Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Gospel According to St. John: Unique

I'm not very skilled at digging deeply into Sacred Scripture, finding new meaning and writing paragraphs about a verse or two. But I love looking at the Bible from a 50,000 foot view, so to speak, and detecting patterns, themes, characteristics, and differences. So, here are thoughts and observations about the Gospel According to St. John which St. Augustine apparently Tweeted was "shallow enough for a baby to wade and deep enough for an elephant to swim."

The chart below is an illustration of a simple difference among the Gospels, what they say about the ancestry of Jesus.

Mark is the earliest and shortest and has a wonderful beginning: "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ." So, if we had any doubt about what the Gospel of Jesus is, Mark makes it clear. Mark doesn't, however, say anything about the birth or ancestry of Jesus. He just gets right to what happened.

Matthew, generally viewed as a Gospel targeted at a Jewish community, has a beautiful birth story with wise men and flight to Egypt and traces Jesus's ancestry back to the patriarch Abraham, who begat Isaac, who begat Jacob, who begat the heads of the 12 tribes of Israel.

And Luke, generally viewed as targeted to a community of Gentiles, relates the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Benedictus, and traces the ancestry all the way back to Adam, father of all.

The writer of John had more time to think about the theology of Jesus and a Trinitarian God and copied the first words of Genesis, placing Jesus "In the beginning," with God, and the same as God, at the creation.

Word counting is a great way to identify major themes in books of the Bible, and it is truly wonderful if one has software such as Bible Works which will do all the counting. Here are some important words in John, in each case having as many or more appearances in that Gospel than in the other three combined. A good way to explore use of these words is to use an online searchable Bible to find the uses of the words and meditate on them.

The "I I am" (which looks like 11 AM) deserves special consideration because the double emphasis, use of the pronoun "ego" which translates "I" even with the inflected verb (eimi) which translates alone as "I am" is understood by scholars and theologians as a reference to God identifying himself, at the burning bush, to Moses as "I AM." (Exodus 3:13-14) Every religious Jew hearing that phrase from Jesus as in, "I AM the way, the truth and the life," heard it as a claim to divinity. Believers bowed in awe and unbelievers charged blasphemy.

It is worthy of note also that the word usually translated as testify or bear witness is the Greek word from which we get the English martyr. For the early Christians, bearing witness as Stephen did often resulted in martyrdom.

A review of the use of "believe" can increase understanding of the fact that belief in john goes far beyond mental or intellectual belief to "believing in" or conversion or a change in direction of ones life. Here is an easy link to the list of 83 occurrences of "believe" in John.

John was written around sixty years or so after the resurrection, probably to a well-grounded Christian community that knew well the stories of the birth, baptism, and transfiguration, and the parables and celebrated the Eucharist routinely. Therefore those stories were not told again, though we do have John's remembrance of the baptism, the Last Supper with Foot Washing, and John 6 explaining the significance of the Eucharist.

We have already mentioned in the first diagram that only John begins the Gospel of Jesus at the creation. It is worthy of note that John includes no parables or exorcisms but is organized around Seven Signs usually followed by long discourses by Jesus about key principles of the faith. One thing we can be especially thankful for is that all four Gospels begin the resurrection story early in the morning or at dawn on the first day of the week, Sunday.

Below is an index of sorts of the content of John, chapter by chapter. The seven signs are in chapters 2, 4, 5, 6, 9, and 11. The three extended dialogues, Jesus with Nicodemus, Jesus with the Samaritan Woman at the well, and Jesus with the woman caught in adultery, in chapters 3, 4, and 5, are very interesting and simple while being theologically deep. Major events are in the third column. For a good story that could be expanded into a movie, read the Chapter 9 full "Crime Scene Investigation" aimed at identifying the culprit in the Sabbath healing of the man born blind. Jesus only appears at the beginning and at the end of the story. And, finally, the discourses which are all familiar to us from Gospel readings at Mass.

Jesus and his followers spent a lot of time walking an area of around 900 square miles. In the Gospel of John, that includes three trips between Galilee and Jerusalem. No wonder Jesus instructed them, in Luke's Gospel, to not carry anything with them. And no wonder that the writer of John declared that Jesus did many other signs not recorded in the Gospel.

The three trips "up to Jerusalem" are quite different from the single long journey in the other Gospels and are the basis for Church teaching that His ministry was three years. Note the two Bethany's, one across the Jordan where John baptized Jesus, and one a suburb of Jerusalem.

Here are 24 key verses from the Gospel according to St. John including presence of Jesus at the creation, the incarnation, teachings about Mary, use of "believe," and importance of the "I AM."

John – A Few Key Verses
 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
1:14  And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth.
1:29  The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
2:5  His mother said to the servers, "Do whatever he tells you."
2:11  Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.
2:19  Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up."
4:13-14  Jesus answered and said to her, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again;  14 but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
5:24  Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life.
6:35  Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.
6:56  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.
8:12  Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
10:14  I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me,
12:44-45  Jesus cried out and said, "Whoever believes in me believes not only in me but also in the one who sent me,  45 and whoever sees me sees the one who sent me.
14:6  Jesus said to him, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
15:1   "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
17:20-22  "I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,  21 so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.  22 And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one,
19:26-27  When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son."  27 Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.
20:30-31  Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of (his) disciples that are not written in this book.  31 But these are written that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

Read the Gospel According to St. John at one sitting. It won't take that long, unless you start reading all the footnotes and references.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Reading the Bible, Cover to Cover

In a recent morning prayer group discussion, the difficulty of cover-to-cover reading of the Bible was mentioned. The problem is that after the stimulating stories of Genesis and Exodus, it is easy to get bogged down in the legal details of Leviticus and lose interest. Even if an ambitious reader survives Leviticus, Deuteronomy looms ahead.

It reminded me of an exhibit I created a decade or so ago outlining where in the Old Testament to find stories of various events and including a suggested order of reading if one just wants to get the narrative without the digressions into legal issues or side stories. Please excuse my exclusion of the Deuterocanonical Books since this chart was created during my Lutheran years.

The chart features a little segment across the bottom just above the timeline suggesting an order of reading of books for one who just wants to get the story from creation through the patriarchs and favorite son Joseph, enslavement in Egypt, deliverance from slavery by Moses, wilderness wandering, entrance into Canaan led by Joshua, the period of judges including Deborah, Samson, and Samuel, the first three kings, Saul, David, and Solomon, division of the kingdom, civil war, defeat, exile, return, and rebuilding by Ezra and Nehemiah. The books that are not key to that narrative are above this segment on the chart. It’s a great story. Here is a clip of that suggested order of books. 

For Christians, it is important to remember to look for Jesus even in the Old Testament. To quote the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “All Sacred Scripture is but one book, and that one book is Christ, because all divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ.”  And there is the famous quote attributed to St. Augustine: “The New Testament is in the Old Testament concealed; the Old Testament is in the New Testament revealed.” (My apologies to our Jewish friends who have an entirely different view of the Hebrew Scriptures which we have co-opted and renamed.)

Anyway, here is the chart. If it helps, use it. If not, ignore it. And, yes, I am sure it can stand some improvements and fine tuning. I think Leviticus is probably misplaced.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Reformation Lamentation

I just finished reading A Column of Fire, the third of Ken Follett’s volumes of historical fiction set in the Middle Ages. This one portrays life in the 1500’s in the wake of Catholic Priest Father Martin Luther’s October 31, 1517, courageous attempt to inspire reform of his church.

Follett’s novel and all the current celebration of the 500th anniversary of Father Martin’s action inspired me to review the Reformation years as described in my Lutheran Seminary textbook, The Story of Christianity by Justo L. Gonzalez. Follett’s thousand or so pages are an elaboration of probably a dozen or so in the textbook, mostly focused on the people driving and caught up in the competition between Catholic “Bloody Mary” Tudor, Protestant Elizabeth I, and Catholic Mary “Queen of Scots” Stuart, potential successor put to death on orders of Elizabeth.

Elizabeth and Mary Tudor were half-sisters and Elizabeth and Mary Stuart were cousins so I suppose one could say it was just a murderous family squabble. A summary statement from Gonzalez: “The total number of those executed for religious reasons during Elizabeth’s reign was approximately the same as those who died under her half sister Mary Tudor though it should be remembered that Elizabeth’s reign was almost ten times as long as Mary’s.” The heroes of Follett’s story are those suffering the persecution and fighting for religious freedom.

The Gonzalez text relates the burning at the stake, in Calvin’s Geneva, with Calvin’s consent, of Michael Servetus, a Spanish physician condemned by both Protestants and Catholics for heresy. Servetus is credited with having argued “that the union of church and state after Constantine’s conversion was in truth a great apostasy.” I think Servetus was exactly right and that it was that union, entangling the Church, the Body of Christ, in political intrigue and granting it political and temporal power, even the power to identify, label, and condemn to death heretics, which nurtured corruption and finally triggered the destructive reformation of the sixteenth century. Well, at least Calvin is reported to have argued for beheading rather than burning Servetus because it involved less suffering.

So, I find little to celebrate about the Reformation but much to lament.

I lament that union of Church and State which actually was finalized under the Emperor Theodosius I who decreed that all citizens of the Roman Empire were to be Christian. That, of course, led to lots of mass baptisms without the benefit of catechesis, either before or after the event, never a good idea.

I lament the Church corruption that was nurtured and grew in that atmosphere of temporal power and motivated Martin Luther’s posting of a formal list of grievances. Lord Acton spoke the truth: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men…”

I lament Henry VIII’s “Dissolution of the Monasteries” of England, Wales, and Ireland. It was worse than it sounds.

I lament the torture and killing, by Protestants and Catholics, of thousands of Protestants and Catholics, for heresy. At least during the early years of persecution of the Church, Christians were being killed and burned by pagan rulers and not by "professing" Christians. 

I lament the killing of those poor folks who were not "Protestants" because they followed neither Luther, nor Calvin, nor Zwingli, nor Knox, but who decided that baptism was valid only if by total immersion of professing believers, received such a baptism, and then suffered death by "the third baptism," drowned at the hands of "Protestant Christians."

I lament the Thirty Years War, fought over enforced geographic religious divisions based only on political and personal considerations, “Christians” fighting “Christians,” which resulted in the death of approximately 20% of the population of Germany.

I lament that even a hundred years after the Thirty Years War, thousands of Protestants were expelled from Austria and became refugees, some settling in Georgia and South Carolina and founding a bank. Google it if you want the details.

But that is all ancient history. Most of all I lament the current fragmentation of The Church, The Body of Christ, that is the residue of that violent reformation. I lament the existence of hundreds, some say thousands of "denominations" differing and sometimes arguing, criticizing, or condemning each other over theological fine points.

I lament the consumer market that has developed for faith seekers. Now I can seek, or even organize, a church that suits me rather than seeking to be part of a global Body of Christ with a common universal statement of belief and common resources and worship practices. It becomes all about me when I do that.

I lament that even within "denominations," we are fragmented into thousands of little churches sprinkled around the country, sometimes within blocks of each other, many struggling to pay their bills and their pastors, if they have pastors, many with little Christian Education or outreach, sometimes clinging to the past and serving as hospices for their declining memberships.

There is power in unity and in numbers and in working together in ministry in highly visible churches sitting on high ground and attracting curious multitudes just as Jesus attracted the multitudes. The early Middle Ages "powers that were" had the right idea, huge cathedrals as the centerpieces of the towns, though Father Martin certainly had valid complaints about the fund raising methods used at the time to finance some of those cathedrals.

I do, however, celebrate the religious freedom that gradually evolved over the past five hundred years and that most of the world enjoys today. Now most Christians can just focus on Jesus and not worry about political power and persecution even as we lament that part of the world is still trapped in a Middle Ages mindset, willing to imprison and kill people over theological issues. Unfortunately, the world still needs heroes fighting for religious freedom. 

I just look forward to the day that freedom brings us together rather than further separating and dividing us.
Isaiah 2:2-4  In days to come, The mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it; many peoples shall come and say: "Come, let us climb the LORD'S mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, That he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths." For from Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.
John 17:20-23  "I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me. 
Ephesians 2:19-22  So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Like Mother, Like Son: Growing Up and Growing Old Together

My Mother, Wilma Irene Shelley (Brownie) Williams was born January 9, 1921 and died September 20, 2017. This is a remembrance and tribute I read at her funeral.

When I think of growing up with my mother, both of us young but I younger, I am very thankful for the sometimes unjustified trust she placed in me, the somewhat dangerous freedom she allowed, and the self-confidence she always exhibited and encouraged. She was a strong, empowering mother, a woman who knew what she wanted. She couldn’t have paid a better compliment to my fiancĂ©, Karen, in the summer of 1964 when, after going through the planning and activities leading up to our September wedding, she said to me, “Karen is a young woman who knows what she wants.”

One thing I learned from Mother, and Daddy, in my childhood and adolescent years was that a life like theirs, centered on work and home and family and church, is a good life. Thanks to her and the example she and Daddy set, my goal, what I wanted, from adolescence, was to live such a life. I was blessed with the appearance of Karen, who seemed to have a similar goal, and we got an early start, getting our family well under way while Mother was still working on raising hers.

Through all the middle years Mother and I had a good but also somewhat distant relationship. I was always interested in what she and Daddy were up to, and they were always interested in what we were doing. I don’t recall getting any advice or guidance from her and Daddy in those years, nor do I recall feeling any need to offer them any. We didn’t phone or write often or spend a lot of time together, just visiting three or four times a year and always enjoying each other’s company, but not a lot of deep or serious discussion.

I’ve often wondered what life would have been like if I had spent it all in Maryville in pretty much constant contact with Mother and Daddy, maybe even running a little furniture business. I believe that, as independent as Mother and I both were, we were better off with some distance. I might have driven her into an early grave had we been closely monitoring and commenting on, and perhaps hearing gossip, or just opinions, about each other’s activities all those years.

Then, over the last ten or fifteen years, there was a change, both of us old, but she older. I am again very thankful for the trust she placed in me and freedom she gave me to take care of her financial and property and legal issues. I never was able to mow the lawn to her complete satisfaction, and she was a very tough sell on moving to an assisted living environment, but she always trusted me to handle the money and pay the bills and would sign whatever I put in front of her. That made my job easy, and I am thankful for that.

Mother didn’t want to live this long. (Yes, I might have helped her die younger, as I mentioned, by staying in Maryville.) Her dream was to die peacefully in her sleep just before losing control and becoming dependent on others. When Daddy died in 2003, she told some of us that she would be following right behind him. When, ten years later, she moved to assisted living at Sterling House, I said something about the upcoming Christmas, and she informed me she wouldn’t be around at that time. I always told her I had her on a ten year plan and that she needed to find something to do.

I remember in her middle years one of Mother’s favorite things was to visit elderly folks and take them some beautiful item she had made at her speedy sewing machine or something delicious  grown in her very productive garden or made in her efficient kitchen from her extensive recipe collection. I think she must have decided during those years that she did not want to be one of those people, sitting or lying and waiting for visits and gifts. I believe that feeling was strongly reinforced when she saw Daddy move to a “memory care” facility and saw her younger sister die in nursing and hospice care. So, in her last years, Mother had to learn patience, a very tough lesson for an impatient woman.

If you didn’t know her, you might think Mother was lacking in faith and optimism, but that would be wrong. She was very optimistic about going to Heaven soon, and, note taker and list maker that she was, I suspect she had written and memorized a list of things to go over with Clyde Williams as soon as she got there and was looking forward to doing so.

Through all her declining years, my prayer for her was always for peace and comfort, if not joy, and hopefully a little joy mixed in along the way. I believe those prayers were answered partially as she lived and now they are answered in full.

Thanks be to God.

Her obituary can be found here.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Just a Mouthpiece

Hearing Sacred Scripture is a key element of Catholic worship. Usually, from the Old Testament, we hear a reading from the Law, Prophets, or Writings and sing a Psalm responsively. Then we hear a reading from one of the New Testament books other than the Gospels. Finally a selection from one of the Gospels is read by an ordained priest or deacon and heard with special reverence, followed by a homily. Often some important theme connecting the readings is reflected in the homily as well.

Though a lector at St. Peter’s Catholic Church for a few years now and, before that, at Ebenezer Lutheran Church, it was Dr. Monte Luker, professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, who first instructed me in lector best practices. I’m not going to try to blame any of my bad habits or errors on my friend and former teacher, but will try to explain what I took away from the directions he offered and why I read as I do.

The objective of a lector in worship is to draw the attention of the worshipers to the words without any injection of personality or slant or opinion and without calling any attention to himself or herself. This principle links back to the first sentence of the blog which states the importance of “hearing” over that of reading. I believe this is the reason that, at Ebenezer Lutheran, lectors wore simple robes at the ambo. Even clothing and style should not distract from the hearing of The Word.

My way of fulfilling that objective is to read with sincerity, reverence, and awe, slowly and carefully pronouncing and emphasizing each word, completely without drama, while avoiding a monotone. I admit that may be a fine line. But, if I am reading the words of St. Paul, I want the hearers to hear and consider all the words but not any interpretation I may have of them. I am not playing the role of St. Paul, trying to imagine how he might have spoken, but am simply conveying what he wrote, omitting or diminishing nothing. To quote my former Pastor Frank Honeycutt, “There are no throwaway words in the Bible.”

So, I keep my eyes on the written page and do not try to make eye contact with listeners. Intermittent eye contact seems to me would imply that the words being spoken at the time of eye contact are especially important and are from me to the hearer. Even if I were to memorize the scripture to be read, I would still consider it important to keep my eyes glued to the printed page to assure accuracy and to avoid the impression that it is I doing the speaking or that I am emphasizing one point more than another. As a lector, I am only a mouthpiece.

Let me hasten to say that these guidelines I try to follow do not apply in any way to the pastor or priest or teacher charged with exegetical responsibility. The best delivery for such persons is without script and with continuous eye contact and appropriate drama and emphasis to make the points deemed most important for the persons present, at the current time, after careful, prayerful, and inspired study of the written expression of the Word of God. That is a much heavier burden than just reading it.

And, I must confess that my practices are contrary to the instructions in the Workbook for Lectors, Gospel Readers, and Proclaimers of the Word, United States Edition, produced by Liturgy Training Publications. But, I do the best I can and am always willing to step aside for someone who wants to serve.

Yes, it is I at the ambo, reading, eyes down as promised. I do look up for the announcement, "A reading from the____ chapter of ______," and for the closing, "The Word of the Lord."

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Church of My Youth: Six Points

I was thinking this morning about the church of my youth and the Southern Baptist Sunday School which was the center of it. There was the Six Point Record System, the extensive organization, class officers, weekly Teachers' Meetings, Assemblies, rigorous age grading, separation of men and women, Reports, the Sunday School Report at the following Church Service, etc. Fortunately all that is documented in an online full text of a 1936 book on thesubject. Anybody who grew up Southern Baptist in that era will enjoy looking through this. Or maybe nothing has changed!

And then there was BTU with its Eight Point Record System.

All good disciplinary training if perhaps a bit legalistic and short on spirituality and divine mystery.

Images below are screen shots from the book at the link above referring to the Six Point Record System.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

Christian Faith, A Three Legged Stool

A Peter Beinart article in the April 2017 issue of The Atlantic points out a correlation between the increasingly vicious and hateful political climate in the USA and decreasing participation in organized religion. The differences in positions between left and right have always been present, but we seem to be losing respect for each other and, in Beinart's words, "have come to define "us" and "them" in even more primal and irreconcilable ways."

Beinart provides statistics showing that the percentage of US citizens rejecting any religious affiliation increased almost 300% from 1992 to 2014. And even the "percentage of white Republicans with no religious affiliation has nearly tripled since 1990." Beinart quotes Geoffrey Layman of Notre Dame: "Trump does best among evangelicals with one key trait: They don't really go to church." And, Beinart states, "... liberal non-attenders fueled Bernie Sanders's insurgency against Hillary Clinton.

You can read the article to see why Mr. Beinart believes these religious and political trends are related, but I have a slightly different take on it. It seems to me that if we give up on the idea that we are all the result of the creative activity of a benevolent God who is "gracious, merciful, and abounding in steadfast love," we lose respect for each other and one of the most important bases of our civilization crumbles. And we fight.

What are we to do? Well, one possibility for Christians is to do a much better job of learning and teaching the essentials of the Christian faith. What a mish-mash of Christian theologies we have allowed to develop in the American culture of freedom!

Now, before launching into theological issues, let me make it clear that I am not ordained, am not a preacher, and am not speaking with any authority. What I am describing below is more personal testimony, a description of what I have come to believe, at this point, over a lifetime in Christian churches of various labels and a smattering of Lutheran seminary education about theology and Church history. So here goes:

It seems to me that the Christian faith stands on a three legged stool.
  • The first leg is Sacred Scripture, the written expression of "The Word," the Bible Jesus knew and read from and quoted and referred to and to which the writers of the New Testament referred, and the New Testament, written and assembled, by the Church, after, sometimes long after, the ministry of Jesus. The first complete listing of the NT Canon, after all, is from the fourth century AD.
  • The second leg is Jesus, The Christ, eternal Anointed One, God in flesh, Immanuel, who came and lived among us and showed us The Way and died, at our hands, for us. 
  • The third leg is The Church, The Body of Christ, established by Jesus, and led by the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised, to follow his example and to develop and teach the basic theologies of the faith, the Holy Trinity, and the divinity of Jesus.
The diagram below is an attempt to show how these three legs, Sacred Scripture, Jesus, and The Church, fit together and to present a pretty complete picture of the theology of Christian faith as I currently understand and experience it.

Don't like diagrams? I'l try to explain. I believe that Sacred Scripture is the story of our developing understanding of God, that Jesus was God in flesh, with us for a specific period of time, and that the Church is his legacy, his body, through which we jointly can be in union with The Triune God, and abide in Him. That is pretty much unbelievable, isn't it. It almost sounds ridiculous. Well, I just label it Divine Mystery, subject to our best efforts to explain the unexplainable.

Church is where Christians belong. Church is not a civic club, a social club, a networking organization, or a social service agency. Nor is it a hospice, just taking care of old folks as they die off. It is the Body of Christ, intended to go about doing good just as Jesus, the original Body of Christ did.

Just as Jesus and his followers took up space and attracted attention in the first century, the Church is supposed to take up space and attract attention in the world today. We are to be a community, salt and light and leaven, always going out from the church building and having a positive influence and inviting and drawing people in. That is not evident from what we see? Well, Jesus never promised that the Church would be perfect but only that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it.

If we did a better job with Christian education, maybe we could reduce the mish-mash and focus on these essentials and maybe the Body of Christ would grow and some of the viciousness and hate would moderate.

If these ideas seem strange, Google "church as the body of Christ scripture" for more food for thought. And read John 6 closely for a better understanding of worship, Holy Communion, and unity with Christ. These are not easy or simplistic teachings as evidenced by the response to talk of flesh and blood by some disciples as described in these verses from John 6: 
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God."