, in an instant. At the same time, the adults and the older generation have largely become complacent. They are not actively learning and building up their knowledge of the faith. This results in something the apostles never anticipated. Adults who do not know how to respond to questions of the faith to youth, and youth who are able to find anything and everything about anything in existence. This has lead to many becoming atheist, agnostic or relying wholly on science, as a tangible and graspable concept. This has to change, if the Church is to survive. It’s time that the Church target the younger generation, while at the same time, educating the older generation. These are two halves of a whole.

In this generation, exist many ideas and ways of living which were alien to Christians two generations ago. Divisive issues such as homosexual marriage, abortion, a woman’s right to contraception, capitol punishment,and many more have come to the forefront in this generation. And the knee-jerk reaction of some among many has been to buckle down against change, and to use Biblical verse to insist that God hates. All the while, their action has been what God has actually made clear that he hates: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community. No, this view isn’t representative of Christianity, but this view is the loudest and represented the most in the media. The squeaky wheel gets oiled first?

In choosing to focus on what they construe as sin rather than the love of Christ shown to the prostitute, the Samaritan adulteress, the adulteress that was to be stoned, the woman with the issue of blood, the woman possessed by demons, and worst of all, those who beat, tortured and crucified him, they choose instead to have haughty eyes thinking themselves better and judging the “sinner”, to have a lying tongue, insisting that God hates that “sinner” or will confine them to hell. They shed innocent blood by driving people away from Church, in essence cutting their souls off from the fount of eternity. They do wicked things like picketing funerals. They rush into evil to shoot abortion doctors, to beat women who have had abortions, they falsely accuse others based on their unmerciful judgements, and lastly, they stir up conflict among the body of believers. I’ll refer to them as the old church. The old church is more concerned with the letter of the law, even going so far as to demand that old laws from an old covenant from which the death of Christ freed us, be kept.

As a result, the youth don’t feel loved, needed or welcome. They feel alienated, and as if they have no place there. Many ask; “Why go to Church? They’re just going to focus on the bad that I do.”, or “I don’t go anymore because I didn’t feel welcome. As soon as they see that I (insert “sin” here), they were not kind to me.”. This doesn’t help bring anyone to Christ, and in fact, distances those treating the youth in this fashion, further from Christ. The younger generation has higher instances of depression and teen suicide than ever before. Because the younger generation has a NEED to belong. They NEED to be part of something. They NEED to be accepted. The NEED to feel loved. When we judge them and look down on them for whatever petty offense, we deny that need and chase them away. I’m sorry to say it, but the “old church” has a great deal of blood on her hands. All of those that she has chased off which never set foot in a Church again… To illustrate my point – an eyewitness story of an act by Metropolitan Antony Bloom of the Russian Orthodox Church:

One time, Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Antony Borisovich Bloom of Sourozh (19 June 1914 – 4 August 2003), may his memory be eternal, during one Divine Liturgy went out to give the homily and said the following:

“Yesterday evening a woman with her baby came into the church during services. She was wearing pants and no head covering. One of you criticized her. She left. I don’t know who criticized her, but I hereby order them to pray for her and that baby until the end of their days, so that God will save [the woman and her baby]. Because thanks to one of you she might never again come to church.”

He turned around and left. That was the whole homily.

This response has to change. There is no sin so great that the mercy of Christ is powerless against it. God is love, and we are commanded to love. No conditions were given. If we are slapped, we are to turn the other cheek. If asked to carry a load for a mile, we carry for two. As disciples of Christ, our first and only thought should be, how can we show this person the love of our master? This isn’t a sinner, this is a fellow human, a fellow sufferer, and a fellow traveler seeking the truth. What can we do to make them feel welcome? What can we do to make them feel important? What can we do to make them feel loved? This is the great commission. To love our neighbour as ourselves. To love our fellow human. To love. That’s it. We weren’t commanded to do anything else, excepting loving God. And we know that if we say that we love God, but do not show love to our neighbor, it is a lie and the love of God is absent. The new Church needs to be concerned with the spirit of the law – that is – love, redemption, forgiveness, and salvation. Following is a list of direct commands of Christ to all of his followers – and all of them require only love:

1. “Follow me”
2. “Let your light shine before others”
3. “Before offering a gift to God, first be reconciled with your fellow”
4. “If a body part causes you to sin, remove it”
5. “Swear no oath – let a yes be yes and a no be no”
6. “If someone slaps you on the cheek, turn the other cheek”
7. “Give to the person that asks from you”
8. “Love your enemies, pray for your persecutors”
9. “Do not practice (display) righteousness in front of others”
10. “When you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites”
11. “Forgive those that sin against you”
12. “Don’t not be somber in fasting, but joyous”
13. “Don’t store up earthly treasures”
14. “Do not worry about your life, clothes, food or tomorrow”
15. “Do not judge others”
16. “Tend to your sins before pointing out the sins of others”
17. “Do to others what you would have them do to you”
18. “Beware of false prophets”
19. “Give mercy rather than sacrifice”
20. “Freely you have received, freely give”
21. “Acknowledge me before others”
22. “Come to me, take my yoke”
23. “Whoever has ears, hear”
24. “Take courage, be not afraid”
25. “Listen and understand”
26. “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Being overly concerned with the law, over the person)
27. “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me”
28. “Get up, don’t be afraid”
29. “Become like a child”
30. “Do not despise children”
31. “Forgive seventy times seven”
32. “What God has joined together, let no man separate”
33. “Do not murder, commit adultery, steal, or give false testimony”
34. “Honour your father and mother, love your neighbour as yourself”
35. “Sell your possessions and give to the poor”
36. “Whoever wants to become great must be a servant”
37. “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is Gods”
38. ” Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and love your neighbour as yourself”
39. “Do everything they tell you (teachers of the law). But do not do what they do”
40. “Watch out that no one (those claiming my name) deceive you”
41. “Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come”
42. “Keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour”
43. “Whatever you do for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you do for me”
44. “This IS my body, this IS my blood. Do this in memory of me”
45. “All who draw the sword will die by the sword”
46. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”
47. “Feed my sheep”
48. “Be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”
49. “Go and sin no more.”
50. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Nowhere in this list of the commands of Christ do you see a command to hate, or to judge, or to mistreat. And the final command is the nail in the coffin of the “old church”. All of His commands involve loving. And if you love Him, you will keep them. Only with a friendly, open, loving environment can we hope to bring in the youth. To have them feel that they belong. Only with a friendly, open, loving environment can we breathe fresh life into aging and dying congregations. Only with a friendly, open and loving environment can we preserve what remains of the modern Church. Our God desires mercy, not sacrifice. Love, not judgement.

In short, what is the modern Church missing? The modern Church is missing love. It’s time to change that, or we risk being one of the last generations of our faith.

Death and Dying

As most of you that know me are aware, I have high functioning autism. In some ways, this is a blessing, and in others, a curse. I see the world in black and white. There is no grey. There is no maybe. There is no “kinda sorta”. Things are, or they are not one way or the other. Logic is my guiding principle. If it makes no common sense, and has no logic, I don’t generally give it any further thought. With that being said, there is one area (yes only one) of my life and cognitive reasoning that troubles me, and that I DO consider to be a grey area. That area, is the idea of an afterlife. You see, along with my autism, for biologically complex reasons, my brain doesn’t process “feeling” and emotion the way others appear to. I was created incapable of having a real relationship with an intangible force, as I possess only logic and reason, with no satisfactory spiritual-emotional abilities. Any belief that I have is not rooted in emotional intelligence, merely in choice, logic and reason. Bearing that in mind, let’s explore death.

I have been legally dead multiple times over the course of my thirty-nine years. The first time I died, was as an infant. I remember after being revived, seeing everything blurrily through the oxygen tent. Another time, as a toddler, I drowned. Another time as a teen, I fell from a second story roof. The list goes on. Death has courted me since birth. Each time,  heart had ceased. There was no brain activity. I was physically dead. And guess what? There was nothing. I didn’t float out of my body. I didn’t hear people trying to revive me. There was no tunnel with light. There were no family members greeting me. There was no angelic music. There was no demon trying to pull me down. There were no visions of heaven or of hell. There was just nothing. I simply ceased to be. Until I was revived, my personhood was gone. My hopes, dreams, aspirations, my consciousness… all of it was completely gone. This was the absolute biggest blow to any faith I may have had. The faith that existed only because my father hammered it into my over and over as a child. The faith that was only going through the motions to begin with. The faith that had no roots because I cannot believe anything that isn’t based in logic – anything that isn’t tangible – anything that cannot be proven. To me, the experience was, if anything; proof that there was nothing after death whatsoever. As a result, I wavered in my “faith”.

On top of all of this, there is no shortage of books and movies about people who claim to have encountered things after their deaths. Tales of seeing their close relatives, of being shown the pains of hell and the pleasures of heaven. Of feeling the very presence of the Divine. One I’m reading now, called “Return from Tomorrow” loaned to me by my friend Kathy begins with the man having an out of body experience in which he finds himself moving through the town suspended fifty feet in the air, floating about. In his “floatings”, he met his X-Ray technician who of course, couldn’t see him. He witnessed his own dead body, which he was able to identify by the ring he was wearing. He saw the typical light growing in the room, and witnessed a man made of light. He details the hell he was shown, the heaven he was shown. Then there’s the story (pretty much the same) from a boy who died, but his vision of hell was not of a soul trying to grasp a tumbler to press to his lips in vain, but of actual suffering and punishment. There are books upon books written by people claiming to have experienced this phenomena. I question the narratives, having died multiple times and having experienced nothing whatsoever. Why was such a glimpse into the eternal denied me? Or because my way of thinking differs from the neurotypical person, did my neurons just not fire off in whimsical desperation for oxygen the way others do?

Is there a heaven? Is there a hell? Truthfully, I don’t know. I like to think that I believe that there is, and I go through the motions… Over the years I drifted back and forth, unable to really find myself or faith or belief at all. I have prayed at great length asking for feeling. For something, anything that would allow my faith to increase. I have prayed for belief. I have prayed for trust. I have received none of those things. Yes, I am faithful. Following a code of laws that I believe to be Divine. Attending religious services. Praying and confessing my sins, trying to do better, living according to a code that the rest of the world views as silly and antiquated. I am kind to others. I force myself to like everyone by killing that judgmental little voice. I do my best to not get angry. I give my tithes and offerings. I read the Holy Book, the Word of the Divine inscribed by the hand of man, His messengers. Is it really His word? I honestly don’t know. I like to think that I believe, but do I? The fact is, I am filled with doubts. All I know is what I can perceive with my senses, and even my senses betray me.

What makes it worse, is that so many people tell me that just going through the actions is worthless. Without belief, and without faith, and without love for God etc. I am just a phony that has no chance of redemption. But for me, actions are all I have. I simply cannot feel, I cannot love something that I have no knowledge of existing. I don’t know why God chose to make me like this, but I refuse to believe that someone referred to as “Compassionate and Gracious, Slow to anger and Abundant in Kindness and Truth, Preserver of kindness for thousands of generations, Forgiver of iniquity, willful sin, and error, and Who Cleanses” could hold it against me for not being able to do what He created me not to be able to do. This thought, and this thought alone is the only reason that I continue to pray and attend religious services. I do exactly what the faith I follow requires of me. But I don’t really feel anything in this service. I act primarily because following the rules of my faith makes me a better person, and because when I die, I don’t want to suffer in any afterlife that there may be as well.

If the afterlife is real, as I like to think that I believe, what hope do I have? Will the angels at the moment of my final death draw swords and prevent me from uttering my final declaration of faith? Will demons scratch and grasp at me as I attempt to ascend? Will the accuser be able to pile enough in the scales to have me declared a completely wicked person? If I go down to punishment, will there be enough silver remaining once the dross is cleared for me to rise up again? If the afterlife is not real, I leave no legacy. I have done nothing worthy of praise. I have accomplished nothing worthy of memory. Wandering through life, only to find that my final destination is destruction. Either way, do I have anything to look forward to? On the one hand, a glimmer of hope, the minuscule chance of reward for an unworthy sinner, on the other, the end of it all. What is it about me that any Creator, any Divine, if such truly awaits me, would find worthy of consideration? If I do not sink into darkness, but instead go to judgment, what merit accompanies me in my favour?

As I told my friend Michael the other day, as long as we confess our sins and are contrite (regardless of our physical and mental limitations), and serve God according to the tradition of the apostles and do good to our fellow man, I believe we can trust in the mercy of Christ. Beyond that, I’m just a man struggling to please a God that refuses to tell him which direction to walk.

True National Character

There are many scales by which we generally weigh the character of a nation. Some for the better, some for the worse. And there are many measures by which nations aspire to be sized up. Many nations have a strong gross domestic product. Others own a great share of debt owed by other nations. Some have gold and diamonds. Others have a strong and stable government with relatively happy citizens. Still others are medically and technologically advanced. These are all categories that they have striven for recognition within. But to really understand the greatness or the lowliness of a nation, we have to look not at their accomplishments, but at the most unlikely statistics. How do they treat the poor? How do they treat those who are deemed a drain, non contributing… worthless? Whether or not you support abortion or choice, you must recognize that as society goes, life has been cheapened by its allowance. A medical and insurance system that weighs how many “good” years a person has left, how many children they have, who relies on them for support etc. prior to performing life saving medical procedures, cheapens life. A system that allows medically assisted suicide, and the euthanizing of those with severe disabilities, cheapens life.

But what is incredibly frustrating, more so in my view than all of the helpless previously mentioned, is the poor and the homeless. These people, many of them Veterans of our nation’s armed forces who served with bravery, honour and distinction, are viewed not as national heroes worthy of aid, but as a blight on society. People cross the street to avoid having to look them in the eye. People refuse to give them pocket change, because they may purchase booze. Cities plot to decrease their presence by banning them from public parks and lands. Cities install spikes under overpasses and in passageways where they are known to seek shelter in effort to make it too uncomfortable for them so that they will move on. They ban institutions from feeding them. They close soup kitchens over silly health infractions. They forbid their gathering. They ban churches from passing out blankets and coats to them in the winter. This is absolutely disgusting.

Taken as a package, we as a nation, and we as individual persons, are failing. We are not a great nation. We are a morally bankrupt nation. No matter what version of the “Golden Rule” you ascribe to, we are failing. We have lost our respect for life in general. Certain populations are deemed “disposable”. There was another nation that behaved in that manner once, and nearly every nation on the face of the earth went to war against, and defeated them. Gypsies, Jews, Gays, Priests, Catholics, Political Dissidents… And we are absolutely following their lead. No, we haven’t started to pinpoint races or faiths… yet… but it’s only a matter of time. The only way that a nation can truly be great and can be deemed worthy is through its kindness to the needy, to those who can’t give back, and to those unable to fend for themselves. If we as individual people are held to the golden rule standard, how much more so should the nation which represents us?  If we can’t care for the poor, the needy, the helpless, the weak, the homeless, the hungry, the orphan, the widow, the oppressed, the minorities – then we as a nation are a blight upon humanity.

Every person of goodwill, must absolutely make it their mission to only vote for candidates that espouse the virtues of love, kindness, and humility. Those who will further the cause of the helpless.  The road that we are going down right now is the road to ruin. We have become a selfish and self absorbed culture. Everything has become about what makes us happy. We have reverted to animals. It’s time that we stand up and be human beings. Caring, compassionate, giving and loving, and uplift all of our fellow humans. We have laws for no child being left behind, but our goal should be, no one left behind.