Every once in a while I wish I could enter a time warp and walk into a Congregational Church in the 1950’s. I imagine how comfortable it would be to sit in a pew surrounded by familiar sights and sounds and to belt out a few of the hymns from the old Pilgrim Hymnal.
- 251 – Lead On, O King Eternal
- 399 – Onward, Christian soldiers
- 291 – O Master, let me walk with thee
It would be so wonderful to be able to recite the Apostle’s Creed again with conviction and to join in the Responsive Reading, but I’m afraid those days are gone forever for me.
One of the things I have come to realize recently is that while I truly believe in the existence of God, I have no idea what this God is, how it manifests itself, or what role it plays in my life. The closest description I have found to describe my concept of God is “Panentheism”. The thing that attracts me to this description of God is the idea that mankind has some amount of accountability for the things that have happened in our history. As Roger Wolsey, in his book “Kissing Fish” puts it, “Panentheism suggests that creation, especially humanity, is a “co-creator” with God. Saying that humans are co-creators with God implies that God doesn’t have all of the agency, will, or control about what happens in the world. Panentheism affirms this and its implications.” This helps me make sense out of things like the Holocaust, wars, and the introduction of vaccines to eradicate diseases like polio.
But here’s the rub. If you believe, as I do, and as John Shelby Spong put it in his book ”Eternal Life: A New Vision”, “The first focus of religion … is to secure this life by allowing us to solicit the divine favor of a supernatural power to come to our aid.” the whole idea of worship (and religion for that matter) is irrelevant if you don’t believe in this supernatural power. I haven’t believed in this “Santa Claus” God who “knows when you are sleeping, knows when you’re awake, knows if you’ve been bad or good, etc.” for quite some time now. As a character on one of my favorite television comedies said a few years ago, “I don’t object to the concept of a deity, but I’m baffled by the notion of one that takes attendance.”
So, if I am not in church every Sunday to “worship” or to “to solicit divine favor,” what am I there for? I have thought about this a lot lately, and this is what I have come up with. First, since I consider myself to be a Christian – a follower of “the Way” – I am here to learn as much as I can about the teachings of Christ. Second, I am attending church to be part of a social gathering made up of people I like being around in a non-threatening, contemplative environment.
I miss the old hymns and prayers regardless of how little they reflect my true beliefs. I guess I’ll just have to crank up the Cyberhymnal every once in a while and serenade my wife. If nothing else, it’s good aerobic exercise.
The Progressive Christian