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[If you’re going to run off without reading this post because it’s too long, I understand. I use lots of words to think, but know lots of people are frustrated by such excessiveness.  If that’s you, I would be really grateful if you’d skip over the wordy part of the post and consider answering the bolded questions at the end, before you leave. Thanks 🙂 ] 

I’ve been thinking a lot about church during the past year. Due to a set of unexpected circumstances, I found myself searching for a church to attend at a time when I wanted desperately to be settled. With a combination of grief, my introverted tendency to avoid new groups of people and a critical attitude, the process was pretty rough and lengthy. Right before Christmas, a lot of things came together. I felt like my grief came to the surface in a clearer way, and God began to touch and chip off the arrogant attitudes in such an amazing and tender way. It’s hard to describe how tangible that process was and what a relief it was to be able to let go of some of the attitudes I’d been holding onto, but not liking.

I’ve been learning a lot in the process, thanks in great part to many of you who read this blog and others whose blogs I read. (I’m not going to try to locate and link back to all the specific blogs, because there are too many over quite a period of time. I’m just linking to the home pages of many of the bloggers who have influenced my life as I work through my thinking on church. If you want to know more about a specific author or post I refer to, though, email me and I’ll send you the link(s).)

Codepoke’s posts on blooming where you are planted and getting involved in a church near ones house prompted me to visit a nearby church I had otherwise overlooked. That is the church I ended up deciding to settle into and be a part of.  Lingamish continues to keep me on my toes with regards to thinking about worship and challenging some of my expectations. The honest writings at Beyond Words have given me a model for critical thinking about church while maintaining  a heart of humility and life of servanthood.  John at Ancient Hebrew Poetry got me thinking with some of his posts as he has written about a wedding and a funeral he preached, has shared bits and pieces about the churches he and his wife pastor, as well as thoughts on his aunt’s active involvement in her church. Phil’s own thoughts at Pensees as well as a quote he shared by Kierkegaard have me grappling with the topic from another angle. And Thainamu has shared some about her church and the life group she is a part of, which helped me think about my own expectations. How they do things fit with a lot of my expectations, even though if you’d have asked me what the ideal small group looked like, I couldn’t have come up with a description very easily.

And then Scott Gray of A Lectionary Beyond Belief wrote and asked me some questions, which motivated me to try harder to articulate some of these vague thoughts and feelings.

Articulating stuff is hard for me. People don’t think it is, because I am so verbose. But the verboseness is part of the struggle to actually be able to narrow down and communicate what’s going on inside of me on a given topic. I suppose I unconsciously think that if I use enough words, I’ll eventually be able to accurately get out what is on my heart and mind. But I’m rarely satisfied with the end result, and I think sometimes I lose the point in all of the words. Anyway, Scott’s questions helped. As a brainstormer and networker, my thinking was all over the map, so to speak. But with specific questions, I was able, a little bit, to start to narrow down some of my thinking. Instead of sharing my partially formed answers here and now, though, I’d like to hear your thoughts on the topic.

I want to ask you one of Scott’s questions with a couple of my own. I’m thinking of this as a survey. For those of you who read blogs, but don’t comment because you don’t think you have anything to contribute to the conversation, actually you do on this post!  Everybody has a contribution to make to a survey. This is an open ended survey about what you do and why you do it. If you do it (go to church), you’ve got something to add (and if you don’t do it, your reasons for that would contribute a helpful perspective as well!)

I’m really curious about why people go to church and what they expect when they do. There are no right or wrong answers, and I’m not planning on responding to the comments in the thread itself.  My hope is that it truly will be a collection of responses that will paint a picture for me and help me sort out, clarify and articulate my own thoughts. I may further the discussion in another post, but here I’d like to collect your reasons without adding my 2 cents to them.

If you go to church, there are reasons you do, and there are expectations you have for that. I’m wanting to learn more about the scope and variety of those reasons and expectations.

Here’s the original question I was asked:

What do you think the purpose of church services is in ones spiritual and faith community life?

Here are two other questions to help you think through it. Feel free to respond to any or all of them.

What do you hope/expect to get out of going to church?

What do you hope/expect to contribute by going to church? (i.e. what part do you believe the individual believer has in the bigger purpose of church services?)

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Lover of words that I am, that one has rolled pleasantly around inside of my head since I first heard it. It is the name of a new blog, a spin-off of Better Bibles Blog.

I like the word for how it sounds. And I also like it because I think it more or less describes my position in the complementarian/egalitarian discussion. You could take that to mean one of several things:

1.  Eclexia is very balanced. She shies away from the pitfalls of either extreme. (Ah yes, that would be a lovely conclusion to come to  🙂  )

2.  Eclexia is very compromising. She avoids taking a strong stand and instead waffles around in the middle, neither hot nor cold, and so is about to be spewed out (a double-minded man–oops, woman–unstable in all her ways.)

3.  Eclexia is very unconfident and full of self-doubt. She’s afraid to state any view strongly and confidently, because that might invite somebody to disagree with her.

4.  Eclexia thinks if these things have been being argued about by great scholars who read and understand the original languages better than she can ever dream of, she’s probably not going to figure it out, so she might as well stay open to hearing both sides, thinking deeply about what she hears, learning from the whole discussion, but  setting aside the need to come to any firm or final conclusions.

Number 4 is the way I choose to apply the word to myself. I had to throw in #3, because I often am labeled as unconfident and full of self-doubt, but I think those labels seriously misunderstand and underestimate me. And if they are accurate labels, well, I also don’t happen to think self-doubt or lack of confidence are as serious of flaws as they are often cracked up to be. (So, even if I don’t have enough confidence and have too much doubt, my self-image can handle being that way  🙂  )

I don’t like arguing with people about topics like this, not because I’m afraid as much as (1) the intensity can overwhelm me to the point where I can hardly hear what I think and feel about what’s being said and (2) I don’t find arguments to be especially productive for me, although I know some people find them invaluable as part of the process of fleshing out their theology or politics or other major opinions!

All that to say, I’ll probably follow along with the discussion at Complegalitarian, but not engage in too much of the dialogue.

However, from the safety of my own blog, where I can be clear on the fact that I’m not making a statement about anything or either side, but rather reflecting out loud, I wanted to mention a library book we ended up with this week (my children and I wander aimlessly around the library, randomly and eclectically picking up books, so we always arrive home with quite a variety.)

This particular book is called How the Amazon Queen Fought the Prince of Egypt, and inside the front cover, in large letters is this question, “Can Woman Ever Conquer Man?”   What’s this? Some sort of modern day feminist allegory? Well, actually, the book is loosely taken from a story on the papyrus scroll titled “Egyptians and Amazons”.

Even if you don’t like the story, you’ve got to love (well, if you’re a language lover like me) the hieroglyphs. Most of the pages have a phrase from the story printed at the bottom in three levels: 1st the hieroglyphs, then the transliteration and finally a literal translation into English. My 4 year old loved looking for similar glyphs in the two phrases on each page. The hieroglyphs with literal translations would be a fun first linguistics lesson, figuring out some of the rules of Egyptian grammar, noticing what symbols combine to make others, etc.

On the first page are these words, “There the Amazon women lived free, without men. They rode horses and hunted and were happy at their will.” Hmmm, it should be interesting to see where this story goes (I hadn’t read it before we set down to read it together).  My 12-year-old, lover of non-fiction, immediately said, “Mom, this story is crazy–you could never have a land of just women, because how would they reproduce?”

The story goes on to talk about how the Prince of Egypt comes and the two  nations engage in war. “Each Amazon fought like ten men. The Egyptians dropped their weapons and fled.” The prince of Egypt wasn’t fighting that first day. As he stood atop a hill and watched what was happening, he became enraged: “Women defeating my soldiers? No! Tomorrow this army of women will suffer a painful defeat. It will be beautiful after the bitterness of today.”

That night as he partakes of rich food and strong drink, he decides that the next day he and the Queen of the Amazons must engage in single combat (in case you wanted to know how to say “single combat” in Ancient Egyptian, you learn that it would be “er aha wa irem ef”. )

There is some heavy insulting and cursing at the beginning of the battle: “…you worm…You will be to me as an insect in the mouth of a bird. I will smash your face into your neck. I will break your legs into your heels!” The reply comes back, “…you will flee from me as a gazelle from a lion! Your limbs will weaken. Your knees will tremble.” (You’ll have to read it to see who gives which insult. Any guesses?)

At the end of a long day of fighting, the Queen suggests that they stop fighting and the prince agrees that fighting shouldn’t  happen after dark. The Queen then asks the prince why he came to the Land of Women. And from here, the story takes a twist that caught me by surprise. And yes, this is a spoiler warning, so if you want to read it yourself, stop here and go check the book out.

Here’s the Prince’s response, “I heard stories of the Land of Women who fight. And I came here to see your Amazon warriors with my own eyes. I never believed women could conquer man….Now I am so moved by the courage and strength of you and your woman warriors that I will put down my sword and stand by your side.”

The narrator pipes up with, “It was then that Prince Pedikhons looked at Queen Serpot and saw that she was his equal. And he did not know where on Earth he was, from the great love that entered into him.” (In Egyptian, that last phrase would be, “em-djer ta merut aat nety ak en im ef” or “because of love great which entered in to him.“) “And it was then that Queen Serpot looked at the prince and saw that he was her equal. And she did not know where on Earth she was, from the great love that entered into her. And later Serpot and Peikhons made an alliance and conquered India together.”

The End.

At the end of the book is a section that tells the history of this story, another explaining Hieroglyphs and the fact that the transliterations are really best guesses. This section also clarifies that the story was originally written in Demotic, not hieroglyphs. Finally there is a section explaining the symbolism of the paintings in the book.

Well, I offer no great conclusions or applications or points from the story (well, okay, one point–I never have gotten the whole business of conquering. I know “everybody does it”, but I still don’t like it! I was sad that once they got over the need to conquer each other’s nation, that the benefit of their alliance was being able to conquer India.) I did think, however,  it was a fun and interesting read that fit rather nicely into the part of my brain that looks forward to following along with the discussion at Complegalitarian.

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