Tag Archives: Baptists

For people who never think about church on Sunday.

(The picture above does NOT look like Circle of Hope — although the art would be nice — but it might be what you expect of “church”)

I know at least a couple of people will wander into my blog and read this. You are wondering what it would be like to “go to church.” You have never done it (or it was a long time ago). You know there are Christians everywhere and a lot of church buildings, but you never go to a meeting at one of them – except for ceremonies, which were interesting, but weird. Sometimes you even skip the wedding ceremony, if it is in a church building, and just go to the reception, which feels more normal.

Too bad we are so divided up

Let me tell you, many Christians are so insular they think everyone has gone to church and you aren’t there because you just don’t want to do it anymore. They think they are normal and you are off the rails. But you and I know that it is a very divided-up world. Many people think loving futbol is normal, but tons of people don’t even know where the Union’s stadium is (or that there is one) and many more have never even been to Chester, since they would never go there.

Somehow it has become acceptable to tolerate people by never getting to know them or even thinking of them, just leaving them alone — indifference masquerades as caring. This kind of “tolerance” has left millions of people totally isolated, because they can’t even find a group to be in, and it has left many groups totally ignoring other groups. I honestly think powerful forces use this ignorance against us so they are the only ones who have an overall outlook and the power to manipulate us.

What is “church” like?

So in case you are interested, let me tell you a bit about what Christians are doing on Sundays, or whenever they decide to have a group meeting. There are similarities and differences among the various groups of Jesus followers, and Circle of Hope is relatively unique.

  • You may have heard of Catholics and Episcopalians; they are centered on the “Eucharist” in their meetings – the ceremony that re-enacts the death of Jesus on the cross to forgive the sins of the world.
  • Presbyterians are centered on the speech when their (usually male) pastor teaches people about the Bible.
  • Pentecostals are centered on the experience of the Holy Spirit in the meeting.
  • Baptists are centered on telling people the good news about Jesus so they can be saved.
  • Many of the new churches in town are centered on their “show” so they can attract people to their program of personal and spiritual development.

Most churches have an historical thing they do and they keep perfecting it until most people at the meeting can predict what is going to happen. After participants have done the regular thing for a while they can “mail it in” or not even go to the meeting that often — but nobody thinks not showing up is authentic.

To be honest, if you came to most of these meetings, most of the people there would probably assume you know what is happening, even if you had never been to a church meeting. They might not even explain what they are doing because they don’t really expect a person like you to be there and are not prepared to tell you. They are mostly there for the people they already know. That’s not really a reflection of their convictions, but it is their habit — the same kind of habits that keep you in your present rut.

What about Circle of Hope?

Again, to be honest, even though Circle of Hope is not designed like these other groups, we have our ways, too, and some people do “mail it in.” Some people have been members of all the other groups I mentioned and brought their habits with them to our new church — some habits are good, some not so good. We’re a mix. In theory, we are an intentional mix. We are not just doing a program, we are inventing the meeting all the time. We don’t do what we do on Sundays to be something, we are something, so we do what we do. We are not “Circle of Hope-ites,” we are Jesus followers who organize to do what we think we should do. That is a big difference.

Our meetings are designed to be an expression of who we are as a body. They are not super professional, because we all do the meetings, not just the professionals. The times we share are often dialogical, since we want to participate. They are often experimental, since we are trying new things and various things from all the streams of Christian thought and practice. They often feel quite intimate, since we are a community, we are inclusive and we keep the meetings small. So all these things mean Circle of Hope’s meetings can seem deep and challenging, since you can’t really just mail them in. you have to do them and be a part. We are not a very good show to watch, even when we try to keep things relatable enough to give people some space to find their way into the group at their own rate.

coh nw

Last week, our new congregation in the Northwest (their cells are all over but their meeting is presently in Roxborough) began to figure out how they would express who they are as Circle of Hope, a new expression of the body of Christ in Northwest Philly. I can tell you, it is quite a process! They do not want to spend all their time just becoming a new grouping, even though that is important. They don’t want to have a lot of arguments over how to follow their new leaders and how to put together something that represents their interests, even though that is inevitable. They really want to figure out how they can relate to you, the person who has never been to any church meeting, including ours, and who might never even consider doing it, it would be so weird. If, for some reason, you got this far in this blog post, maybe you could go help them out. You don’t need to be a Christian or even understand what that means before you get there. You’ll be fine. Maybe you are just a nice neighbor and you’d like to encourage some people who are doing what they love and hoping to be a valuable part of the neighborhood, like a lot of other people you might already know.

Check out their blog here. Check out the details of their meetings, here: [cells], [Sunday meetings].

Is that Jesus dancing?

There is far too little tribal dancing in the church. That is my critique for the day, so if your train stop is coming up, you can stop reading, you’re good.

I think we may have finally “got it” the other night on Mardi Gras and “did the word”:

Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp” — Psalm 149

We did not have specialists interpreting with dance or waving flags and such (which is fine too); we just got out there and shook it as the common good we are.

We even had a flash mob moment in honor of Ben/Gwyn and Nate/Jen — which made Gwyneth teary over Uptown Funk.

Of course we did that! It’s in the Bible!:

Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow” — Jeremiah 31:13.

Jesus has saved us and made us his people. We’re happy. That’s a good enough reason to dance. So if you are getting off the train now, feel free to stop reading. You probably have what you need.

We have good reasons to dance

But I do want to point out that there are some more very good reasons to dance. I’m glad we exercised a few. Yes, people showed up for our party! –- and they even danced with nothing lubricating their system but fastnachts and root beer!

Dancing makes trust.

For most of us, it is hard to get out on the dance floor. Ra begged Gwen and me to get out there and get the party rolling, since nobody will dance at a dance for the first half hour. She reminded me of jr. high when I was in dance class and the teacher would taunt us boys to walk across the multipurpose room floor and ask a girl to waltz. Terror.

Being pushed out on the floor was threatening. It reminded me that people love looking at dancers and talking about how they dance. A couple of my dear friends were, indeed, rating the best COH dancers the other night. That’s scary. Some men, in particular, refused to dance all night and stood off to the side like the kids in the Lord’s quote: “They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: “‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance’” (Luke 7:32).

But when you get out on the floor and realize we are all in this together, heedless of the fear, forgetting the judgment, and despising our shame, it loosens the place in us that trusts God and works trust into our very bodies! And getting out there does wonders for trusting others, too. Dancing with someone is pretty intimate, pretty vulnerable – its trusting someone because you think they love you enough to do so. We need that. Dancing is a trust system and we want to live in one.

Dancing commits us to joy

Very few people can dance with the tribe without a smile on their face. I suppose that’s why the Baptists I worked for were against it. Actually these Baptists were privately pretty fun and happy, but publicly they were straight-laced and sober because they thought that was being holy and they didn’t want anyone to know they were secretly a lot less perfect than they appeared. For quite a few years my dancing instincts were squashed by the Bible lovers who ignored all the dancing in the Bible.

They were like Michal watching David dance when you’d think everyone would want to be as out-of-control holy as David was: “Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets. As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart” (2. Sam 6). I don’t know, for sure, why Michal despised David, but she sure was not increasing the joy in town that day!

There cannot be too much joy, even when things are bad and people are bad and they don’t deserve to be joyful – or insert any Michal-like judgment you feel here____. The fact is, most of us are not Michals and it makes us happy to see you dance. It probably makes you happier too.

Dancing represents a common good.

One time, a long time ago now, a close-knit church I was in realized that they felt really good whenever someone got married and the whole church got our on the floor at the reception and danced like one big group, partners notwithstanding. A few times they made such a positive impression with their happiness and togetherness that it became the talk of the rest of the guests and the bride and groom were proud of their cool, Christian friends. So we decided to hold a dance for All Saints Day. The one glitch was that the Brethren in Christ also thought dancing was not a holy thing to do. So we asked the bishop to give us a special dispensation. He did not think we would fall into sin, so he dispensed with the policy. I’m not sure he had the power to do that, but we went ahead.

Heimo Christian Haikala, “Christ Dancing on the Sea of Galilee.” Oil on canvas. Source: http://www.heimohaikala.com

In a communal group like the BIC, dancing is a great visual aid. It is an incarnational demonstration of being the visible body doing what Jesus does. At least it represents God’s mindset as Jesus describes it in the story of the lost son. The father says, “Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing (Luke 15).

You could have “heard” our dancing a long way off on Mardi Gras! — stomping, hooting, Cyndi Lauper wailing about girls and fun. It drew quite a few people into our common good. Near the end I was dancing with a group of men who were finally into it. One of them came in mentally worn out and for a while got some relief. He could feel his spirit rise. That’s what Jesus does. We hope to dip people in the music of his body to share some happy resonance.

Everything else we do builds trust, joy and the common good, as well. But I really like it when we dance — even though it is kind of silly for me to dance. We don’t hear about Jesus dancing (I bet he did, though) –- but we do hear a lot about people thinking he was silly, and we still hear that directed at us whenever we act like Him, too. His whole life was kind of out on the dance floor, wasn’t it? — asking people to dance, making people know joy, demonstrating a different way to live. Our Mardi Gras party was a good training.