In the wonderful world of blogging, comments occasionally appear from totally unknown sources. I do not know how Paul T. found IASP, or why he stopped by to read, but his comment yesterday tweaked my interest.

Paul T. commented on “Take Away From Clergy Conference #3b – The ‘Why’ of Church” https://inaspaciousplace.wordpress.com/2016/05/26/take-away-from-clergy-conference-3b-the-why-of-church/#comments

To my suggestion that the “Why” of church might be that “Church exists to enable all people to allow their hearts to open and become responsive to the mysterious divine Presence at the heart of all creation,” Paul T. replied:

If this is the “Why” of Church – to open my heart to the “divine Presence at the heart of Creation” – then why wouldn’t I just go hiking or meditate on my own or with others at the beach? Less baggage. None of the hierarchy there in their suits or robes. No guilt there (like confessions, offering plates, outmoded homophobic and anti-women scriptures). Nobody preaching at me. Plus then I don’t have to be boxed into a space that’s uncomfortable and be separate from creation by concrete walls. If it’s for ‘all people’, like you say – why do you then box it in a Christian form and with your Christian language? How does this speak to “all people” like a Buddhist or a Muslim – or a Jew who doesn’t buy into your “Presence fully embodied in the history and person of Jesus”? This sounds coercive and controlling toward the Universal Presence to me for the promotion of your own religion and paycheque. I’ll take the beach, thanks!

He raises some important points. Today, and over a couple of more days, I will respond to Paul T.’s comment, beginning with his opening question:

If this is the “Why” of Church – to open my heart to the “divine Presence at the heart of Creation” – then why wouldn’t I just go hiking or meditate on my own or with others at the beach?

That is a great question. Many people choose to “go hiking or meditate” on their own “or with others at the beach” rather than spending Sunday morning in church. Hiking or meditation alone “or with others at the beach” are commendable spiritual practices. My spiritual life has been profoundly enriched by connecting with creation. Meditation alone and in groups is at the heart of my spiritual practice. But why does it need to be either church or the beach?

In addition to my life in nature and my meditation practice, I find that the discipline of showing up on a regular basis to gather with a group of people many of whom I might not normally select to spend time with but who share my commitment to opening to the “divine Presence at the heart of Creation,” is enriching and strengthening in a way that complements a casual hike or time at the beach. A deep energy of love is unleashed when people gather with a shared intention to open their hearts to the power of goodness and light.

It is also not clear to me that random hiking or meditating by myself or with others at the beach has the capacity to, for example: raise $100,000.00 and organize the endless person hours required to sponsor two Syrian Refugee families to come to Canada, offer compassionate care for people who live on the streets of our city, agitate for social justice for the First Nations Peoples of Canada, care for disabled children in Haiti, and the list goes on an on. All these are activities regularly engaged in and supported by the heart-opening practice of the church community with which I gather every Sunday.

Paul T. goes on to extol the virtues of the beach where he finds,

Less baggage. None of the hierarchy there in their suits or robes.

There may be “less baggage” at the beach; but life has baggage. If I am going to be associated with any community larger than me by myself, I am taking on baggage. If I share my life with any group of people, I take on the baggage of their history, their failures, and their shortcomings. I stand on top of a huge pile of baggage. In the church in which I serve, we endeavour to acknowledge our baggage, be honest about it, and work for healing and reconciliation. If a community meditating at the beach has the same commitment to owning and dealing with its baggage, and working together to reduce the impact of that baggage in the world, more power to them.

I can’t speak for the suits, but in the tradition in which I practice, the robes I wear are an attempt to direct attention away from the person leading worship and connect the community with a sense of history and tradition that transcends the narrow confines of current transient cultural expressions. We work hard in the church I serve to reduce hierarchy and encourage everyone to affirm that all human beings are created in “the image of God,” and therefore equally deserving of complete respect and reverence.

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