I Come Not to Praise the Megachurch

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The church may have begun as a non-spiritual entity, a business of some sort that was judged insufficiently profitable. Maybe it was one of those sprawling climate-controlled storage facilities, for example, the kind assembled from pre-fab insulated concrete forms, crafted not for enlivening souls but for storing up the treasures that have no place elsewhere.

But likely it was intended as a church from the beginning, a box, yes, but a box whose utilitarianism is a testimony befitting the Horatio Alger genesis tale of the modern American church: We began in a warehouse; we began in a living room; we began in a movie theater. In the beginning we sat on borrowed semi-circled folding chairs and read the Word from our soft well-worn leather-bound Bibles and the Word was with us and the Word was us. [Read more...]

Wrestling with Sunday Mornings

14597764532_57904b2b45_zThis past Saturday afternoon I warned my husband, “I’m not going to church tomorrow.” In the morning when he went off early to help with music for the service, I went for a walk, made bacon and eggs, sat by an open window, and read every single page of the New York Times.
I really, really enjoy not going to church.

I’ve been going to Sunday services nearly every week as far back as I can remember. I figure that between ages four and forty-four I’ve been to around 1600-1800 church services, subtracting vacation and sick days and adding the years I went twice on a Sunday.
That’s a lot of church services. I feel like I need a break, at least from attendance as my default setting, and while I feel relieved to come to this awareness and sense that it might be okay to take a break, there’s also sadness and a pinch of fear.

The sadness is because my identity as a churchgoer is such a longstanding part of me—I literally don’t know a life without it. The thought of changing that brings with it a sense of loss of something that has mattered a great deal to me at various points in my life. There’s also the sadness of thinking that perhaps the entire experience of church as I know it is a failed experiment in Christian community that got off track long ago. I’m not saying it is (and I’m not saying it isn’t), but even entertaining that thought makes me sad. [Read more...]

Art on Fire: The Life and Work of Melissa Weinman, Part 1

By: Richard Cole

Weinman_Even the Night Shall Be Light About Me_2_web (1)In a recent painting by Melissa Weinman, a small, white rose floats over darkness. The rose is in full blossom, almost blown, and crowned by a pale fire rising from its petals like mist.

The effect is arresting, almost hallucinatory, but this is not an image that is merely unusual—a pretty flower on fire. Instead, the painting holds us in abeyance. We enjoy both what we can see and what escapes us. We have the sense that this is not the odd, passing moment but a steady state, something more than physical that is burning with something more than fire.

The painting’s title, “Even the Night Shall Be Light About Me,” a quote from Psalm 139, directs us to think in terms of sacred art. But to better understand this image and the beauty it portrays, we also need to approach it as art deeply informed by the spiritual life of the artist. [Read more...]

Divine Drudgery

vanTwo weeks after we moved to the Mennonite community in rural Illinois, a baby was born in a teepee in my backyard. My neighbor Angela was a doula and had agreed to let a friend give birth in her own home. I’m not sure even Angela had expected the full-sized teepee to be erected fifty feet from the double sliding glass doors that looked out onto the backyard we shared.

Really, though, we share more than a backyard. Along with five or so families, we live on 180 acres of woods and farmland and dwell in the seven or eight buildings constructed by community members in the seventies and eighties.

That night, the teepee, straight out of the movie Dances with Wolves, was full of smoke, fire, and rain from the fateful thunderstorm whose thrumming rose and fell in pitch with the mother’s vocal contractions.

I stood at the window early the next morning and heard the newborn’s very first cries. And despite the strangeness of it all, I cried too.

Witnessing an unusual birth, living on a farm, rubbing shoulders with hippies, growing and raising our own food: It all sounds so romantic and interesting when I describe it, doesn’t it? [Read more...]

Sunday Morning at Wegmans, Prince George’s County, Maryland

7318387934_a5430df8a7_mIt is the Feast of Pentecost on the Eastern Orthodox calendar, the annual commemoration of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the assembled, expectant, and yet uncomprehending (read: totally clueless) Apostles. It is also the day after B.B. King’s funeral: “The Thrill is Gone” is going yet again, over and over, on the newscasts on the car radio.

And on this festival day, I am feeling once again my status as the Chief of Sinners, slipping out of the house with unwashed hair in a faded, above-the-knee, sleeveless, beach sundress. (So much for all my lurking on frum-clothing websites as of late and our family’s general decision to avoid any commerce on Sunday.) I’ve blown receiving Holy Communion today, having already drunk a lot of coffee in violation of the pre-Communion Fast. I do not feel okay about this, but I have to go to Confession anyway, so this is just another damned thing I can add to the list. [Read more...]


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