HolySoup Blog Re-Post about “Why They Don’t Sing in Church Anymore”

Over the past 20 SteepleStretch weeks, I’ve shared my disappointment in the disappearance of hymnals from the back of church pews. Today, a friend posted a link to an interesting blogger who recently discussed why no one is singing in churches any more. I thought he brought up some interesting points and thought I’d share that with SteepleStretch readers.

http://holysoup.com/2014/05/21/why-they-dont-sing-on-sunday-anymore/

So, do you let the singers on stage do all the singing for you, and how do you feel about that? Miss the old hymns, or do you prefer the new music from the band? Comment below.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Quakers – Friends Meeting of San Antonio

photo 4-4

Sunday #20 – Friends Meeting of San Antonio – A Quaker Presence in South Texas

I’ve only met one Quaker family in my life. My eldest daughter developed a strong friendship with a young Quaker girl, so we all got to know her family. I’d describe each member of that family as peaceful and filled with wisdom that seems to surface from a deep well. So, I’m curious if other Quakers exhibit the same qualities. An online search proved valuable; I found a Quaker Meeting in San Antonio.

Surveying the Quaker website, I learned that this Friends meeting in San Antonio is unprogrammed, meaning that the service would have no pastor-led message or music. Instead, I would experience absolute silent worship. I immediately wondered what on earth I’d have to talk about in the next blog post.

Before attending the service, I telephoned the family I’d previously met in Colorado to ask a few questions about programmed versus unprogrammed services; I also got a few other questions answered. I learned that the most common misconception about Quakers is that they are somehow related to the Amish. This may be due in part to the photo on your Quaker Oats morning cereal – funny how we make associative assumptions without much knowledge.

Screenshot 2014-05-26 13.33.40

I also did a little Wikipedia research and learned that in 1650, George Fox became dissatisfied with the teachings of the Church of England and broke away to teach and preach a more simplified way of worship. The followers of Fox became known as “Quakers” because Fox bade others to tremble or “quake” at the word of God. Also interesting is the fact that the greatest concentration of Quakers is found in Kenya, though I’m not sure why. Likewise, I learned that 89 percent of Quakers practice programmed worship with song, prayer and a pastor’s message, while only 11 percent of Quakers worship in silence.

Preconceived Ideas about Quakers

I have only a few possible thoughts about Quakers. The first was in place before I met this family and the other two developed after meeting the family.

  • Like most, I previously believed Quakers to be somehow related to the Amish
  • Quakers are peaceful people
  • Quakers live simple lives

Arrival

photo 1-6

Running a few minutes behind, I zipped into the parking lot and immediately found a place near the front. The building looks much like the front of a home and one wouldn’t know the difference if it were not for the sign out front. As I made my way through the entrance, a woman that I’d previously spoken to on the phone greeted me. She walked me to the sign-in book that was positioned outside a courtyard-like area that reminded me a bit of what might be found in a Japanese garden. Then, she led me to the worship area. I stepped into a beautiful meeting room with a wooden floor, three walls of what resembled wooden pallets, a large expanse of glass overlooking a forested area, and three sets of cushioned pews with about 25 people sitting quietly with their eyes closed.

photo 2-5

Service Begins

I slipped into a back pew and began to sit in absolute stillness for the next hour. As a current student of yoga and meditation, this did not seem odd to me, as it might to others. I relished the idea of sitting completely silent for 60 minutes, just connecting with God. As I sat with these other people – all in their 50s, 60s, 70s and up, I concentrated on my breath and let various sounds pass over me. I heard the hoot of an owl, chirping from birds, the whirl of car tires as they passed by on the street outside, and the pleasing sound of a gentle rain shower as the drops fell onto the roof and against the windowpanes. Occasionally, a sneeze or a cough startled my meditation, but then I’d go right back to focusing on my breath.

At one point, I heard someone stand and say a few divinely inspired words, then the person sat down and silence resumed. After an hour, people began to shake hands with one another. Everyone made introductions, and then we had a break before the next part of the service called a “Forum.” During the break, several people came up to me and introduced themselves personally. I learned “Janet” had been a lifelong Quaker. Quakers are known as pacifists and are often conscientious objectors during a time of war. I also learned that Sunday’s forum would be on “The Experience of Emptiness.” That sounded interesting, so I decided to stay.

Thirty minutes later, the Forum began with two men reading the words of Buddha, Thomas Merton and Gary Whitting. Their writings centered on emptiness and detachment. Then we broke up into groups of five and six to share thoughts about the readings. Oddly enough, I learned nothing from the subject matter; but the forum process taught me a great deal. Before going into these groups, we were instructed to let each person speak from their feelings about the readings, followed by a few moments of silence after each person spoke. We were told that we should listen intently to what was being shared, but when it came to our turn (if we so desired to share), we were not to agree or disagree with anyone who had shared before us.

Somewhere within this group sharing, I began to feel something I’ve only felt once before. Years ago, my family invited Eric and Ellen Weihenmayer over for dinner. Eric is the first blind man to climb Mt. Everest. As I prepared for that dinner, it struck me that Eric would not see me the way others see me. He would not judge or evaluate me for my weight, what I wore or how I moved because he couldn’t see me. Instead, he would experience me only from the words I used and the way I listened to him. WOW! I had the same epiphany yesterday when I realized that sharing thoughts and ideas could be something totally different from what I previously had known. Within this group sharing, I could allow God to speak to me through other people. All I had to do was listen.

Post Service Commentary

I’m still deeply affected by my experience with the Quakers, also known as the Religious Society of Friends. That experience is truly hard to describe. Without music, without the offering, without the message or pastor-led prayer, what is worship? From yesterday’s experience, I think I have a better understanding – it’s the silent space where you can experience the divine presence of God.

What’s Next?

When I think I’ve experienced it all, something new like the Quakers show up to remind me that I haven’t. So, I must keep stretching. This past week, I heard that my good friend Dr. Bob Blaich is to speak at the Universalist Church in Denver about his book “Your Inner Pharmacy,” so I wondered if San Antonio had a Universalist Church. A quick Web search resulted in a Unitarian Universalist Church, so I may just head there next Sunday.

Concordia Lutheran Church – San Antonio, TX

photo 5

Sunday #19 – Concordia Lutheran Church, 16801 Huebner Road, San Antonio, TX

The wedding of my good friend Carla Hanson to Scott Benton prompted my first entrance into a Lutheran church. After that, a decade or two went by before I would step foot into another Lutheran church. When I arrived in Colorado with a three-year old in tow, I had to find another Mother’s Day Out program similar to what I had enjoyed in Texas at First Presbyterian Kingwood. I settled on Faith Lutheran Church in Golden. Heather loved going to school there and I even tried one service because I couldn’t find a Presbyterian Church in which I felt comfortable. So, going into yesterday’s Saturday evening service, I had some familiarity with the denomination. After my last trip to the Al-Madinah Mosque in San Antonio, where I didn’t have a clue what was going on, I welcomed the spiritual respite.

Even though another Lutheran Church is only a mile or so away from where I live, I chose Concordia Lutheran because they have four services with the first of the weekend on Saturday night.

Preconceived Ideas about Lutherans

I have only a few preconceived ideas about Lutherans, so I decided to do a little search to refresh my memory about Martin Luther — the founder of this faith. Luther was a German Catholic monk, priest and theologian who was ex-communicated when he strongly disputed that freedom from God’s punishment for sin could be purchased with money. That’s about the extent of my protestant reformation knowledge. So on to my preconceived ideas of Lutherans:

  • Lutherans, to me, are primarily of German decent and as someone with German ancestry, I’d say that most all Lutheran worship buildings are clean and a bit austere, compared to those found in the Catholic church.
  • Lutheran ministers have a delivery style more like a teacher than a fire and brimstone type of delivery you might find in the Baptist Church.

Arrival

As with many large churches that sit along the 1604 corridor, Concordia Lutheran has a huge footprint with fifteen acres, several buildings and a well-manicured campus that also is home to a large school.

I didn’t see many cars in the church lot, so I started looking at the signage to determine if what I read on the website might be wrong about a Saturday service. I couldn’t read that fast, so I just weaved in and out of the lot to where I saw a family getting out of a car. I parked and followed them around the side of the main building and into the large plate glass vestibule area. Still not many people there at this point and no one greeted me at the door, but some nice church-going men held the door open for me. Extra Texas hospitality points for that!

Service Begins

photo 1-6

I walked into the sanctuary that seats about 1700 people, but only saw about 25 people sprinkled around the pews. The dress was typically what you might find for a Saturday service – jeans, dresses, capris, shorts; church attendees ran the gamut from young to my peeps and a bit older. As I walked in, a man played a guitar from stage right. Words to the music appeared on two large screens to each side of the stage so we could all follow along.  And yes, we stood while he sang, but quickly got to sit down. I liked this place from the get-go. I ran seven miles and walked two more for a total of nine miles yesterday, so sitting was preferable.

Then came the video announcements. This seems to be the way announcements are done at most churches these days. I suddenly had a pang of sadness, in being so far away from Mile Hi Church in Denver where Rev. Barry Ebert gives his comical rendition of announcements. If you are ever near Denver, CO, attend a Mile Hi service if nothing more than to hear Rev. Barry’s announcements – AWESOME!

Then retired pastor Bob Nordlie came to the middle of the stage and led us all in prayer. He gave instructions that we could either sit or kneel. Wanting to experience it all, I pulled down the bench from under the pew (what do you call those things anyway?) in front of me and knelt. Ahhhhh….cushioned and comfortable and so unlike St. Mary Cathedral in Austin. Or was it just that I took my sister’s advice on how to properly do the butt-in-the-pew kneel thing? Either way, I was completely comfortable kneeling this time.

Then the pastor, dressed in a white robe with a stole that appeared to be made of some type of gold lame, made the sign of the cross. The Catholic roots of Lutherans just rose above the ground on that one.

Then guitar guy sang a song and the congregation followed along from the words on the screen. I gazed ahead wondering about the big cross, suspended from wires, and considered its load capacity, but I digress….

Then the pastor read the scripture for the service and we all spoke the words of the Apostles’ Creed. This is the same in the Presbyterian Church, so that was familiar.

After that, the pastor called the children to the front for the children’s message. They are always so cute. The pastor asked them to tell him what they’d see in Heaven. He received answers like, “jewels,” “paradise,” and “gates of pearls.” Then he asked, “If God asked you to tell Him why He should let you in to Heaven, what one word would you say?” Took them a while, but eventually they came up with “Jesus.”

Then the congregation joined in a prayer that everyone seemed to know by heart – this newbie didn’t have a clue what they were reciting. Then came the offering. Typical offering — brass plate passed by the elders of the church. The only difference is that this church played a video about the video ministry during the offertory.

The pastor then instructed us to sit or kneel while we prayed. I found myself praying for the pregnant Christian woman in Sudan that everyone heard about this week. If you recall, she was convicted of renouncing her Muslim faith and would soon be hanged. This story has really torn me apart inside.

We sat back down and sang a contemporary song that I actually had heard before!!! So excited. Was called “O My Soul.” Or, at least that’s what I call it. Very good song, but at this point, I looked down and noticed that the pews contained no hymnals on the backside. Yep….hymnals are already starting to disappear. I’m not a big lover of singing hymns, but sad, nonetheless.

Then Pastor Nordlie delivered his message “I Hope You’re Left Behind.” He went over countless Old and New Testament scriptures that covered The Rapture, The Tribulation and The Judgment. Even among Christians, there are so many versions of where the rapture occurs during the tribulation. Some believe it will occur in the beginning before it starts. Some believe the rapture will occur half way through and others believe it will occur at the end.

My favorite part of the sermon was when the pastor talked about a recurring dream he has had through the years – showing up to preach at church but only donning his underwear. I think that is a nightmare that we’ve all had at one time. I know I used to have the same dream about college classes. The pastor says that we have those dreams when we don’t feel prepared. So he ended his sermon on being prepared for the end times.

After that, we had another prayer and the pastor gave his blessing. That reminded me of the same often said in the Presbyterian Church.

Post Service Commentary

After the service, a woman came and introduced herself. I believe her name was Karen. She was a full-time teacher at the Lutheran school there. Then Richard, one of the Elders and I had a long conversation about Concordia Lutheran being a part of the Missouri-Synod, as opposed to the American-Synod or Wisconsin-Synod.

All in all, felt rather comfortable compared to last week’s foray into the mosque. The Lutherans didn’t throw too much my way that felt new or different, other than that prayer I didn’t know.

What’s Next?

This felt entirely too comfortable, so I’m thinking I might venture into a Quaker or Jehovah’s Witness service next week. Still not quite ready for the Hindu’s just yet

Al-Madinah Mosque (Muslim Children Education and Civic Center) – San Antonio

photo 1-4

Sunday #18 – Muslim Children Education & Civic Center, 5281 Casa Bella, San Antonio, TX

I had strong intentions of visiting a mosque in San Antonio before the Texas heat could squelch my resolve to attend. While a silly idea to most Texas-based Muslims who have learned to dress in loose, all-cotton, draping fabric that breathes, this non-Muslim arrived back in Texas with very few long sleeved, high-necked garments. And, you’d be hard pressed to find one tunic in my entire wardrobe.

However, the recent reported kidnapping of 275 Nigerian schoolgirls by Islamic militants who have threatened to sell them into the sex trade fueled my determination to understand what it is about the Islamic faith, or in this case the twisting of the Islamic faith, that could generate such cruelty in the name of God, or Allah. While I didn’t gather the complete answer (I’m afraid Muslims and Christians still struggle to understand the underlying causes of such horrendous acts in light of the values predominant throughout the Qur’an: righteousness, forgiveness, justice and the value of human life.)

What I learned yesterday from the Muslims I met, is that this display of violence in the name of Islam is not Islam. Comparing the two would be like saying all Christians are the same as Eric Robert Rudolph who was responsible for a series of anti-abortion and anti-gay-motivated bombings that killed people in the late 90s. As with most non-extremist Muslims, Christians know this is not Christianity.

Preparations for a Mosque Visit

When I started this journey I knew that attending services from all of the world’s major religions would be necessary, even though some would be quite foreign to my own worship experience. I’d previously spoken to several Muslim men who shared that men and women worship in different areas, that I would need to cover my head to enter the Mosque and to dress modestly. Yet, I’d not met a Muslim woman to confirm all of this.

Earlier in the week, I received a wonderful gift from God. As I drove into a parking spot at the local library, I saw a Muslim woman walking through the library doors. I silently asked God to provide the opportunity to speak to her and ask a few questions. As I walked through the library entrance, I glanced around searching for this woman, but didn’t see her. I walked to the back, grabbed a DVD, but didn’t see her there. Then, I walked to the rack of CD’s to pick up the next set of Jazz music. Once I had three in hand, I turned to my next daily library stop – the juvenile Spanish book section. There she was! I swallowed my fear and asked if I could ask her a few questions about attending a Mosque. She smiled and said, “yes.”

From there, I learned Nazneen grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, brought to the U.S. at the age of 9 when her father (a surgeon) did his surgical residency in South Carolina. Nazneen spoke perfect English and shared that her father had also exposed she and her brothers to most every religion. They visited places of worship and attended services because they had the opportunities. Nazneen says she is thankful to her parents who never thought this would be a threat to their own beliefs. Nazneen said the questions she had were about the requirements of the faith, not the foundation of her belief. She went to a  Buddhist temple, worshipped with Catholics, Methodists, Mormons and so on. She then recommended a Mosque nearby, shared her business card and said if I ever wanted to go, she’d be happy to take me, as she often gave tours to others. So blessed to have met this beautiful woman donned in a headscarf and sporting the most disarming smile, and to realize we were both kindred souls, I took her card, turned and silently pumped my fists to quietly whisper “YES!”

Then it was on to “what do I wear?” and “how in the world do these women wrap these headscarves around their head?” As so many of you know…..all knowledge can be found on YouTube! I search for “how to wrap a Muslim headscarf” and not only learn how, but also the many different ways one can be tied. Also learn that they are called “hijabs.”

Simple Easy Hijab Tutorial

With the help of YouTube, I skillfully secure my hijab with pins and I’m off to a service in a Mosque. I did get quite a few stares while driving. Hard to say whether it was the hijab or the Smart Car. Even after five years, I still get people staring at the car and asking me questions, so curious and perplexing stares no longer bother me.

photo 2-3

Preconceived Ideas about Islam and Muslims

Going in, I’m not sure if I’ve ever seriously considered my preconceived thoughts about Muslims, though I’m sure we all have developed them through news reports. Here are a few that I quickly came up with:

  • Muslim women are covered from head to toe while out and about, though burkas are not the typical attire worn by Muslim women in the U.S.
  • From all the reports I’ve heard, Muslim women remain subservient to men. That concept didn’t sit well with my view of how women should be treated. I’m not a feminist, but I certainly believe strongly in the rights of all people and that we are all equal.
  • Muslims are devout.

Mosque Arrival

photo 1-5

As I pull into the packed CMECC parking lot through iron gates, I immediately notice quite a few cabs. First thought: WOW. Muslims must really be devout if they take cabs to the Friday service. Second thought: <pounding my forehead with the base of my palm> Many cabbies in my experience, are either Hindu or Muslim. Duh! Of course, this is where they would be on a Friday. 

I weave through the parking lot to find a space near the back, then see a number of policemen. First thought: Oh, that’s nice. They must be here to direct all the traffic, like they do at Cornerstone Church along 1604. Second thought: <tapping my index finger to the corner of my mouth> Wait a minute! Like Cornerstone Church that stations bodyguards at the base of the pulpit where Jim Hagee preaches, these gun-toting guys in blue are here for protection of Muslims from other Americans! Third thought: Sad world we live in, if that is the case.

As I turn off my car, I grab my purse and notepad, but suddenly see something on the seat of my car that sends a “you-are-such-an-outsider” shiver up my spine, much the same way as when I drove into the Mormon church parking lot and saw that I had left a CocaCola sitting in the cup holder. No, I didn’t have a beer in the car (Muslims don’t drink alcohol). Instead, I see the jazz CD “Body Language” by Benny James sitting on the seat beside me. With horror, I look to see an almost naked woman’s body splayed across the CD cover. Anyone who might pass by my car would immediately know that the person driving this itty bitty car didn’t belong in a Mosque. I quickly swat it to the floorboard, where it lands upside down. PHEWWW!

Since Nazneen is running a few minutes behind, she phones and tells me enter through the women’s door and to take a seat in the back of the room where I’ll find several couches. Thank Allah for Nazneen. I would have been totally lost about what to do. As I enter behind another woman, I notice that she slips off her shoes, so I follow in step. I then see the couches and take a seat. From my vantage point, I can see women sitting on a large rug, one with a baby in her lap, another young boy bobbing up and down and all around. Other women sit in a line of chairs near the front.

Service Begins

The service has already begun when I arrive. As I sit down, I note the disembodied voice over a loud speaker. Terrible, terrible microphone and someone should really sell them a new sound system. Other women stroll in during this time, kick off their shoes, walk to the rug and begin their traditional Muslim prostrations.

photo 3-3

As I watch from behind, I immediately think of yoga. On my birthday earlier this week, I made resolved to do a yoga tape every day for the next year, so I could arrive at my 55th birthday with much more flexibility. As I watch these women stand up, sit down, go into “child’s pose” then lean their head to the floor and repeat this several times, I decide that if I were simply to become Muslim, I might not need to do yoga every day. This thought quickly passes, as I listen to the imam’s harsh rhetoric over the loudspeaker. I struggle to make sense of what he is saying. I catch a few words about the “son of Adam,” but for the most part his quick switches between English and Arabic, have my comprehension flipping back and forth like a fish out of water.

Then, Nazneen arrives. Ahh – someone who can make sense of this for me. She walks in with a friend from Pakistan and sits beside me. A few minutes later, she motions for us to follow her. We walk beside the rug and through some doors that lead up several flights of stairs. From atop, she opens a door onto an expanse of ornate carpet and I quickly note a large three-sided glass enclosure.

She motions me to follow and takes me to the middle of the glass enclosure and gestures for me to sit close to the glass. From above, I can finally see the imam, dressed in black with a shear white cape drapped around him. He delivers his message while standing in a small alcove with a round awning jutting out from above. In front of him is a semi-circular table made of granite; behind him is a large office chair. The bearded imam gesters and points to the men below (I can’t see them from this vantage point). Again, I struggle to understand what he is talking about, but I can’t understand anything with all the back and forth between languages. Then, the imam delivers a prayer. I sneak a peak to my left at Nazneen and to the woman sitting to my right. Both have their hands cupped in front of their bodies as if receiving blessings.

After that, Nazneen motions for me to follow her outside onto the balcony so we can talk, while the second half of the service takes place. Outside she does a brain dump of Muslim information on me. She smiles and apologizes for giving me so much information at one time, but I tell her it’s okay and that I’ll absorb as much as I can remember. She shares that women are not supposed to come to the Mosque if they are on their period, because it is considered unclean. Apparently cleanliness is a big deal to the Muslims. A few minutes later she and I tiptoe down some back stairs, past the women on the first floor who are lined up in prayer. We walk outside where she points out where the men wash themselves before attending the Friday service. This is in addition to their showers or baths in the morning at their own home.

Nazneen then shares more Muslim information about cleanliness and its importance, then looses me with details about “intention.” She shares that in the Islamic faith, intention is very important. “God/Allah honors intention and rewards intention,” she explains. “Let’s say I have the intention to call someone who is sick. If I have that intention and for some reason don’t follow through, God/Allah still rewards that,” says Nazneen. “Of course, the deed is always better to do and is rewarded higher, but intention is rewarded, as well.” I had a hard time wrapping my head around that concept, so I let it drop. I realize from my past studies that intention is a powerful concept, but my head is swimming and it isn’t the time to explore it further.

Service Ends

Nazneen wanted me to see everything, so as the men file out, she takes me inside the men’s entrance. We kick off our shoes again and she walks me into the room that I had seen from above. Nazneen is such a strong woman and I ask her about her feelings in having to worship separately from men. She says they pray behind men because men are weaker; they are more easily distracted [by womens presence]. (I know this for a fact, after watching what happened during the recent Easter service from the back of the room. That’s the funny thing that occurred that I didn’t previously share, due to the risqué nature of the incident. Call or email me, if you want the full story in private. It carries some inherent wisdom.)

From this room, I re-learn that Muslims pray five times a day and always face Mecca when they do so. This is to demonstrate unity, which is very important to all Muslims. Apparently though, the prostrations are different lengths throughout the day. Nazneen shared that there are only two prostrations in the morning when Muslims are busy getting ready for work, but four at night, when more time is available.

I learn that Muslims think of God/Allah all day long. She says they wake up thinking of Allah. Before they go to work they think of Allah. They pray five times a day to Allah. They say a small prayer before each meal. Pretty much all day, they think of Allah. Nazneen talks a bit about the holy month of Ramadan and how they fast during the day, all month long – no drink, no food, no sex with your spouse from sun up to sun down. Nazneen tells me that Muslims are very disciplined people and after hearing this, I don’t doubt her word.

We step into a corridor and she shows me where Muslims give back to the community. Within a cut-out in one wall, I see five slits with different names. Nazneen shares that Zakat would be considered the tithe in the Christian church and is the only one required. Unlike Christians who are instructed to tithe 10 percent of their income, Muslims are instructed to pay all their bills and obligations, then it is between the Muslim and God as to what percentage is given, but it should be on a regular basis. During Eid (like our Christmas), a Muslim can’t enter the Mosque, if they have not given their Zakat.

photo 2-4

Post Service Commentary

After the service, Nazneen, her friend and I go to a restaurant to chat further and to get the rest of my questions answered.

photo 3-4

Me: What is the difference between Islam and Muslim? I seem to use the words interchangeably and I know that’s probably wrong.
Nazneen: Islam means “submission to the will of God.” A Muslim is one who submits to the will of God.
Me: Okay, I get it. Kind of like the difference between Christianity and a Christian.

Me: What is the role that an imam plays in Islam?
Nazneen: The word “imam” means “a leader in prayer.” We pray in a straight line and the imam is like the straight chalk marker to guide us in the Islamic faith. We believe we are all created equal in the eyes of God and only through our good deeds do we attain higher status. The imam is usually more learned and well read in the faith and he leads us in prayer and guides us in honoring God.

Me: If you don’t speak Arabic, how do you understand what the imam is saying?
Nazneen: My native language is Urdu, so I do not speak Arabic. However, many of the Arabic words spoken during the prayers are the same, so I understand some of it. I’d like to take you to another Mosque sometime that is done all in English, so it would make more sense to you.
Me: I’m game.

Me: Are all imam’s like this one with such a harsh delivery?
Nazneen: No, each one is different. You’d find many differences between each imam.
Me: Okay, so some rant and rave their messages like pastor John Hagee or the pastor at Greater Love Missionary Baptist Church that jumped up and down on a chair, while others have a teaching style like David Jeremiah or pastor Bobby Martin from the Church at Creek’s End? Got it!

Then before we left the restaurant, Nazneen handed me a copy of the Qur’an. I was so excited. I have a desire to collect and read all the religious texts available, but I’d not had my hand on a Qur’an. I’m too frugal to go to Barnes and Noble and pay full price, so I’d been looking at Half Price Books. Unfortunately, all the Qur’ans are under lock and key — another sad commentary on our world.

Recommendation

To understand even a portion of what goes on in a Mosque or a Masjid, as Nazneen refers to it, please ask a Muslim to accompany you, if you decide to venture in. I’m so grateful that God gave me the opportunity to meet someone like Nazneen, who could provide some context to what I witnessed and answer many of my questions.

Don’t know anyone that is Muslim? Just ask. God always provides what you need.

Soapbox Commentary

Those that know me also know that I rarely get on my soapbox about much of anything, but this is important. As parents, there is no greater responsibility to your nation, your world and to your children and their future, than to teach them respect for other people, including their religious beliefs. Nazneen shared that growing up and going to school in South Carolina was difficult. She was called a “brownie” and other derogatory things just because she looked different.

Nothing pains me more than for parents to allow their children to make fun of other people for their weight, large nose, skinny legs, extra height, skin color, buck teeth, protruding ears, missing arms and legs, social status, economic status, religious beliefs or any number of other things that make us absolutely unique in a larger pool of sameness.

Children pattern our own behavior, that’s how they learn. Children denigrate another person, because they learn to do so from parents, or learn to do so from friends whose parents castigate others.

If you don’t think one remark can shatter a person’s ego, think about this. In the sixth grade, a young man for whom I secretly had a crush, stood with me in the lunch line. He made a rather innocuous comment about my sister, yet one I took to be quite derogatory toward me. I never forgot that comment and it stuck with me in the classes I had later in the day. After school, I carried that comment home with me; I turned it over and over in my mind, thought about it constantly, fusing it to my psyche like SuperGlue to paper. I allowed that comment to affect me for all of my young and most of my adult life, using that comment to confirm what I erroneously thought of myself. Years later, I spoke to that man about the comment (I consider him a good friend to this day). He profusely apologized, but said he didn’t even remember uttering those words.

How is it that one person can unleash a thought so quickly forgotten, while the other person accepts what is verbally given, then carries it for the rest of their life, until one day when finally realizing the comment does not define them? It takes great maturity to realize that you are not what another person thinks of you. Most children do not have that maturity and therefore will carry those little remarks made to and about them throughout their life. Words are powerful. Teach your children and grandchildren to use them wisely and judiciously.

Hate is prevalent from east to west. Until we take personal responsibility for building people up instead of tearing them down, we are destined to create an environment that spawns more violence and horrific acts, like the ones we are now hearing about in Nigeria. I ask that we all pray together  for these girls’ safe return and for their captors. who are in dire need of understanding, instruction and much education. <<jumping down off my soapbox>>

What’s Next?

Since I had to process so much new information from the Islamic faith, jumping into something equally new like Hindu would probably overload my circuits, so I’m thinking Lutheran, Anglican or Quaker next week. Please feel free to share your thoughts on that below. Or, please feel free to share what you may have been teased about, so we can all know our experiences while different, are still the same.  Share your thoughts about bullying, or anything else you feel could help others. That’s what we are hear for.

The Church at Creek’s End – Spring, TX (an interdenominational church)

photo 3-2

#17 – The Church at Creek’s End– Spring, TX

While listening to a book about Orange County, California’s Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren, I began noticing all the different churches that have shed their denominational names for more generic monikers that conjure up images of community, hope and transformation. In fact, in visiting so many churches, it’s often hard for me to tell what category the church should fall under. However, our current culture has done this with so many things other than churches, right? Kentucky Fried Chicken quietly became the more palatable KFC when fried food transformed from crispy yum into nutritional evil, after sales began a slight downward trajectory.

This renaming, and dropping of denominational affiliation has occurred all over the country. Last week, as I left the Dr. David Jeremiah service, my sister and I debated whether he was Baptist or not, because his own church’s name — Shadow Mountain Community Church doesn’t give a hint of its denominational roots. However, little clues will often give it away. Dr. Jeremiah’s service, ended with the singing of the Doxology. BAPTIST! Can’t fool me on that one. I learned today that more and more churches are doing this and may only use “denominational tags” in their church name versus using the denomination as the name’s central focus.

Why this Church?

I had to be in Houston this weekend, so attending the service of a friend who pastors an interdenominational church in the Houston area seemed like the perfect thing to do. Besides, I hadn’t seen Bobby Martin for 15 years, nor had I seen him preach before. While there, I also learned that Bobby, who is a son of a former Baptist minister and raised for years in the Baptist faith, had dropped his association with the Baptist church when it became too political. Like Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, he may have felt the denominational alliance to be more devisive in the effort to reach the unchurched and less inclusive.

Arrival

Running late due to construction work on I-45, I didn’t sweat our arrival. No, I didn’t find a First Time Visitors parking spot, but having seen some of the Facebook posts from this church, I knew they had a band and would likely be playing for a while at the start of the service.

Met at the front of the church by a number of friendly people, my business partner and I walked into the darkened worship area bathed in blue and purple light with the 9-member band on stage. Framed artwork hung behind the band and that immediately captivated my attention as I tried to name each artist. I saw Salvador Dalí’s “The Persistence of Memory” with its depiction of melting timepieces and James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s painting “Whistler’s Mother.” And, well….those were all the paintings that I recognized. While I like art, I’m definitely not some art aficionado.

photo 1-3We stood for song and after song while the band played on stage. What is with all this standing? I’m usually out running before church, sometimes for many miles. The last thing I want to do is stand for 15 minutes, but that seems to be the way churches are doing contemporary services these days. Can you tell I like to sit? And, may I just say, “C’mon guys, be nice to old people like me and nix all this standing.”

Message Series – MASTERPIECE: Finding God in Priceless Works of Art

Then, out walks Pastor Bobby in jeans and shirttail out, just like I found the pastor at Crossbridge Church in San Antonio. Instead of walking to a pulpit, Bobby stood to the side of a tall temporary table that held an iPad. A lighted projected image of “Shipwreck of Minotaur” by Joseph Mallord William Turner stood as his backdrop. I know you think I knew the painting and who painted it, but alas, NO. But I did learn that during the service. See what you can learn by going to church?

Bobby started the service by sharing a story about a man who had more bad things happen to him than anyone could possibly have in 10 years. Started out that he had a flooded apartment and then he has a flat tire, cell phone dies, car gets stolen and on and on. This guy definitely had a bad day.

The key takeaway point from the message was “stay with the ship.” As Bobby shared, “It’s a whole lot easier to stay in the ship with Jesus versus being out of the ship without him.”

Bobby discussed Four Causes for Storms: Me, Others, Satan and God. Then, he talked about the Three Common Mistakes Made When We Face a Storm in Our Lives:

  • We listen to bad advice
  • We follow the crowd
  • We rely on circumstances

photo 2-2 Bobby shared that there is always a right response for the storm, saying, “What happens to you is not nearly as important as what happens inside of you.” Finally, he encouraged us all to evaluate our own responses and gave some tips on what NOT to do during a storm in our lives:

* Don’t drift – I loved his point that if we are coasting, we are definitely going downhill.

* Don’t discard – don’t throw everything off the boat that you may need to have later on.

* Don’t despair – God will always be there to guide the way and sometimes the storm is there for a reason.

Then, Bobby closed with a prayer and another minister came on stage to give the announcements and prepare for the offering. I must say, I never thought I’d see an offering container like that. Cowboy Churches have their hats, buckets and boots; evangelists have their deep white pails, but similarly to the First Church of Christ, Scientist in San Antonio, Bobby’s church has an “offering pouch.” It has wooden handles with a black velvet pouch attached to it. I’m glad I don’t have to question why. I know from my previous communication with Christian Scientist practitioners that this is so no one really knows how much you just dropped in the plate.

Post Event Commentary

After the service, I got to learn more about Bobby’s message series around the paintings. I asked where this idea had originated. Had the paintings been the inspiration, or had he first uncovered the topic area and then searched for paintings that would be good representations of that? I learned that it was a bit of both. I must say, this sermon series was one of the most creative and visually enjoyable that I’ve ever experienced. I applaud Bobby’s creative side and I’m so proud of his work to build this church, to be the rock of his family and to touch lives in the way he does. This church is not all about getting people to church on Sunday mornings; the Church at Creek’s End is focused on helping people in need throughout the surrounding community and making their church a true community center, seven days a week.

I like the way Bobby preaches. It’s biblically-based, but yet with a creative and intellectual leaning. And, no yelling, screaming, ranting or raving! That appeals to me. Yep…I could be a member of this church. Too bad the church is located hours away from San Antonio.

For my high school friends: If you ever find yourself near Houston on a Sunday. Pop in on Bobby and have a listen. I think you’ll really enjoy it.

What’s Next?

Well, I’ve had two familiar services back-to-back; time to STRETCH. I’m thinking Muslim, Hindu or Jehovah’s Witness. Care to vote by adding your suggestions in the comments below?