Church Meetings as Ritual - not Rubber Stamps

Church meetings can be a drag. Oftentimes the critique is that Church meetings are more a rubber stamp than anything. The implication is that rubber stamps are not a very meaningful use of time. People show up and the decisions have already been made and so the official/final vote at the meeting is a "rubber stamp."

What I would offer up is that many of the most significant times in our lives look on the surface like rubber stamps, but we know that they are not. 

For instance, a wedding. The ones being married have already made the decision to get married. They have already planned and made hundreds of little decisions that brought them to the wedding day. The wedding ceremony is very choreographed where every question asked at the "meeting" is already decided. We do not see the wedding as a rubber stamp because we know the wedding is a ritual.

Photo by  Hannes Wolf  on  Unsplash

Photo by Hannes Wolf on Unsplash

Baptisms are the same way. This sacrament is a ritualizing of a series of decisions that have already been made. The ritual is there to not only formalize but to proclaim that in fact the work of God happens before our work and that what we do in in response to God's work. Again, on the surface baptisms can look like rubber stamps, but we do not think of them as such.

I want to offer up to those who view meetings as rubber stamps to see Church meetings as rituals - not rubber stamps. If you are disappointed or frustrated that your voice was not heard at the meeting, then we know that our relationships with the leadership needs to be worked on. And perhaps we know this and this is why we are prone to see meetings as rubber stamps but not weddings. We have a relationship with the couple getting married but not always with the people leading the meeting. 

The next time you are leading or attending a Church meeting, consider approaching the meeting as a ritual. It may be easier to see everyone in the meeting in the same light we see everyone at a wedding (beloved) when we approach the meeting as a ritual. 

Identity Theft? How About Identity Loss

Identity theft is real and causes a tom of damage to people's lives that can take years to straighten out. As such, and rightly so, identity theft gets a lot of press coverage. And as common as identity theft may be identity loss may be just as common. 

Identity loss is that thing that happens when we identify as someone but then, due to many and varied reasons, we no longer do/can. This happens to us throughout our lives, like when we move from one job to another and you now identify as "the boss". It also happens at all ages, like when a child moves through grade school and no longer identifies as the "big kids". It can happen very suddenly, like when a child is born and you no longer identify as single. It can also happen gradually, like when you realize that you no longer are the one everyone seeks advise from.

When one is a victim of identity theft, there are a number of people who can help you recover lost money or property. A credit card company can cancel the transaction, the bank can track the check, the website will issue new passwords, government can track down thieves, insurance can cover the loss, etc. 

When we experience identity loss, often times we are on our own. We just have to feel our way into a new identity, like when a child dies and we no longer identify as the "parent of ...". We have to just "suck it up" that things are different now when we are fired and we are not "employee". We have to quickly "get over it" when our team moves and we no longer identify as a "Brooklyn Dodger fan". There can be social stigma around the middle aged man who dates younger women or the middle aged woman who dresses like a twenty year old might neither who are able to let go of an identity. We do not know what to do when we are no longer identified as a "leader". We do not know what to do when after an accident and we are no longer able to identify as a "soccer player".  

I believe this is in part why the Church is needed in the world. Church has rituals that help when we suffer from some forms of identity loss. This is why weddings, funerals, baptisms, singing, corporate worship and other rituals and practices of the Church matter. We use ritual to grieve the identity loss so that we can explore and embrace a new identity. 

Additionally, the Church is the place that says that you have an identity that cannot be stolen and you cannot lose - you are forever identified as a beautiful, beloved child of God.


Drive Thru Baptism = Selfish

Clergy are asked to perform the ritual of baptism. These are high holy moments that most, if not all clergy, embrace and love. I do not pass up the opportunity to participate in a baptism of any kind except one. The Drive Thru Baptism.

The Drive Thru Baptism usually beings as a phone call to the church asking if the clergy will "baptize my child sometime. Having never met this person calling and this person having never entered into the community of the church we engage in a conversation about what baptism means. Frankly I am not one that believes baptism is "fire insurance" or that you have to be baptized to be "saved". (Because I think we are saved by Grace not by baptism, but that is another post.) What I do affirm is that in baptism the person being baptized is making promises/vows to be in relationship with God and with God's people. To serve God through the mission and ministry of a local church and that to make these vows without any intention to live them out in a faith community (to join a church) cheapens the ritual and promotes that baptism is less a religious act and more of a social rite of passage (like the wedding ceremony has become).

Ultimately, I see the Drive Thru Baptism - having a person baptized but never seeing that person again - is selfish. It is selfish to ask a community of faith for guidance, courage, support, help and grace but at the same time not provide any of those same things for any other in the community. It is like getting married and promising to love your spouse but as time goes by you don't show acts of love but expect your spouse to do so. 

So, no I will no baptize you or your child unless you are serious in living out your vows that you are making to live in community: to die to self, to live for others and to follow Christ. If you are more interested in getting your family together to have a party for a rite of passage, then might I suggest this is why we have birthdays, graduations, girl/boy scouts, and other social markers. 

Apparently I am not alone in my thoughts...

Source: http://www.drive.com.au/editorial/articled...

Cleanliness is next to Godliness? Science Suggests Maybe Not

Many religious rituals involve a washing or a bathing. This washing/bathing symbolically connects the physical cleanliness with a spiritual/moral purity. Washing is a powerful symbol for a number of reasons and Christianity uses this symbol in baptism, in telling the story of Jesus' last supper and even at his trial. When I was working for the Catholic Church I would help the priest symbolically wash his hands before celebrating communion and even as a minister today, I put hand sanitizer on my hands prior to communion. 

While the Church has long understood the validity of the sacrament does not depend upon the moral character of the minister (which is why I will not re-baptize you) we still hold onto the connection between physical and moral purity. 

Dr. Thalma Lobel writes in her Sensation: The New Science of Physical Intelligence about a study about bathing and honesty. Here is the set up:

People were given a test and when the time was up, the answer sheet was given to each person to "check their answers". The people were to use the answer sheet to mark on their own pages the number of incorrect answers they gave. They found that some people used the answer sheet and changed some of their original answers and gave themselves a better score.

Some in the group were asked to take a shower prior to the test and others were not. The assumption was that those who took the shower before the test would be physically clean and thus influenced to be morally clean when it came test time. However the study showed that those who were more likely to lie or cheat were those who took a shower prior to the test.

The reason? The researchers suggest that those who took the bath "felt clean" (both physically and morally) and thus felt they had a little more "room to get dirty". 

Clergy are constantly in a position of being physically clean. We go into hospitals and must wash a our hands. We perform rituals that require a physical washing as a part of the ritual. We are expected to have clean clothes and look "professional' and "put together", and if not then we question the if the man who looks disheveled is a very good clergy person. Clergy expectation/stereotypes involve descriptors like being "squeaky clean", using "clean" never "foul" language", and avoiding the "dirty side" of life (such as smoking and drinking and rated R movies that deal with the macabre). Could these expectations of clean clergy ironically, contribute to clergy feeling more like we have room to "get a little dirty"? 

Maybe this is in part why Jesus was not in favor of his disciples washing their hands before eating?

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?’
— Mark 7:1-5
Source: http://izquotes.com/quote/313414