Singing and speaking from the diaphragm is so easy that a baby can do it. Then why do so many voice students spend thousands of dollars and many hours on lessons trying to learn how to do it and many, despite years of practice still never fully learn the skill?
Let's first look at a few reasons why we lose this skill. When babies are born, they instinctively breath from the diaphragm because it is the most efficient way to breath and it is natural. That is why you can hear a baby babble across a crowded church yet can barely hear some members of the adult choir from ten feet away.
What is the first thing a parent will say to a child who is making loud noises? Shhhhh . . . quiet . . . shut up. Infants and toddlers quickly learn that being heard is wrong so they stifle the natural process of breath support in an effort not to be heard. Likewise, teens and adults who are insecure, self conscious and don't want to stand out suppress the natural mechanics of support so they are less noticed. This also causes people to slouch, bring their shoulders together, bend their neck or close their throat. Another reason is that proper breathing comes from the belly region and nobody wants to make their belly look bigger. Fear of what other people think of us is very stifling to creativity.
Finally, gravity pulls down on the body and people instinctively think that raising the shoulders is how we breath because that is what they think it feels like to breath. Breathing doesn't come from the shoulders or lungs.
Let's first look at our anatomy. The lungs are beneath our ribs and right beneath the lungs, still under the ribs, is a parachute shaped sheet of muscle called the diaphragm. When we breath, we pull down on the diaphragm muscle which creates a vacuum in the lungs and air simply falls down or is sucked into the lungs. Our chest and lungs are not necessarily directly involved in that process. There is no need to raise the shoulders although, maintaining an expanded chest allows more air to fill the lungs. Bigger expanded lungs means more space for more air intake. Every good soldier knows to "STICK OUT YOUR CHEST. SUCK IN THAT GUT!"
When you exhale you push the diaphragm muscle upward and it pushes the air out of the lungs. If you only breath from the upper chest and shoulders you will only use half the air in your lungs causing you to run out of breath or have other issues with your vocal production. If you use the diaphragm, you will use all the air in all of your lungs.
Expanding the chest and only breathing partially through the diaphragm is also the secret to the dead man float. The lungs are like balloons and if you expand and fill up the upper lungs with air, then only breath through the lower lungs, you'll float without effort.
Let's do a few exercises to show you how effortless, natural and efficient breathing from the diaphragm can be.
Let's start by lying on the floor. Bend your knees if you like. Breath naturally. Feel that your breathing comes from the stomach area. That's it. Simple. Now let's try a few things with your voice. Cough. Notice from where it emanated from. Pretend you are a fire engine making siren sounds and get louder and higher each time you sound the siren. Yell "HEY" like you just caught someone stealing. Yell "Bad" as if your dog just messed on the floor. Yell "GIT" to a cat in your trash. Call for help three times with increasing volume as if no one can hear you. Say "BOO" like you are jumping out from behind a door to scare someone. Now, playfully say "Woof!" as if you are a puppy trying to entice its owner to play. Now get on all fours and pant like a dog. Where does it all come from?
Do you see how easy and effortless all that was? The challenge now is to stand up and continue to breath that way after years of training your body to accept ignorance, misuse and abuse as normal.
While you are still on the floor, try not to breath from the stomach and only breath from the upper chest. After five minutes of breathing properly and effortlessly, can you now feel how wrong it is to breath from the chest and shoulders? Proper movement always makes improper movement to feel bad, like it really is.
I have included a video link to an example of what it looks like to breath properly. This clip is taken from the movie ROCK STAR starring Mark Wahlberg or "Marky Mark." Notice that he takes his breath from his stomach then pushes in or contracts his muscles to expel the air. If we had cameras from his back and side you'd also see expansion there, too. There are intercostal muscles between each of the ribs and because of the intensity of what he is singing, he is expanding and contracting those, too. Also watch the swimming competitions at the summer Olympics and pay close attention when the swimmers get out of the water or do interviews immediately after competitions. They are trained to breath from the diaphragm. Some of them may raise the shoulders but they are at least instructed properly otherwise. The professional dancers on Dancing With the Stars are well trained in breathing since they are also reprimanded for raising the shoulders. There are many great examples all around us in our professional athletes. Musicians need to remember that they too are athletes and can sometimes benefit more by a few lessons from a sports coach than a singing coach. Singers will also benefit by singing WITH the lost, lonely, homeless, dying and the sick. Technique is worthless if it is not connected to an emotion. Too many of our trained singers are also devoid of soul.
I will add that if anyone is suffering from any form of COPD, this type of breathing can prolong their life and also rescue them from a shortness of breath panic attack. Diaphragmatic breathing also increases oxygen in our blood stream which aids in healing, repair and clear thinking because oxygen is needed for brain function.
So, new moms, please think twice before saying to you infant "Shhhhh . . . " At least, if you have to say "Shhhh . . . " do it from the diaphragm.
I recently presented a workshop called "Playing With Fire" which was designed to teach people how to move ergonomically whether they are musicians, computer users or stay at home moms who make arts and crafts with the kids during the day. There is an epidemic of repetitive strain injuries and the current treatment options presented by the medical community are flawed, destructive and unnecessary.
The first thing everyone needs to know is what causes the most common of repetitive strains: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. It's medical name is Median Nerve Entrapment. If someone misuses their hands to the point that they inflame the long flexor tendons in the forearm and wrist, the inflamed tendons which now takes up more space, has no place to go. There are bones on one side of the wrist and the traverse carpal ligament on the other. So when the tendon inflames it presses on the only other tissue in the tunnel - the median nerve. Much like sitting between two overweight people on an airplane. The symptoms of a crushed nerve are pain, numbness and tingling. The reasons for the inflammation are quite easy to understand. The most common is a break in the wrist while performing repetitive tasks. The other is dual muscular pulls. Obviously we can only move one body part in one direction at a time but we often move our fingers in two directions at a time. We may flex one and either abduct or extend another. Even though we can do this, the extender and flexor muscles are still interconnected and we are using both at the same time. This act of tension usually puts all the strain on the tendons. In the piano world, our teachers either tell us to practice more, build up the muscles or relax. That is all bad advice. Practicing more bad movement, building up the wrong muscles and relaxing the wrong muscles will only create more problems.
When someone develops symptoms of median nerve entrapment they go to see their doctor who then begins to treat the symptom. They may ask what you think caused the strain and may suggest that you stop doing it for a while. This logic is greatly flawed. If you are moving incorrectly and rest for a while, the inflammation may indeed dissipate however, the erroneous movement is still part of you and when you take up the practice again, the problem will still be there and the symptom will come back. Symptoms are actually good. They tell us that something is wrong. Fix what is wrong, not the symptom.
Other treatment options may include anti inflammatory drugs, cortisone injections (which do a lovely job at dissolving tissue), splints which goes against everything we know about movement or, surgery, which is often totally unnecessary.
The actual solution and "cure" is simply movement re-education. The patient needs only to learn how to move properly. This could include not bending or twisting the wrist, not moving the fingers while bending the wrist, learning to not use tiny muscles to do some movements but instead use the larger muscles which are naturally designed to do that movement, learn the proper alignment of the arm and how it is the arm that must support the hand and not the hand moving independent of it, avoiding dual muscular pulls which can be crippling to the hand.
Not everyone has the capacity, patience, intellect or determination to heal. We've come to beleive that a doctor can fix our problems and we all want a quick fix. Who wants to spend months or even years learning to undo bad habits when a doctor can make a slice with a scalpel and like magic, the issue seemingly disappears. As I said, doctors tend to treat symptoms and not the problems. If the problem is we are moving incorrectly, we shouldn't be seeing a doctor. My favorite analogy to use is if your wheels are out of alignment and wearing down your tires, you don't just get new tires, you have to fix the alignment. If your body is out of alignment and wearing down the soft tissue in your wrists, you don't just make room for the inflammation by having surgery, you need to fix the alignment.
Who are you Voting For?
I recently wrote a blog about how even an atheist can go to church to find scriptural relevance in their life and someone wrote back to me with the opinion that bible stories are totally irrelevant to our daily lives. Not true. One just needs to listen and do the homework of application in order to gleam insight.
I have friends who are firmly rooted in the camps of all the presidential candidates. Likewise, there are many who despise each of the candidates. We live in a democracy, well, democracy means "rule by the people" but in fact, we live under the rule of the vocal minority. Since not everyone engages in their right to vote and communicate with their elected officials, only those who do vote get to pick the people who shape our future and control our present. Only those who voice their opinions to their elected officials get to make the rules. If you don't like a law, have you voiced your opinion in opposition to it? If not, not to act is to act.
If I write my elected officials telling that marijuana, for instance, is a devil drug which causes white women to have sex with black men resulting in syphilis (Harry Anslinger said this), and you don't write to counter that opinion (Fiorello LaGuardia did but the pharmaceutical, alcohol, tobacco and timber lobbies were too strong), all the politician knows is what I, their constituent and the lobby opines to them.
Gillibrand once admitted to authoring and voting for bills and laws that she knew nothing about. She was asked to vote for them by peers or lobbyists so, she did. That is not a rule by the people but by the vocal minority. Gillibrand co-authored the PIPA law then admitted that she never even read it nor knew of the ramifications of it becoming law. This is our fault that poor leadership like this is allowed to happen and it happens more often then not.
We shouldn't vote for a candidate because they are the incumbent, or they are smart, good looking, rich, entertaining, a politician, a member of a party, religious or a good businessmen. We have to vote for someone who will lead by the will of the people. We need someone who doesn't hate a particular religion, gender, sexual orientation, color or nationality. Surely, that criteria alone reduces the playing field down to one or two.
I would not use religion to force someone to live by my religious views and laws. Most people would not allow themselves to be forced to live by the laws of a religion that they didn't beleive in such as Christian, Muslim, Jew or Spaghetti Monster. What may be a law for one may be an asinine outlook for another. But, there are many good lessons that can be found in all scripture which may also be used to inspire us or help us look at an issue differently. For instance, the response of Samuel and God to the Israelite's. The people wanted a king to rule, judge and reign over them because they didn't trust themselves, Samuel nor God to rule them. God's response was to outline the cost of a king to rule over them; He will take your sons and wage war with them. He will appoint for himself commanders of thousands. He will take your daughters for perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and give them to his servants. He will take your profits and give them to his officers and to his servants. Then you will cry out because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves. This is exactly what our country has done for the past 300 years and why we are currently asleep at the wheel. We do we put these people in charge then allow them to screw it up?
So choose wisely. Choose not the person or party who will rule over you but, that you rule. Or, don't vote at all and let your neighbor choose the person who makes all the laws and decisions that you will have to live by. Worse yet, vote for the person who won't listen to you at all and rule over you to their benefit and that of their friends. It's all in the bible.
We've been lied to and refuse to hear the truth.
I met a middle aged woman who is wracked with pain due to fibromyalgia, back injuries and arthritis. She takes seven medications for her ailments and for the ancillary side effects they each cause. In other words, she takes drugs for the drugs she takes. She takes one which keeps her awake and another to help her sleep. It is pharmaceutical chaos in her blood stream. I told her how a friend of mine has a back injury which rendered him disabled at the age of 43 and the only drug he can take for the pain is morphine but that knocks him out and makes him sick. He has since discovered marijuana as a control for his pain, sleeping and even staying awake. When I recommended to this woman that marijuana might offer her relief from both the pain and the prescriptions' side effects, she replied, "I don't do drugs."
This country has a weird and unhealthy fetish with what we define as drugs. Although marijuana is legal in several states, even the monstrosity called FACEBOOK takes it upon itself to police the internet and take down legal pages about marijuana even in the states where the herb is legal. Not only are they taking down legal pages but harming tax paying businesses and the states at the same time.
In 2013, 47,055 people died from prescription drugs. How many died from marijuana use? Zero. C'mon Facebook, get with the times and start increasing the quality of life for people suffering from addiction, pain, mental health illness and debilitating diseases rather than denying them a chance to live pain-free and otherwise productive lives.
What is the difference between Oxycontin and Marijuana? One is addictive and can cause chills, confusion, difficulty breathing, dizziness, fever, tightness in the chest, abdominal pain, blood in the urine, convulsions, increase in heart rate, muscle pain, rapid weight gain, severe constipation, blurred vision and death. The other one causes the munchies.
Which would you choose to put into your body?
A: Two organ recitals.
A: I mean, no, not like that stuff you hear in church on Sunday. Sunday organ can be very boring but this recital, it's big, like, like really big, like OJ did it big. You gotta come.
Q: We have guitars and a band in my church.
A: The organ has a noble estate in church music. It is a sustaining and strengthening instrument designed for congregational singing. Consider other instruments such as guitars, piano or percussion. Once you play a sound on any of these instruments the sound immediately begins to decay, necessitating more fills and chords. But singing doesn’t work this way. The organ’s sound lifts and sustains the voice of the congregation through each phrase, guiding each breath, and setting the character of the song through its wide range of voices. The organ fills a room naturally making it possible to fill any space. An amplified band gives you a directional, electronic copy of the instruments while the pipe organ needs no amplification; Give it a chance. You may go back to your guitars on Sunday.
Q: Tell me about the two organs.
A: Trinity's organ is a relatively new three manual tracker which means it is very challenging to play for many organists who are trained but still don't know what they are doing ergonomically. After the recital, feel free to go up and touch the keys. Malcolm will be giving a talk about the ten ergonomic movements required to properly and effortlessly play a tracker and, how to avoid and cure tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome through natural movement. The talk will begin around 2:30 but make a reservation so he can prepare materials. The Foothill organ is an electronic four manual Rodgers with speakers placed around the room for the ultimate in surround sound.
Q: Is there a Malcolm Kogut action figure?
A: We would think so.
Q: Is Malcolm Kogut still alive?
A: Yes, as far as we know. We don't have any current information about his health. However, being older than 40, we hope that everything is okay.
Q: Where was Malcolm Kogut born?
A: On a hill, far away in Troy, NY
Q: What is Malcolm Kogut doing now?
A: Supposedly, 2016 has been a busy year for him. However, we do not have any detailed information on what he is doing these days. Maybe you know more. Feel free to share the latest news, gossip and official contact information with the person next to you.
Q: Are there any photos of Malcolm's current hairstyle or shirtless?
A: There might be. But unfortunately we currently cannot print them here. We are working hard to fill that gap though. Check back tomorrow or Google it.
Q: Where are these recital things?
A: THERE ARE TWO; The first is on April 10, at Trinity Lutheran Church at 42 Guy Park Ave, Amsterdam, NY 12010. The theme here will be "Old Friends." It will be somewhat selfish on Malcolm's part in that all the pieces will be pieces that he likes to play, has played many times and they fit like a glove. Not like the OJ glove but, bigger.
The second is on May 22 at Foothills Methodist Church at 17 Fremont St, Gloversville, NY 12078. This recital will consist of patriotic music. The final number is guaranteed elicit a standing ovation from the audience. Both recitals are at three o'clock in the afternoon.
A: They're freeeeeeee! (my Harvy Levin impersonation).
A letter from Malcolm Paul to the internet; I am very pleased and excited to be performing these recitals on April 10 and May 22, at three, and I Tertius, who wrote this letter, am pleased to be going, also. Malcolm has been playing the organ since he was 15 and by simple calculations, that makes him OLD which is often fatal and highly contagious; To be more precise (and nerdy), his current age as of right now is 19742 days or (even more geeky) 473804 hours. Malcolm was born on the 16th of January which was a Tuesday meaning he was conceived between April 21 - April 29. His next birthday is only 245 days from today. BTW, at both recitals, I hear there will be cake.
Sample links of each organ (Stars and Stripes):
Foothills Organ: http://youtu.be/MGbI3gHmnKs
Trinity Organ: https://youtu.be/yJQRQaEeNLc
It is no secret that attendance at most churches has been significantly declining over the past three decades. There are many and varied reasons for this exodus but those issues are not my focus for this blog. In my travels visiting churches, I have witnessed that many church facilities which were built for larger congregations now have meeting, classroom and gathering spaces which are no longer being used because the congregational population is not there nor active anymore.
I have recently visited four churches who have embraced a gambit which they called the "re-purposing" of their space. One church turned their entire facility into a daycare program. It is run by a staff hired by the church and they have over 30 children, none of which are parishioners of the church. The pastor said it was their bread and butter and panacea for the church's fiscal woes. Since the church facilities are somewhat small, the daycare takes over the entire church complex including the sanctuary. The downside of this wonderful program which serves the community is that it cripples the church of any day time use. As a director of prayer and worship and organist, that would mean I wouldn't have access to the facility for practicing, rehearsals, meetings or recitals midweek. For me that would be a tremendous handicap since I dedicate my full time to serving and growing the parish which would include and demand weekdays. Many of the programs I would design would require use of the facilities at this time because most of the regular ministry programs with the laity would naturally take place in the evening. Still, it is a wonderful service the church provides the community but doesn't do much to build the worshiping community since as I mentioned, the families of the children do not belong to the church.
Another church has a four story Sunday School complex, huge kitchen and gymnasium as part of their sprawling facility. Now that the congregation size is down to about 50 members, they have no use for all that space. In the spirit of re-purposing, they now rent out three floors to the Department of Social Services who operates a daycare center for underprivileged families. This wonderful program provides free daycare to over 200 children each day but likewise, none of the families belong to the church. Meanwhile, on the ground floor they rent out office space to whomever wants it. They have an freelance writer, a volunteer organization that repairs books then sends them out to libraries, a supplemental food pantry for the city, an out of town attorney who comes in once a week to meet with clients, and the local police department even has a room for when the officers on foot need a place they can retire to to get warm or, whatever. The gym is rented out to a Judo instructor who offers classes each evening. The problem with that is that the choir room is adjacent to the gym and there is only a portable divider wall between the two rooms. The judo students complain about the choir and the choir complains about the judo classes. But, such is the level of respect many music programs have in churches. Money trumps all. The pastor told me that their small congregation has no further use for the large kitchen facility with two ten burner stoves, two ovens, a large walk in freezer and dinning service for up to 800 settings. I suggested that they find someone looking to start up a bakery to rent the space or at least offer the space to one of the many organizations who provide meals to the poor.
The other two churches have likewise re-purposed their spaces in an effort to make money and at least gives the appearance that the church is alive and vibrant. I asked one pastor what ministries his church provides for the community and the only answer he had was re-purposing. What do they pay him for?
While it is a great value to businesses and individuals who are small, poor, or are community service organizations, to have access to a space they can call their own without exorbitant overhead costs, it doesn't appear that any of these business partnerships bring new people into the churches. Many churches offer space to AA and NA groups but I suspect that the people who attend these valuable and life saving services ever even consider joining the host church.
I did serve a parish where the AA and NA people using our building began to participate because they regularly interacted with our church staff and were invited to take part in activities. They started attending my weekly organ recitals, then volunteering to serve as ushers, then they began coming to our pot lucks, then in exchange for rent they volunteered to do work around the building complex, then some of them began attending Sunday services, a few became members and got married in the church and had children. Growth does work but only if there is the initial and maintained energy to make it work. Energy begets energy but it has to be sustained and re-worked for any program to sinuously network and bear fruit. If pastors dedicated their time to doing this, the homily would take care of itself.
The downside of re-purposing dormant church space is that if the church ever hires the right person and the church begins to see growth again, they will no longer have the facility and resources that is required to accommodate that growth - unless they evict their tenants. I know that many church people reading this will say that their church doesn't have anything going on during the weekday hours so renting out that space doesn't hurt the church in any way. That may be true so, hire people who will develop programs to begin attracting people willing to serve and minister, thereby filling and requiring those spaces once again. Start with the clergy. Many pastors need to get real jobs instead of pretending to serve the community and hiding in their offices five days a week avoiding the people who really need them. I know one pastor who did that for five years then blamed the congregation for the lack of growth in the parish. If a pastor is bored, frustrated and depressed from his job, chances are they are not helping the parish or people either. Churches are becoming irrelevant and they seem to be doing whatever they need to to survive, except actively live out the Gospel. I hate the direction these churches and pastors are going. They are doing everything to survive except their jobs. A disgruntled and fed up (now ex) Roman Catholic priest once told me that the place God calls a church to is the place where their deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet. Wow, that is really simple and powerful. Maybe the church should try that. Don't say it is easier said than done. Just do it. As the great spiritual leader Yoda once said, "There is no try, only do."
A friend of mine suddenly stopped going to church because his teenage son was arrested for selling pot. Yes, he is a scary drug dealer and probably has connections to Mexican drug cartels and has been involved in murder, abduction and child slave labor. Actually, he just sold pot to a friend who entrapped him in an effort to have his own charges dropped. Back to my friend, he was embarrassed and ashamed that this happened to his family and nobody from his church reached out to him. He admitted to me that he was an atheist and church had no value to him, he was only going out of a Catholic obligation to a nascent guilt. I disagreed with him that he shouldn't attend because they needed him and he needed them, but he needs to work through this on his own. However, here are some generic reasons and granted, I am grasping here but indulge me.
1) Church gives you a place where you can breath. Many people will say that they don't sing but in your everyday life, you sing. If you yell, you are using the same body parts and emotion that goes into singing. If you scream, the same. Do you speak with inflection such as you would when you speak with surprise, tenderness, comfort, imitation, sarcasm or chiding? All that is part of the singing apparatus too so, yes, you sing. The difference between saying those things and singing them though, that is where the difference lies. When you sing, you are sustaining tones which forces you to awaken muscles between your ribs, your diaphragm, your chest and head. An added benefit to actual singing is that you are taking in oxygen more deeply and richly than you would only by speaking. That increased oxygen gets in your blood where it goes straight to your brain and muscles which are nourished and repaired by the newly oxygenated blood. Singing is healthy. If you are a health nut, singing should be part of your weekly routine and church is a perfect place to exercise those muscles without the worry of someone hearing you. If your church has a pipe organ, there is even more acoustical space to hide in. Pianos and guitars have a natural decay and less secure to hide your voice therein. Once you play a sound on any of these instruments the sound immediately begins to decay, necessitating more fills and chords. But singing doesn’t work this way, and the continuity of the sung line is often disrupted. The organ’s sound lifts and sustains the voice of the congregation through each phrase and guiding each breath. The organ thrives in an open room and it fills the room almost like sunlight through open windows, the organ warmly invites even hesitant and untrained singers to join in. An amplified band gives you a directional, electronic copy of the instruments. The pipe organ needs no amplification; the natural sound of the instrument itself fills the space evenly and fully with its massive range. The organ can breathe musical life into any part of the Gospel story and your body.
1a) When you hear music, there are fireworks going off in your brain. FMRI scans have shown that when people listen to music, multiple areas of the brain light up and when participating, music engages practically every area of the brain at once, especially the motor, visual and auditory cortex. Strengthening those areas of the brain allow us to apply those strengths to other activities. This also bridges the activity in the corpus callosum which regulates the left and right hemisphere of the brain. This allows you to solve problems more effectively and creatively in both academic and social settings. Because crafting music also involves understanding emotional content and message, musicians often have higher levels of executive function; a category of interlinked tasks which include planning, strategizing and attention to detail and requires simultaneous analysis of both cognitive and emotional aspects. This ability also has an impact on how our memory systems work. Transubstantiation may become more physical for after singing an hour in church you will leave a different person, more energized, alert and cerebrally attentive.
2) Along the lines of music, attending the right church is a great place to hear masterworks of choral, instrumental and organ literature from the 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st century, all in one place. Sure, you can buy a CD or find classical stations on the radio but hearing it live in the space the music was designed and composed for is much better. Even if you don't sing, sitting there gives you the opportunity to set aside some time to reflect on your life in a holy space with holy sounds among holy people.
3) You will be supporting local musicians. Many musicians in churches are volunteers but a few of them such as the director or accompanist are probably paid. Many of these people also play in clubs, bands, bars, are involved in community theater, compose and teach. By supporting them in the church, you are supporting the circle of music in the community.
4) Going to church also helps you to find community. My friend, whose son was arrested could have found support, comfort and community but unfortunately his church was also embarrassed about the situation and didn't realize that not to act is to act. It takes a lot of courageous effort to cultivate that sense of courage to seek and heal. However, after that courage is marshaled, it will be discovered that it takes no effort or courage at all to heal. I know of another church whose pastor lives in his own house so the rectory was empty. When one of the elderly members fell into financial instability, there was no question that she could stay at the rectory free of charge. That is what church communities do for one another. So, you don't have to go to church to find out what they can do for you, you can go to find out what you can do for them. It is in serving others that we are served.
5) Many people, even atheists, have a nascent sense of spirituality within them. That means it is present but not active. A friend of mine was arrested (hmmmph, I know a lot of people who were arrested) and he stayed at my house for a week because he wanted to get away and hide from everyone and take time to figure out his future life while it was falling apart around him. A staunch atheist, he decided to attend church with me on a Saturday evening because I had to play and he didn't want to sit home alone. Something touched him in the service and he went up for Communion. He said he felt close to the God he didn't beleive in and it was comforting for him to be there. He made an appointment to meet with the priest during the week but unfortunately the Roman Catholic priest alluded that he was not welcome there but, God bless anyway. What a missed opportunity for both. Most often the biggest problem with the church are its clergy because they lack the courage to do the right thing for fear of being accused of doing the wrong thing. Not to act is to act and everyone loses. It is easy to do the wrong thing then blame the one you are ostracizing. They protest too much.
6) As I mentioned earlier, going to church may help you find purpose. An active church can provide you with the opportunity to volunteer to help where it's needed, a way of intentionally focusing on something transcendent and on becoming a more loving person while helping others. Church's can be a great place for social gathering, too. People are usually warm, friendly and accepting, at least in a good church! They may have groups that interest you and even have some missions which for you, even as a non-believer, you can participate in toward helping others in need. That is what is most fulfilling in life; having purpose and helping others. When two hurricanes hit my area I was volunteering to answer a suicide hotline and was moved up to handling a disaster relief hotline for FEMA. I did that for about three weeks, seven days a week, about ten hours a day. Albeit exhausting, it was a very rewarding time for me.
7) The point of the sermon on Sunday of any church is to learn how to apply scripture to your life. This is a simple concept but many clergy think they have to be creative, gimmicky and entertaining and often miss the mark of breaking open the Word. Even if you don't beleive that scripture is true spiritually or historically, there is great philosophy in the teachings of both the old and new testaments. Even if you don't believe in God, you can agree to a lot of the values found in scripture as great truths. Many of the stories have great lessons and you can find answers to many of your concerns and problems therein. Our lives become the stories that we listen to and re-tell. If you don't want to take the time to read the bible, start with the Jefferson Bible which is comprised of only the words of Jesus (the red words). That can be very inspiring for those without a lot of time to weed through the historical and cultural detritus of scripture.
As long as you are not attending church to cause a disturbance, I would encourage going. The social, psychological, and spiritual benefits of participating in the liturgy and a community can be inspiring. If nothing else, you will get free food and coffee after the service. That brings up a couple of other more over the top reasons to go.
8) The bible is loaded with good horror stories. In the Bible, you can find stories of unsurpassed cruelty: murder, rape, incest, torture, slavery, cruelty to women and children, witchcraft, angry gods, natural disasters, plagues, wars, duels, mutilations, crucifixions, more blood than you can shake a stick at, and of course, eternal torment! Much of Hollywood's success comes straight out of the Bible. If you like horror, lust and greed, the bible is a great read.
9) Church is a great place for stand-up comedy. Practically every page of the bible has something funny, ironic, dry or revealing in it if you look for it. Preachers are willing to say anything from their pulpits! Many of them start off their homily with a joke and the comedy doesn’t end there either. Seeing some fundamental clerics affirm with a straight face their literal belief in a Noah’s ark, that dinosaurs didn't exist (a distraction planted there by old Scratch himself) or that the sun was “stopped” until some Jews won a battle, is hilarious! Yes, churches can provide hours and hours of knee-slapping entertainment if you know what to look for!
In some churches, you absolutely cannot be a member or be welcome to participate in the liturgy if you are not baptized, a member, affirming or have jumped through some other corporate hoops. The Roman Catholics have many restrictions, the Episcopalians are more welcoming and lax, some churches require background checks (they don't want sinners), women are second class citizens in some, some are just cold, some don't like gays, while the Unitarians will take anyone. Do some research, that might be half of the fun. Visit a different church each week, take pictures and review them on Google or Yelp and talk about the music, homily, people, art, food, windows, flowers, whatever.
In the end, you may discover that some of your hookah-smoking and beer-drinking buddies are church mice. You can share many a night around a fire-pit with those people discussing the spirituality of STAR WARS, HARRY POTTER and THE LION or THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE or STARGATE. It can become something you'll never want to give up because even if you still don't beleive, you're a family. Whatever brings people together is worth exploring.
So, come, all are welcome. Well, not everyone, everywhere but, try. If they don't want you, shake the dust from your feet as you leave (That's from scripture. It was Jesus' polite way of saying, well, I can't say it).
Are they angry? Depressed? Worried? Did their doctor get them addicted to pain killers? Alcoholic? Arrested? Lose someone they love? Share with them this phone number and web address to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. They are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and are there to listen.
1 (800) 273-8255. Website: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
Over 30,000 people in the United States die by suicide every year which means someone dies by suicide about every 18 minutes in the U.S. An attempt is estimated to be made once every minute.
Share this information. Print out the NSPL card and leave it in public places such as libraries, work, school, churches, stores. If you go to church, ask your pastor to publish the hotline number in the church bulletin or newsletter. Churches are notorious for hating gays, women and sinners and if you have any of them secretly hiding among the "good" people, they may be suffering emotionally and spiritually. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among those 15-24 years old so churches need to be more careful the things they say for, children will listen.