I have been hesitant to write about this topic for multiple reasons, the first is that many of my readers are happily non-religious, many of my readers are hyper-religious, and an equal part are too busy raising their children to think about politics or religion, they are simply avoiding children’s shows with all the energy that they have.
Here’s the deal. I got into religion at a younger age. I liked the Episcopal church. I loved the liturgy, the communion, the sense of age old continuum. I was 11, this was sincere. I didn’t feel like I needed to be saved, I simply loved the reverence, the kindness of the people, Rev Powell was a towering and loving man. Rooster Andrews and his family sat in the front row and always greeted me. The single little girl, in her Sunday best, who brought herself to church. I was too naive to understand the beauty of the history or the stigma of faith. Maybe it was a different time and there wasn’t such a thing… I honestly can’t remember.
In high school I had two groups of friends, school and church. This isn’t that abnormal for kids from the south. My youth group was a passionate VERY energetic group. There was plenty of high school drama even amongst the church youth, to be honest, I feel like the church group generally holds infinitely higher levels of drama than the real world.
Eventually I nestled into a church in a small town in Texas. I worked for a real estate company and was very involved in this church. I ended up working for the church in another country. In the tiny town that we lived, there was more vitriol in conversations about the theology amongst churches than there was about politics. I am not kidding. Churches that ascribe to be there to minister to the poor and “reach the lost” spend an INORDINATE about of time arguing amongst themselves about “right theology.” Let me be clear, at the end of the day these people would all say that they are Christians, they have the EXACT SAME basic tenets of faith. Little baby born of virgin mother, fallen humanity needed sacrificial lamb, crucifixion, resurrection.
Do you know what they argue about?
Who gets to be saved?
Does God already know?
Or is it all up to us?
Also, how to save the unsaved?
Do we, mortals, have a LIFE CENTERED MANDATE TO SAVE THEM, or will God do it inevitably?
Another one is should Christians read from books or dance in the isles?
Which one is THE BEST ONE – the one that makes God happiest, you know, has the market cornered on pleasing God?
Let me think, oh, this is a good one, how do we as mortals evaluate whether or not we are doing a good job for God?
There is also “the non-judgmental” why the way we are doing it is better than that other churches/person or groups way.
Sound petty and ridiculous? Well, it’s an industry, albeit a very sincere one. However, as a participant, it is exhausting. And to be honest, depressing. I spend a lot of my day glancing at charismatic, presbyterian, catholic, baptist, evangelical, atheist etc tweets and status updates. They are all laced with comparison, well intended “enlightening” opinion, honest though subtle condescension, and inspired instruction on how to live a better and more “effective” life FOR God.
We are currently “attending” a church that we like for the most part, I have a hard time making myself go, because in the end it is as much a part of the behavior described above as any. It’s more rooted in some balance and history, but it has its fair share of zealots. Educated at the “best” seminaries learning the most true truth. This theology is more right than that one because I have a more accurate interpretation of the original greek… That’s right, interpretation, “scholarly” guess. To be honest, lately I have been having a hard time making myself go. Some of it is my own church exhaustion, some is an uncertainty about our fit, some is because having just retired from a church plant the constant demand of “all hands on deck THIS IS A CHURCH PLANT!!!!!” talking point makes me tired before I get there, and then there is also this one couple that make theologically condescending jokes back and forth on their Facebook pages… I don’t know if I can handle that in a church, I understand it’s not done consciously or maliciously but these are people who are really committed to being relatable and creating community where anyone would feel comfortable… Maybe most people in the real world love theologically charged conversation… What do I know? I have left churches for not having any consistent theology, so I guess really I am the contrarian here. I often wonder how much of this problem is me.
Lately, in the bigger picture, this one group of famous pastors has been letting this other group of famous pastors have it. Why? Speculation about the rules of hell, and most perfect interpretation of the gospel. I bet this is the exact debate that is racing through the hearts and minds of the Japanese today. I am sure these thoughts are plaguing the poor. I bet the lonely are racked with concern about which gospel is more true and makes God happier. I am sure that the suicidal are torn with concern about which Christian church God likes more, the dancing one or the reading one. I know for sure that when people tweet and blog about these topics and people happen upon them, all the well-intentioned assertion of greater rightness is not only confusing, but un-appealing. I mean, isn’t Washington doing enough of this that we shouldn’t have to go to a religious community and experience the same thing?
I don’t know what this means for us. I don’t know where this frustration and realization of how ridiculous this behavior is will lead us. I know that we believe in God and we believe that He is benevolent, kind, good, just, fair and Holy. We also know that He assured us that no matter how real He was/is to us, His ways will always be a bit out of our realm of total understanding. Leaving us with a sense that asserting our ways are more right than someone else’s is offensive to us. Obviously. We believe in right and wrong, but we do not believe in a right and wrong way to worship. Sitting up, laying down, dancing, standing. We do not believe in a right or wrong way to live out your faith, we prefer the path that we have chosen, but we know there are street preachers, and you know what? this is America, you have a right to share your faith where ever you want, as long as you are respectful to and of the people you are talking to. Maybe that’s what I don’t like, the fact that there seems to be this underlying disrespect for people’s journey, preference, and personhood. I don’t really know what is so distasteful to me, I just know it is. And I know I am not the only one.
I also know, there is a boat afloat on the ocean, that the church has missed as they were attacking the five pointers and the universalist…
Those who don’t give a damn.
Those who think the church is full of shit, and filled with a bunch of bitchy people feigning non-judgment while evaluating them as lost.
Those who are desperate for relationship but who would rather be alone than subject to the vitriol that permeates the church today.
Those who are longing for community but would rather sit alone in a bar than be subject to the hoop jumping of the charismatic church today.
Those who are desperate for the charity that the church is desperate to give but would rather go without than have to listen to someone share a condescending gospel with them in exchange for charity.
And those who need nothing, but are on a spiritual journey, but whose pragmatism does not allow them to engage with yet another group of people who are filled with drama and comparison and rituals assigned with meeting, but not born of meaning.
You know what, I am a part of the larger church in the theological sense, but I feel more in relation with those boat floaters than the people identifying themselves as the church.
So for now, I am going to keep on keeping on. Life and spirituality are a journey. I am all about making mistakes and figuring it out. I do that a lot. And I am all for an organized group of people who are doing just that, making mistakes and figuring it out. I am not, however, all about a group of people who are making mistakes and figuring it out, but better and more right than that other group. I want to be a part of a faith community not the Greek system, I am not looking to join the best group.
I know it’s not a cohesive thought, and I know it’s a rambling post, but I’ve been horrified by the church in the last few weeks and horrified by men that I thought I respected and the way they are talking about each other and the kind of public way they are handling this situation. It only reinforced an already growing concern, but my experience was small, personal, private. When the leaders of the church take their assertion of greater rightness to Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Newspapers and the National News, then I need to step back and take a bit of a breather. Who wants to be associated with that? I guess the ones who are sure they are right. And I am just not sure at all…