New Church Update, July 8, 2012

We had a full house last night! Thirty-eight adults and children gathered for our second worship and planning meeting. We talked about the second aspect of our life together as a worshiping community: Devotion.

Devotion is how we love God as individuals and small groups. The word “devotion” shares the same root as the word “vow,” and it’s about how we commit ourselves to loving God with our heart, mind, and strength. There are many ways that we can open ourselves to grace and allow God to change us, but I focused on four: prayer, study, giving, and meeting together.

While a lot has been written about prayer, and there are many ways to pray, my biggest learning about prayer in the last several years has been how to pray with my body. After meditating with Buddhists in South Korea to praying with hand-waving charismatic Christians there, watching Jews rock back and forth at the Wailing Wall and Muslims bow with their faces to the ground in Cairo, I realized I was missing out on something. Most Protestants learn to pray with their eyes closed and their heads bowed, stationary and silent, like people asleep. But God is not just an internal voice in my head. The living God likes physicality, and when I learned to pray nonverbally by bowing, kneeling, feeling the texture of beads, or journaling, it was like I had discovered a new country. I hope people in the new congregation find new power in prayer as well.

Study likewise is not just piously poring over scripture as God’s Word. It means wrestling with a text, arguing with the authors, questioning things that seem like cliched truths and bumping up against the rough edges of scripture. I wish progressive Christians had been reading their Bibles in California during the Proposition 8 controversy, and in Alabama during immigration. I wish more Christians memorized the verses that say God shows no partiality, instead of just the comforting, misquoted ones about personal salvation (“I know the plans I have for you,” for example, is really “I know the plans I have for y’all.”)

Giving. Man, where to begin. People in Nigeria, and Zambia, and Kenya dance their offerings down the aisles of the church with joy. Here in the richest country in the world, we’re embarrassed to ask for offerings in church. Because we don’t talk about money, we have a hard time asking for commitment. Uncommitted people gripe the loudest and give the least. You don’t have to look much further than two recent contenders for the presidential nomination. Each loudly said that government shouldn’t help the poor—that’s the job of the churches. Neither one, according to their tax returns, tithed. (For the record, both Obama and Romney do tithe).

I would not ask such a person to be the president of my administrative board, much less of the most powerful nation on the planet. If you don’t believe in the mission and ministry of the organization you serve enough to give to it, you should find an organization whose mission you can tithe toward. When I give the first dollar of my paycheck away, I no longer work for Visa, or beer, or the mortgage company. I work for God. If my first thought with my money is how to spend it on myself, then I work for all the petty gods of this world.

Finally, meeting together is part of devotion and how we love God. Theresa of Avila said that in order to know God better, one should frequent the company of God’s friends. It is difficult to be accountable to these other things I’ve mentioned without being part of a community. Even Jesus needed a circle of 12 friends around him, and needed their prayers. If Jesus felt the need, I figure I’d better do the same.

After the sermon, we shared communion. In the response part of our worship and meeting, we did some polling about potential names for the new church, and Angela led the group in making various kinds of prayer beads. The word “bead” actually comes from the word for prayer, because they’ve served as a mnemonic device in many cultures for many centuries for prayer and meditation.

I am excited that people seem to be turned on by what we’re starting here, and that they are beginning to dream about the possibilities available to us. God is doing great things.

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