Saturday, November 19, 2005

The End of the World

so many of the
spiritual answers sounded to me like empty promises

We were sitting on the beach at Rockaway, circled around a fire, faces glowing, backs to the dark. One of the elders from my church was there. I’d been avoiding him all night. I knew he wanted to talk. Suspected he’d been assigned to the task.

He walked over. “How are you doing, Eric?” he asked. I told him about the new job, my freelance writing, how I felt about our chances in the next day’s competition. “I meant spiritually,” he said.

Suddenly, everything felt eerily familiar. I’d been there before: cornered in a Meridian parking lot, told by my sister that her pastor was asking questions, contacted by an old friend, confronted by my grandmother. At first, I thought it was a conspiracy. I wish it were. That would have been much simpler.

I’d worked for almost 5 years on the staff of a local church. But I felt like a foreigner. I didn’t fit in. So I resigned my position. And then I stopped attending.

That’s when the questions started: was I in conflict with the pastor, was I depressed, did I have some hideous unconfessed sin . . .

Now — looking back — I can see why people asked those questions. They wanted it to be my problem, not theirs. I wish I could have articulated what was happening. But at the time, I only knew that I wasn’t satisfied. I didn’t know why, and I didn’t know how to fix it.

I wish that I could have told them how frustrated I was with church. I wish that I could have told them that so many of the spiritual answers sounded to me like empty promises, patronizing platitudes. I wish that I could have pointed out that many of the practices of church speak to a culture that no longer exists. I wish that I could have told them that church as we know it and practice it is already dead.

But I couldn’t say any of those things because I didn’t know why I was unhappy.

I was desperate for Truth. I wanted to understand reality and learn to live spiritually. I wanted to know God. I wanted to be fully myself rather than just playing a series of parts. I wanted to integrate faith and vocation with community rather than continuing a kind of compartmentalized existence. And I couldn’t find a way to fit all this stuff into church. The box was far too small.

So I left.

But not completely.

I’m still hanging around, watching and waiting for others to exhibit some of the same symptoms — not just people who hate church but those who desperately want something bigger, something that transcends our limited notion of what it means to have faith.

Why do I care? Because if church really is dead, then there’s got to be something better. And I’m not smart enough to figure it out on my own.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

We talk God to death every Sunday,
but when
is there
time to

his presence with us in corporate worship?

I got sick, this morning, thinking about going to church. I suddenly felt dizzy and tired. Incredibly tired. I sat down on the couch (with a plate of brownies for sustenance).

What’s going on? Church has been my life. I volunteer for hours every week, attend services at several different denominations, read just about anything I can find, regarding what it means to live a God-centered life, what it means to know God. But I had to face the fact that I don’t like church. It feels like a waste of my time. I resent having to go.

Is there anything wrong with church? Anything I can put my finger on? I believe in an active, living, present God, and we spend a lot of time talking about God. Maybe that’s the problem. We talk God to death every Sunday. But when is there time to experience his presence with us in corporate worship?

What about all the good that churches do? We sent money, supplies and volunteers to help with Hurricane Katrina. We provide food baskets and Christmas gifts for impoverished children in town. We hold an annual appreciation dinner for local public school teachers. We offer free counseling to couples in crisis. But do we know our neighbors? Do we love them? Is our giving truly generous or a burden that we carry (because that’s what good people care about)?

I asked my students, last week, where church originated? Where do we get the idea of church? Nobody seemed to know for sure. It’s just always been, some claimed, while others thought that God had founded the institution.

But that can’t be true. Jesus didn’t go to church.

He invited people to enter a new way of life. It seems, however, that we’ve watered down his message, replaced the Kingdom of God with a social institution.

What’s that mean for me? What’s next? What can I do? Should I do anything?

I don’t know.

Looks like I’m going to need another batch of brownies.