God-centered or Church-centered

Living in the eastern US, we do do not hear, in person, from members of the Seventy or other GAs very often.  So when Lawrence Corbridge, of the Seventy, presided at our stake conference, I attended both Saturday night and Sunday morning sessions. I found him to be sincere, maybe a little travel-weary, genuine, likable and wanting the best for us and for his own family.

He spoke to us about some personal interactions he had recently.  A woman told him her husband had seen an episode of South Park on Comedy Central,  in which Joseph Smith is depicted looking into a hat as he translated the Book of Mormon.  The husband was devastated to find it was true. Within a few weeks the husband had not only left the church, but left God as well. The husband’s concept of God and Church were so entwined he lost his faith in both.

He then challenged us to have God-centered homes rather than Church-centered homes.  He reflected on the manner in which he and his wife had raised their family, admitting it was a church-centered home, but realizing it wasn’t too late to teach new things to his adult children.  He explained the importance of having a relationship with God, in addition to being a member of the church. He cautioned against being busy with church activity and not anxiously engaged with God.    He was saying (in my words) that if you decide to leave the church, please don’t leave God. Recognize there is a difference. I freely admit I did not take notes during his talk, so these are my reflections after the fact.  These are the impressions left on me. He was saying there is plenty of information available that might rock your boat, but Jesus is Jesus regardless of the controversies swirling around us.

Make no mistake, at our stake conference, he bore a strong testimony of Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon and the restoration of the church. Yet he seemed to be saying that everyone who delves into the messiness of the church doesn’t emerge with their testimonies intact, as least not in the same way they were before the delve. He was asking us to deconflate the church with God.

I looked up Elder Corbridge  and read the devotional (several times) he gave at BYU on 1.22.19.  

In this talk, Stand Forever with Faith, he explained one of his assignments in recent years was to read all the material that is antagonistic to the church, Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon and the events of the restoration.  This process resulted in gloom, which he recognized as the absence of the Spirit of God. Once his assignment was completed he happily stayed away from that material. Yet, in my opinion, the effect has lingered with him, as evidenced by his BYU devotional address and his address to us at stake conference.

Many of us can relate to the feelings that follow an in depth study of  the fuller historical aspects of our church and the current lightning rod issues.  It can be a shock on many levels, which is why I found his message so applicable to me.

Our children were also raised in a Church-centered home with our calendar and activities centered around our callings, and our children’s church activities.  There were plenty of school activities and music lessons as well, but Church seems to be the driving force. During my children’s youth, I was still a new member myself, learning how to fit in.  I didn’t really differentiate between God and Church. I didn’t need to. I didn’t think about it at all. I was happy. But eventually our children grew up and I grew up with them in terms of my understanding of certain doctrines and historical events.  I began to see the difference between God and Church. I explored it and continue to explore it, which opens up space.

Getting back to Elder Corbridge’s message…

What does it really mean to have a God-Centered versus Church-centered home?  

First of all we should clarify the meaning of church.  I think Elder Corbridge was referring to Church (capital C) meaning the large infrastructure extending from SLC to our local wards, including all the ordinances, callings, programs, responsibilities involved with being a member.   Alternatively church (with a small c) could represent the body of members, the people, the community of Christ. When he said to be God-centered rather than Church-centered, I think he was referring to Church with a capital C.

Is it the same as spiritual verses religious? Maybe, but not exactly.  There are many ways to be spiritual and some of them, but not all, involve God.   What does it mean to be spiritual? What does it mean to be Godly?

Quite a few years ago, I had an epiphany.  I was deep in reflection about God and Church and church and where I fit in. I asked, “What is it all about?   What is the message that God and Jesus are teaching us?” The answer came softly and clearly to me. “Love. Just love.”  God is Love. God wants us to be loved and to love others. It was quite simple, yet profound.

This is not rocket science.  The New Testament is filled with this message, but it seemed a personal answer to a sincere question for me; like seeing a hidden message emerge inside a picture you‘ve been looking at a long time.

How do we operationalize God-centeredness?

Here’s a few ideas.

Develop a testimony that Christ and his message are truth.

Develop a desire to serve rather than a duty to serve.

Develop a personal prayer/meditative/contemplative practice in whatever way works.

See that yesterday’s Church is not the same as today’s Church or tomorrow’s Church.

See the Church as an instrument to lift the church, but fallible, because it is made of people.

Value the ordinances/sacraments offered to us when and if you’re ready and if you find them meaningful.

 

Remember that God loves us because God is love.  We do not need to earn that love. It is a free gift and all are worthy of it.

Prioritize your family time and extended family time, even if that means missing church once in a while.

Develop a home-centered, Church supported spiritual life

Discussion:

How would you describe the difference between God-centered and Church-centered?

How has a fuller understanding of the complexities of our Church and church influenced the way you center yourself?

How and when do you feel Godly love?

(artwork by Anne Trombetta)

Allemande Left

Allemande Left lives in the eastern US with her guitar-strumming husband. Allemande Left refers to the beginning steps in a square dance. Dancers turn to their corner partner, clasp left hands as they glide past each other, then clasp right hands with the next person as they weave through the square of dancers--half going clockwise and half counterclockwise. It is a way to loosen up and meet the other dancers. As the caller sings, "Allemande Left and Away We Go."

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14 Responses

  1. This is beautiful. Thank you. When I was a teenager my Dad say me down and told me it was important to not be centered on the church but on Christ. Which I didn’t understand at the time but it left a deep impression on me. As an adult I was struggling with it practice of forbidding people to take the sacrament after soon and he said that being right with the church and being right with God are maybe different things, something that hadn’t ever occurred to me. Here, you have beautifully articulated a vague feeling that I’ve had and wrestled with for years.

  2. Hollly says:

    I love this. Thanks for sharing.

  3. LMA says:

    This is so thoughtful and such an important distinction to talk about. I was definitely raised in a more church-centered vs. God-centered home. It has taken a lot of work as an adult to disentangle the connection between God and the church, and to be able to find a balance for me that emphasizes more a spiritual relationship with God vs. a certain level of activity in the church. It has taken me a really long time to realize I can have a spiritual relationship with God and not the church. It’s really hard to un-learn some of the things I was taught (e.g., our church is the only way to have a relationship with God) and figure out what having a spiritual relationship with God means to me, and how I want to engage that relationship.

  4. Andrew R. says:

    What a great post. This is very much where I am at at the moment. Our relationship with Our Father (Heavenly Parents – Father, Mother, Both), His Son – Our Saviour, and The Holy Ghost are essential to our progression. Everything else should support that, if it doesn’t – don’t involve it.

    I believe that the Essential Ordinances are just that – essential. So this is Christ’s Restored Church. However, it is led at all levels (including myself as EQP and father) by imperfect people. Hopefully the majority are trying to be the required support system. But it doesn’t always work.

    I believe this is why we are being led, by our Prophet, to be Home-Centred in our study, in our faith building and in our relationship with God (meaning the Trinity (LDS version)).

    Virtually every person who has left the Church in my stake has done so not only by leaving the Church, but by leaving God. Even the few that left saying they believe in Christ, and would continue in another church to follow the Saviour, have ended up without Christ in their lives.

    We understand the Plan of Salvation, and it makes sense. So trying to conceive of a God that doesn’t want us to be entirely like Him is a very hard this to do. And it should be, we came to earth to do this one thing.

    So for me, if someone doesn’t want to serve in a calling, or qualify for a TR, or even engage in a class, if they can still come to the meetings, and partake of the Sacrament, they can at least have the “Spirit to be with them” and build their relationship with God.

  5. Allemande Left says:

    Andrew, thank you for your comments. I wonder about all those in your stake that have left the church. Do you really know them all well enough to know if they have left God? A stake is a large area.
    In my experience, both as a Catholic for first 30 years and LDS for last 30 years, I have known many people who have left church activity. Many are hurt, really HURT by things that have happened to them or continue to happen. I SEE SO MUCH PAIN.

    When I know someone well enough to talk about these things I find they have developed their own spiritual practices, which may not involve religion or God, as we define God. I know one former member of my ward, who is now a happy Methodist. I know another who is attending another church/denomination in our city where she feels more connected or more peace. I know others who just cannot attend their wards, but still read scriptures including the BOM.

    What I hope for is more space within our congregation to really see and hear each other without defensiveness. As I said, the message is about LOVE. It’s hard to love another when we are worried about defending our own territory.

    I agree with you about people coming to Sacrament Meeting and having the Spirit to be with them, but often they are then put on a list and evaluated so as to bring them into alignment.

    I wish you well as EQP. I know it is a large responsibility and I sense you want to do the right thing. I would encourage you to SEE everyone where they are at. They might not agree with the PLAN as currently manifest, or wonder where they fit into it as a single person or an LGBT person or parent. They might have DEEP problems with some of the doctrines and cannot make peace with them. They may not know if Joseph Smith is a prophet or not because they can’t reconcile some of the things he did with the image of a prophet. We all are imperfect being, as you said. It is so complicated and individual.

  6. Meaghan says:

    I really enjoyed this one. I also see so many people not of our faith, who have such beautiful God centered homes, which inspires me to be better. I think the new come follow me program is a great tool that we have to help us be more centered on Christ. I’m also so happy that we started with the New Testament, which is filled with so many “love notes” from God.

  7. Evangelina Voz says:

    Forever life altering post. Thank you.

  8. EmilyCC says:

    This post was so helpful for me. Thank you!

  9. R. Black says:

    Interesting post, thanks. I had listened to Elder Corbridge’s talk he gave at BYU and it seemed to me he was affected by the information he read or viewed. Rightly so.

    I left the church at the beginning of this year – after 50 years of solid membership. My wife left a year ago. We no longer believe the truth claims of the church. We are agnostic about God now. We believe part of the reason for the agnosticism is that the church did a pretty good job undermining the credibility of other religions. When you lose faith in the remaining one true church, what is left to believe?

    • Allemande Left says:

      R. Black,
      I’ve read and reread your post this morning. You have hit the nail on the head. I understand to some extent what you are experiencing because my 2018 was one long delve into the truth.

      I can share some things that helped me.
      “Honor the journey” you are on. It might lead you to a remarkable place.

      Explore spirituality outside of organized religion.
      Read some different things. Change the channel so to speak.

      I found Richard Rohr’s book, Falling Upward helpful.
      He talks about the first half of life (living in the box) and the second half of life, exploring outside the box.

      I find Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations really interesting. She interviews spiritual thought leaders from all over the world.

      When I was at a low point last year, I said a strange prayer.
      I knelt down, arms open, palms up and open… and said out loud, “I just want to know the truth, please help me find the truth” The next day I woke up and didn’t ‘know’ anything anymore. All the things I thought I ‘knew’ were now on the table, up for review. That was a scary and lonely place to be.

      However, I have been led to see differently. I have found friends who will talk with me. I am more open to ambiguity. I learned to meditate.

      My ‘Go To’ images of the Savior are all New Testament images of him sitting on the beach cooking fish with friends, or touching someone’s body and soul. I find comfort thinking about him as a friend who honors my journey, is aware of me and will lead me in ways I might not see.

      I also remember two examples of Peter, getting out of the boat to go to Jesus. Once on the water in the middle of the sea, and once close to shore. In the latter he stripped off his clothes and jumped in naked. Perhaps you are spiritually naked right now. You’ve jumped in the water. You are out of the boat. Swim!

      I wish you well on your journey and hope you find peace along the way. You are not alone. You have community, which really is the lesson of the gospel…loving each other. We are here for you and your wife.

  10. Allyall says:

    My dad told me as a teen that the gospel doesn’t change though the Church does regularly. This idea of separating the gospel of Christ and the Church has been important for me as an adult. My life growing up was definitely church centered. Now that I have kids and teens I hope we are more God centered than church centered but I do reflect on it and wonder. One thing that bothered me as a teen is that we didn’t really give service to the community but just to our fellow church members. I’ve tried to have service in the community be part of our family culture as a result. I think regular family prayer, scripture study, and discussions about faith and life are important parts of being God centered.

  11. E.C. says:

    Thank you so much for this. I so needed this, for a long time. I didn’t quite know how to verbalize this theme, separating Church from church, and it has really been a personal struggle of reconciliation. It doesn’t fix the Church for me, but it does make me a little less hopeless, especially as my children get older. Thank you!!

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