Wednesday, March 30, 2016

My kinda church

Recently, in an online faith community I frequent, there has been much discussion on the subject of church attendance. Perhaps surprisingly for an online community, the vast majority of participants are committed church attendees, a number being actively involved in the life of their churches well beyond basic Sunday attendance. I have been like that too. But part of the discussion included this blog post in which the writer promotes the view that it's not possible to be a Christian unless you regularly go to church. Allow me to disagree.

But, before I disagree, it must be said that there are ideas about being a Christian and what church is that do support that blog writer's point of view. If by 'church' you mean an institutional church and if by 'Christian' you mean a member of an institutional church then, of course, Christianity and church attendance are inextricably entwined. But, I submit, Christianity is not an institutional thing, it's about a person, an individual we call Jesus Christ, and to be a Christian is nothing more nor less than being a follower of Jesus Christ.  'Church,' in this context is the universal fellowship of Christian believers and not the building down the road.  In this understanding, we create a serious problem if we attempt to make being Christian dependent on institutional church attendance.

Of course, none of that precludes church attendance. But it does tell us that our Christianity can't be confined to a church nor defined by our attendance at a church.  Christianity is a lived faith, not an institutionalised belief system. At its core, Christianity is a faith where our relationship with God is mediated by only one person - the Christ who makes us Christian (and not only in language terms). Where the institutional church and its professional clergy do have an important role to play, is in guiding us flock of Christians towards a spiritually mature participation in the Kingdom of God. Historical power structures may have made it otherwise in the past but here, in the twenty-first century, the institutional church must take up the role of servant-guide and foot-washer if it is to avoid a slide into irrelevance. (I loved that the Pope modeled this over Easter.)

And here's the thing; you couldn't keep me away from a church that was interested in helping me and everyone else to become better at this Christian thing. Not better Anglicans or Catholics, not better Baptists or Pentecostals, nor better Methodists or Adventists (the list goes on) - just better Christians, lovers of God and our fellow human beings. Religious dogma doesn't fix social injustice, it doesn't heal the sick nor bind up the broken hearted. I need to know how to pick up my cross and carry it as Christ said I should. Where is the church that's more interested in those things than the state of its roof, the sex of its ministers or whether the weekly tithe will cover the bills? Take me to that church.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Raise a glass to the new Google Calendar

It had largely slipped under my radar, but Google calendar for Android and iOS has matured into a very capable calendar app. Although I had been using the Google cloud to look after my calendar and to-do list for several years, I found their mobile calendar app to be lacking in features. Consequently, our family had been using 'Sunrise' to grab and share our Google data. Now, with Sunrise about to be abandoned by Microsoft, we needed an alternative and, during my searching, I looked again at Google Calendar. Has it changed or what!

The new Google Calendar has a clean and uncluttered design that some people may think looks a bit basic. The widget (shown here), for example, has no settings, it's simply a list of coloured cards - one for each calendar or reminder entry. This simplicity is carried through to the design of the main app which supports views for month, week, 3 day and day views. In addition, there is a 'schedule' view, which is basically a continuous list of event and reminder cards with day and date markers (similar to the widget). I find myself working in schedule view most of the time. A neat feature  of all the views (on a phone) is the transition from holding the phone in portrait to landscape mode - whatever view you happen to be in in portrait, it switches to a week view in landscape - a nice quick way of getting to the week view.

A huge improvement is the integration of 'reminders' into the calendar. Reminders are not the same as the to-do items in Google's desktop calendar and won't appear in that list. Google has obviously decided to focus on a more generic reminder system that operates across platforms, devices and other apps. For example, you can set a reminder on a note in Google Keep, or an email in Inbox on your tablet, and it will magically appear as a reminder in Google Calendar on your phone. Neat. In fact, reminders are always in your face - they appear in Calendar, Inbox, and Google Now - no more forgetting! Google promises that reminders will also be coming to the desktop app soon, and I look forward to that.

Of course, all the normal settings for repeats on both events and reminders are available and new entries are made by touching the '+' badge that floats in the bottom right of the Calendar screen. All up, it's pretty obvious how things work and the app just gets out of the way and lets you get on with organising your life; something some of the other available calendar tools could well take note of.

So, if you need an excuse to have a drink, the new Google Calendar could be it. Cheers.