“…the river is my church.”

by Captain Bradley

Those were the words offered by my massage therapist years ago at the Camelback Spa in Scottsdale. Like my bloated expense account back then, I was grateful for, yet humored by, her words of wisdom. With my face squished into the padded ring thing, I simply retorted “well, who do you think made the river?”, which was followed by the usual awkward silence. I get that a lot.

Hey, I’m an outdoor guy. I heart the local greenways, regional mountains & streams, and, most of all, our beaches of the Gulf coast. All a part of a really big, complicated creation by a pretty amazing higher power. My much-older, husky, East German Olympian masseuse did not accept the connection…or so she said. I’ve thought about that conversation for years.

Maybe considering the river as a place of worship IS just as valid as the love and care given to a stone, marble, and wooden shrine to God. Maybe. It just seems to me that there’s a balance somewhere between the little wooden church in the country and the Crystal Cathedral in California, which was recently foreclosed by the Shular family’s lenders. My own church had a multi-million $$$ capital campaign for a beautiful building that demanded repair and preservation for decades to come. Done. The church that I finished my childhood in built a mega-church years ago, with an aging congregation, and stresses today under several million dollars of debt. Thus, country to city, old to new, aging to new congregation…bigger is better? Well, there’s nothing bigger than creation. Maybe my snarky response to that lady kneading me like a 275-pound lump of dough was foolish. Maybe she was wise and at the very place that I find myself today. Funny.

Every group of like-minded folks need a place to gather together, rain or shine. For some, it’s that neighborhood hang-out. For some, it’s the grocery and Walmart. For some, it’s the golf course or country club. For many, wealthy to not-so, faithful to not-so, young to not-so, genuine to not-so…it’s the Church. Once or twice a year to every few days, millions of Americans gather with like-minded (exc politics) folks to worship, socialize, exercise, feed our kids minds & souls, and God only knows what else. It is the modern church. It works for most or it wouldn’t exist. My rhetorical question is “when is the church just a church?”. I’ve joked for years about two types of churches. One is just a church, which can be large or small. The other is the church of “what’s happening now”, with big-screen TV’s, big technologies, family life centers, gymnasiums, etc. Sure, there are hybrids too and our church is one of then. So, make it 3 types, but that clutters up the joke.

I would love to know what God thinks about where we have taken the church in modern times. I hope to find out someday, when it’s a little too late. Maybe he’s telling us now through the Shular family, through the debt-obsessed congregations, and through shrinking congregations and resources to fund the very real business side of organized religion. Although they never enjoy hearing it, all 4 of our kids have been target of my “it’s never enough…just be thankful for what you DO have” one-liners to longer lecture. Sure, God is God and void of the snark + sarcasm that my kids expect from old Dad, but the point is made. From our home to our church-home, when is enough just enough? Is bigger really any better? If the river is your church, are you always looking for a bigger and better river? Shall we gather at the river, so to speak?

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