|Stained Glass Window in the Crypt of the Cathedral of Strasbourg|
Now this was a while ago, ten years or so, so not all of the details have stuck in the old brain box. But here's how I remember it. (And if your wondering why I'm going down this path, let's just say it was a pretty important aspect of my "faith journey".)
Seems that the Church treasurer was not depositing the offering checks in as timely a manner as some folks thought she should. Now mind you, there was no funny business involved here on the treasurer's part. She had a full-time regular job in addition to her duties as Church treasurer, so she didn't always have time to get to the bank on a weekly basis and deposit the offering checks. Sometimes it could be up to three weeks between visits to the bank.
And some folks didn't like this. They felt a burden come check book balancing time when checks written a couple of weeks earlier hadn't been cashed. More calculating and figuring involved, don't you know, when a check or checks is/are still outstanding. One's balance not matching the statement balance and all that. So these folks complained to the pastor.
Now the new pastor was a young fellow, not very experienced in the ways of the world and all that. He also had yet to finish seminary, so his training in the pastoral arts was still, shall we say, somewhat lacking. Bottom line is that our young pastor announced to a number of people, in public, that he was going "down to the Church and fire the Treasurer!" (Rather like Christ come to cleanse the temple I thought.)
Too bad that particular duty was not his to exercise. The treasurer is elected to that office by the members of the congregation. It's not a job the pastor can fire one from. Apparently someone informed the pastor of that and he backed off of his crusade to rid the world of a slow treasurer.
Unfortunately a group of people in the Church felt the Pastor had exceeded his authority and for that he must be made to pay. With his position.
After services one Sunday, the membership was asked to stay after the service for an important announcement. At that time our Pastor indicated that he was resigning. Now this all seemed rather "out of the blue" for most of us. So of course, there were questions.
Now the whole point of the Pastor announcing his resignation was that the Church hierarchy assumed that that would be that. He'd resign and leave quietly, we'd all sigh and say "that's too bad" and life would go on. If you're guessing that's not what happened, you guessed correctly. Questions were asked, answers were given. Things became rather messy.
The Pastor departed and half the congregation departed with him. Like I said, messy.
That's when I started getting involved with my church in ways other than just attending services on Sunday. For I did not like the way the Church had treated the Pastor or handled the entire situation. An important lesson was learned by me. Attending a Christian church does not necessarily make one a Christian.
So from not attending church for many years, to reluctantly attending church, to embracing church, to playing an active role in the church happened relatively quickly. Just over a span of four years. Kinda makes my head spin looking back at it. The Nuke couldn't believe any of this, as she told the Missus, "Mom, what have you done? You've turned Dad into a religious fanatic!"
She overstated the case just a bit. But not by much, I had gone from "I am NOT going to church!" to "Honey, hurry up, we're going to be late for church!" in a rather short time. More people than just the Nuke were pretty amazed at the turn-around in Your Humble Scribe.
But really I've always been a fairly spiritual guy. I've always believed in God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit, but without any of the "trappings" that went with that. One can SAY one believes but if one doesn't actually go to church, how can anyone tell you're not just paying lip service to the concept of religion? Now that is something I wrestled with and is the thing which convinced me that going to church was not such a bad thing after all.
At first I was doing it for the Missus, it made her feel better. After a while, it started making me feel better too.
Now Marx (Karl, not Groucho) said "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people." Which is often attributed to Lenin (Vladimir Ilyich, not John) in the form of "Religion is the opiate of the masses."
Well, as both Karl and Vladimir were assholes of the very highest order, I don't put a lot of credence in anything those two losers might have said. Or written. Or were alleged to have said or written. (If this makes you think that I don't have a very high opinion of Communists, Socialists and others of that ilk, go to the head of the class. I don't.)
Religion is a very personal thing. No one can tell you how you should feel about it. It's a decision you need to make for yourself. You either believe or you don't. You either adhere to some religious credo or you don't. While it seems simple, making that leap can be rather difficult.
Right now our church has an interim pastor. As a matter of fact, since I joined the church we've been through three "permanent" pastors, two interims and any number of "pulpit supply" pastors. (Those last are what could be referred to as "rent-a-pastors". They'll come in and do a Sunday or two but are intended as a stop-gap kind of thing.)
Now of the three "permanent" pastors, one retired, one "resigned" (in reality was fired) and the third (most recent) left to pursue other opportunities. It's important to note here that my church is very small and can't afford a full-time pastor. So we normally hire what is called a "bi-vocational" pastor. Read that as "has a real job that pays the bills" and also ministers to others on Sundays and as needed.
Being a bi-vocational pastor is, as one might imagine, not easy. On the one hand it's a second, part-time job, many of us have had or still have, second, part-time jobs. But in this particular part-time job, you're also responsible for the immortal souls of a group of people. No small thing. Takes a very special type of person to fill the position. Finding one is difficult at best, sometimes impossible.
Our current interim pastor is a superb preacher. He's trying to get us to a point where we can hire the right pastor and support him or her in the ministry. One thing about part-time pastors is that they really need a committed congregation who aren't just sitting in the pews on Sunday, nodding their heads, then going home after the service.
So as part of that, we have Bible Study. Which I started attending, then stopped, then started again. I am at a "spiritual crossroads". I'm not sure what my next move is.
Attendance at the Bible Study is very good. The folks who are attending are getting a lot out of it as far as I can tell. They're enjoying it immensely.
I, on the other hand, am not enjoying it so much. It is far too academic, the pastor's theology is not what I would call "what I grew up with" and is not in agreement with my own core beliefs (built up over a long time I might add). He has referred to the Bible Study group on occasion as "his little theologians". I kid you not.
For me he's taking the magic and mystery out of religion. Reducing it to a constant cross-referencing of Biblical passages which support, foreshadow or reinforce some other passage or event in the Good Book. Reducing it to, as I mentioned, something academic which to me means stale and (quite frankly) boring.
I'm not sure if I can explain what I mean by "magic and mystery", especially considering that part of the Bible (Revelations) rather frowns on "magic", but I will try.
When I say "magic and mystery", I think of the rumble of thunder in the distance at the approach of a summer storm. I think back to standing in the foothills of the Rockies and listening to the hissing of giant snowflakes falling to the ground while the rest of the world was muffled and still.
I think of being at sea, watching the wake of my ship, then looking around and seeing nothing, nothing but the sea and the sky all around us. And thinking to myself that at that moment in time the water beneath us was over 30,000 feet deep*. I felt small and rather insignificant but marveled how privileged I felt to be able to see such a thing with my own eyes.
I think of being in the air, the world spread out underneath me, stretching to the horizon. The sky spread out above me, stretching to Infinity. The movement of the aircraft as it rides the air, carrying me along in sheer delight. I hear and feel the rumble of the engine, the propeller spinning before me, occasionally flashing in the sunlight.
When I say "magic and mystery", I also think of the sparkling of Christmas lights on a bitter cold December night. The smell of a wood fire as I walk up my street, my feet crunching on the new-fallen snow as I head home to be with loved ones.
The silence of the forest, suddenly broken as I see movement to my right. Me standing, perfectly still as three whitetail deer approach and then stop, sensing an alien presence. Watching as they try to decide exactly what I am. Their noses in the air, trying to catch my scent, their deep brown eyes watching me intently. For a moment, time stands still, there is "magic and mystery" in the air.
The voices of my children. The smiles of my grandchildren as I do something goofy. Just for them.
All of those things speak to me of God. His Majesty and Power. Of things Unknowable by me or any other human.
I appreciate the knowledge of the Bible sought by some. I feel it's enough to believe without all of the academic knowledge. I trust that what is written matters.
I believe that it is by Faith alone that we are saved. That suffices for me.
For me, someday writing all of this down was inevitable. Writing it here, on this blog, has been cathartic and necessary. Thank you for reading it.
*This was on a cruise to Bermuda. For those who simply "have to know".