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Get your Ashes to Church

Ash Wednesday Service is the best time and place to begin anew. To give church, God and yourself another chance. In the words of the hymn - if you wait till you are better you will never come at all.

In a show "Judging Amy" one of the characters, Vincent is a writer. A writer with a problem - he is stuck and can't write. This drags on and on until finally his mother tells him bluntly: "Vincent, the art of writing is the art of applying your ass to the chair."

Throughout the year I meet a lot of people who tell me "they are looking for a church." On a good day, I will smile and listen sympathetically. On a bad one I will ask "And how many have you visited so far?" But on both days, I do understand. Its always hard to get to church. And I am not talking about getting out of bed in the morning - that is NOT hard, let's be honest.

I mean the spiritual sloth that drags us down. We have not been there since last Easter. Its been months since we prayed - and I mean really prayed and not just shouted "OMG." Its been forever since we actually thought about who God is and what God expects from us. And make no mistake, God does expect things from us other than us being "happy." And so we feel guilt, and more guilt, and somehow church becomes that great dungeon, where if we show up "the roof will collapse on our head" and the minister will go bonkers.

As a minister, let me be honest. That's not true. I show up every Sunday to church, and the roof is still there - and it does not even tilt in my direction. Every time we think we are the biggest sinner ever - I bet you there is someone better at it either "church shopping" or in church already. So get over yourself! The roof will not collapse, the minister will not get a heart attack, and your skin will not burn when it touches a hymnal or church pew. The only thing that stands in the way between you and church is... well.. you. 

Attending Ash Wednesday Service is the best time and best place to begin again. To give church and God another chance. To give yourself another chance. In the words of the hymn - "if you wait till you are better you will never come at all."

So, I invite you all: the seekers, the lookers, the virtual church shoppers, the spiritual but not religious for whom this combo no longer works - come & join us for our Ash Wednesday Service at 7 PM.

To paraphrase: "Get your ashes to church"

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Alexis Fallon February 14, 2013 at 04:44 PM
Pastor Kaz, is on point, When was the last time you asked yourself what does God Want? Is that even a question in your daily, weekly, monthly or yearly life? Do we use our failure to go to church as way to create a bar to getting back in communion with God. It is false paradigm. God is always there period whether we choose to go or not go- (s)he is there. Do not let excuses and perceived failures as bar from participation in a church.
Ben Jackson February 14, 2013 at 09:29 PM
Pastor, I take your points. However, as one of the "nones,' and also as an individual who works for a religious organization, I would argue that it is the job of the church to evolve to meet the demands of a changing population. Saying "get into church," is just another way of distancing the church from its potential parishoners. In a relationship, to give a former partner "another chance," they need to show that they have learned from what led to the split in the first place, and taken a hard look at themselves and made real and meaningful changes for the relationship to be successful the next time around. If the church, which simply refuses in many ways to evolve to meet the realities of the new millennium wants "another chance," well, it needs to get itself into some therapy. Make meaningful changes. Prove that it's serious about those changes. There are great works your church can do. I disagree spiritually, philosophically, and morally with many of the positions of the church. However, I recognize the good works you provide, and the spiritual home you could provide for people who believe differently than I do. Please, encourage your church to evolve, to grow, before asking people to take it back.
Kazimierz Bem February 14, 2013 at 10:37 PM
Ok - so I agree and disagree - how mainline Protestant of me :) The church proclaims some truths that are universal and cannot change: the Trinity, the person and work of Jesus Christ. Our hope for a better world. But in other aspects the church does change. To give you an example: our denomination - The United Church of Christ - accepts women pastors. I am my congregation's first openly gay minister and as a denomination we have come out for same sex marriage in 2004. We marry same-sex couples. So when I hear from people "I wish there was a church that wasnt homophobic" I can tell them most of the time - Well, actually my denomination isn't at all. They smile, say really, and... dont show up, and quite often repeat the same thing when I am not listening. And while I take your point that we need to change - I think for most people these are just excuses why not to go to church. The church has changed, so why are you not there? And, if I may add, if you want the church to change, you have to be a part of it to make it happen. So, I will stand by my original: "Get over yourselves and get your ashes to church motto." The world around us might cater and ponder to every whim of ours - the church has change, and has evolved - so there is no reason to be outside of it.
Ben Jackson February 14, 2013 at 10:59 PM
Pastor, Thanks for the reply. Ihave tremendous respect for the UCC. I've met Geoffrey Black, and have found him and all of the UCC folks with whom I've interacted to be progressive, thoughtful advocates for their faith. If it weren't for that pesky religious doctrine thing, I'd probably join up. And I think there's the rub for me, and for many like me: that, at its core, religious doctrine is dictating a morality and religious certainty that frequently has no room to change even when the overwhelming preponderance of evidence mandates that it does. I think the UCC is light-years ahead of most faiths on this, and I commend you, but there is still the core: the trinity is unchangeable, and so there is no room for an Jew or a Muslim or an atheist or a pagan to also be right. The heart of the trinity is exclusionary, and thst puts people off. As to attracting people , though, I really think any church needs to expand way beyond the services on Sunday and coffee hour after. It needs to find and share the divinity in justice work, in nature hikes, in music and theater and art which is not church focused, and bring its monistry to the people. Anyway, I wish you well. Keep doing your good works, and keep some room in your faith for those who think differently to also be right. Thanks forcthe discussion!
Kazimierz Bem February 14, 2013 at 11:06 PM
Hey Ben, You are right - on some level the Trinity is exclusionary. Just like Judaism is or the Islam, or any other religion for that matter. Some claim they are THE ONLY way - some claim they are the BEST WAY to God but accept others. I guess I would say that different religions deal with different issues or fundamental questions: Judaism with law, Christianity with sin, Islam with obedience etc. People who say they are "spiritual but not religious" practice perhaps the ultimate form of exclusivity - their religion is THEIRS and theirs only. No one else gets in on it. I think with dogmas, people dont understand of what faith means. It does not mean intellectual assent, or intellectual solving or a riddle. Faith seeks understanding and wisdom - not knowledge. The difference is subtle but crucial. To your last point - we are. Consider coming to this: http://marlborough.patch.com/events/free-warm-soup-bread We would be delighted to have you and your daughter as guests :) Kaz
jaymike February 15, 2013 at 05:25 AM
“… religious doctrine is dictating a morality and religious certainty that frequently has no room to change even when the overwhelming preponderance of evidence mandates that it does.” What exactly do you mean? Can you cite actual examples? “… the trinity is unchangeable, and so there is no room for an Jew or a Muslim or an atheist or a pagan to also be right.” I say 2+2 = 4. You say 2+2 = 8. There is no room for us both to be right. That is the way truth works. What you believe about God is either true or false. It is actually nonsense to suggest all faiths should be mutually agreeable and accepting of each other when in reality they are mutually exclusive. As a result, only one can be right. I believe Jesus is God. The Jew and Muslim do not. Why do you put the burden on me to change so as not to offend the others? How about the Jew, the Muslim and you change? Afterall, the “preponderance of evidence” supports the Christian view of Jesus. It is interesting you close with this … “Keep doing your good works, and keep some room in your faith for those who think differently to also be right.” Your earlier comments leave the impression you leave no room for the devout Christian to be right.
Paul Bishop February 15, 2013 at 05:52 AM
Hi Pastor Bem.. we talked once before and I think maybe Ben said better what I was trying to say at the time but came across poorly- that many are turned off by what appears to dogma rather than faith. I think one of the things that has evolved about religion is a sense that though faith (of any flavor) is generally a good thing, religion (the human organizations known as churches) carries with it a ton of dogma that is unrelated (in their opinion) to a personal relationship with their diety.. and sometimes the dogma directly conflicts with the teachings. Churches are seen as corruptible human constructs, which in my opinion is the reality. When it comes to Christianity, the reference material (the Bible) is heavily edited, rewritten, redacted, and excludes many writings that were arguably as theologically important as the existing testaments. One then begins to realize that the Bible, which is at best a collection of moralistic parables, is itself actually just human words also, even if they were inspired by God, and in reality, much of it dogmatic rather than describing a relationship with God. I prefer to think of churches as social organizations which among other things guide people towards the moralistic teachings of whatever religious book they ascribe to.. but I think that a personal relationship with a creator is only cursorily connected to dogma and a building. Wasn't it "When two or more are gathered in my name, I am there." ?
Paul Bishop February 15, 2013 at 06:10 AM
(That doesn't mean to say churches are a bad thing!) I grew up in the church, Lutheran. My mom was the choir director, I even taught Sunday School for a time. I think there are valuable moral lessons to be learned, and churches/religions really are the first "laws" that guided humans into building societies. Churches and dogma have value, even if there is no diety watching over us - if only for teaching basic accepted human social conduct. Believe it or not, I think this trend in many cases can lead to what amounts to a much deeper consideration of one's OWN feelings on what is "true" and "right", and that in my mind is a far better relationship with one's God than simply parroting chants and songs, if only for the reason that the person spends the time searching their own soul and mind. Without doing that, what is there for God to have a relationship with anyway? :) Best regards.. just random thoughts on the subject!
Kazimierz Bem February 17, 2013 at 08:57 PM
Hey Paul, we discussed this before. The reason we need the church is because God did not come to save "individualistic individuals" - the one thing that is consistent and clear in all Jesus' teachings is that he called us into a community, also a community of believers. Human heart above all things is the most deceitful says the Psalmist and s/he means it. If you stick to only your own religion, your own spirituality, the God you say your worship, almost always looks suspiciously like an improved version of you & your own desires. The church - the community of belivers is there not just to congregate and help each other, but also to help correct our distortions of who God is (idols) and what God wants us to do. Your OWN spirituality, and God in the rainbow or fluffy bunny rainbow, puppies, beach - will not do that. It will preserve - but not save you

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