Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Church #47. The Riverside Church.

Still in New York, and O Man is this place BIG!!! And when I say big, I am talking Christ City size. (see Church # 27) here are some shoots from the outside.

I regret not getting a better photo of this. But the front of the church had revolving doors, except the panels were literately made out of old church doors. So we walked inside to find everything in a gray stone finish, with a very modern stainless steal and glass topped snack bar right in the middle of everything. The direction of the main hall was not instantly apparent. But after moving down a few hallways, we found it.  While we were walking, I noticed that there was more then just one hall in this cathedral. I was able to pick out others, including a very cute mini chapel (which I am sure is used for many weddings.)

Random Fact! Did you know that traditionally, the length of the train on a wedding dress, was dictated by what size of church the bride was getting married in? Train sizes are often named as descriptions of different church sizes.

We arrived at the main hall, and found a place to sit. It was BIG. And quiet elaborately decorated. There were bells ringing. Real ones. Approx 350 people of mixed race, with mostly middle-aged and senior people. But what really confuses me, is the denomination of the church? From what I understand they are a hybrid between the American Baptist Church and The United Church of Christ. But I was unable to distinguish the building or the service, from the Anglican services that I have seen in the past. (see All Saints Anglican Cathedral) Seriously. I couldn't tell the difference.

As you all know i am a big fan of stain-glass. There was a lot of it at this church, but it was very fine and the images were very small. One panel I was sitting close to actually had image of Johannes Gutenberg and his invention and use of the printing press. I think this was being depicted in a church because of Gutenberg's attempt mass-producing the Bible to make it affordable and accessible to everyone.

The body of the church was beautiful, and the front of it, I am sure, would have been phenomenal, if it were not for the fact that it was covered for construction. Hopefully one day I will be able to witness the finished project.

This church has gone all out. They have an amazing lady that leads the worship with an opera voice that makes me feel guilty for walking in the door without paying for the show. On the far left-hand side of the room, there is also a singe language translator that dose a fantastic job of interpreting the sermon and the music. All of the ushers, and male volunteering members of the church, were dressed in full black suits with white carnation corsages.

The sermon itself was definitely impressive.  It reflected on Independence day, and what it means to be christian in the USA in this day and age. He explored the meaning of "E Pluribus Unum" which is one of two of the United States motto's. It generally translates out to "One from many"or, "Out of many,One". The state of Pluribus being small and divided, and Unum, as being united as one. He made the point, that now "We seam to have a lot more 'Pluribus' then 'Unum' these days." And honestly I think he is right. Especially in the United States.

This speech was loaded with great points;

-We need to watch what we say
-Don't sugarcoat
-Don't beat around the bush.
-Don't be harsh

He also declared that we can not judge all Muslims based on the terrible actions of a few violent extremists that claim to be acting in the name of Islam. And that we should "stand shoulder to shoulder with our Muslim friends." in their struggles.

"Tell the truth in Love".

One of the best things I heard today is that we need to; "Not just Tolerate but Respect others."

( He also noted that the Westboro Baptist Church, is a clear example of people failing to do this.)


As a Canadian I have gained some interesting insight into this American "Pluribus" situation. America is strange in the fact that it is in  very few ways a "UNITED" nation. All the different states insists on having a lot of independent choice in their laws and actions, and many states want nothing to do with others. It is understandable how It is very difficult to make any unified progress in America, when so much of the country is extremely divided and not willing to find a middle ground with others. A lot of "My way or the Highway" attitude here. America has powers to dictate on issues of the death penalty, abortion, gay rights, gun laws, State by State. Canada is a very different story. We are a united nation (*Quebec is complicated). We may not all like each other a times (one province and another). But we are not  Putting up guns and pitchforks to fight the other off. Canada is a family that doesn't always like each-other, but we never let it get out of hand, because we live in the idea that we are ONE. And when we deal with big issues, we do it on a federal level.We address it once, get everything out in the open, come to a decision of the issue, that decision becomes law across the entire nation, and we are DONE.

That is just how we roll.

Communion was  given today and I noticed something very surprising about it. Just before the congregation started moving towards the front the church, the leaders made it clear that taking communion was something that was accessible and acceptable to all. Not just Christians, not just people that have been baptized under a certain denomination. Everyone.(At the same time I am not too surprised by this considering the church service was also being led by people of different genders, different ethnic backgrounds, and ordained members of the LGBTQ community.) Which is a new and radical idea even to my mind. Should non-Christians take communion? And even if offered, would they do it? Well I can tell you at minimum that I know one practicing Muslim who has accepted communion. And her feedback on it was interesting. For those of you that are less familiar with Muslim practices, the month of Ramadan is a wholly Islamic month in which Muslims focus their efforts on charity, prayer,community sharing, studying their wholly text, and fasting. At the end of their daily fast, they break their fast by consuming a date

To Muslims this is a spiritually significant act and is often done slowly and silently.

The person i know who shared this knowledge with me said "Hey! I am have taken communion before!" she expressed that the feeling of it was very similar to "taking a date". I think we both found the commonality very interesting.

Maybe we are not so different after all.

The service its self was very Unique. It was extremely liberal and progressive, but still very timed and structured. Personally I thought the heavy structure took away from some of it for me. But some people really like a structured service. All matters on your personality I guess.
And as soon as the service was over, once again, I saw something I didn't expect
I am still baffled on why I see the most profound things, at the most odd times.

I looked over to my right to observe the room for some good photo ops as the service progressed to an end. That is which I did find, check out the giant flying gold Jesus.

Then I saw something that really struck me. A young family.  There was African American man and woman in their mid to late 20's. The man was wearing a white t-shirt with a grey hoody over-top of it. Except he cut the sleeves off the grey goody. You could faintly see the black print of the tattoos down his arm, somewhat blended into his chocolate complexion. The woman was wearing a red shirt with jean jacket covered in rips ( done strictly for fashon). They were holding a small 1-2 year old child. You could see in their eyes how much they carried. How worried they were, that their child will hopefully not make some of the poor life decisions they made. Or maybe, they are pondering how to give their child a better and safer home then what they had. They may also be in fear that they dont have all the knowledge or skills to create this better environment. Regardless, it was clear from their eyes that they care. A lot. And maybe instead of speculation what should be focused on here is hope. Hope for the better, that comes with the renewal that Christ brings. I pray that the eternal hope, love, redemption and kindness of God reaches the hearts and minds of this young family and  helps they make them into a safe family with a bright future.


Friday, July 3, 2015

Church #46. First United Methoidist Chruch

Still in the USA. And this would be the second church I have been to while on my journey here. Strangely enough, this was a church I was trying to avoid. Not necessarily because of the church, but because of the walk. The trail that leads from the center, that takes you to the church, happens to go right thru the middle of the dark forest and then the grave-yard. Because that is just the best way to start your Sunday.

So in an attempt to avoid that, I decided to walk the other direction, down the street to Another Methodist church that happened to be near-by. However I could not find any resources online to tell me when the service started. So I went with my default guess. 10 am........ And I was wrong. I approached the church at 9:52 and the singe said services start at 9am. Well Shit. So I went in for the last 10-15 min. The service finished. The minister approached me and told me that he was also ministering at another Methodist church down the road, and that their services started in half an hour, and that he would be happy to give me a ride.

Nice old guy.

So we drove over to the church I was initially avoiding, passing the graveyard as we drove down the road. We arrived at the church, perched at the top of a hilly incline. There were a few people parked around it and filing in. Most in their "Sunday Best", (I soon discovered that there was a baptism going on that day). The church bell sound is a automated recording, that rings out with different tunes on the hour 7-days a week. It is clearly heard from a distance away, but not overly loud when you are inside the actual church. The building appears to be old, but maintained. There is approx 50 people here. More of a family mix, ( I suspect that these numbers are directly influenced by the event going on today).

I must say, I have experience more them my share of  MERICA, since coming here. The town I am currently in, was apparently the location of some major historic battle? And there is some kind of an army army base? Needless to say almost every house in the area dons the star spangled banner, if not some other array of Americana. The church is no exception. It also has and American flag at the front of the room, on a vertical flag pole topped with a gold eagle looking proudly upwards. The date is  June 28.  Only a few days before American Independence Day.

The service started, and one of the first things that was announced, was my presence, what my name was and that I came from "CANADA". I got looked at like I was the most exotic thing these people have seen in a while. Who knew Canadians actually existed?

The service started in song, which was kind of difficult because I think the music peace they picked was a bit too advanced for the average Joe to catch on. The minister then took request for anyone that was in need of prayers. After the names were listed off, He then acknowledged that the July 1st Holiday was coming up

Yes we sang this.

"God Bless America!"
Is a common phrase used in these parts, and I suspect it will be more so as we head towards the holidays,. The church leader said that maybe it is time to re-examine this phrase and think of it differently.First off, yes America is blessed, not the next thing we should look at is "What can we do to bless America and the world?" And secondly, maybe we should spend less time asking God to bless this country more, and reflect, and be thankful, for the blessings we already have.

Personally, I would like to see more of this way of thinking, in the U.S.A.

Quote of the day:
"The healing hand of the great Physician."

There was a baptism that happened today. For a Little 5-7 year old boy? Roughly? I have no idea. This young boys family stood around him at the baptism front as the church, and his family made pledges to show a good example and commit themselves to his spiritual growth. I may have missed this, but at no point did I see the church leader address the little boy, and ask him if he accepts this sacrament. After a long speech, he wet his hands with the water in the font and touched the young boys head 3 times saying the blessing. After it all was over the little boy ran back to his seat, and garbed his hand held gaming device, nearly clueless to the significance of what just happened.

Honestly. I have feeling of compassion right now for people that argue that baptism should be done only to fully grown, comprehensive, adults. I still hold my position that infant baptism is not invalid.

The scripture that was focused on today was from 2 Corinthians 8:7-15...Wait! that's not right......

The church leader totally dropped the ball on this, but the story we learned about today was not in  2 Corinthians 8:7-15. I discovered the actual location of the scripture in Mark 5:21-43.

21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him.
A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’
32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”
36 Overhearing[c] what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.
After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

There was discussion about the woman that suffered from internal bleeding. This condition would have been a really ugly situation in this time and place, due to the lack of medical advancement. And compounded on the fact that the old Leviticus laws state, that a woman who is "bleeding" can not be touched. Therefore she would have been rejected and secluded. This is where I Cant help but admire Gods love for us, show thru Christs example. Jesus find the people that there is no hope for, and gives them a new life. 

The Church leader spoke about how she had visited may doctors that had taken her money and left her no better off.  He related this to the endless medical lawsuits against malpractice that occur here in the states.

Something I think people forget about sometimes, is not only, the spiritual revolution of salvation that Christ started, but the Social salvation work he also did. After the woman was healed, she was likely just hoping she could sneak away. Jesus instead called her out, and she feel to the ground, and told everyone what just happened. This almost seams confusing at first. This woman's condition was embarrassing! Why would he single her out and announce it to the world, that she had been healed of this? Why make a Public Service Announcement? Answer: So she can start over. To lift the social stigma. She is clean again. Safe to touch, to go shopping, to go meet with friends, to have a job, get married, to be free. And it is not just on the truthful authority of her word, but the word of God. Christ forced people to socially to rethink their ways and norms. Jesus really changes everything.  

Side Note: This is only time that Jesus uses the word "daughter" in the bible to refer to someone.

I was able to speak to the church leader after the service, and I took a moment to ask about the other flag at the front of the room that I did not recognize. He lifted it up and told me that it was the "Christian Flag"...... hold on......what?

Yes apparently this is a real thing. Christians have a Flag! Fallow the link to learn more.

What really got me is when he said "This flag (Christian Flag) supersedes the other(American Flag)."  WOW. I must say this guy has impressed me. He has also given me hope that maybe people like him, can influence some of the more arrogant and self-righteous citizens, to take a step back and examine themselves.  

So I left the church passing by a big black truck with "Vietnam War Vet" stickers on the back of it and headed home.

Thru the grave yard......

It was funny, but until now I had never truly gasped the temptation of the "forbidden fruit" so fully until I saw this bush.

This grape bush/tree/vine was one of the most beautiful and healthy I have seen in my time here (wild grape vine grows everywhere around here). Most grow out of reach. Not this one. And it had fruit! Plenty of it! Looks good huh?
Until I realized that these lovely tasty grapes, were well fertilized on the ground of dead bodies loaded with toxic embalming chemicals that have seeped into the ground from old cracked graves. Things suddenly got a whole less appetizing.....

And it ends up the walk was not that bad, I just kind of powered thru it!

And then finished my way home thru the creepy forest.....

 .....And they all lived Happy Ever After!

for now...... *que dramatic music.