I’ve been unable to attend my usual church lately because of some logistical issues I won’t get into here.
But I have been going to a church of sorts. You read this post and tell me if it’s a church.
It has three members. I am one of them. The other two are friends of mine. One of the friends, “J.” we’ll call him, and I go back a long way. The other, “P.”, is someone I met more recently.
We meet at each other’s houses. This week we met at J.’s house. Our activities followed the same framework they do every week:
P. picked me up and we drove to J.’s house. P. and I helped J. bring in a new piece of equipment for his home theater. The three of us talked and joked and caught up on some of the things happening in our lives while we brewed the coffee.
We opened with a prayer. As usual, the prayer was to ask God to help our hearts understand what we were about to read and discuss.
We took turns reading the bible aloud and talking about it and trying to help each other understand it. We’re working on Acts right now. We got through just Chapter 9 this time. The chapter pertains to the very beginnings of the messages of Christ’s followers spreading out from the Jewish people to the rest of the Hellenistic diaspora. This was a revolutionary thing to happen at that time, because people thought the Jewish God was only for the Jews, and the gentiles didn’t want to get circumcised and follow all the other Jewish laws and traditions of the time. Understandable. That’s why Chapter 9 of Acts explained that no, you don’t have to get circumcised and anyone can have the Jewish God if they want him. (On a personal note, I can see why some of the Jews at the time were pissed off about Christians basically stealing their God.)
P. and J. and I stopped and discussed the chapter whenever we felt moved to do so. It was interesting and stimulating as always. Our discussions of the bible often indirectly address at least one of our current personal lives. Tonight our reading found occasion to drift over to the Greek words for the various kinds of love, such as “agape” (pronounced “uh-GOP-ay”, not “uh-GAPE”.) We also touched on the prophesies in Isaiah for a bit because a eunuch on a chariot was quoting it.
We closed by praying for each other and for certain people and groups of people not present. “Intercessory” prayer, I believe this is called. When we pray for each other, we sometimes ask each other to pray for specific things in our lives. For example, if I want to be less of a jerk to my roommate, I’ll ask the other guys to pray to God to fill my heart with more Christ-like acceptance instead of resentment. Or if another guy has an injury-related, chronic migraine, we ask God to help with fixing it. Or if the other guy needs help watching his finances properly, we pray to God to lend him his wisdom. Always the aim of these prayers is to help each other remove obstacles in our lives so that we can better serve God and do right by our fellow humans. That’s the idea, anyway.
Then we sang a song. Yes, we sing songs. Because we’re cool like that. Because we’re unashamed in each other’s presence. Tonight we tried a song about how awesome God is. I know, predictable. But it’s good and powerful to worship together — to worship in song to a God we can’t see but would like to come into closer understanding with. We magnify each other’s experience of God. (Non-theists might call it “conjuring an emotional hallucination of God.” That’d be a fair and honest synonym for the act of worshiping. Makes no difference to me how it’s phrased. Doesn’t undermine my good feelings of faith. Yes, I live in seeming paradox.)
More More Prayer
Then we do an “Our Father”, more formally known as the Lord’s Prayer. I like our version. It’s the same version — with the exact same words, same rhythms — that I grew up with when my mom was still taking me with her to A.A. meetings:
Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name,
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses.
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever, amen.
Around the world, that last bit isn’t always included in the Lord’s Prayer. Different strokes for different Christians (and drunks.)
P. and I helped J. start installing the new bit of home theater we helped him bring in. We chatted some more, had a few more chuckles, and P. and I left.
That’s it. That’s church. Three guys with bibles and a pot of coffee. Full worship service, full bible reading and study, full coffee service. Once a week.
How is that not a full-on church? Oops, I guess none of us went to divinity school or got a magic robe from another guy in a magic robe. Hey, I’m not saying institutional churches serve no purpose. I’m not saying I’m smarter than a person who did nothing but study the bible for four years straight. I’m not even saying I’ll never go back to the institutional church. I’m just saying everybody is human, and maybe we can build a church just by showing up and praying just anywhere. It don’t cost nothing.
For spake the Christ, the man-god all Christians claim to believe in and whose every word is by tradition held to be true and inerrant:
“And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.”
– Matthew 18:20 (The Message)